Peter To’s journey began as an employee and continued to self-employment, business owner and investor. His path taught him about the limitations of trading time for money, how time is finite, and about how to create systems to free more time while still creating revenue streams. He tried many different pursuits without ever giving up his life goal of becoming successful.
When It All Began
At a young age, Peter To had always envisioned a successful future with unlimited possibilities. Peter always told himself that he would become something great. Much like the iconic Gatsby, he persisted to believe in himself throughout the early years through to the present.
A Ceremony and a Camcorder
Peter’s first endeavour began on his high school ceremony at the tender age of fifteen. Peter had borrowed his father’s camcorder and recorded the entire graduation ceremony, with a driving force to capture everyone’s special memory. And after much convincing, Peter’s teachers finally gave him the permission to record. Peter has always harboured a creative spark since a young child and the hit VHS tape, packaged and labelled ‘Directed by Peter To’ was the perfect first step into channelling his skills into profit. The VHS tape was sold for ten pounds each and he pocketed a cool five hundred pounds.
Peter’s First Business Venture
During Peter’s first year in university he began to purchase ink cartridges, he would buy complete ink cartridges in bulk at a low price of ten pounds; then divide them up into colours and sell them for five to ten pounds each on eBay. The initial investments of ten pounds would morph into thirty pounds and counting in profits. Peter utilised the marketing and business skills he had learned in college and built his first business. The ink cartridge business gave him the financial support to continue his studies.
Working at The Financial Times
Six months into studying Law, a very rare opportunity presented itself to Peter. At the mere age of twenty, Peter had landed himself a job to work at the Financial Times. The Financial Times offered Peter a full-time position with a salary equivalent to a graduate’s salary. The position was to start immediately. The job itself was a prestigious position and was fought by graduates from Cambridge and Oxford.
It was Peter’s early start in stocks and share investments from his summer part time jobs that ensured him the job at the FT. This is an example of where preparation meets opportunity.
“I considered the fact that if The FT could see the value in me and were willing to employ me on the same salary as a graduate, then there really was no need in continuing my studies. I could learn far more from a trader with real experience than anything from a textbook.”
Peter made the precarious decision to drop out of university and took on the position as Prices Analyst at the Financial Times. He worked on providing reports to traders and selling data to large corporate investors to whom his data was used.
Working at RBS
This year marked Peter’s entrance into the Royal Bank of Scotland as an Accounts Manager. Within only a year he progressed into the position of managing suspense accounts of six major branches in London.
Peter and the Television Industry
Peter began to feel complacent in the banking industry. He wanted to tap in to his desire to pursue his passions in other fields. Specifically, he wanted to pursue his media passion with video productions and editing. Peter’s entrepreneurial inspiration returned and he considered his first entrepreneurial pursuit where he created and sold graduation VHS tapes.
It was the Discovery Channel where Peter set his new sights upon. Following on from Peter’s revitalised passion, he had hoped to work as a cameraman or video editor. However, he discovered that these positions were not easily available. With little choice, he took on a basic role at The Discovery Channel with the endeavour to work his way up to the desired positions. Peter’s new position entailed tasks such as running delivery bags to simultaneous studios and labelling video tapes. The routine became monotonous and Peter’s motivation began to hang on a thread. However, with no option of giving up, Peter’s hope re-emerged the role as Transmission Controller became available. This position featured ultimate control of all the TV channels at the studios. Peter’s new goal was to acquire this new position. Every Saturday Peter would volunteer his hours to deliver lunch to the Transmission Controller team; shadowing all their tasks to ensure the job would be his as soon as the offer presented itself.
Peter applied for an Assistant Transmission Controller at Television Services International (TSI). During the interview, the seniors instantly recognised Peter’s enthusiasm and knowledge for the role. He was given the position.
As Transmission Controller, Peter went on to look after a host of big channels such as Fox Kids and National Geographic.
2003 – Peter, Bricks and Mortar
With the encouragement of his parents, Peter bought his first property; a two bedroom house on the same street as his parents. The property was jointly purchased with his parents, by taking advantage of the government’s Shared Ownership scheme. Peter bought a twenty five percent share of the house which covered his bills, as well as being able to profit from renting the spare room to his brother. This was the mark of Peter’s now multi-millionaire business. The idea of purchasing and renting rooms began to stimulate Peter’s entrepreneurial appetite.
Peter took the time and reflected upon the life events that had lead him to this point and came back to the one thing he couldn’t shake off. Peter and his friend Martin Skinner always shared a vision of success, however, Martin’s vision was clearer. Martin knew he would succeed in the world of property. The two reconnected and Peter’s drive and inspiration was reignited after seeing Martin’s rapidly growing portfolio. Peter would reach out to Martin as his mentor.
2004 – The Birth of Soft Claws
As Peter’s aspirations of being an entrepreneur grew, his professional life had taken a turn. He was successfully hired as a Network Director for Portland Television which involved managing the Transmission Controller team, the role he once envisioned himself reaching. However, shortly into the new position, Peter began to feel trapped by the monotonous late night shifts. He described his time at Portland Television as being institutionalised, longing for something that would stimulate his creativity.
At the age of twenty five, Peter finally realised the only way to exit his unfulfilling work routine was to make a brave change to his life. He recalled his dreams as a child to become a great success and questioned where that drive had gone.
“I hit a mid-life crisis at the age of 25, I felt like everything was stagnant. I had a huge dream to be successful and an epiphany that I had to break away from the chains of security”
This epiphany marked the beginning of SOFT CLAWS. During Peter’s ‘mid-life crisis’, he found himself with a new pet. He became the owner of a new kitten and named it China.
One day Peter purchased a new couch and China had some fun scratching at the new couch. Peter decided on pursuing a solution to this problem. No scratching posts, sprays or training helped stop the cat clawing problem. One morning Peter woke up from a dream to put little claws over China’s feet which soon became an obsession.
“I found a product to solve the cat scratching problem for all cat owners and began marketing it in the UK. This was the beginning of Soft Claws.”
Peter attended many trade shows with the help of friends but was discouraged by the public reaction. Internet trade was the way forward. He began selling this product on Amazon and eBay but the business soon took up most of his time so Peter left his position as Transmission Controller in order to put all his efforts into the business.
“I believe in good work ethic and if someone pays you to work as an employee, you should give everything you have. So I decided to leave because it wasn’t fair to my employer”
Peter was met with both ridicule and concern from his friends and family. They called him crazy, and repeatedly questioned for quitting his job. However, within a few months, Peter was on the front cover of several national newspapers, interviewed on BBC News, and invited on several talk shows. Soft Claws was featured on prime time talk shows, radio interviews and live sports interviews. Peter also appeared on Dragons’ Den in an attempt to gain more investment for Soft Claws but was ultimately rejected by the dragons. The failed attempt gained Soft Claws great exposure, however, and sales in the product rocketed.
“Dragons’ Den didn’t think it was a great product but as a result Soft Claws was introduced to ten million people around the world. Even bad publicity is good publicity.”
Sales went from two packs a day to one pack every couple of minutes. Peter was unable to keep up with the intense demand and ran out of stock on a daily basis.
Soft Claws took up a lot of time, with all the hours in the day devoted to the business. Peter felt like he had no time to himself and realized he needed to pursue something else. Peter believed in giving the opportunity to another passionate individual to become the new leader for the business. His sister took the role into managing Soft Claws soon after as he went to pursue his new passions.
“I was making two thousand pounds a day, so I decided to get into property. As quickly as Soft Claws sales climbed, it was also difficult to sustain without further investment so I looked for a long-term solution, something more passive. Martin Skinner had always advocated and drummed into my mind, ‘invest in property”
2005 – Peter and the Start of his Property Empire
One of Peter’s favourite games as a kid was Monopoly. He loved and understood the basic principles of real estate, buying plots of real estate and renting them out. It was also important to Peter to make smart decisions in order to create enough cashflow to purchase more property.
“I realised one of the biggest opportunities I had was in the property business because the property I owned grew in equity by £100,000 in just 18 months. I looked at the time and money ratio in this investment and realised I made more money in one week doing this deal than I did in any other business. It was from then on that I decided to buy more properties”
One day Martin took Peter on a tour in a neighbourhood called Surrey Quays. Martin had purchased a three bedroom home here and added three additional bedrooms to maximise income. Peter was shocked as to why there were so many small rooms. Martin explained how the multi-let model worked, renting luxury rooms on an individual basis to professionals.
Peter, familiar with area, and fascinated with the idea, decided to purchase his first investment property. It was a large three bedroom house, a few doors down from Martin’s. Several negotiations later, Peter managed to gazump a bid on the house and successfully purchased the property. It later transpired that the other buyer was Martin Skinner. Peter was bidding against his mentor without knowing it. Although Martin was initially upset with Peter, he eventually congratulated Peter and told him he was proud of him. Now that Martin was out of the bidding war, he selflessly assisted Peter to negotiate the price down further.
Peter began an agreement with Martin’s company Nice Room to let out the rooms. Martin was able to turn a negative situation into a business opportunity. Martin became Peter’s managing agent and Peter learned a valuable lesson that even in adversity there are opportunities to forge stronger friendships and bonds. He decided to divide the master bedroom and living room, both into two smaller rooms, creating a total of four rooms. The end result was a multi let six bedroom house. Peter was able to increase his rental income from £1,200 to £3,000 per month marking the beginning of his buy-to-let portfolio.
He focused on purchasing high yielding properties, maximising rent on them. Within four years he built his portfolio up to eight properties by carefully buying undervalued properties and adding rooms on them to maximize the yield. During this successful endeavour, Peter committed to living a very frugal lifestyle. He drove a modest car, lived under his means, and stuck to his strategy of reinvesting every penny he made back into property investments.
“I still lived a very frugal lifestyle, following Martins mantra; delayed gratification”
2008 – City Quays
Growing a portfolio was a high risk approach and it was in 2008 that Peter suffered financially as interest rates went up. He was losing money on each property for several months and was unable to cover the mortgages. In pursuit of a solution Peter had to seek assistance. Put in a difficult position he asked his family and friends for financial help. They were not easily convinced to help, especially with current market situation. However, Martin gave them confidence. He said if Peter could convince his parents to put in £5,000, he would match it. Peter’s parents agreed. This covered Peter’s losses for several months until interest rates finally dropped after six months. Peter’s cashflow cash flow was back in the black, enabling him to pay back his debts.
Peter was going through a relentlessly difficult period of time in his life until inspiration hit, his recent lesson of adversity to opportunities had resurfaced. With hefty payments expelling out of his bank account monthly, Peter thought, “why am I paying estate agents to manage my properties? I will just purchase my own and stimulate even more income”. And so, in 2008, did Peter’s self owned estate agency CITY QUAYS come to existence.
Filling his creativity with the newly found business , Peter marketed, branded and even designed and furnished his new business hub. Under his management, the business flourished and Peter was able to offer jobs to the local community and teach his valuable property skills to eager employees. City Quays soon preceded to own a large percentage of the rental market in Canada water and surrounding areas.
However, despite the success of the business, due to an abuse of trust and friendship, Peter was thrown back with huge losses.
“I spent the past four years building a successful business, but it dawned on me that I had spent all this time on a business with nothing to show because of several losses due to misplacing my trust in the wrong individuals”
2011 – A New Way to Invest in Property
During a trip to Hong Kong, Peter went to visit his very lovely but very eccentric auntie. It was during this trip that his knowledge on property accumulation and profit was to proliferate grandly. He was taught about flipping and trading property contracts as well as entering negotiations. Peter wanted to disassociate himself from the stigma of being an estate agent; the focus had broadened to freedom and travel, not just money.
“I decided it was important to build assets instead of just a business. I realised I could lose everything within a minute in business, but owning assets felt more secure. Property is the gift that keeps on giving. It makes you money whilst you sleep and takes care of you while you are old or when you are sick. It even continues to provide for your grandchildren when you cannot. A legacy that only property can provide.”
At the beginning of 2011, Peter gambled on the market and capitalised on the weakness of the market. He approached a developer with a plan together with funds and put together his first bulk deal for multiple units. Employing the negotiation skills his aunt had recently improved on, Peter was able to negotiate a winning price and several months later sell the contract for a rewarding return. Over the next few years, Peter continued to stretch his portfolio, taking advantage of the market at its lowest; knowing it would not last forever.
“People were saying that I was lucky to buy at the time that I did, but I don’t believe in luck. I had made a decision to purchase property and took risks that other people were too scared to make at the time. They say that it was lucky timing but I believe there is only one wrong time to buy property and that’s tomorrow. You have to buy today, right now, as long as the price is right.”
2013 – New Build Sales
Inevitably, two years passed and so did the upturn in property prices. As the market changed, so needed Peter to to remain current. He utilised his contacts with large developers and set up his second official company; a property consultancy firm by the title of New Build Sales. Peter was now coaching and advising buyers on specific property deals, teaching the basics of negotiations, sourcing and his new strategy of flipping contracts. Peter felt reignited with a passion helping others, and enjoyed his new re-marketed title as property and investment consultant.
With now two established and successful businesses under his belt, New Build Sales and City Quays; Peter angled his focus to maximising his employees potentials. What in the end Peter wanted was a family within his establishment, people who would share his grand visions and take the opportunities presented to expand themselves and the company. Peter knows praise and rewards motivate people to do better; and so he focused on implementing it.
“I made the mistake of micromanaging my employees, and eventually learned that to become a leader you have to empower others to become leaders, to encourage them to become strong thinkers, and to handle the business as if it was their very own. This trust created leaders, and as a result I was able to pass on my managerial roles to my employees. In turn, this created a better environment which ultimately contributed to the success of the business.”
2013 – EU Chinese Journal
In Summer 2013 Peter was presented with the honour of being interviewed by a very established, global Chinese newspaper, The EU Chinese Journal. They were keen to announce his success. The EU Chinese Journal ran a front page spread, detailing his business success and history behind it. Peter was a rag to riches sensation; poor boy turned elusive entrepreneur. The newspaper made sure to capture his unfaltering perseverance and unwavering hunger to succeed.
Uniquely, the article gained such interest and success Peter was formally invited by the EU Chinese Journal to write a weekly property column for the newspaper. Readers were, for the first time, able to gain an insight on the London property industry whilst Peter, for the first time; was a mentor on a global platform. Peter’s weekly advice inevitably aided hundreds of investors in London and surrounding areas to build their portfolio.
The exposure also began a sequence of features in The Telegraph, Metro and Daily Express.
2015 – Sparkly Wallpaper
Peters latest business embarkment takes shape in the form of sparkly wallpaper. As a self renowned designer, through years of fashioning properties; Peter began sourcing and supplying unique wall coverings to many of his friends in the interior design industry. To Peter, anything is achievable; if you want it enough. And soon enough, he created a business page on Facebook for a new company named Sparkly Wallpaper, he saw a gap in the market to import the wallpaper on a commercial basis. Within only it’s first year, Sparkly Wallpaper is featuring in various home decor companies and interior designers; soon to reach the homes of those with good taste!