University side hustle set to ‘achieve £100million’: Man, 25, shares his journey

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“We are a marketplace super seller and are looking to reach a £100million revenue milestone in the next five years.” When COVID-19 hit, Mr Portman took a risky opportunity to pivot his business offerings, a move that could see Boulevard being worth over £57billion of the global online marketplace.

The marketplace super seller, originally named Fancy Dress Worldwide, successfully developed the Eiger software in 2019 to help them cater to the growing demand for fancy dress outfits.

Mr Portman explained that his entrepreneurial journey started as a side hustle in university and spotted a gap in the market around the time of his graduation.

“I sold dress-up outfits to friends while studying at Nottingham Trent University. It was a good university side-hustle.

“For five months I worked nine to five on the business and six to 10 in door to door sales. Even then, I lived on my friend’s floor on an airbed.

“As it came time to graduate, I noticed some retailers were struggling with the transition to online because they had legacy systems.

“My parents always taught me that you can make your own luck in life, but you have to work harder than anyone else. One of my breakthroughs in business early on was the realisation that you can build just about anything with software, however, it is not widely understood.”

“I thought if we built some unique software, maybe we could work on a just-in-time warehouse stocking solution.”

This idea would be the key to not just entrepreneurial success but thriving in an economic climate which saw many start-ups close down.

“In 2016 I went full-time, with the business becoming Fancy Dress Worldwide – helping to sell fancy dress products on the world’s biggest online marketplaces like Amazon.

“By 2019 Fancy Dress Worldwide was thriving with £3.4million in sales through online marketplaces and we had built our unique tech software, Eiger, to handle growing demand.

“Then Covid hit. People’s need for fancy dress disappeared and the business took a downturn. Rather than ‘batten down the hatches’ we took the decision to expedite the company’s plans to diversify and use our breadth of knowledge and tech to support those wanting to sell online quickly and with minimal fuss. 

“The success of the pivot involved changing the name to Boulevard as well as extending the products we offer. Now we are exceeding pre-Covid revenues and, thankfully, avoided furlough or redundancy of our staff.”

Like many entrepreneurs, Mr Portman saw himself quickly becoming adept at many aspects of business in order to help his venture branch out and compete with industry giants.

“My journey has been one of learning multiple industries; software development, e-commerce and warehousing. I tend to feel that every business should have a plan – but ensure they adapt quickly to an ever-changing world.

“There have been times where we haven’t stuck enough to the plan and times where we have been too fixated on the plan. I feel that is all part of the journey and a balance you can only get a feel for with experience.”

The majority of entrepreneurs first feel a push to the small business sector whilst working for larger companies where they feel restrained, unproductive or unmotivated.

Mr Portman skipped this ‘middle step’ entirely, which was likely the key to his outstanding success at such a young age.

“I have always had a can-do attitude and a desire to push the boundaries of what I can achieve.

“I don’t think I would do very well if I ever felt I was constrained, yet I am comfortable with taking on responsibility.”

The business boomed under his leadership and technological capabilities, COVID-19 hit whilst the company was still relatively young and in an industry which saw an almost vertical drop in sales during the pandemic.

Mr Portman continued: “We embraced the opportunity to adapt and change and help the many independent brands and businesses who were looking to quickly make up lost revenue by getting online quickly.”

A shift in business offerings this dramatic is almost unheard of, and Mr Portman noted that it did take a toll on the team: “It was a tiring period for all involved in the diversification and rebrand, but we managed to grow, even with the requirement for our core products disappearing overnight.”

He also advised budding entrepreneurs to have the confidence to keep going:

“The bottom line is just to commit and keep going, through thick and thin. I feel that on the whole if entrepreneurs have self-confidence and an attitude that they are willing to adapt strategy and quickly as they learn more, they will more than likely succeed, eventually.”
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