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The 30-Minute Ride That Changed This Self-Made Entrepreneur’s Life

Published 5 months ago
By Peace Hyde

One of the UK’s top black Britons, self-made entrepreneur Tevin Tobun of Gate Ventures charted his business journey by looking beyond the obvious and venturing into the unknown.

EVERY YEAR, THE DEPARTMENT FOR Education in the United Kingdom (UK) allocates funding to chosen schools to help maintain and improve the condition of their buildings and grounds.

On receiving the funding, the schools invite qualified companies that can execute the project for them, to bid in a competitive tender process. Representing these companies usually are experienced middle-aged individuals in teams of four.

So when 22-year-old Tevin Tobun, fresh out of university, turned up on his own, and with no experience to his name, to respond to a bid worth a staggering £250,000 ($307,000), he stood absolutely no chance of winning – so he had to come up with a gameplan.

“There were about five companies all together pitching. And I was thinking ‘how do you win against these type of guys’? I

focused on what was different about me and it was the fact that I was young and determined to make my way. So, when it was my turn, I just dealt with the obvious. I said ‘look, I know I am young and I don’t have the experience the others have but what I am determined is to make sure this is the best project you have ever done; if you need me to be up 24 hours, seven days a week, I will deliver this project on time and on cost’,” says Tobun of that first interaction with business.

Against all the odds stacked against him, he won the bid.

“I went from shocked to excited to confused to overwhelmed almost at the same time.”

That was the breakthrough moment he needed.

Today, he heads up one of the UK’s leading transport and logistics groups with a 1,000 employees.

Growing up in South London around mates who made poor choices with their lives, Tobun’s saving grace always was his ability to look beyond his environment and venture into the unknown.

“At the age of 17, I left my area and realized that all my childhood friends were gone and I had to find new friends. That’s when I started to learn that my choices had to be broader than South London. I went to Hammersmith and West London College. Those were the choices I was making that I didn’t even realize were big choices,” says Tobun.

After studying the sciences at Westminster University, Tobun knew even on graduation day when he was receiving his degree that he wanted to venture out into the shark- infested waters of business. He had been bitten by the entrepreneurial bug much earlier in college when he would purchase goods for wholesale prices and sell to local trading businesses.

“Three months after graduation, I decided to start my own business. I live on the news so I am very up-to-date on social and current affairs. At that time, the government had changed the way they funded schools. So, I came up with the idea that I will set up a one-stop-shop service that would do all the maintenance and facilities management for schools and do all the redesign,” says Tobun of his early venture.

With increased student intake, London’s inner city schools needed bigger spaces and overhauling. Tobun’s plan was to be the go-to person for redesigning the offices and classrooms to meet the evolving needs.

Only problem was, he had no experience in interior design or architecture.

“I set up a company with a friend who I grew up with who studied interior architecture. The name of my company was Gate Ventures which was a combination of his name Gavin and my first name, Tevin. I was 22 at the time.”

No sooner had they launched the business when Gavin decided that he preferred working a nine-to-five job instead. He relinquished his shares in the company to Tobun, who was left by himself to drive the business. With no money, his goal was to secure funding.

“I went to the Princess Trust for funding and you do all these pitches and all I heard were so many no’s. I thought it wouldn’t work. I left the building feeling like I should give up because maybe they knew what they were talking about.”

But on the 30-minute ride back home, forlorn and dejected, he had his eureka moment.

“I remember by the time I got home I said ‘no, I am going to try this anyway’. That was the most incredible 30 minutes of my entire life.” As luck would have it, the UK banks at the time were offering new graduates a credit card facility of £250 ($307) with an overdraft limit of £250. So, with £500 ($614), Tobun set out to look for an office space for himself.

All Tobun could afford was a hot boiler room next to a storage room in an office building. And with that, he set about pitching for his new business.

When he walked into that life-changing school tender process recounted earlier, he had absolutely no money. So when he won the bid, the next issue was to finance the project.

“I went to the client and said ‘I am going to issue a payment plan, you pay 30% deposit and we will give you these deliverables’. I had a structured payment plan as the project was evolving and that is how I funded the job.”

Tobun delivered the job on time and on budget and never looked back. Four years later, he stumbled on yet another money-making idea. While still working with schools and the Westminster City Council, Tobun noticed large trucks in the middle of central London trying to make deliveries to schools.

“I would see the chaos these trucks were causing. So, I thought ‘how could I do this better’? They knew me as someone who delivered so they set up a meeting with the Council and the wholesaler and I pitched and they agreed that we would run a trial. That’s how I built the new business which is a large logistics business today,” says Tobun.

His solution was to substitute the huge trucks for three-and-half- ton trucks equipped with technology and communication software to streamline the entire delivery process.

Within his first year of trading, Tobun made over £1 million ($1.2 million) in revenue.

He called the new business the Gate Ventures Group. Today, he is on an expansion drive, also in the African continent.

“We are expanding into Africa through a subsidiary business called Repco Global with a key focus on support and logistics services to the energy sector and FMCG and infrastructure sectors. We intend using key proprietary technology to increase efficiency and output within the aforementioned sectors,” says Tobun.

Arnold Sarfo-Kantanka, Business Strategist, Gate Ventures, calls Tobun “a stoic, resilient and focused businessman who has managed to create a group of companies from scratch.”

At just 46, Tobun’s success earned him a spot on the prestigious UK Powerlist as one of the 100 most influential Black Britons for the third time, alongside Formula One driver Lewis Hamilton and footballer Marcus Rushford. “It is the most humbling thing

to be listed on the Powerlist because you can get caught into this working-hard-with-a-tunnel-vision thing… When you read about other people who are doing amazing things and you find out you are in the same group, it is very humbling,” says Tobun.

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