Life before Myprotein ® – part one

By on March 25, 2013
Oliver Cookson

After many years working in the sports nutrition industry, I know that successful business comes from knowing what your customers want. On the 1st of June 2011 I sold my first company Myprotein. Just seven years after I first opened its ‘doors’ on the 6th of May 2004.

The only capital I had to start up Myprotein ® (MP) was the use of a £500 overdraft facility after a popular high street bank refused me a small start-up loan after banking with them for as long as I can remember (but that’s another story).

The first baby steps

With the overdraft, I secured a small lock up in South Manchester and my first order of Whey Protein Concentrate 80 (a single 25kg sack). I had just turned 24. Myprotein ® was born.

Building the Myprotein ® website

Less than a year earlier, the project had started with me building the first version of the website, which incidentally we ran with until 2010 when we moved to a different platform.

I built the Myprotein ® website in the evening after my full time job. It was a long hard slog; I would say I did around 4-6 hours each night. In total it took me nine months of preparation before I approached the bank for the loan.

At the time of selling, Myprotein ® was the leading online sports nutrition brand in the UK and also one of the fastest growing private businesses in the UK bar none with a string of national awards and accolades.

The products were associated with many leading sports teams, and the company had enjoyed rapid growth, with sales over £25m in 2011* from its huge database of registered customers, up from £16m in 2010*.  Most importantly (from a pure commercial sense) the business was highly profitable, due to the efficient structure and the fact I ran a tight ship.

My life before Myprotein ®

The success I had come to know was a long way from my humble (albeit very happy) beginnings. I grew up in inner city Manchester with my Mum, a secretary and my Dad, a private car dealer, until the age of eleven when my parents separated and I continued to live with my Mum in a hardworking, single parent family environment.

I believe this is where my drive to succeed stems from. We remained in Manchester, life was good but there were no silver spoons in the draw, I certainly didn’t come from a wealthy background. On the contrary! I know the value of money!

Working before and after school on a paper round I quickly learnt three valuable lessons; that nothing comes easy; working for myself could potentially pay a lot better and arguably the most important lesson, you only get out what you put in!

Suffice to say I didn’t leave full-time education with a satchel full of academic qualifications either – far from it, just a single GCSE in Science and a ‘F’ in Computer Studies!  I did however leave with a funny one-liner from my IT teacher (I won’t name him) who said to my Mum at a parents evening, and I quote “Oliver will never make a career in IT, so please try and push him down a different career path.”

I did use that as a ‘lever’ to again instil more drive and determination to succeed and since I have always been one to follow my own path in life, I did and I’m glad that even at that young age I believed in myself enough to ignore his view.

Becoming an entrepreneur

I believe I had a visionary and entrepreneurial spirit from an early age, looking back there were many ‘projects’ I started that showed flair. Some took off a little, some didn’t, but they all helped to shape me for my ‘big project’.

I always wanted to be successful in business I didn’t know what that business was going to be but I knew I wanted to run it. So when I left state school at 16 years old with my one GCSE, I thought I would give academic studies one more go and headed to Stockport College to pursue a career in IT, I left after two weeks, it just didn’t connect with me. In short I guess you can say that academic studies did nothing for me, I simply had zero interest, was I a failure?

It was a dark time and if I’m honest I felt a little lost. But shortly afterwards I answered a job advert for a ‘modern apprenticeship’ in computer programming, the salary was just £6,000 a year but I wanted to try it so I did, and I loved it (I have loved computers ever since I first had one when I was younger). Working in an office taught me so much more than just my day job, I learnt how to operate and interact in a commercial environment learning all about the different elements of social dynamics and of course office politics! Something university could never train me for!

I’m adamant that growing up without the luxuries of some, nurtured the necessary hunger and drive in me that turned Myprotein ® into a multi-million pound organisation, which saw rapid growth of over 100 per cent year on year since its inception in 2004.

From a start-up to a sell up much success was achieved and equally harsh lessons were learnt.  From seeing a gap in a growing market to harnessing the power of social media (a relatively unheard of social interaction at that time) to innovative business ideas, it was certainly a life-changing journey. I like to call these “The Myprotein ® years”.

Thanks, Oliver.

*Legal: These details have been taken from public interviews on Myprotein ®.

About Oliver Cookson

GoNutrition® founder and CEO Oliver Cookson is a UK entrepreneur most noted for having established the successful sports nutrition business Myprotein. In 2011 Cookson sold Myprotein and has since gone on to establish GoNutrition®.