Danny Toffel, Founder and Director of Watches2U International spoke to Zoya Malik, managing editor SME about the entrepreneurial twists and turns that lead him to creating a business that is one of the UK’s largest independent retailers of branded watches.
Zoya: What inspired you to launch your own business?
Danny: Before launching Watches2U I had a successful career at Northamber, where I was the highest paid computer salesman in Europe. I made my first million on the stock-market and happily retired at age 29.
However in under a year, I lost it all. By age 30 I was bankrupt, and gambled away my last £4,000 within ten minutes of a game of roulette. I set up Watches2U because I was determined to get my life back on track and provide for my family. By age 31 the business had taken off and I was out of bankruptcy.
Zoya: What did Watches2U look like at the beginning?
Danny: I launched the business in 2002, with just £40 to my name and one watch to sell. I operated out of my garden shed for a year and a half, where I would run the eBay store and pack boxes every night after working my day job. It was exhausting, but I was extremely motivated. Every box I packed made me £5, but that profit felt more rewarding than earning £800k in a day.
Bankruptcy was the best thing that ever happened to me. Losing everything refocused me; all of the distractions were taken away. It wasn’t easy, but I was positive and ambitious, and learnt to think outside of the box in order to find a way to support my family.
Zoya: What sacrifices have you had to make in order for the business to succeed?
Danny: Launching a business from the ground upwards, relying entirely on myself, meant that in the early days I made countless personal sacrifices. Investing the majority of my time in the company meant that my relationship and quality time with my family suffered. I didn’t take a day off for 7 years straight, including Christmas Day. I have a wife and two children, so it was tough.
Zoya: Did you have any experience of launching a new business prior to starting Watches2U?
Danny: I had absolutely no experience in launching a business. With no training, and no mentor, everything I’ve achieved has been off my own back and comes down to hard work and intuition.”
Zoya: What was one of the biggest challenges you faced in the early stages of the business?
Danny: My initial issue was wanting to set up the business but having no funds to do so, meaning I had to invest every penny strategically. Once Watches2U had taken off, the main challenge I faced was getting major brands to take me seriously, as a small independent business. I worked hard to prove myself and form relationships with global brands, which has got me to where I am today working with those including the likes of Casio, Radley and Fossil.
Zoya: How has your lifestyle changed whilst you’ve been running your business?
Danny: The pressure of running your own business 24/7 is insane, and 2 years ago I reached breaking point mentally and physically. I had to make drastic lifestyle changes to prioritise my health. I lost over 100 lbs after a stomach operation which has completely changed my life.
Nowadays I prioritise my health, play tennis three times a week, and make sure to take time away from work. If I hadn’t changed my lifestyle, I would be dead.