We set start-up founder, Seb Francis, up with three one-hour mentoring sessions with one of Britain's finest entrepreneurs; Peter Roberts, founder of Pure Gym - a £125m turnover business. Seb's business is Titus Learning,  an EdTech business providing software to international schools across the globe. In this blog Seb describes what it's like to be able to ask a seriously successful entrepreneur questions about growing your business.

This was part of a campaign where we matched 20 entrepreneurs with specialist mentoring sessions from 20 founders of companies on the Sunday Times Fast Track 100 list. All of these entrepreneurs were awarded this opportunity after taking out a Start Up Loan through Virgin StartUp.

A mentoring session with the founder of PureGym - Seb Francis

Let’s start 4 years ago. I was 22 years old, working in a sales role for a tech company, and spotted a gap in the international school market for a new company. Along with a colleague at the time, we started to formulate a business plan and set the wheels in motion for what would grow to become Titus Learning. However, it was with plenty of outside help that we’ve been able to grow Titus into the firm it is today. One vital support arm has been Virgin StartUp - from the early days of assisting with the business plan and small Start Up Loan, through to being selected as an ambassador, and more recently pairing me with a seasoned mentor to help us take Titus to the next stage.

My mentor was none other than Peter Roberts, founder of PureGym, the £125million turnover fitness giant. We were introduced at the Fast Track 100 event, and started the day by sharing lunch and chatting for 90 minutes about what Titus does as a company. My key questions to Peter were about: different routes to scaling our already profitable business, when (and if) funding is suitable, and the longer-term strategy (assistance working this out and best ways to implement). We continued by discussing what makes us different and where we would like to be in 3-5 years. When discussing these topics day to day it’s often with peers, so to have somebody who looks at it from a completely different angle (and in short cuts through all the crap!) was extremely refreshing. The fairly frank discussion we had was very helpful for assessing where we currently sit in the market, and how realistic, or unrealistic in some cases, our plans were.

As someone who’s very much into their sports and fitness it was a brilliant opportunity to find out more about PureGym and their journey of scaling to the huge size they are, and the challenges they face as a much larger organisation. We left the event with a number of action points ahead of our next meeting. I was due to be working on forecasts, updated business plans, and answering a number of key questions that had come from the day (mainly around our growth plans).

Our second meeting took place a little closer to home for the both us in good old Yorkshire. Updated forecasts? Check. Answered growth questions? Check. Updated business plan? Nope! I’d purposely put a date in the diary and said about taking a plan as I knew it would give me that deadline to complete it. However, in hindsight the meeting in London raised far more questions that I realised at the time, and working through them with my co-founder and team was a large, but extremely useful exercise. To have written a new business plan without covering some of the elements with Peter wouldn’t have been wise in my eyes - this has since turned out to be a good move. We discussed some of the numbers, sense checked my new ideas, and delved into some of the specifics around action points, for the next meeting.

As I write this I’m in San Francisco and finding it a great opportunity to work on tasks that don’t get done day to day whilst in the office back home. The updated business plan and supporting documents is one of those tasks (along with this post!) and I’m due to meet with Peter when I return to the UK. Having not just the advice from somebody who’s been there and done it, but also the pressure to ensure you do what you say you’re going to do has been immensely helpful. I’ve found that longer-term plans have become more concrete within this past 4 months than they have throughout the running of Titus, and that is partly down to the relationship I’ve been able to forge with Peter. We have one more mentoring session organised via VSU, but I’m hopeful the relationship will be a lasting one and that Peter will continue to be a great sounding board for future ideas and decisions. With a bit of luck I’ll be able to get Peter on my podcast to share some of the great advice I’ve received!

Key things I have gained from the mentoring sessions so far:

  • Re-writing your business plan and forecasts is a vital exercise as you continue to grow and evolve
  • Take time to ask the big questions as remove yourself from the day to day
  • Verbalise your ideas and run them past mentors and colleagues
  • Don’t be afraid to think even bigger than you are
  • Ask questions, regardless of how stupid they may sound. Once you have the answer, you can crack on with the important stuff!


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