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Steffan Rygaard's 5 lessons in entrepreneurship

LONDON, Feb. 4, 2014 /PRNewswire-iReach/ -- Steffan Rygaard, director of Vision Direct Ltd, started his business in 1997 working from a box room in a shared house, with just £1,000 and a credit card. Today the company employs 40 people, operates through much of Europe and has a turnover of around €20 million. So what's the secret of his success?

(Photo: http://photos.prnewswire.com/prnh/20140204/MN58676)

Firstly - crucial for all new businesses - he'd spotted a gap in the market. "The idea was simple," he says. "Contact lenses were extortionately expensive and unattainable in the UK other than through opticians. The industry was almost a monopoly. I pioneered the idea of direct sales of optical products to the consumer, starting with replacement contact lenses, through VisionDirect.co.uk."

Rygaard's initial £1,000 start-up funding came from four people - himself, his father, a long-term family friend, and "someone with industry knowledge" - and the company was split four ways. However, within six months he'd bought back all the shares.

Vision Direct gained huge publicity almost immediately, with reports in the Guardian, Independent, Daily Mail and Times, as well as coverage on BBC Radio 4's Today Programme and the BBC's 9 O'clock News. The commentary centred on the optometry profession's shock that the company was selling contact lenses online with no eye testing involved. Not only that - it was considering legal action.

Despite Rygaard's argument that the company would only supply contact lenses to customers who already had a prescription, and would send them reminders to have their eyes tested regularly, Vision Direct was successfully prosecuted by the General Optical Council in 1998. The company had to pay a fine of £50,000.

But this was not the end of Vision Direct. Consumer feedback and further press coverage revealed strong support for the company's services, with many people fed up with the high prices charged by opticians for contact lenses. Independent columnist Oliver James was unequivocal in his opinion:

"Until last week I have been an enthusiastic user of this wonderful service. But then, last Thursday, came the news that Vision Direct has been successfully prosecuted… On the technicality that because [they] leave it to the honesty of their public to declare whether they have had a test in the past year, the company was held to be failing to act responsibly. What gives the lie to this argument is the simple fact that in Denmark, Germany and several other nations, direct mail lenses have been acceptable for some time."

Indeed the fact that the service is perfectly legal in other European countries (as well as the United States) led to Rygaard moving the business to the Netherlands, from where it now operates, having grown from strength to strength since its controversial beginnings in the UK.

Rygaard is keen to share what he has learned about setting up and running a business with others who are starting out. "I learnt some truly harsh lessons," he says. "I would like to pass these on to all entrepreneurs that dream of starting a company. These are five gems that I have never forgotten on my journey."

So here are those gems, in Steffan Rygaard's own words:

Lesson 1:

Get funding of some sort because you need it for growth. Don't be naïve - if you start a company you will need to pay yourself.

Lesson 2:

Make sure your bank manager knows you well. You will need a bank to help alleviate the working capital facilities.

Lesson 3:

Do not hand over signing power. If you take on directors or anyone with authority, think very carefully about what they are allowed to do. 

Lesson 4:

When you employ your first members of staff, ensure you manage their expectations. Keep in regular contact with them and treat them as equals.

Lesson 5:

Check every invoice. There is nothing wrong with being tightfisted. Remember that you started with nothing, so don't give away too much.

And finally, Rygaard adds one more piece of advice: "Always try and find time to talk to people. There is always something you can learn."

Follow Visiondirect on Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and our blog.

By Jens Håkanson on behalf of Steffan Rygaard

Media Contact: Gareth Woods, Visiondirect.co.uk, 0044-(0)8447454545, [email protected]

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SOURCE Visiondirect.co.uk

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