SUCCESS IS IN THE MIND PODCAST: Listen to Chris & James Horne – GunsOnPegs Interview

James and Chris Horne_SIITM Wall Post

How do father and son team Chris and James Horne turn their hobby and ultimately vision of an online sporting broker into a reality?

Founder and Entrepreneur Oliver Bruce speaks with owner operator entrepreneurs, innovators and leaders about their failures, barriers, mistakes, passion and persistence to achieve their vision

Having not turned profit for over 10 years and struggled to make payroll on multiple occasions it was only in the last 18 months that the biggest online sporting broker GunsOnPegs finally became ‘profitable’

James Horne, who sold his previous business before becoming CEO of James Purdey & Sons (a business over 200 years old) decided to venture into the world of start-up alongside his Financial Analyst son Chris Horne.

Having nearly lost it all on multiple occasions this is a story of persistence, passion and enjoyment in times of huge illation as well as that of occasional deflation!

You can listen to the latest podcast with Chris & James Horne – GunsOnPegs here via your preferred provider either Apple or Spotify

Apple: E3: Success Is In The Mind: Chris & James Horne – GunsOnPegs Interview

Spotify: E3: Success Is In The Mind: Chris & James Horne – GunsOnPegs Interview

Full transcript below

Chris Horne:

In the summer of 2017, I had to draw down the final aspect of the loan, which was just enough to allow me to pay the salaries. And at that point I said to myself, I will never put myself in that position again.

Oliver Bruce:

Success Is In The Mind is proud to have partnered with and be supported by the Great British Entrepreneur Awards and community, a programme that recognises celebrates, supports, encourages and champions entrepreneurs in Great Britain. Hello, and welcome to another episode of Success Is In The Mind with me, Oliver Bruce. If you’re new to the show, we’ll be discussing with current owner entrepreneurs their failures, mistakes, passion, and continued persistence in the face of business adversity. Not all entrepreneurs have completed their vision just yet, some are just starting out. I want to give you a sense of business reality in a world full of idealism. What does it take to become successful, to grow a brand, or to start a business? Join me to find out from those that are currently doing just that. Today, I’m joined by father and son duo and founders of the UK’s biggest online sporting agents, GunsOnPegs. Conceptualised in 2007, GunsOnPegs was largely a side hustle, that was until 2009, when James and Chris Horne turned their passion into their business. Today, GunsOnPegs has over 115,000 members with over 1200 shoots listed across the UK. James is a serial entrepreneur having founded many businesses, chief amongst which in 1994 was CCL Foods, which ultimately was sold to Baxter Food Group in 2003 before later becoming the executive chairman for Purdey Guns in 2014 and the CEO for GunsOnPegs. James’ son Chris has since a very young age, shared his father’s entrepreneurial spirit, selling mixed mud and sand pots on the road outside their family home aged seven. Chris later went on to start his first proper business during his gap year before university, and now oversees the growth of GunsOnPegs, sitting ultimately as the managing director. James and Chris, welcome to Success Is In The Mind.

Chris Horne:

Where on earth did you get this information?

James Horne:

The bucket of mud and dog poo is quite funny.

Chris Horne:

[laughs] Yeah. Being a sporting agent is exactly what we’re not trying to be, but the problem is when you create a business, which hasn’t been done before, people immediately put you in a category that they can relate to. So I don’t get angry with people for calling us a sporting agent, but a sporting agent would take money from a deal, they would make commission like a travel agent, and we are a disruptive free business. So to try and explain to people right from day one, what we do and how we work has been literally our biggest challenge and we’re nowhere near done yet. In actual fact, we did a survey last year and 30% of our users, our active users, still don’t realise that we don’t charge commission and that we’re totally free to use. It’s just, it’s amazing. It’s one of our biggest problems.

Oliver Bruce:

How do you then make money if you don’t charge commission?

Chris Horne:

Until about two years ago? I said we didn’t [laughs]

James Horne:

[laughs] I must say, when I started the business, we were actually very keen not to make money in order to ensure that we didn’t have a competitor. And it was for some considerable period that it was not a money-making exercise because when we started it, it was complete accident. And I remember I was running a big shoot near new market and was fortunate enough to have the guys that funded the start of eBay and indeed were involved with the start of Google, and they flew over in their private jets from California. I happened to say to Bruce Dunlevie, who’s the head of Benchmark Capital, and he happened to own 38% of Instagram personally when he sold it. But he’s a serial investor into internet based businesses, and I said to him for a laugh one day, why don’t you make an eBay for shooting? And he turned around and said to me, “well, James we can’t do it, why don’t you do it?” And that’s actually how it started. I happened to say to him then, “well, I don’t know an awful lot about the internet”. And he said, “well, we’ll give you a few words of advice”. He didn’t give us much. And he certainly didn’t tell me it was going to cost several million quid to get the thing going. But what he did do is gave us that wonderful encouragement. It is actually Chris who’s made it into the profitable and sensible business it is now, I made it into a sort of an opportunity, and it’s the partnership with Chris that’s really made it into a viable business.

Chris Horne:

I mean, that’s like, say like, you know, you’re both on a surfboard, you do all the paddling, and then I just get on the wave and do all the surfing.

Oliver Bruce:

One puts in all the hard graft and one just comes up with the idea.

James Horne:

But it has been a wonderful team effort, which started simply around our passion for shooting. It was my dad, me and Chris going shooting as three generations, which standing together on a shoot, produced some of the most wonderful memories I think we’ll ever have. And then of course, this coincidence of being with Benchmark Capital and then me running a shoot gave us all the ingredients that we needed. And I’ve never forgotten when we got to 20,000 members at the start, you know, they were actually quite intrigued as they suddenly realised that, you know, what we’ve done is create a marketplace. And as Chris said earlier, it’s a disruptive business, but we created a marketplace where buyers and sellers came together. And part of the reason why we funded it so heavily in the early days was simply to make sure we own that marketplace, which is what we’ve actually ended up doing.

Oliver Bruce:

Well, one thing that struck me, James, was when I was looking through last night, your profile, obviously, I suppose, during a period of your life, you were both running a startup, be it GunsOnPegs, as well as also overseeing James Purdey, which is over 200 years old. I mean, I suppose going back to you, Chris, at what point did you go, I’m going to leave my job, I’m going to exit to the world of finance and go and sort of put it all onto black, so to speak?

Chris Horne:

So we were sitting outside a cafe called Francos and I was twenty- how old was I? 25, 24? And we were looking at this thing that we were running effectively from our BlackBerrys at the time, just answering customer queries and stuff like that. And we basically said, look, we’ve got a chance now to try and turn this into a business. And a guy sitting next to us, smoking a cigar, overheard this conversation and basically turned around and said, “how old are you?” to me. And I was like “24”. And he was like, “so what happens if you do this, and it doesn’t work”. And he’s like, “you’ll be like 26, right?” I was like, “yeah, fine”. He’s like “well you’re only 26. I mean, that’s not even a risk. Like you could just start again”. And it was actually really important.

James Horne:

I mean, that was- he was dressed in a black tie. I’ve never forgotten him and a wonderful guy, but he also then turned around and said, “well, why worry about it, Chris, anyway, because your old man can write you a decent part of a CV for the two years that you screwed this business up. So it doesn’t really matter, get on with it” [laughs].

Oliver Bruce:

So let’s just wind it back slightly, Chris, to when you were much, much younger, obviously 24, when you, I suppose, came up with this concept. But going back to your teens, your dad was obviously running his own business. He was exiting his own business. Was there part of you that always wanted to run your own business?

Chris Horne:

Absolutely. I mean, to be honest, everything that we’re doing now, or I’m able to do now, stems back from that belief. A hundred percent. I grew up with my mum and dad running their own business, they were both entrepreneurs, they both had differing skill sets. Mum was the cook, Dad was the business guy and they successfully created a business from nothing and sold it for a nice amount of money. And that gave me all the inspiration I ever needed. I would come home from school, I was at boarding school; partly because mum and dad were just literally at work the whole time, trying to make this thing a success, and I had nannies and all sorts when I was growing up for that same reason. But I wouldn’t change it for the world because I learned a huge amount. And I think it just gave me the belief that you can just do this, just believe in yourself, believe in your ideas, run with it, keep going. And it will just come good eventually. And I don’t know why, but that to me seems like the easy bit. It really does. Like that’s the bit, that’s not even a risk. Whereas other people, I think see that as the biggest hurdle.

Oliver Bruce:

So for you, what was the hardest bit? If that was one of the easiest.

Chris Horne:

I think dealing with the constant battle of trying to make it a success. So it wasn’t coming up with the ideas, implementing them, this, that, and the other. It was making them make money, convincing people to spend money on something, which wasn’t really a thing. That for me was the hardest bit. And I remember dad and I having a fight over whether we should do a budget [laughs].

James Horne:

[laughs] What budget?

Chris Horne:

Literally. I remember say dad was like, “we need to do a budget”. I was like, “what’s the point in a budget when first of all, the revenue streams are going to be different by the time we even get there, and the numbers are going to be literally pie in the sky”. I mean, we had no idea where our revenue was going to come from because we were coming up with things and then different stuff was happening. And we had this debate over a budget in about 2012, I reckon. So we were still going for a while, but we still had no idea where our money was coming from. And ultimately I think I was probably wrong, but there was a point to what I was saying, which is that it was so difficult to predict and that stress over not knowing if something was going to work or not, my God, that costs you hours and hours of sleep endlessly. And now we’re able to predict the budget pretty accurately.

Oliver Bruce:

So Chris, before GunsOnPegs became a thing you actually worked for somebody. You worked in a business, this wasn’t your first, I suppose, rodeo in as much as a career or a sort of job. Talk to me about the early days.

Chris Horne:

Yeah. I was working for a fund manager, asset management company, and I love that world. It was something I always wanted to do. And I sort of do it on the side as a hobby now. I don’t know if I learned many skills there. I suppose the skills I learned were actually observing the people, looking back, you know, the managers that were in those companies, because I don’t have much experience of working for other managers. When you talk about management style, I’ve got little to draw upon there. And so maybe my experience then was most important. But when it came to right, I remember saying to my boss, dad and I are going to go make our little side hobby a thing he just said to me, “look, that’s really honourable of you to sort of say this and do it like this. What, how about I give you three months? You can sort of work when you want, and we’ll try and keep the job open for you to come back if it doesn’t work”. I mean, they were literally so kind, and that basically enabled us to go, right, let’s go for this, go make some sales, because we need to make the sales now to prove it because obviously the company, if I wanted my job back, if we didn’t make it work, obviously that opportunity would disappear. And I remember having literally made no revenue from this tiny website with no traffic, we managed to pull in I think £64,000 in about five months or something, five or six months, in that first time when dad and I sat around the dining room table on the 1st September 2009. And we went and got deals with companies now that I would be happy with, with all the traffic and the users that we’ve got. I mean, it literally was a case of two people walking in with more passion that they just couldn’t say no to. It wasn’t about the stats. It was like, please buy into us.

Oliver Bruce:

That’s amazing. And when you went back to your, I suppose, previous employer and said, look, mate, thank you very much for the offer, but unfortunately I’m sticking now with GunsOnPegs and my vision, what was his reaction?

Chris Horne:

He loved it. And I had an email from him about five minutes before we went on this podcast, would you believe! We still see each other with the team that I was involved with at that time, we go to Goodmans every Christmas, you know, the steak restaurant in Mayfair, ’cause everyone loves it. And so we go and do that and everyone’s doing different things now, but yeah, he was really pleased and I’m obviously hugely grateful of him. And you know, he’s kind of one of the only bosses I’ve had. So I don’t know whether he was any good or not, but I enjoyed our time.

Oliver Bruce:

That’s a hell of an opportunity though, for someone to just go have three months for free, I suppose. Would you have still done it if he’d not given you that I suppose leeway?

Chris Horne:

Yes, we would have done. It’s just that I might have looked at it slightly differently. I don’t know. I don’t know if it changed much, but it was really nice of him at the time. And I suppose it made you feel good about what you were doing and maybe I slept better for the first three months. Gave me more energy to go and do those deals. I don’t know.

Oliver Bruce:

And James, what was your reaction when Chris sat you down on the 1st of September ’09 and said, this is what we’re doing, we’re running with our side hustle?

James Horne:

I looked at him and said, “Oh are we?” [laughs]. We’ve been a brilliant team. We have an immense respect for each other. It was great to have a partner because I’m sure as many entrepreneurs have told you, it’s very lonely at the top. And at times, you’re being shot at from every angle, it’s quite a tricky life, but no, we sat down and we, as partners, partners in crime in this business, and we got on and did it. And I think it’s very much the team, the teamwork, which is why it’s so important when you’re hiring people to make sure that they fit with the culture and they fit with the blend of people that you want. And Chris and I are fortunate enough to get on really well.

Oliver Bruce:

Could you have done it without each other?

Chris Horne:

No.

James Horne:

I don’t think so. No, probably not.

Chris Horne:

No, definitely not. The reason being that we actually carved out roles for each other without really meaning to quite early on. I’m a real techie geek at heart. And although I’m not a developer, I wish I had been, to be able to create the product, rather than having to explain to someone- in the middle of the night, I would just sit at my computer and do that. I still wish- I keep looking at developer courses so I can go and do that. But yeah, the techie side of the business I ran with and ultimately obviously the way the world has gone, the business got more and more techie. So dad’s role as more of the ambassador, especially with the type of customer that we talk to, became really important. And I was doing the sort of more feature creation, you know, route to market, that sort of stuff. And dad was dealing with all the people and the key customers and stuff like that. So that changed. And then once I got respect from others in our industry, and it sounds ridiculous to say that, but once I got respect from others in our industry, by 2015, having actually got a business that is in the techie world and the internet, yes, it’s a thing it’s not going to go away. And this young chap runs it because he understands the internet and you don’t Mr old fuddy duddy. That’s kind of the attitude it was. And from that point onwards, the business changed. But in the early days he wouldn’t have got away with it. I needed dad there with some grey hairs to give me any credibility.

Oliver Bruce:

Right. So it was the right place at the right time with a huge amount of education for both your clients, and I suppose yourself, during that process.

Chris Horne:

Massively.

Oliver Bruce:

Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely.

Oliver Bruce:

James, talk to me about your childhood, I suppose, your teenage years. And when you went into, I suppose, business at such a young age, talk to me about that journey.

James Horne:

I was sent away to school from a fairly young age, my parents were running their business, so it was brilliant. And in fact, one of the things that I’ve always felt very strongly was, I said to my dad, after I sold our food business, I’m going to repay you every penny that you spent on my education by taking you shooting. And we went for eight years shooting 30 plus days a season. And so he got his money back, I think by the time we’d finished. No, we’ve always been a very close family. Funnily enough, I was offered a job with Shell when I was 17, and I was really lucky because when there was a shortage of graduates, would you believe, I’m kind of revealing how old I am now, but I went on a summer holiday course with Shell and enjoyed it. They then invited me back the next year, and I was given a job before I took A-Levels. And then they then sent me to college in my first three years at Shell. So I was a really lucky guy, but when I joined, when I was 18, I vowed I’d leave when I was 32. And in those days, you know, a job with Shell was like a job for life. But on my 32nd birthday, I handed in my notice and said I was going to start my own business. My wife looked at me as though I was completely barking mad, but we developed this mustard, which I had been taking up and down to London in my briefcase and selling to all sorts of people. And we said, let’s make a fist of this because life in Shell, you’ll never be rich, but you’ll never be poor and it’d be quite nice to sort of see whether we can give it a go. And we created a small business, making a few jars of mustards into a big business that had two big factories. We created Pizza Express salad dressing, Mary Berry’s salad dressings, and we became the main supplier to Waitrose for all sauces and salad dressings. And it was out of the blue that we sold it when we were approached by Baxters. And we told them no several times before, eventually they said, “well, when will you sell it?” And we said, “well, maybe in three years’ time, we’ll think about it”. And they said, “well, how much would you want then?” And my wife came up with a figure then, and she said, “well, we’ll give it to you now”. So suddenly we find ourselves without a business, but it was a fabulous, fabulous journey through creating that business. And then we went on with our Omega 3 milk and then GunsOnPegs came about. So we’ve done a lot of very interesting things. And then in the meantime, actually, after I left Shell, I did fund some of my income by I used to be responsible for some Shell service stations in Luxembourg, which are the biggest service stations Shell have in the world. So I looked after them on an ad hoc basis for about seven years. I was the most incompetent consultant because I managed to stay with them for a very long time, which was brilliant [laughs].

Oliver Bruce:

That’s fantastic. And during ’03 and ’04, I suppose, when you got rid of, or sold, I should say, CCL, you obviously had a year with Baxter’s trying to integrate and onboard, I suppose, in that sense. How was it almost saying goodbye on day one to CCL and then having to integrate it into another business and they’re pushing back and asking you to do things you might not want to do?

James Horne:

It didn’t last long, to be honest. I was quite surprised by the first two board meetings were held on English Bank Holidays in Scotland, and all the directors were Scottish, that sort of gave me a bit of a message that perhaps I wasn’t particularly welcome. So it didn’t last long. And funnily enough, I just enjoy going shooting, and the idea of being told what to do was somewhat sort of alien to me at that stage, because I think when you’ve run your own businesses and you’re fairly determined to achieve an objective being told by others what to do, and I recall being told that you had to ask questions for the board meeting in advance of the meeting itself, and I found that quite tricky to handle. So I moved on fairly swiftly

Chris Horne:

It was a horrible time in a way because I was working in the factory on my gap year. I took my fork truck licence, ’cause I realised I’d get paid more than if I worked on the packing line before a ski season I wanted to go on. And so I was working in the warehouse on the fork truck and mum was still producing recipes and they changed the locks of the factory after effectively you and them parted ways. And so mum and I came home with a new set of keys. It was absolutely ridiculous, but really sad. I mean, if you actually sort of think about it, you know, you’ve had the locks changed on your little business and we’ve still got access and you don’t, I mean, it’s gut wrenching, but you know, this is what people go through, I suppose.

Oliver Bruce:

It must be horrible. And I’ve never had to exit from a business. There’s so many lessons that people think they know when they get to these points. How do you find taking advice from family members? Because I’m right in saying that they say never work with friends, family, or animals, of which I think you guys do all three?

Chris Horne:

Working with dad and having that father son relationship has definitely been one of the best things about our business, but if not the most challenging. And when I joined Vistage and I got access to this network and this particular chair, a chap called David Sheepshanks, who’s been inspirational to me in the last three years, that really changed things because the dynamic between my dad and myself is totally different to anyone else. You know, when you’re in the heat of the moment, you say things to your dad, you regret, end of story, like everyone does that. And we would just have blazing rows about whether it was right to charge the shoot or the advertiser in this scenario, and not in this scenario. I mean, just ridiculous conversations that should never have been that heated. I think I owe a lot of credit to dad in that scenario because it takes dad’s mature shoulders and experience to try and calm me down. And I’m running around with all these crazy ideas, all the energy in the world, but definitely that dynamic in the early days of dad’s experience and my energy and my technical ability and dad’s marketing experience all the rest of it. That’s really what got us to where we are.

Oliver Bruce:

There’s obviously an element I suppose, in your industry, which differs to most other industries, in as much as there are people that just simply outright don’t agree with it. How do you overcome such negative press?

James Horne:

I think the best place to start with that is that when you go shooting, you are creating a food source and you are eating game. And therefore there is absolutely a good justification for conducting that sport in order to be able to provide that food source to all those that love it. And I think that’s the key. So it doesn’t matter how big the shoot is, whether it’s a commercial shoots or a small one, if they are ensuring that that produce that is harvested on that day is going as a food source, there is absolutely no issue. I think the idea of killing for fun is absolutely abhorrent and that’s not what it is. And we’re lucky with our sport, I think it is a sport which is very much all about enjoying other people and enjoying a social occasion. And that I think is probably one of the key things.

Chris Horne:

I reckon I’ve spent less than 0.1% of my time worrying about it.

Oliver Bruce:

That’s really interesting. And again, is that because you’re simply not getting the complaints in, or you’re just brushing over them?

Chris Horne:

I mean, 99% of the UK couldn’t give two hoots about shooting. It’s just that when you get a few people on social media, giving one click on a petition that they don’t agree with something, suddenly it looks like that has to be debated in parliament. It’s not even representative, it’s so easy. And this is one of the problems with our society at the moment. But genuinely it’s not really an issue for us. Yes, there’s people that don’t like what we do, but they don’t affect what I do on a daily basis.

Oliver Bruce:

When I had the pleasure of shooting, Chris, with yourself and your dad, you guys were ecstatic. You were on the peg. You were having a fantastic day. At what point did you realise that your slogan “plan the best days of your life” was actually so good, I suppose, so apparent, so apt?

Chris Horne:

Took a long time to come up with that. We got the help of an agency, which I was initially really concerned about because of the cost of doing it. But outsourcing that was a really good thing to have done because the “plan the best days of your life” you’re right, it’s absolutely spot on. And I think when you land on the website, reminding people of why it is they do this and trying to get the customer into the mindset of what it is that they’ve come on to achieve, is crucial because it’s going to change their habits on the website. It’s going to affect the key metrics, which make our business run. And I think fundamental to our business, you know, our key drivers behind the scenes are people joining up. How many people visit the website and how long they spend on it and how many times they return, because we make money from advertising from both sides, both from brands and both from shoots. And so “plan the best days of your life” is really crucial to driving those metrics because it’s fun.

Oliver Bruce:

You’ve obviously started to diversify because obviously GunsOnPegs is owned by ITap, I believe. Now, you’ve got another business within ITap called Eventemo, am I right in saying?

Chris Horne:

Yeah. So we did diversify. It goes back to your market point, actually about the size of the market. We definitely looked at diversification. So I tried to create a system for payments within the shooting sector called Shoot Pay. I knew that there’s all this money knocking around, there’s well over a billion pounds spent on just the purchasing of shooting within the market itself, and so we knew that if we could get our hands on some of that money going through, there’s very, very small amounts of margin you can make on facilitating payments, on bringing customers, all that sort of stuff. So there was things we could do there. However, when I created the system with my development team, I knew that it was going to be wasted on the shooting market because it’s too niche. So we opened it up for group travel, which is essentially what shooting is. And I sold it into Stag and Hen agencies, and it facilitated payments for small Stag and Hen agencies for like five or six years. And literally some of those businesses gave us the best testimonials ever, it turned them around. Over the last year, I’ve recognised that we’ve got some big ambitions with GunOnPegs, we’ve got some really key things we need to achieve. So I basically found another company who I could sell it to and sell the customer base and some recurring revenue, all sorts of stuff, and formulated a deal with them. Now it just so happened that I did that at a time when it was the right thing to move on from that business because the travel sector at the moment is obviously not the place you want to be.

Oliver Bruce:

No, no, indeed. And was that your first exit from any business?

Chris Horne:

It is, and it’s not a big multi-million pound exit, but it’s something I created from scratch. So yes, exited. And then last week I genuinely, well, I think week four, I had this moment where I was like, wow, that thing is gone. And someone else is going to be operating in that sector and, shit I’m not involved. And that’s really sad.

Oliver Bruce:

Was it hard to let go of your baby regardless of what you netted from it? Was it difficult to say goodbye?

Chris Horne:

Yeah. I still had loads of unfinished business. I don’t believe there’s anyone that’s ever sold a business that didn’t have future ideas.

James Horne:

Oh I’ve often thought you need bereavement counselling, once you’ve sold a business. When we sold the food business, it was like selling another child. Everything that you’ve created and then years of effort that you’ve gone to and suddenly it’s gone and okay, you may have got a pile of money for it, but it doesn’t make up for the extraordinary history you have in creating it.

Chris Horne:

It makes you question also why you do it in the first place. I say, not question, it makes you realise why you do it in the first place, because it wasn’t that you were creating that business for the money. You were creating that business for the journey, for the fun that you were going to have the people you’re going to meet that- you know, dad and I love doing deals. We love seeing progression, growth, just people doing the things that we create. And actually that’s the bit you don’t realise until it’s gone. I think it’s been an important lesson I’ve learned, at fortunately a younger age, to realise that, because yeah, I wish someone had told me that in my twenties, but I probably wouldn’t have believed them.

Oliver Bruce:

So there’s obviously a gap and a hole in your heart. I suppose guys, now you’ve sold that business. If we take it right back, what’s the biggest – Chris, I’ll start with you – the biggest mistake you’ve ever made that if you could tell yourself when starting out in business to not do, you would?

Chris Horne:

I don’t know about mistake. I think learning, understanding that it’s going to take a huge amount of time to make this a success. Very few businesses are actual overnight successes. Even these stories about people who are making hand sanitizer – you’re doing hand sanitizer – but people making hand sanitiser and suddenly turning over 50 million quid the next day after securing a contract, you know, it’s rubbish. There was nothing, there was loads of stuff behind that that had to occur for that to be in position. So I think for me, it’s understanding how long it’s going to take and recognising that all the mistakes along the way – so I can think of revenue streams that dad and I created that were just total trash – but at the time we both thought they were great, but they are so important for you to recognise what will work. And when you do know what works, you narrow down your product range, your revenue streams, whatever you want to call it, and you focus on those, they become your core business. But at the start, there’s no way, you know what your core business is, unless you’re in a bit more of a traditional business model than we’re in.

Oliver Bruce:

So at what point during that process, in terms of, when you say you’ve obviously generated a lot of revenue, again, GunsOnPegs might not necessarily have been turning a profit from day one, as you pumped a lot of cash into it. At what point did you start to make money with this business?

Chris Horne:

10 years after it started.

Oliver Bruce:

Wow. So you were bankrolling it for 10 years?

James Horne:

That’s why I’m on the street now with my cap in hand [laughs].

Chris Horne:

So, genuinely yes; it got stressy. We took on investment in 2013 from a hedge fund manager who loved his shooting. He bought into what dad and I believed in. And without him, we wouldn’t be still going. In the summer of 2017 in July, I had to draw down the final aspect of the loan, which was just enough to allow me to pay the salaries in the summer of 2017. And at that point I said to myself, I will never put myself in that position again, it was disgusting. I hated every second of it. And I made some wholesale changes, took £150 grand off the bottom line overnight, which involved having to lay people off, moving office, doing all sorts of things I didn’t want to do. And we made some significant changes. And I said to everyone, right, called everyone around basically and said, right, this is the way it’s going to be going forward. We streamlined what we were doing. And we pushed on from there. And then we’ve had significant growth ever since. And we were losing £150 grand a year at that point.

Oliver Bruce:

How the hell did you get investment if you’re losing money? How did you go to the guy “I’ve lost money for 10 years, I’d like you to give me more money” [laughs]. I don’t understand.

Chris Horne:

The plan we had in place was genuinely, it made sense. Like it wasn’t just a pie in the sky plan. It made sense. We’re now proving that; we’ve paid all of his loan back. We’re now making quite nice profits, but ultimately I think he just believed in us.

James Horne:

One of the key things in everything I’ve done in my life is I’ve always had an extreme belief. And both Chris and I are share the same level of determination to succeed. And we’ve known all along that this would work, but we have to try many, many things. And we had the financial backing really to have the luxury, to be able to try, which of course a lot of businesses don’t have. So we did try those things. And Chris was incredibly brave in 2017, when he effectively restructured it, I felt very uncomfortable with it in the sense that it was a couple of steps backwards, but we took those steps backwards in order to go much further forwards. And that determination to succeed, I think has been the real key to our success.

Oliver Bruce:

Could you have lost it all?

Chris Horne:

God, we nearly did.

James Horne:

I nearly lost it all several times. So it’s kind of a feeling I’ve got used to now.

Oliver Bruce:

A feeling not many people want to get used to [laughs]. How did you overcome it James? How do you get, obviously, you know, you’ve been through it a number of times, but how do you go, okay, “We’re just back here, I need to carry on, motivate myself, push myself forward” without just throwing the towel in?

James Horne:

As I said, it is that determination and that self-belief, and I remember many times thinking, gosh, I think it’s time to call it a day, but if you believe in what you’re doing, and I know it sounds sort of maybe strange or trite, if you have sufficient belief that what you’re doing is right and the confidence to then carry it on, then it will succeed. Hopefully, as we sort of touched on, if you take advice from outside parties to make sure that you have a sanity check and to make sure that, you know, you really aren’t trying to push water uphill, that’s a good thing. But honestly it is simply that belief and that determination to make it work.

Chris Horne:

Yeah. I couldn’t agree more. And I think actually back to that summer of 2017, I just think at no point did I actually believe that it was going to end and like we were going to run out of money or whatever. I just thought that was something that people sort of talked about. I just knew deep down that like, we’re going to do whatever it takes to get through this. And we did.

Oliver Bruce:

So gentlemen, you may or may not have heard of this game called “Trust Me, I’m a Doctor (Probably)”. But essentially this game is bespoke to GunsOnPegs for this podcast. And what I’m going to do is I’m going to read out shoot locations, such as Hungerford Park, and you need to reply with the county or area, which that shoot is located in for instance, Berkshire, okay?

Chris Horne:

Dammit I knew that one [laughs]!

James Horne:

I knew that one as well, yeah [laughs]!

Oliver Bruce:

So you get the idea. Now this is really important because it’s against Chris and James, obviously father and son, whoever wins obviously is the best I suppose, child or father [laughs]. So we’ll give it a go. Okay. No pressure. And I know you’re in the same room so no cheating, but Graythwaite Shoot. Where is Graythwaite Shoot?

James Horne:

Cumbria.

Chris Horne:

Ah it is, isn’t it?

Oliver Bruce:

Is it Chris?

Chris Horne:

Yeah. Yeah, it is. Yeah.

Oliver Bruce:

Yeah, it is. Yeah. That was James first, I can’t give you that one, Chris. How about Glen Auldyn?

Chris Horne:

Perthshire!

James Horne:

Yeah I’ll go for Scotland with the Glen.

Oliver Bruce:

Now actually it’s on the Isle of Mann. So there you go, zero points there.

Chris Horne:

Oh my god, I feel really embarrassed here ’cause they were in an email the other day. And I remember looking at it.

Oliver Bruce:

Best not say that on the podcast Chris.

Chris Horne:

Yeah.

Oliver Bruce:

Arley Estate shoot?

James Horne:

Reading, near Berkshire I’d say.

Chris Horne:

Shropshire!

James Horne:

Liverpool!

Chris Horne:

Shropshire.

James Horne:

Liverpool.

Oliver Bruce:

You’re both wrong, to be honest with you. It’s actually Worcestershire.

Chris Horne:

Oh, bloody hell, course it is!

Chris Horne:

It’s part of Oliver Davis’ thing where we shot together. Actually that [all laugh]- to my credit, that is true. We were based in Shropshire at the time and it’s just over the border.

Oliver Bruce:

I’m out of the questions because some of them were agents, some of them were locations, but the scores on the doors: James 1, Chris 0.

Chris Horne:

[All laugh] Bloody hell. That’s a good game. I like it. I’m going to play that with the team.

James Horne:

I haven’t beaten him for ages [all laugh].

Oliver Bruce:

With a stick or just in life generally?

James Horne:

[All laugh] well both!

Oliver Bruce:

So James, in the sort of wealth of experience that you’ve managed to accrue over the last number of years, has there ever been a kind of, “oh crap” moment, when you’ve all had to sit down, all hands kind of discussion and sort of work out, what the hell are you gonna do next?

James Horne:

Yes, there’s been quite a number I would imagine. And I quite enjoy specialising and forgetting those moments so that I can enjoy the successes, but I can give you one example was when we had a product in the food business that went wrong, that required a recall, which is the most ghastly experience with the supermarkets and actually handling that and handling the publicity, being upfront and being honest as to what’s happened and accepting it and taking it on the chin. And then of course rebuilding, and you have to rebuild your, both your customers credibility or argue your credibility with the customer. And you also have to then make sure the final customer understands what’s happened. So, you know, those can be desperate moments. And I remember we were on holiday once on the Norfolk Broads. I remember with Chris and Zoe and I remember sitting on the top of the boat, sort of talking through the action plan to put these things right. I can also remember other moments when, you know, you were really wondering whether you could meet the payroll. I’ve always thought that maybe that was something only I experienced and I’ve never forgot one evening sitting at a function in London and talking to a guy who was based in New York and had 5,000 people on his payroll. And he was telling me about his sleepless nights about paying them. So, you know, there’s many instances where you really have to sit back and rethink and maybe even change direction. And it’s having that ability as Chris has referred to bin certain ideas. We tried lots of ideas and being brave enough to be able to bin an idea or bin a product or project that you’ve refined is one of the great challenges, but you have to be brave.

Oliver Bruce:

So at what point is the right point then to stop? If indeed you want to carry on and you’re pushing through because you felt it was the right thing to do, have either of you been in a position where you go, “okay, now I do need to stop”?

James Horne:

I’m determined to keep on going and to keep encouraging Chris. And even if we were to divest from GunsOnPegs, we would still, we would start something else anyway, because it’s so much fun. That’s part of the fun of having a business it’s to enjoy yourself and to stimulate it. And one of the greatest things I enjoy, and I think Chris shares this, is seeing people achieve things in your company that they never believed possible. For me, that is the greatest satisfaction I’ve ever had from running any of the businesses. And you meet young people, they come in maybe straight from school, straight from uni, and then suddenly they’re running an important part and you just see their confidence grow. It is a wonderful, wonderful privilege that you as a business leader have to see that happen.

Oliver Bruce:

I’m really interested in actually asking people questions about their management style and how they go about motivating, I suppose, the people that work around them because a lot of entrepreneurs haven’t had, I suppose, tuition on actually how to be managed because they may have dropped out of school or just work for themselves from day one. So I suppose Chris and James, how do you manage and motivate your staff to get the best out of them?

Chris Horne:

I think we hire against our values and what people want. And so hopefully people then think the same as I do, but what I try and do is if they buy into what it is that we stand for, and they like the feeling of responsibility, the business ownership side of things, getting involved in your managing, your revenue stream, having significant responsibility over the direction of that revenue stream, you know, that sort of approach, if that rubs off on the person we’re trying to hire, then that’s someone I want in my team. And I didn’t realise until recently in my short career, I’m 35 now, but I didn’t realise maybe until 3, 4, 5 years ago, 4 years ago probably, how important the sort of value aspect of the individual was and the actual importance of the team, not just the ideas that you had in place, that’s been hugely beneficial for us over recent years. I think just allowing them to sort of have a bit of an entrepreneurial spirit and get on and grow the business and hopefully try and share some of those rewards with them, which we’re now starting to do.

Oliver Bruce:

So obviously you started to turn a profit sort of 10 years after you started GunsOnPegs. At what point did you sort of sit back and go, yeah, we’re on the money. This is really working now?

Chris Horne:

Last year [laughs]. I’m not even joking. I started- I paid off the rest of the loan and I had a budget for this year – you know, the 2020 that’s being written off, what should have been, what will be next year – I had a budget which is really quite nice. And I suddenly realised, oh my God, I’m going to pay my parents a dividend. I’m going to be able to do things there. They’re gonna be able to go on holiday out of some money that I’ve created for them. And I’m paying for my house, I’ve moved house and we’ve got a lovely place now. And all these things have been created out of this funny little idea that loads of people didn’t think would work. And genuinely, I know it’s been successful in many different ways you could describe up until last year, but last year it became financially quite attractive. And at that point I suddenly thought, now it all works. And now we have the ability to make new decisions where we have a kind of bit of leeway for it to go wrong and not panic. And I think that for me, that was a big turning point. And since then I’ve changed as a person. I think the team would tell you that because it’s just changed my mindset entirely.

Oliver Bruce:

So it’s having that sort of headroom, I suppose, which has been the point that you realised, yeah, no, we’re onto something?

James Horne:

I was walking down the pavement and Chris rang me and I’ve never forgotten it, and he said, “dad, we just made this profit and this is what we’re forecasting”. I couldn’t believe it. I thought it was a joke call. But actually, no, it was brilliant. And yeah, we’d been sharing the budgets and so on and so forth, but to see it actually happen is unbelievably rewarding and makes you realise that, you know, the whole journey of the business has been worthwhile.

Chris Horne:

Yeah. I mean, just to touch back on something. It’s just made me realise that I remember going to parties, ’cause we’re in a hobby sector there’s lots of people that love what we do. I’ve been going to parties for years and people are like, “oh, that’s Mr. GunsOnPegs, and my God, tell me everything about you”. And lots of people just want to talk if they’ve never met. And I find it so embarrassing and so weird because I’m like, honestly, you haven’t seen the budget. Don’t ask me those questions, type thing. And so that’s where I find you’ve got different metrics of success and those are really important to keep you going, that people buy in. Like you’ve got happy customers, you’ve got people buying into the concept and things like that, but it’s when it all clicks together and it helps pay the mortgage. And it does all those other things, you know, that’s when it became something that you really, really value.

Oliver Bruce:

And dare I say, did you have a business plan? Or was that something that frankly didn’t come to fruition until 2014/15?

James Horne:

I think we’ve always had a plan which was to dominate the shooting market and the buying and selling of shooting. We’ve often debated about sporting agents and the role that they have. But our view was always to be the biggest player because once you hold the marketplace, you can bring in all sorts of aspects, as we’ve done. For example, a hotel guide is one thing. Insurance is another, and there are numerous different avenues down which you can go. And I think one of the key things is having faith and belief in what you’re actually doing to drive it to where you want to be. And that’s the thing that I think Chris and I have always held onto. And of course it was important to have sufficient funds to be able to ride out the uncertain periods when the revenue wasn’t clear. But yeah, I think one of the things about the journey is very much, one’s determination to make it work and to try things, and if they don’t work just to try a bit harder. And then the other aspect is to take advice from people and listen to other people’s views. The thing I’ve learned more about from running my food business through to the dairy business, to even when I was running James Purdey is taking advice from people that are very experienced. And even in the technical world, the technology world, now there is enormous amount of experience out there that you can talk to. And one of the things that I’m very proud that Chris has done is taken advice from people that really know what they’re doing and that can save you an absolute fortune.

Oliver Bruce:

Would you do it all over again if you could? If you could start from day one, would you go “Yep. That’s it, I’m going to do it again”?

James Horne:

Yeah. I mean, it’s so much fun. I think, you know, sharing the experiences with others, creating success creates further success and enjoying that with other people is such good fun. And you know, running a business, isn’t that hard. We do seem to make it incredibly complicated [all laugh], but actually the basic principles are quite straightforward and you know, I’m lucky I’ve been in food, I’ve been in oil, I’ve been in milk, I’ve been now in the internet business, I’ve worked for a gun business. All sorts of disparate sort of subjects, but the principles are pretty much the same. It’s such great fun. So, you know, I’m determined to carry on working until I’m gaga really so- and Chris will argue I’m already reached that, but I mean [laughs].

Oliver Bruce:

No comment James [laughs].

James Horne:

I got it there quick with that one [laughs].

Chris Horne:

There’s one big thing to add to what dad’s just said, which is – I’d hope – that if we were doing our next business, we would have exited and had some money to start it. And I think that’s the one massive difference when you’ve got a bit of money. It’s so much easier to make money than it is to start off a five grand credit card or something like that. I mean, that is wildly different.

James Horne:

Absolutely. I mean, there is no question that trying to start a business when you’re underfunded is incredibly difficult and having adequate funds makes life a lot easier.

Oliver Bruce:

Yeah. Guys, it’s been a lot of fun doing this podcast and thank you both very, very much for coming on.

Chris Horne:

Yeah, it was really good fun, lovely to chat it through and thank you for giving us that opportunity.

James Horne:

Yeah.

Oliver Bruce:

To check out the GunsOnPegs website for articles, their podcast, or to book one of “the best days of your life”, head over to gunsonpegs.com. Join me next week, where we’ll be discussing more about failures, mistakes, passion, and persistence with another inspiring owner entrepreneur who is currently in business. Thanks once again for listening, take care. If you’ve enjoyed this programme, then please show your support by subscribing via Apple Podcasts and all other major podcast streaming services. Why not share it with at least three friends and of course, make sure you tune in next week. I’d love to hear your thoughts on the show. Contact me via Twitter @OliverBruce_biz or via LinkedIn at Oliver Bruce online. Thank you. Success Is In The Mind is proud to have partnered with and be supported by the great British Entrepreneur Awards and community. A programme that recognises, celebrates, supports, encourages and champions entrepreneurs in Great Britain.