From Zero to Now

Our Founder, Lee Giacopazzi, recounts the early days of setting up his first business in 2011 and the struggles he faced. Was it all worth it?

A photo of my first business card in June 2012.
A photo of Lee's first business card in June 2012.

In 2011, I asked myself, “Can you start a business with zero budget?”

I don’t mean zero funds from angel investors or loans and grants. I mean, zero money in your bank account! In 2011, I knew nothing about business. I had an idea but no money.

Being a naïve and headstrong individual pushed me to find out. No research or trying to work it out. Just give it a go and see if it works. Surely, hard work can overcome the lack of money.

I jumped straight into this problem. My attitude back then was to jump into the deep end and learn to swim or drown trying. As a backup plan, a retail or warehouse job awaited me. At the time, I did not know that getting a job would be much more profitable in the short term.

Maybe it is the price of following your dreams and ambitions. To sacrifice your social life when you are in your 20s. To not eat out regularly for over ten years. To work part-time while trying to make your business take off and working 18-hour days.

I did not help myself either. At the time, I could not drive. I had not passed my driving test, which did not matter anyway, as I could not afford a car. Not even a cheap one. (Side note: my first car was free from Terri’s mum. It was a wreck, and I blew the engine up on the M6 a few weeks after we received the car).

First Headshot in 2012
Lee's first headshot taken in 2012. Snapped at home just before a meeting with a client.

My first month of business and disaster struck. My computer, which was integral to my work, broke. I bought this computer with my student loan while in university years previously. It had seen me well but the month I founded Lucky 6 Marketing Limited the hard drive broke, rendering the computer a sizable doorstop.

I went to the bank and had the pleasure of meeting with a business adviser. Yes, it was that long ago you used to get personal business advisers. She was super helpful. Listening to my predicament, she started a business account and gave me a £500 overdraft, which I promptly used to buy a new computer. Now, I had begun my business not with zero money but with -£500.

Then began the decade of slog. I am not talking about days of hard work with little reward but years and years. I look back now and think I must have been crazy, which, in hindsight, explains the looks I used to get from people.

In the early years, I thoroughly enjoyed the freedom of being your own boss. I would exclaim to anyone who would listen that everyone should set up their own business. Now, 12 years in and a little more jaded, I advise anyone who asks to think about it. It is a life choice, a way of living, and it is not for everyone.

Over time I learnt the view of business owners being able to work when they like is a common misconception. From my experience business owners work all the time!

Slowly, we brought more money in, unlike the hyped stories you hear. I’m talking £300 a month, £1,500 a month and many years later, a few more thousand per month. This is not the story of BrewDog or Gymshark.

I went from cashing in our pennies jar to being able to eat in nice restaurants when we liked. There was no overnight success. Just incremental improvements every year. Now and again a backwards step.  I went from rewarding myself once a month with a Starbucks coffee to spending an embarrassing amount on coffee per month. Little wins and small improvements in how we lived.

So, back to the question.

The quick answer is yes! More than 12 years on, I can say it did eventually work and you can start a business with zero finance but you have to ask, is worth it?

Terri and Lee stood outside the Lucky 6 Marketing office soon after moving in 2016

In the past year, we have bought a house (a very nice house too) and we got married with us paying 90% of the wedding costs. So many would say it is worth it and I am sure it will pay off in years to come.

Surprisingly, over the years, my mindset has changed. It is no longer about the money. Maybe this is because I am no longer starving and worrying about bills. Now, it’s the pleasure we take from the life owning a business brings. We have the most amazing friends thanks to the business. We lead an incredibly privileged life thanks to the business and its success.

Terri and Lee at the Trinity Hospice Ball 2023

I once heard the late Hilary Devey speak at a business event. She was hugely successful in her career and built a substantial business. As she attested in many interviews, the cost of that success was many health problems and huge problems in her personal life.

I can attest that it is doable 12 years from starting a business without any money to my name, but it does come at a cost. You will pay in time, significant effort and sacrifice your personal life. This begs the question, what is your time, effort and personal life worth?

I still don’t have an answer for this latter question and it is something I continue to ask myself.

However, I think this journey taught me to enjoy the everyday adventure this lifestyle presents. The wins have always been in the work we get to do and the people we work with.

I don’t know why I have taken to writing this. Thank you for reading this far. I hope it may resonate with your experiences and shed light on the background of Lucky 6 Marketing.

The curse of being a business owner, founder, jack-of-all-trades master of none is that you never really feel successful. You feel like you are starting. Maybe that is what this is all about. I am now married and have a house. The business adventure begins from here.

Learn more about:

Lee Giacopazzi