Will Tew has swapped the hot wheels of a high-performance go-kart for a hot desk in Battersea. He explains the appeal of the track, starting a business and why his mum is the life and soul of the party…
Will, what do you do?
My business is called 3T racing (3tracing.co.uk). There are two strands to it: one is running the British University Karting Championship and the other is developing software for bike and go-kart racing.
I set up the British University Karting Championship with my friend Tom whilst we were studying at Imperial College. Universities from across the country come together to race 2 Stroke karts, which are high performance, outdoor go-karts. They are really powerful; 0-60 in three and a half seconds, a lot stronger than standard indoor go-kart engines. These are the kind of karts that Formula 1 drivers grow up on. We started when Jenson Button had just got into F1 and everyone wanted to be him, and uni students loved the idea of being Button for a day.
How did you get involved in go-karting?
I wanted to be a Formula 1 driver since I was eight. I grew up watching it. Then when I went to Imperial, it turned out they had an amazing go-karting society and they had three or four of these amazing karts. It clicked that if we set up a championship this was something we could make a career from.
Money was never on my mind to begin with but when we started making a bit it seemed sensible to set up a company to keep doing it.
How has the company evolved?
I started out working full time for an investment bank and doing this on the side but it grew so much that I left to do it full time.
We now have around 1,000 students who take part; we have support from Red Bull and my favourite drum’n’bass record label, Hospital Records, and we are the only student sport to be shown across all student TV channels.
It has been so successful that we expanded to create a championship for school kids (although not on the high-performance go-karts!) that now has almost 2,000 kids involved.
It was then that my geeky, software brain kicked in. We realised there was a gap in the market for really good racing software in the go-kart and biking world. We iterated ideas from what was already out there and listened to customers to create software that is a lot more user-friendly and flexible. We added in an online booking system for club races that imports into the club’s timing system, a results site and a live timing application which will be realised on Android and iPhones next year.
We hope to expand beyond karting and mini bikes into motocross, maybe even Velodromes, and eventually take the software abroad. We’ve bee up against companies like Tag Heur, and have been taking clients away from them so we know we have a good reputation in the industry.
What was it like to leave a stable career in investment banking to set up a niche company?
For me, the feeling of walking through that turnstile for the last time was one of the best feelings in the world. I loved it. I never regret leaving; there was no one in that world that inspired me and at 25-years old, I had the rest of my life to look forward to. It was the right time to take a risk.
I was very nervous – I was bricking it in fact. You get used to having a steady job, whereas for an entrepreneur – and I have always been very reluctant to call myself one – it can be very up and down.
The other thing that helped was my younger brother, Alex. Alex set up a website called The Million Dollar Homepage, which sold an million dollars worth of advertising space and he became incredibly successful at the age of 21. This was happening just as I was gearing up, so he encouraged me to just go for it.
The feeling of walking through that turnstile at the bank for the last time was one of the best feelings in the world. I never regret leaving
What has been your biggest challenge?
The ups and the downs. I have learnt to not get so excited about the ups. Jenson Button once gave us a quote for the schools karting championship and I was on top of the world, certain it was all going to work…and then it barely made a difference.
I have been tempted to give up a few times and get another job in IT where I could be making a much better salary. But whenever I think about giving up, the corner turns – just like on a racetrack, really. The business has always grown, sometimes in unexpected ways. I have learnt not to give up – that’s a difficult skill.
How important has it been having a figure like your brother to support and push you?
Very. Running your own business can be lonely. That’s why being in a co work space is the right thing for me as you can get out of the house and be around other people in a similar boat.
My brother has been through some challenging times as a result of his success and I’ve been there to support him, so we’ve become very close. I have a partner in the software side of my business and it’s a lot easier to work through the issues when you have someone else, but with the racing it’s just me. They say no man is an island so you have to get out there and meet people, especially as an entrepreneur.
What’s been your biggest success?
The university championship. It’s gone from strength to strength and continues to do so.
What’s the appeal of go-karting?
The adrenaline, the competition, the sheer physicality of it – most people don’t realise how hard it is on the body. It’s not like playing a computer game; you’re getting all the forces, and the sounds and smells.
It is dangerous, too. At indoor karting, where the speeds are 35 mph max, it’s all very well controlled, but on the outdoor tracks with the high-performing karts, it’s a different story.
Does go-karting work as a networking activity?
Absolutely. It’s a great way for people to relax. It is an unusual setting for networking and people let their guard down as a result. There’s a lot of adrenaline, people are buzzing and there is a common purpose that brings people together.
One of my proudest achievements was an event called KartFight that I ran last year. We had 17 tech companies takes part, including Facebook. The drivers had helmets and race suits branded to their company, we had a DJ – who also happens to be my mum – face painters, a boxing fight compere and free booze all evening (not for the drivers, mind you). If you could imagine a cross between a go-kart race, a bit of F1 glamour, a night club and a boxing fight you get an idea as to what the vibe was like. It was an incredible success for us and we know that a lot of business was done that night.
We have to talk about your mum….
My mum had four boys and we are all into dance music, and drum ’n’ bass in particular. When mum retired she wanted to do something different so she bought the special mixing software and started having DJ sessions and now she DJs as Dizzy Twilight. She has done all the university events I’ve held over the last four years. She has quite a following amongst the students…
*Feeling the need for speed? Will is happy to arrange a Le Bureau go-karting event. Please email Magda with your interest by Friday 30th SeptemberBack to Blog