Only weeks before the birth of his second child in 2007, Mark Jankovich, 41, decided to quit his banking job in the City. "It wasn't ideal timing but I had had enough. The money was nice but the job gave me no satisfaction."
Convinced that "food and the environment" are the two dominant investment themes of this century he turned to the environment for inspiration. "We are only at the beginning of the transition to a 'green world'. Over the coming years firms will increasingly invest in green solutions." He scoured the globe, looking for green businesses to invest in. But after much travelling he hit on the ideal firm by chance in Liverpool. "I was trawling Google looking for opportunities when I came across a firm making cleaning products from natural ingredients."
Although the owners were "two brilliant scientists", in 2008 Delphis Eco was in serious trouble. "The founders were incredibly gifted and had created an excellent range of products, but they lacked the business acumen to make it a success." With the firm "weeks from insolvency", Jankovich decided to be "the white knight" who would "save the company". It turned out to be "one of the worst decisions I have ever made". Having bought out the founders for £500,000, he inherited a firm that "was in debt and losing money fast".
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For starters, the firm was selling its products for less than it cost to make. It also had "a fragmented client base, an uncoordinated sales strategy, too many staff and mountains of debt". The first six months were spent "persuading angry creditors to give the company more time". Not easy at the height of the credit crunch.
Next he had to "pare back" costs. "I found myself sacking the people I thought I was going to save." Jankovich then set about ensuring Delphis Eco outsourced "almost everything". In a year, ten staff became two. Now he focused on the sales strategy. "We were selling bits and bobs to everyone, from ships to offices. We were a jack of all trades but master of none." Jankovich tried approaching contract cleaners and distributors, but they already had good relations with the established suppliers.
He then tried property management companies, but found that "despite their loud environmental policies", they would only switch products if clients demanded it. "The most frustrating thing was that they had this idea that we would be more expensive and less effective than the traditional chemical-based products."
Jankovich decided to go for broke he began cleaning offices for free. "I realised that it would be a case of seeing is believing, so I began offering six month trials." It was a "pretty expensive experiment" (it required new funding from friends and family), but it paid off when Iceland agreed to use Delphis Eco.
That was a big breakthrough. Following deals with catering supplier 3663 and various regional cleaning contractors, Delphis Eco is on track for sales of £1m in 2010 the target is £3m in 2011. The firm is also back to ten staff, "but this time making a profit". Jankovich is bullish: "More and more companies will start to clean responsibly so our growth potential is enormous."
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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