Jon Richards, 32, is the co-founder and chief executive of the finance comparison website compareit4me.com, which is currently live in nine markets across the Middle East. Born and raised by a single mother in South Wales, Mr Richards moved to Dubai in March 2011 to join propertyfinder.ae to manage its digital marketing before launching compareit4me later that year. He lives with his wife and their four-year-old daughter.
How do you spend your weekend?
As any parent will tell you, the weekends are busier than the weekdays. I spend the weekend with my wife and daughter – that usually consists of time at the pool, at the beach, walking the dog and of course you’re never more than a few yards from a mall in Dubai. I love going to the climbing wall and recently found one for my daughter. As a family we tend to do a lot of staycations, we have stayed in the best hotels in the UAE and typically do a few days over the weekend. Nothing makes me appreciate Dubai more than taking a short local break. Around that, I’m constantly working, answering calls and emails and thinking of new ways to grow the business.
How did you become an chief executive?
I have wanted to start my own business since I was a teenager. I previously tried a few, some which made some money, many that failed, but they all formed part of the learning required to become my own boss. The time I spent at propertyfinder.ae really helped me; it was like start-up school. I joined when they were around 15 people and left when it was around 150. I was part of the senior management team and reported directly to the chief executive – that gave me access to the ins and outs of running a start-up. Approximately three months after joining, I had the idea to start compareit4me. I didn’t reinvent the wheel; I took a very successful business model from the UK and localised it for the UAE and then eight other markets in the Mena region. I had some insight as my wife had previously worked for confused.com, one of the largest comparison sites in the UK. I partnered with a friend and a colleague at propertyfinder, Samer Chehab, and continued to work on compareit4me for three years while at propertyfinder. Working on a start-up while employed full-time is hard. You have zero spare time, constantly say no to social engagements and do a lot of work for zero reward. To add to it, both Samer and I had young children so we were pretty tired. Then in March 2014, we closed an angel round of funding and the two of us started to work on compareit4me full-time. Today, we have raised more than US$6 million and employ around 40 people.
What is your go-to gadget?
The iPhone. Like most people, I’m thrown into fear when the battery is on the way out or when I can’t find it for more than two seconds.
What was the lowest point of your career?
When I was 23 I started a legal services website which quickly started to make good money. I ran it for a year, but as quick as it become a success, it hit a brick wall. Shutting that business was heartbreaking and sent me into a state of near- depression. It took months to get over it. The mistake I made then was attributing too much of who I am in the success of my business.
What advice would you offer others starting out in your business?
Find a good co-founder and take as much advice as you can. Being an entrepreneur is amazing fun, it’s all I’ve ever dreamt of so even the bad days are OK. It’s often said that life as an entrepreneur gives you the highest highs or the lowest lows. Having a good co-founder makes the bad days good and gives you someone to celebrate the good days with.
What is your most indulgent habit?
Probably flying business class. It’s naughty, I know but nothing beats business class on an A380.
What do you have on your desk at work?
It’s usually pretty messy but you’ll find headphones, coffee, my Mac, a phone charger and of course a holiday request form from someone.
How do you achieve a work-life balance?
I probably don’t have this right just yet. I get to the office at 7:30am and leave at 7pm. I always make it home to say goodnight to my daughter, but it’s brief. As the chief executive, I want to lead from the front. I want the team to know that I’m there with them and that starts with me being first in and last out. It can be hard running a start-up and being a dad, you want to spend time with your family, but a young business really needs your time and attention.
If you could swap jobs with anyone who would it be and why?
I don’t want to be employed ever again, but the life of a venture capitalist seems the obvious next step for me. Meeting start-ups, working with founders and helping those companies scale must be a lot of fun.
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