Dominic List: I made £11m on a maxed-out credit card

Dominic List raised £100,000 from credit cards and the sale of his car to set up Comtact. Last year, his firm turned over £11m. But his ambitions don't end there.

Dominic List hated his first job working in a call centre. Yet a decade later in 2002 the experience would inspire him to start his own business. His plan was to package together rapidly developing call-centre telecommunications technologies and offer specific solutions for companies. "It was evolving so quickly that lots of companies were being left behind."

List was short of cash, so he asked established technology firms if they would back a joint venture. Eventually, one agreed to provide some capital and administration capability so that List could put together the products and find customers.

For two years the partnership worked well and the business grew. List helped large blue-chip clients such as General Electric update their call centres and integrate them with the rest of the business. "We enabled companies to make their processes more efficient, so our solutions saved them money."

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But as the business grew, so did the tensions between the partners. "People in the partner company felt that the joint venture was taking up too much time and resources. They didn't like my way of doing business."

Eventually, List walked away from a business that's now worth several million. He took just £30,000 and a few client phone numbers. "It was a very painful episode, but I just had to chalk it up to experience."

List determined to start afresh, but this time his father intervened and advised him to try and make his business work without any partners. "It was hard to do, but it turned out to be good advice."

List sold his sports car, remortgaged his flat and took out credit card loans to raise a total of £100,000 for his new firm, Comtact. "It wasn't a lot, but I had a new business model that wouldn't need as much capital." He managed to secure deals with suppliers, which meant he wouldn't have to pay them until he had been paid himself. He also decided not to hire any fulltime staff. Instead, he built relationships with key contractors that he could rely on when he had a big project.

His next move was to "get in front of clients" and meet key industry figures at trade shows. In 2006 he landed a contract to integrate and streamline call centres for the Royal Bank of Scotland. "I designed the concept, using some of the emerging voice and data technologies, then I hired some great engineers to help me work out the detail and install it."

But within months the call centre stopped working when the supplier that was providing List with BT access went bust. That cost List "hundred of thousands of pounds", but he just managed to keep RBS as a customer. "I made lots of apologies and offered lots of free support work."

List then went after more customers knowing that there were many companies not taking advantage of new communication technologies.

By 2008 sales hit £3m as he grabbed work with the British Standards Institute and Amersham Care. With more money coming in, List began investing in research and development.

The financial crisis didn't affect his firm much as there was "so much market for us to grab". Last year Comtact posted sales of almost £11m. Still just 28, List has further ambitions: "I want to turn this into a £250m company."

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 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.