Business · interviews · Sunday Times

How I Made It: Lee Biggins, founder of CV-Library

HUNGRY for money, Lee Biggins couldn’t wait to join his father’s carpet laying business. In 1996, at the age of 17, he dropped out of college to be his dad’s apprentice. But three years later, when his parents divorced and his younger brother was killed in a road collision, his plans changed.

“It sounds terrible, but my brother and I really didn’t get on. This made it difficult to keep working with dad,” said Biggins.

Determined to save his relationship with his family he sought other work, knocking out a CV in his bedroom in Fleet, Hampshire. “It would have taken for ever to send it to all these recruitment agencies. I was impatient. With the internet emerging I knew there must be a better way.”

Biggins found it. In 2000 he set up CV-Library, an online board for posting CVs. Today the site stores more than 7m CVs accessed for a fee by companies such as Rolls-Royce, Virgin Holidays, Ernest Jones and Fiat. Revenues were £12.6m in the year to June 2014, with a £6.6m pre-tax profit. It expects £17m revenues and a profit of more than £8.7m next year.

The figures earned CV-Library a place in The Sunday Times Profit Track 100 table of Britain’s private companies with the fastest-growing profits. “Our customer service has been the main reason for our success,” said Biggins, who is managing director. “People prefer to deal with us.”

CV-Library, based in the Waterfront business park in Fleet, employs more than 90 staff. Biggins grew the business with his friend and business partner Brian Wakem, 34, who built the technology.

Its main plank is the CV posting service, registering 150,000 a month. There is also a digital platform for more than 100,000 jobs across 70 industries, attracting 2m job applications a year, matching specific jobs to CVs posted on the site, “like a dating service for your career”.

Biggins takes little out of the business, preferring to reinvest. “I’m a grounded lad and I don’t live an extravagant life. My competitors have shareholders and big investors that need payment, so naturally our advertising budgets are bigger.”

Biggins was born and grew up in Fleet. His mother worked for a mortgage company. His father Clive has been running Surefit Carpets in the local village of Crookham since 1971.

While his friends played sports and went off to university, he washed cars and sold soft drinks to local fishermen for a tidy profit. “As soon as I was old enough to get on my bike I’d go round the neighbourhood washing cars all weekend,” he said.

Biggins attended Court Moor School and spent six months at Farnborough College of Technology before dropping out. “I wasn’t interested and got in with the wrong people,” he said. “All I wanted to do was have my own company.”

Working as a carpet fitter for his father proved frustrating. “I had big aspirations for the showroom but the recession in the 1980s had wiped dad out and he didn’t have the energy to build it all up again, which was frustrating.”

With family relations and his career in the balance, the moment for Biggins to start his own venture had come. Sharing his CV-Library plan with his school friend Wakem, the pair took Business Link classes in Aldershot and wrote a business plan to secure a £9,000 loan from NatWest.

They spent the cash trying to secure their first fee-paying client, the BBC, in 2001. They didn’t cash its cheque, keeping it as a trophy. “At one point we thought we’d have to shut up shop,” said Biggins, who took a job at Prestige Recruitment in Chertsey, Surrey, to help pay the bills. “I was able get to know recruiters, speak to candidates and tell them to register on CV-Library.” Jobseekers began flooding in and site traffic soared, but income remained low.

Six months later Prestige Recruitment went bust and Biggins returned to work with his father while running CV-Library. “I was supporting the whole venture with the money I was earning,” he said. “Brian and I weren’t paying ourselves; we were putting our money back into the site.”

In 2003 CV-Library, previously a limited liability partnership, became a limited company and moved into a converted barn opposite his father’s showroom. The working relationship between father and son ended three years later, and in 2011 CV-Library moved to its current site. “Dad was very proud and supportive of how we had grown. But he was getting older and wanted to scale down his own business.”

A year ago Biggins bought Wakem’s 50% share for £10m, funded by a three-year bank loan. “Brian was our tech ninja but he had settled down, had a family and wanted to leave,” said Biggins, now the sole owner.

A sister company, Resume-Library, is to be started in America. Biggins, 37, is searching for a second office in Miami. He lives in Church Crookham, near Fleet.

His advice to entrepreneurs is: “Stay focused and don’t take too many short cuts to make money because running a business is about hard work. Get your head down and surround yourself with people who have different skills from yours.”

Link to article in the Sunday Times

PDF – Lee Biggins of CV-Library

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