A global cashback business which started out from a dining room table has helped to save shoppers in excess of £600 million over the last 15 years.
TopCashBack, which is based at the Staffordshire Technology Park in Stafford, was founded in 2005 by friends and computer programmers Oliver Ragg and Mike Tomkins.
The pair – who met while working for a travel company – started out writing comparison websites, similar to the way Confused.com works, for everything from flights and shopping to books and DVDs.
They eventually set-up TopCashBack to help save members as much money a possible on their internet shopping.
Fifteen years on, the company now employs more than 250 staff across offices in Stafford, Bolton, London, New York and India and works with in excess of 5,000 retailers to deliver savings for 15 million people across the globe.
Mike said: “We were working initially from our dining rooms, employing family and friends, basically anyone we could get to help us answer customer enquiries and get the deals with the retailers. It was all hands on deck.
“We worked for a good couple of years on it without earning a bean, it was only in 2008, year three, that we were able to afford our first employee and actually get some small offices.”
Today TopCashBack works with some of the world’s biggest retailers from eBay, Boots, John Lewis, Debenhams and Marks and Spencer, through to independent sellers as well as TUI, Expedia and Aviva.
Members can get cashback on everything from general shopping to insurance, phone contracts, holidays and food subscription services.
Olly said: “We basically save our members as much money as possible. On almost all of your internet shopping you can save money as a consumer.
“The way it works is, click through from our site to any of the 5,000 retailers, those retailers will pay us commission and we pass all of that commission onto our members – and they make the cashback saving.
“It’s entirely free to join and anyone can do it. We also offer a plus membership which offers much higher cashback rates – it is still free, but we take £5 out of a member’s annual cashback savings.”
Olly and Mike believe a number of factors have played a part in their success over the last 15 years, but nothing more so than their ‘fair play’ strategy.
Mike said: “The key to success is blood, sweat and tears in all honesty.
“It’s genuinely been hard work and dedication, especially in the early days when it was just the two of us without earning any money. I wouldn’t say it was touch and go, because we always had hope, but I’m sure if we went on Dragon’s Den they would have said ‘get a proper job.’
“Doing things right has also massively helped us. In the early days we had various dilemmas on how to solve things and we came up with our phrase ‘fair play’ which is sort of ‘do as you would be done by.’
“We started using that more and more on any decisions and that always robustly answered those questions and meant that we were creating a really good company within the industry and for our staff.
“We’ve won numerous awards and accolades along the way which I think is testament to that. So our success probably started the day we decided on our ‘fair play’ strategy.”
As well as saving members money, TopCashBack has also raised more than £1,750,000 for several charitable organisations over the years – including the Staffordshire and Shropshire Blood Bikes, Help for Heroes and Stafford-based House of Bread. It also makes a number of ethical investments into social and environmental projects around the globe.
Olly said: “We’d love to say we could have envisaged exactly this over the dining room table, but neither of us thought we’d be in the position we are in today in terms of our member and employee count nor the amount of markets we now work in.
“We are delighted with how the company has grown and where it is and we just hope that for the next 15 years it carries on in the same ilk – who knows where we’ll be then.
“We’re really happy with how its been going and the ethics that we run the company under and I think we just want to carry on doing that.
“We can’t foresee what the competition will do or anything like that, all we can do is look after what we can control – and fingers crossed, with any luck, we will carry on growing and word will continue to spread.”
Mike added: “We didn’t envisage the scale of where the business is now.
“Back at the time, we were coordinating from our dining room with a view to this being our living, not the living for 200 odd people as well.
“It’s crazy, but it’s great and we’re really proud of what we have created here.”