Sara Murray, 46, developed Buddi, initially a tracking device to locate lost children, but now used by local councils and UK police forces.
The entrepreneur came up with the idea when her four-year-old daughter temporarily disappeared at a supermarket; her company now employs 50 staff and is gearing up to launch in the US.
Sara Murray CV
Education: Malvern Girls College, then PPE at St Hilda’s College, Oxford
Career: Started Ninah Consulting aged 22, followed by online insurance marketplace Inspop, sold to Admiral in 2002. Started Buddi in 2005
Did you think you would get to where you are?
I don’t think I’m there yet! I believe entrepreneurs are irrationally optimistic so despite the odds, I always know something is going to work. It is just a matter of how long it will take. As an undergraduate I was busy enjoying everything university had to offer, but I always thought I would have my own business one day.
When you had made your first £1m did you want to slow down?
I am not sure exactly when, but the first £1m profit would have been at some point in the 1990s. I definitely did not want to slow down. It is not my nature. I don’t do this to make money. I wanted to carry on inventing new products. I’m very aware of turnover, but what matters is cash flow. The only thing that makes a business fail is running out of money.
What is the secret of your success?
I don’t think there is a secret. It is pure hard work. Everyone who knows me knows that I work seven days a week. What I’m good at is spotting an opportunity in the market, and doing something about it, which comes down to hard work over a long time. I am inventive, and I like to solve problems.
Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
Buddi will be a global leader in remote health monitoring, and I will probably be head of innovation. We are already diversifying within the company, and our laboratory fulfils my need for inventiveness. Apple and Microsoft have taken an interest in our latest developments.
Do you have time for personal financial planning?
I am hopeless, because it does not interest me. I let others take care of it — accountants and wealth managers. Any six-figure sum I would just leave in the bank. Investing in shares is different. I like to take an active role, choosing good companies which make products that I understand.
What was the most challenging period of your career?
It was dealing with the UK Ministry of Justice. Trying to sell to the British government is an excruciatingly difficult process. What would be obvious to anyone else is not obvious to them. It is like wading through treacle. To me it is always so obvious what should be done. Other people just don’t see it so quickly and I don’t really understand why.
After a very long process, we won a contract in August 2013 for Justice Tags. And rightly so: they are the best in the world, they are British-made and we offered them cheaply. However, by March 2014 we gave up. Though we were the preferred bidder we could not conclude a contract. Those 30 months of bidding, when we concluded contracts with several other governments, were a huge drain on our resources.
Do you want to carry on till you drop?
I don’t think about it, but I certainly want to carry on now. I definitely don’t see myself retiring. I would just have another idea for a business. It would be hard for me not to do something.
Have you made any pension provision?
I don’t have a pension as such. I think they are a bad idea, because you are basically paying a junior person to manage your money, and they tend to cost more than they make. The fund managers make money, but no one else does. The government is telling people to have pension funds. But I think people should read John Kay’s book, The Long and the Short of It, and invest their own money. I invest in a sensible range of products where the fees are not so high, such as FTSE 100 shares. I find that investing in myself gives the best return.
Do you believe in giving something back to the community?
Buddi is a socially responsible business. We are helping older people to stay independent and lead active lives, and we are helping offenders to rehabilitate. Everyone keeps talking about the ageing population and spiralling care costs, but clearly technology can prevent that from being an issue. When I am older I don’t want a care worker dressing me. I want a robot, so I can be more independent.
Do you allow yourself the odd indulgence?
I fly helicopters. I had a lesson a few years ago and loved it immediately. The following summer I went away every weekend for flying lessons. I mainly fly out of a little airfield near Palma, Mallorca, and land in Menorca or Ibiza. A helicopter costs about €400 an hour to hire. It is quite exciting and all-consuming when you fly. You cannot think about work when you are navigating. It is the hardest thing I have ever learnt to do.
I like to shoot, ski, sail, and go fishing. My biggest indulgence is probably fine wine, though I bought a white truffle for myself a few weeks ago in Borough Market. It was £56 for something the size of a mushroom. That felt very indulgent. You shave it on to spaghetti with some olive oil.
Do you believe in leaving everything to children?
No, I don’t. There is so much data that says it is a really bad thing to do. Generally, when I sell something I give half of it to charity, always anonymously. I was brought up very Catholic. I think you should give your children a good education and somewhere to live. The best thing you can give them is ambition and the knowledge that it is important to do what makes you happy.
Your most prudent investment?
It was the few hundred thousand pounds that I invested in Buddi. Had I not already had successful businesses I could not have built a hardware company, as I needed both the cash and experience. I had no debt when I started Buddi. We have so far invested more than £10m, largely on research and development.
What is the most you have ever paid for a bottle of fine wine or champagne?
Quite a lot! I am not sure if I should say how much. It was an old French red that I did not keep for a particular celebration. I just drank it, and it was delicious. I would consider investing in fine wine.
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