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man who left school with one gcse turned £500 overdraft into £350million business
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Man who left school with one GCSE turned £500 overdraft into £350million business

An entrepreneur who left school with one GCSE has shared how he turned a small idea into a business worth £350m. Oliver Cookson, the founder of Myprotein, started by selling bags of protein online without any idea that his small business would escalate to be worth such a huge sum. The 45-year-old struggled at school in Stockport and left when he was only 16 with just one GCSE. Despite this, Oliver from Cheadle Heath, managed to complete an apprenticeship in computer programming where he discovered his love for technology. Learning to create a website during the early stages of the internet, Oliver admitted: “School and learning academically wasn’t for me.” He told the Manchester Evening News: “It doesn’t mean it’s wrong, but I think people learn in different ways. I was making teas and coffees but getting among expert programmers. I read up on how to make a website and taught myself in my spare time. I thought, there’s so much potential here.” His life took a turn in 1999, after returning from a trip in Australia, Oliver caught the fitness bug after seeing an advert for a David Lloyd gym. This new hobby led him to take proteins and supplements, which sparked his curiosity into what was actually in them. Oliver came up with the idea for Myprotein while drinking a protein shake at his mums house. The then 23 year old wondered whether there was a cheaper and quicker way of making protein powder himself, seeing him go on to create Myprotein. Oliver added: “There was one period where I went to the gym and gained a passion for it. I went five times a week and was watching what I ate. I was using the protein powder that was on the market at the time and had this eureka moment of wondering what was actually inside it. I figured out how to make my own protein and built a website from the ground up in my spare time.” To help buy a single sack of whey powder, Oliver approached his local bank for a start-up loan but was swiftly rejected. However, they did agree to increase his overdraft to £500, meaning he was able to buy a sack of protein and go on to blend and flavour his product. He listed the powder online and sold out immediately laying the foundations for his multi-million-pound company. Oliver added: “The £500 overdraft was the only money I had. My parents were a working-class family. There was nowhere for me to go. I bought a single sack of protein, made a website, sold it. Bought two sacks, sold it. It completely grew.” Before long, Myprotein had become so big Oliver was able to purchase his first warehouse in a small, old mill in Cheadle Heath. While working full-time as a web developer, he single-handedly ran the company until the demand for his product became too much to handle alone. As the business started to grow quickly, Oliver decided to quit his day job and hire staff. He ended up owning seven warehouses across Greater Manchester and employing hundreds of people. But there was one special moment when Oliver knew he had made it big. He said: “After three years, one of the moments I realised I’d made it was when I wrote myself a cheque for one million pounds. I had to do as much as I could before I could start employing people. I had just got my own mortgage and there was a lot of risk there. I needed to pay my mortgage so I left my job as late as possible. “Looking back at it now, it’s overwhelming, but I was young and I’d never ran a business before. I had no mentors and none of my friends or family were into business. I had no one to lean on. I only had myself and I just figured it out as I went along. But it’s not as easy as that, I had a really big drive, determination and resilience.” In just a few years after starting the company in 2004, Oliver’s hard work paid off. Myprotein was named the number one sports nutrition online company in Europe. In 2011, Oliver sold the company to The Hut Group for an impressive £350m in cash. This sale led to him being named the UK’s number one self-made millionaire under 40 in 2019 and also landed him a spot on the Sunday Times Rich List. Oliver now lives in Monte Carlo but still loves Manchester, which he says will “always” be his home. He talked about his past business, saying, “[The company] was a real cash cow,” and added, “I didn’t have any loans or debt, it was just me.” He feels good about what he did, sharing, “I’m very proud of it to be honest. It was my life’s work involved to get to where I got to. I’m proud of it, but it wasn’t without its ups and downs. It wasn’t without its hard work.” Now he’s started a new company called Verve, making nutrition stuff to help people get all the vitamins they need every day. He got the idea for Verve when he chatted with mates who also couldn’t find a product that did everything they wanted. Verve’s first thing, V80, has 80 different bits in it to make you feel more lively, give you more energy, help your body fight off germs, and make you feel better overall. Experts have given it the thumbs up. The business guy used what he knows to make a special mix that he could use himself, to get all he needs from just one spoonful. He’s really keen on using top-notch stuff that’s got from places that are nice to the world. He worked with some of the best food experts to make something really special that tastes great. He says, “I insist that we use only the absolute best quality, ethically sourced ingredients and, working with the world’s leading nutritionists, we’ve produced a premium, great tasting product that is all of the goodness and none of the hassle,” and also, “I’m personally very proud of the flavour profile of Verve.”

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