How we created a profitable business alongside studies and training as elite athletes.
Rewind to the Summer of 2015.
I was in my 2ndyear of study at St Mary’s University, Twickenham reading Sports Science. I was fortunate enough to be living in the London Marathon funded ‘athlete house’ with other top runners including Charlie Grice, Ross Murray, Jake Wightman, Adelle Tracey and Andy Vernon. Living alongside such talented and distinguished athletes was all the inspiration I needed to train harder than ever.
St Mary’s University is a world-renowned institution for producing world-class athletes, which was the primary reason for my choosing to study there. Whilst there are no doubt countless reasons behind St Mary’s consistent churning out of high-performing athletes, I think by far the greatest is the fantastic coaching set-up Mick (Woods) and Craig (Winrow) have established. It’s an added bonus that runners are spoilt for choice when it comes to off-road running routes. In many ways, one can draw a lot of parallels between the St Mary’s system and the training set-up I experienced during my time in Kenya. Young athletes have thrived in both environments over the years by having the opportunities to train in large groups of eager and motivated like-minded individuals’ day-in-day-out. I found myself under the expert guidance of Mick Woods and fully embraced his training programme which was at the heart of me performing as well I did on the domestic cross-country scene that season. Mick is a notoriously tough coach with an old-school ‘no-nonsense’ approach to training, but I felt complimented my own psych at the time as I relished getting stuck into his grueling sessions and working hard.
It was around this time, that my good friend and fellow athlete Ben Coldray was working as a male nanny for a family in Teddington. Over dinner, I overheard from a conversation between Ben and his girlfriend Adelle that Ben was in need of some time off to train at a spring altitude camp in Font Romeu in preparation for the summer track season. My ears pricked up and jumped up to say that I’d love to give it a go. So off I went to meet the kids and their parents, landing the job the very next day. The hours the parents needed help with fitted well with my both my academic and training commitments, and so it was a perfect little number to earn a bit of pocket-money outside of university hours.
The children were extremely active, wanting to play football, cricket and run after school. As a sportsman, getting involved with all their games came naturally to me and it was a lot of fun. I’d easily keep them busy until the early evening where I’d then cook them a healthy dinner and help with any school homework that needed doing. I’d do all that I could to encourage healthy, sporting activities over computer games and television.
After a month of almost daily nannying and meeting other parents in the playground who were also in demand of this kind of high energy ‘after-school care’; the seed was planted in my mind that this could possibly be a business venture. Demand was through the roof in the local area, lots of families took down my number and my week was quickly filled up helping numerous families with school pick-up and drop-offs all whilst encouraging them to play sports and generally be active.
Ben returned from his altitude training trip and picked up from where he left off whilst I continued helping all the other families I had met in the interim. We met up for a run and a catchup in Teddington to discuss his training whilst he was away and how, from my end it went filling in from him as a nanny. We agreed that it was an amazing job to have as a University student and that, clearly, there was a high demand for nannies like us who went that extra mile. We had many conversations about the limitations, barriers to entry and how the hell we would encourage both our friends to nanny and local parents to sign-up and pay us money. We eventually agreed that we’d give it a go as we had nothing to lose.
We started by thinking of a business name…
We are both athletes… and both works as male nannies… How about AthleteMannies?
The name stuck and as we grew and took on female nannies, we eventually started calling our services AthleteMannies and Nannies. We quickly set up a website and used free online tools to help build the foundations of the company. Very slowly word spread, and we gained a handful of clients and tried our very best with our limited knowledge of recruitment, business development and sales to introduce families to our friends and other local budding athlete mannies and nannies.
At this point, the main thing was that we had people interested and our pipedream was beginning to look like a realistic enterprise.
The first two years were very slow as we both were completing our undergraduate degrees, with the majority of our remaining time being taken up by training. I was focusing on running well over cross-country and Ben was working towards the 1500m and 3000m steeplechase. Our morning routine would often consist of waking up, running ~10 miles chatting about the business en-route, showering, sitting down and getting our laptops out to start emailing prospective families and students. We would work as much as we could in-and-around our academic lectures and then finish off the day by working for a local family earning money on the side. Some nights, we’d even meet again and go for another 4-5 mile run and chat about the business events of the day.
During this period Ben and my respective strengths were beginning to show. Ben was much better at speaking with students and dealing with their issues; keeping a cool head when stressful situations arose. I was much better at marketing the company and speaking to clients. Not being, the best dealer of stress myself, Ben’s calming and resilient influence really struck a balance to any emerging chaos.
We knew we had found a niche, but we weren’t really pouring our heart into it just yet. Yes, we worked almost every day on building the company, but we were struggling to grow the business much beyond the limits of the little town of Teddington. This all changed in the summer of 2016. Ben decided to hang up his spikes and I had recently graduated, so we decided to invest in AthleteMannies much more seriously. And it was a good thing we did because we were about to be completely flooded with incoming customer inquiries.
It was almost overnight. We went from just a handful to streams of families wanting an athlete on our books to help them not only with the school pick-up/drop-offs but also one who would encourage their kids to play and exercise after school rather than being glued to the PlayStation. To match the demand, we had to work harder than ever to generate interest in working for us. We reached out to the undergraduate and postgraduate student-athlete community and particularly focused our recruitment drive onto new athletes which proved to be a great success.
It was never our intention to expand the company too rapidly early on and our marketing campaign for both the recruitment of clients within our target market and suitable nannies has reflected this. We have worked tirelessly to ensure that we maintain our reputation as a sports enthused nanny service that wouldn’t devolve into a regular run-of-the-mill Mary Poppins nanny agency. To this end, we have focused heavily on recruiting student employees whom embody the company’s ethos of promoting sport and healthy living in the young children we look after. Four years on we are proud to say we have had the pleasure of helping hundreds of families and just as many students and athletes to earn a small living alongside their academic studies.
Starting a business from scratch and using the little disposable income we had in our pockets has been extremely challenging but also very rewarding. We have both learned so much and hope that the years to come are filled with new challenges and opportunities to grow and develop AthleteMannies & Nannies into a service able to help many more families and students across the country in the future.
Thanks for reading,
Links to our national press coverage below;