“As a young entrepreneur myself, I’m keen to provide opportunities to other young people.”
Having embarked on his entrepreneurial journey six years ago, aged 16, Kyle Raffo, now 22, recently celebrated serving his 10,000th customer and expects to turnover £1million in the next year. Expand Digital started as a social media business, but it’s grown into a full-scale digital marketing, print, embroidery and design company, with offices and manufacturing facilities on the Tame Valley Industrial Estate in Tamworth.
He says: “Expand Digital has grown from that small start-up into a team of 12 working on projects for the local parish council, thousands of businesses across the UK, and numerous household names, such as Britain’s Got Talent acts, X-Factor stars and Coronation Street.
“I believe I was always destined to be an entrepreneur. As a young teenager, I was making money selling chocolate, sweets and even ice cream on those rare sunny days to school friends. After completing my GCSEs, I went to Burton and South Derbyshire College to take A levels, but my studies were interrupted by a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to join the Peter Jones Enterprise Academy. So at 16 I’d bagged myself a place at the Academy and at 17 I set up my first company.
“Running the business was difficult at first because I was so young and getting customers was not easy. I found that people would question my knowledge and reliability because of my age, but I kept talking to businesses, finding out what they needed and making the right connections.
“At the time, social media marketing was in its early days and I saw this as a good opportunity. My experience of working with a Britain’s Got Talent act, combined with the support of the Academy, helped me become more established and once customers came on board, they were always happy with the service. Later, we integrated web development and the business continued to grow. It was all through word of mouth and referrals from satisfied customers.
“In 2012, I decided to take the next step and expand the business into printing and embroidery, focusing on T-shirts, uniforms, promotional material and merchandise, which required an investment of £90,000 into premises and machinery. It was a risk and I put everything I had into it, but I knew what I wanted to achieve and where I wanted to go with it.
“As well as employing 12 permanent members of staff, we also have a further two apprentices at any one time. As a young entrepreneur myself, I’m keen to provide opportunities to other young people. In addition to the apprenticeship programme, we work closely with local schools and colleges to inspire teenagers by delivering talks, offering work experience placements and welcoming visitors to our premises.
“I always encourage people to follow their hearts and learn from their successes, rather than their failures, and I try to show that it is possible to make something of yourself if you create opportunities and take advantage of whatever comes your way.”