Pillow Property Partners
The odds might have been stacked against entrepreneur Scott Weir but self-belief helped him on the path to setting up Pillow Property Partners, becoming an Unlocking Ambition Ambassador and winning Small Business Great British Entrepreneur of the Year 2019.
The CEO of Pillow had a chaotic childhood in Cumnock with many of his friends getting embroiled in drugs and crime. The son of an alcoholic mother, he left school with no qualifications and escaped to the Royal Navy which he quickly adjusted to, ‘who wouldn’t want the comfort of three meals a day and a warm bed’. On his first leave from the Navy he came home to find that of his 15 friends, four were dead through heroin overdoses, five were in jail and six were still facing addiction challenges.
What drove him on was to challenge others’ opinions of what he would achieve in life. He knew the ceiling he’d reach in the Armed Forces and he wanted to go beyond that despite the Admiral of his ship saying he wouldn’t succeed outside the Forces. When he left the Navy after five years and with no qualifications, he found he couldn’t get a job and ended up working for the NHS doing cleaning jobs in nursing homes. Realising he could make more money if he set up on his own, he did just that. Through buying a steam cleaner and setting up a carpet cleaning business he earned £50 an hour rather than the £4.80 he was previously getting.
We’re very fortunate here in Scotland. We have the best ecosystem for entrepreneurship in the world that I’ve seen and we are the envy of many.
He ploughed the money back into his education, taking first an HNC, then an HND and onto a BA in management studies and finally an MBA. ‘I was determined to be better educated than the teacher that said I’d never achieve anything in my life’. The turnaround in his academic success, after scraping through his HNC, was a lecturer at Ayrshire College spotting that he had dyslexia. ‘I just thought I wasn’t that bright’. She told him to channel his efforts into the areas – creativity and problem solving - that he excelled in. He got the best marks in the history of the class when it came to his HND.
With his first business he had done it all himself and brushed off, or not been accepted for, support. The second time round he wanted to do things differently. Seeing a business opportunity in 2015, he set up property management company Pillow Property Partners in Ayrshire, which manages serviced accommodation and holiday homes. He expects turnover to increase to £7.2m this year, employee numbers to grow to 40 and has just moved into new offices.
In 2018 he applied for, and was accepted to, the £4m Unlocking Ambition programme which gives intensive wraparound support to entrepreneurs with the potential to scale up their businesses. He is very grateful for the opportunities it has opened up for him. “Babson is the world’s best entrepreneurial university; I got to go there twice.”
At Babson, Scott saw the potential in rolling the business out to the States – with California, Massachusetts and New Hampshire in his sights as well as European destinations. With Unlocking Ambition funding he’s been able to employ a Sales Manager to allow him to concentrate on this expansion and set up 40 franchises in the likes of Manchester, Liverpool, Aberdeen and Leeds.
Other highlights of the programme for Scott were meeting the Global Scots in London and the advice and friendship that has come through engaging with fellow Ambassadors involved in the Unlocking Ambition cohort.
Scott wants to give back to a community that has supported him, in Ayrshire and more broadly across Scotland. He focuses on developing and training young local people and gives away 500 nights per year for charities to auction off or for individuals to receive respite stays.
“We’re very fortunate here in Scotland. We have the best ecosystem for entrepreneurship in the world that I’ve seen and we are the envy of many.”