‘From fish n chip shop to leading property marketing firm, Ben Richardson offers insights into his unconventional career journey
Not all entrepreneurs are fed with a silver spoon. In fact, Ben Richardson had quite the opposite upbringing.
The founder of Stepladder, Beyond, Studio 185 and LongStoryShort, a under the umbrella of the Avenue Group, an independent group of creative companies all inspired by space and place, has worked hard to get where he is today – as director of the leading communicators in property, and an entrepreneur on the up.
Born in South East London Nov 1979, he left school at 16 with poor exam results and worked in a series of jobs such as the local fish and chip shop, paper rounds, helping at a mechanics, endless bar jobs, and selling double glazing.
It was there he discovered a talent, and landed a job at Canary Wharf Group firm in their marketing department – a place he first visited when skiving off school and sneaking in past a security guard.
He was tempted away from his dream corner office at CWG to join Donal Mulryan (Ballymore/West Properties/Rockwell Properties) as board member (West Properties) at age of 27. At 29 in the midst of the recession he started Stepladder (May 2009) with hisbest mate from school Will Pepperrell – a partnership that has lasted as they are still 50/50 partners in all four agencies (his wife has some shares for tax efficiency).
They added Beyond, then Studio 185 and more recently LongStoryShort, an agency born out of lockdown opportunity. The group is looking to turnover upwards of £5m this year – a long way from the chip shop.
Ben is married to TV journalist Sarah Jane Mee, and has two children, living in rural Sussex. In his spare time, he supports a number of charities including Childline, NSPCC, Felix and Sal’s Shoes.
Do you have an entrepreneurial spirit?
Ever wondered when an entrepreneurial spirit ignites? For some, it’s a conscious decision in adulthood. For others, like me, the embers were always burning. Think back to when you were 10. Most kids were trading cards or obsessing over the latest video game. In stark contrast, I was busy orchestrating loyalty programs for free car washes in my neighbourhood. By 13, the thirst for business led me to bulk buying with my future business partner Will Pepperrell. Selling pens and mix-tapes in the playground might seem trivial, but it laid the foundation for something greater.
Fashion was our next big venture. At 16, we ventured into the world of apparel with our own fashion label (Raymond Charles – our middle names). While not every design was a hit, the experience of navigating the markets of Covent Garden and Brick Lane was invaluable. But, as I would soon realise, fashion wasn’t my ultimate calling (and it is still a bit of a challenge today)
Do you have inspiration?
As much as I loved hustling in the markets, the real turning point was spending time in a bustling advertising agency headed by my cousin, Warren Moore. The energy, the ideas, the success stories – all these elements combined to paint a picture of what I truly desired: my own agency.
Is there a gap in the market?
2009 was a tumultuous year for many, with the economic downturn causing widespread panic. Yet, it was the year we launched Stepladder. Two things stood out:
First, the financial turmoil meant businesses were keen on cost-effective solutions. With just two of us and a modest setup in Clerkenwell, we provided quality without the high price tag.
Second, we observed a glaring oversight: Real Estate branding was lagging behind, particularly in strategy and customer profiling. Having experienced underwhelming agency performance first-hand, I felt there was room for disruption.
Have you planned ahead?
Our zest for making a mark led us to bite off more than we could chew in the early days. Landing large projects without a proper structure was challenging and tiring. Such an approach drains resources and, more importantly, valuable human talent.
It wasn’t long before we realized that to ensure the longevity of the agency, we needed order amidst the chaos. The key takeaway? Always be prepared for the next level. If you envision growth, start implementing systems and strategies today.
The natural talent I observe among the younger generation is genuinely astonishing. But there’s often a missing link: business acumen. At Avenue, when love to hire young talent, a significant portion of their initial tenure sees us shaping this very aspect. It’s undeniable – introducing business education early on can be a game-changer.
Are you ready to pivot?
Two words: Resilience and adaptability. The road to entrepreneurial success isn’t straight. It’s filled with twists, turns, and unexpected challenges. A thick skin, combined with the humility to learn and adapt, is crucial. Remember, sticking rigidly to a plan isn’t always a strength; evolving based on experiences is. Whether it’s taking advice, reworking strategies, or even pivoting entirely, don’t be afraid of it. Embrace change as it’s the only constant in the business world.
My journey from a young boy with a penchant for business to the entrepreneur I am today was a blend of passion, lessons from the experienced heads around me, and constant evolution. As the landscape of business keeps shifting, it’s adaptability and vision that will determine success. Are you ready for it?