The route to becoming an online millionaire didn't quite happen as Rob Halliday-Stein plannned. In the final year of his economics degree, he and a friend built a student accommodation website. Unfortunately, the dotcom bubble burst and, instead of becoming an internet millionaire, Halliday-Stein went to work for an opticians Dollond & Aitchison.
There, having impressed in different departments, he was allowed to run its online business. At the time, the firm "had a website that it wasn't doing anything with", so Stein began to experiment. After seven successful years and now an expert in online retail, he left to help Asda launch the internet side of its George clothing line. But just ten months into the job, Halliday-Stein's mother died. He left the company, determined to make a fresh start. But doing what?
The answer came from an unexpected source. With the financial crisis in full swing in 2008, Halliday-Stein decided to protect the value of his inheritance by investing some of it in gold. But he found buying gold tough.
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"I wasn't very impressed by the customer service offered by bullion dealers and none of them had a clue about the internet." He decided there and then that a gap existed for a web-savvy gold dealer.
"I knew nothing aboutstoring gold safely, insuring it or delivering it to customers," he says, but fortunately, after a few enquiries, he struck a relationship with a bullion dealer who agreed to handle the supply and delivery. Using some of his inheritance, Halliday-Stein commissioned a website. BullionByPost was ready by May 2009.
Now Halliday-Stein made full use of the online marketing tricks he'd honed earlier in his career, using search engine optimisation and paid-for results to drive traffic to the site. Helped in part by the worsening economic climate and the rising price of gold, business grew.
Halliday-Stein was careful to avoid the fevered, bullish sales pitch of some of his competitors. "I think gold is something you buy as insurance, not to speculate on getting rich. We didn't want to try to persuade our customers to invest in gold but simply to help them once they'd made that decision."
By late 2009 the firm was growing fast. "We needed more suppliers because our refiner was sometimes out of stock." When Halliday-Stein was approached by another supplier, he jumped at the chance, but it was a decision that would change his business completely. "They weren't interested in delivering to customers. They'd give us a good price but we would have to store and deliver the gold."
Halliday-Stein used the rest of his inheritance and director loans to help finance new premises. "It was a turning point because until then if the business went bust I could have walked away. After this I had a lot more to lose." Buying in bulk allowed him to get a better price, while having extra suppliers meant he could widen his offering and start selling coins.
Last year sales hit £55m and Halliday-Stein is preparing to move to even larger premises. Does a recent dip in the gold price bother him? No. "There's still lots of potential in Britain and some exciting opportunities in Europe."
James graduated from Keele University with a BA (Hons) in English literature and history, and has a NCTJ certificate in journalism.
After working as a freelance journalist in various Latin American countries, and a spell at ITV, James wrote for Television Business International and covered the European equity markets for the Forbes.com London bureau.
James has travelled extensively in emerging markets, reporting for international energy magazines such as Oil and Gas Investor, and institutional publications such as the Commonwealth Business Environment Report.
He is currently the managing editor of LatAm INVESTOR, the UK's only Latin American finance magazine.
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