By Clark Turner.
Forty-years-old, unemployed and self-confessed “unemployable”. That was the situation Simon Woodroffe found himself in, in the mid-1990s.
His background involved leaving school at 16 to work in the entertainment business, eventually setting up production companies responsible for staging concerts for some of the biggest music acts of the 70s and 80s. The 90s saw him move into television setting up deals to cover the broadcast of the likes of Amnesty International and Prince’s Trust concerts.
Today he stands at the head of the Yo! empire – a brand that spans a global sushi restaurant, a hotel chain as well as residential building and spa project.
So why, when it would have seemed the easy option to get a desk job, did Woodroffe decide to launch his own business?
“I was unemployable,” he admits. “I was a character and there was no way I could do an office job.
“What I did know was that if I was going to do something, it had to be big. But I knew I had inside of me to carry it through and make it a success. If not, I would lose everything.”
Simon added, “I did it not for pleasure or wealth, but rather because I was obsessed with the idea and wanted to see it thorough.
Yo!’s success has been down to getting the product right. The opening of the first Yo! Sushi restaurant back in 1997 elevated eating to a dining experience never seen before with a conveyor belt and a robot serving drinks.
Simon’s latest venture has been the opening of a capsule hotel chain. Yotel! opened at Gatwick earlier this year, followed most recently by a second opening at Heathrow.
Both projects have been successful on the back of minimal marketing through traditional channels.
“Marketing is such a broad discipline,” he said. “I terms of POS and getting the look and branding right for a company, it’s an instinctive thing for me.
“Building a business is an exciting thing but it’s important to keep its integrity and to reflect the character of the people in your organisation.”
Simon added, “Each of the Yo! companies in the brand are a different business and approached as such but although they have different logos they have a similar look and feel.”
As a businessman Simon has learnt many things but perhaps the most important is about building the right team.
He told us, “Business has taught me many things but realising my approach towards working is not the only approach that can be taken was a key step.
“I’ve learnt to let go and let others demonstrate the strengths they were employed for.”
He added, “It’s critical to find out what you’re good at and concentrate on it 95 per cent.
“For me, I realised I’m good at starting things and have dedicated my time to doing just that.”
So what does 2008 have in store? It’s going to be another busy year developing two new projects: Yo! Home, developing residential homes of the future; and Yo! Zone, a spa concept due to open in London in 2009.
A third Yotel is also set to open at Schipol Airport, Amsterdam.
“On top of that I have a new TV series in the pipeline and am writing a book,” Simon said. “I’ve also just formed the Yo! Foundation, oh, and I’d like to have some fun too."
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