Hot tub entrepreneur helping business brains of the future
WHILE some of his former school-mates turned to crime, Daniel Thomas's enterprising streak was helping him on the way to making a million.
"A few went down the wrong path and ended up in prison," said Daniel, who first showed a flair for business at 16 by importing mobile phone screen protectors from China and selling them on eBay from his bedroom at his mum's home in Sherwood.
Seven years on, the young entrepreneur is on his way to making a £1 million turnover in the hot tub industry.
But it hasn't all been plain sailing and there have been mistakes along the way – as Daniel tells school pupils through two organisations he's involved in.
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His work with Model Behaviour takes him into primary schools in deprived areas such as Radford and Hyson Green to raise aspirations.
And through Young Enterprise he talks to secondary school pupils, getting them to think about their futures and teaching "financial intelligence" such as budgeting and how to write a cheque.
He tells them about his business, his academic history and the people he hung around with at school.
Daniel believes youngsters are forced to make decisions about their future long before they have any idea what careers entail.
The 23-year-old said: "People think if they go into business they're going to end up like Lord Sugar with fancy suits in the city. Few people are aware of the knocking on doors and cold calling that needs to be done – it's the same with every career."
Although he studied A-level business at High Pavement College, Daniel says he learned more through trial and error.
When the money started rolling in from screen protector sales, the former Bluecoat School pupil moved on to bigger and more profitable products, including projector screens, motion sensor taps and golf carts.
With the cash pouring in at 18, he went out and bought a brand new Audi A3.
"I drove it to college to show off to my friends. One year later eBay experienced a downturn and I was forced to sell it.
"Looking back it was a stupid thing to do and I've certainly matured since then," said Daniel.
He was so caught up in selling that he skipped lectures and only sat two of his four A-levels.
"I do regret it. I'm sitting A-levels at the moment in case I decide I want to go to university later," he said.
He gained good grades in his business exam but Daniel said: "For me a lot of what I did was learning from mistakes. The subject was not necessarily the best grounding for what I was doing – it didn't apply to one-man bands."
In 2006 he began specialising in hot tubs after recognising that, for the business to grow, he needed to concentrate on a single product rather than dozens of different ones.
He believed he could shake up the industry with a more complete service than was being offered by other firms.
He developed his own website called DanZ.co.uk.
Importing luxury hot tubs for the British and French markets, business boomed with a turnover of £580,000 in 2010.
This year he hopes to break the £1 million barrier.
Daniel, who works from an office in Basford and employs three staff, said: "I'm really proud of what I've been able to achieve so far but I know there's so much more to come. "Like all entrepreneurs you're always looking to take things on to the next level and breaking the million pound barrier will be a real accomplishment.
"We have plans to move to our own warehouse in the summer to allow us to store a larger quantity of stock and deliver to customers quicker. We also hope to take on another team member."
Daniel, whose mother Lorna is an accountant, said it had been tough explaining his ambitions when she wanted him to go into higher education.
"My mum hoped I'd go to university then work my way up the corporate ladder, but I was making more money than most graduates and couldn't afford to put the business on hold for several years.
"Eventually she came around to my way of thinking and has been great. She's really proud of me and even helps out with my accounts," said Daniel.
Despite selling hot tubs, Daniel doesn't own one to relax in at the end of a busy working day. And before splashing out on this, or a new car, he has a more pressing need.
"I'm hoping to get on the property ladder this year," he said.