Ben Way, 30, is best known for his appearance in Channel 4’s Secret Millionaire in 2006.
Way grew up in Devon and left school at 16 to run the computer consultancy he had started at 15. At 17, he developed a search engine for online shopping, Pulsar, the rights for which he received an investment of £25m.
In 2007, he became chief innovations officer at Brightstation Ventures, a venture capital fund with $100m to invest in internet ventures.
Way is managing director of The Rainmakers, an innovations and incubation company. He has helped launch HorsesMouth, the pro social mentoring website, and Viapost, an online postal company.
He is single and has a base in London, but spends most of his time in Miami.
Did you think you would get to where you are?
No. I still cannot believe where I am. I should be on a farm, married with children, claiming my Devonshire heritage. My father is an accountant, my mother an artist and writer, but my upbringing had a lot to do with agriculture.
I have lived a life that I never have expected when I was younger, although it has not been easy. At 16,
I did not have any major plans. I was already running a business and I just went with the flow.
When you realised that you had made your first million pounds were you tempted to slow down?
I made my first million when I was 17. My share of the company Pulsar was worth £15m.
Absolutely I did not want to slow down. The money has never really been why I enjoy business. It is a nice side effect. It used to be far more important to me but once you have earned millions, the best thing you can do is to make other people rich, and doing that happens to make money for me too.
What is the secret of your success?
Failure has taught me more than success. Every time I have had a good kicking and fallen over I have managed to pick myself up and get on with it. At 17 I had raised £25m, but by 21 I had lost everything because I was diluted out of the company by the investors. That taught me who my friends were, how business deals are created and fall apart, and that the only time you need to look at contracts is when you make or lose a lot of money.
Have you had time for personal financial planning?
I put a lot of my money back into the businesses that I create. I am young enough to take that risk, and I don’t worry too much about the future. I’m quite capable of finding properties and redeveloping them. I am very hands-on with any new asset, and I want to add value to it myself and get my
hands dirty. But I have an amazing personal assistant. A good PA doubles your capacity to work. That is my one recommendation.
What is your basic business philosophy?
We take very early stage high-risk businesses to market. Nobody else really does what we do. It is so high risk that nobody will touch it. The risk of failure of each company is huge but so is the potential.
We work with companies that are just ideas and make them a reality. But a good idea is worth nothing unless you can implement it with the help of really good people.
Do you want to carry on till you drop?
I will carry on until I drop because my business is my hobby. It is an addiction in its own right. I can only spend about a week on the beach before I end up starting a new business.
Have you made a pension provision?
No, none at all. Isn’t that terrible? I regard my property portfolio and my company as a pension.
What is your commitment to philanthropy?
Through Secret Millionaire I gave over £40,000 to various people, including the Pedro club, a youth organisation. I’m also patron of Social Firms, an organisation that helps people with disabilities find employment.
Did you allow yourself the odd indulgence?
Yes, I rebuilt a Maxum 41 foot power yacht, which was fun. It is based in Miami. I took it from an asset worth hardly anything to an almost brand new yacht.
I also have a Panther, a lovely classic car that lives in England but is about to be taken out to the US. Such cars are very unusual over there. I did a lot of work on the engine but not completely rebuilding it.
What is your money-saving tip in the recession?
I suppose I no longer use my credit lines as much as I used to. Credit lines are a tool if you use them correctly, but in a recession you want to reduce your exposure
What was your most prudent investment?
It is probably property, though I was lucky to get out before the downturn.
I bought a flat in Sussex Gardens near Hyde Park Corner for £300,000 in 2004, which I redesigned from a two-bedroom one-bathroom apartment to a flat with three bedrooms (two
en suite bathrooms), a gym and office. I was able to knock through a ground floor wall that had been blocked off, including a cellar. I invested an additional £70,000 in the property, and sold it for £750,000 two years later. If I had not taken the risk on the extra space I would have only got £500,000.
I’m picking up low cost Section Eight homes – where the government pays for the rent – and which are easy to turn around and make quite a lot of money on. They are effectively like UK council housing. Property is currently a good investment because it is low-cost relative to the peak market. There is a chance that it could take another drop, but I think it is a good risk.
I never buy a property to enjoy it. I’m always buying them to turn around and to add value. I never get attached to my assets.
What is the most you have ever paid for a bottle of fine wine or champagne?
I have a competition with a business partner where each month one of us pays and we have to exceed the cost of the last dinner. We are currently on about £2,000. We spent £1,000 on a bottle of red wine.
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