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Flashback to 2000: Catching up with Andrew Holly

Tue, 27 November 2012

In 2000, Andrew Holly won first prize at the Shell LiveWIRE Business Start Up Awards Area competition in Bristol for his business, Exclusive Ballooning.
Now the World leader in Aerial Marketing, the company operates advertising hot air balloons in over thirty five countries across every continent. We caught up with Andrew to find out more...

What can you remember about your involvement with Shell LiveWIRE?
Shell LiveWIRE played an important role in the foundation of our business. Firstly, the support and help is crucial when starting out with little or no experience in business, but also the recognition of the Shell LiveWIRE awards gave us more and more confidence in what we were doing. It made us feel like we'd already achieved something even though we had not had time to sit back and review (in fact, we've still not had time to do that!)

How have things changed for you since you won your Shell LiveWIRE award?
The business grew despite foot and mouth disease having a huge impact on the industry in 2001. By 2005, the ride balloon company, was the largest in the UK covering an area from York to the South Coast and flying thousands of passengers each year. This part of the company was sold to a competitor in 2006 for a six figure sum which then allowed us to concentrate on the aerial marketing stunts for which we had become internationally renowned. Today, Exclusive Ballooning is the world leader in aerial marketing and we are often headhunted internationally for stunts in all corners of the world.
We operate in over 40 countries across every continent and were official suppliers to the 2018 England Football World Cup Bid which included taking a hot air balloon to Buckingham palace - the first and only one ever to make the trip. We also operate the Lottery Funded Official 2012 London Olympic and Paralympics Games balloon - a project we have been working on for a few years having already toured in 2010 and 2011 with medal winning athletes. Our client list is substantial and includes major names such as Betfair, Sky, Cadbury, Prince's Trust, Sloggi, Gordon Ramsay, Barclays, Pixar... the list is extensive... We also undertook a European tour for Disney to promote the movie 'UP'. This included flying at Disneyland Paris and flying UNDER Tower Bridge, London - a picture which made millions in media value around the world for the client.
In 2011 we launched, our dedicated inflatable and helium marketing products and this side of the business is growing fast - we already have a wealth of clients for these products. We are currently investing £250,000 in new purpose built offices, showroom and workshops for both our ballooning and inflatable business, which will also help us move forward into even more new areas as we still have grand plans for the business and huge enthusiasm...

How have you had to adapt as an entrepreneur over the years?
Working for yourself and especially through a recession is tough. The hours are very long and there's nobody there to pat you on the back when you achieve something special - or indeed simply keep the business running during a quiet period. You have to adapt to think on your feet and continuously stay not just one but two steps ahead of the competition. It's important for us to always be innovative within our industry but equally we are diversifying into new areas which have included selling Electronic altimeters, specialized trailers, running ballooning events etc...

What has been the biggest obstacle you have overcome in business?
Bureaucracy and apathy. We've been held back by the same politicians who publicly tell us how helpful they are going to be... It took almost one year to secure the funding to move forward with our current building project and this from a company with no debts, no borrowing, and assets ten times that which we needed to raise. I find red tape around employment stifling- if this were simpler and weighted more evenly we would be able to take on many more temporary and part time individuals.

What are your top 3 tips for a young entrepreneur about to set up in business?
Accept help from people like Business Link, Shell LiveWIRE, Prince's Trust etc. It's not all about the money. If you're an entrepreneur then you already know how to generate the money, work without cash-flow etc but the support and acknowledgment of what you're doing is priceless, even if you don't realize it at the time...

Be brave. It's never going to be the best time to do it. There will always be 'need more money behind me' or 'it's a big risk'... You'll need the support of friends and family as your social life will suffer, relationships initially may be strained and you probably won't sleep much. But if you're determined to succeed, you will...

Don't give up. There's always a way - stay two steps ahead of the pack, not one, and remember that if you love what you are doing then you are already successful!

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