One to watch: Danny Toffel’s drive from bankruptcy to Watches2U

Danny Toffel, Founder and CEO, Watches2U

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.