Tom Dirse, CEO of Upside Down House, discusses his one-of-a-kind business and what others can learn from his experience.
When my now business partner approached me with the idea of bringing upside-down houses to the UK, I had my reservations. I would never have imagined then that aged 25, I’d be the CEO of a successful chain of tourist attractions. Now, Upside Down House has expanded to four locations in the space of a year, the latest of which opened in Brighton in May. We’ve been profiled across the media and have even starred in a Barclaycard advert. My business may be one of a kind, but there are plenty of things that other businesses can learn from my experience.
- Have confidence in your vision
When we launched the country’s first upside-down house last year, I wasn’t sure how the idea would be received in the UK. I didn’t let this hold me back, however I didn’t rush in without a clear understanding of what our business strategy would be to create a concept I could have real confidence in.
Since then, I’ve been amazed by the reception it has had and how quickly the business has expanded. My advice to others is to make sure you are confident about your business plan and take the time to work out any aspects you might be less sure about. Every entrepreneur has worries – just make sure you put your energy into working through these to create a strong business strategy.
- Be prepared to put in the work
When I started the business, I was still working full time, in two different jobs. It wasn’t always easy juggling this with my business idea, but putting in the time and commitment to the project made all the difference in making it into a success and allowing me to start working for myself. The old adage is true: hard work really does pay off. See your time spent now as a long-term investment to creating the business you want.
- Build a strong team
I’ve found that as a small business owner, and especially a start-up, having the right people around me has helped me to stay calm and on top of everything. My advice to other entrepreneurs is to build a strong circle of people you can rely on and who share your vision. When you have that team, make sure you prioritise their wellbeing and development. Looking after your employees can pay dividends: if your staff are happy, they’ll be more productive and invested in their work. That’s especially important in a small company.
- Harness the power of social media
The Upside Down House’s appeal to the public is the chance to take unique and fun photos to share with their friends. This creates a win-win situation for us and our customers, with their social media photos helping to market and support the growth of the business.
Social media is everywhere, and people love to share their experiences with their friends and family. You can use social media to grow a following and community and share your business with people across wider areas than traditional marketing forms. Recently, we’ve featured in a Barclaycard advert, which has been shared on social media and raised even more awareness of our business, driving a spike in visits to our houses.
- Choose the right payment solution
With the sheer number of people going through our attractions each day, installing contactless terminals to speed up the entry process and cut down queues has been key to providing the best customer experience we can. Despite what people say, the British don’t like to queue, so working with Barclaycard to implement the most efficient payment system for our business has definitely helped us keep our customers happy.
My advice to other entrepreneurs is to think about the customer experience you are offering from the beginning to the end. Simple things like having the right payment technology can make all the difference in whether your customers recommend your business to their friends and family.
- And finally, do something unique
We’ve been able to build a successful business using an unusual idea and by taking a bit of a risk. If we hadn’t been so different, we wouldn’t have been picked up by Barclaycard for their advert series, and wouldn’t have struck such a chord with our customers.
Even our Upside Down Houses are all different, with each one in a particular theme that we choose to suit the location or the season. We’ve found that being open to evolving and changing even in small ways can keep your business unique and interesting.
In the past year, I’ve learned a lot about business and how important it is to create a strong foundation to expand from. Simple things like making sure you have the right payment system can provide the best possible customer experience and keep your business growing. At Upside Down House, we’ve used our unique offering to keep expanding, and have ambitions to bring Upside Down Houses all over the country in the coming years.