City lawyer surfing on the side
We often feature people who have left law to set up a business and we regularly write about people who have moved from private practice to another role within the sector. However this interview is with someone who is a corporate lawyer at a top firm but who has also set up his own business on the side.
By day Tom Hinton works at Ashurst. By early morning and weekend he is a director, surf instructor and chef for Curl Curl Surf Limited. He and a friend, Helen Taylor (also an Ashust solicitor), have set up a company that takes groups of up to 10 people from London down to Devon for a weekend of surfing and relaxation on an organic farm. We asked him all about it.
mtl: First and foremost you are a solicitor, so please can you tell us about that.
Tom: After studying biology at St Andrews, I went to BPP because I wanted a vocational training and thought that law would be a good grounding to have. I did my training contract at Ashurst and was lucky to have a great intake and to do a seat in Paris. I have worked with some incredibly bright, diligent people and I eventually qualified into the corporate department in March 2007 as I found it the most interesting and enjoyed it the most. I started working on private equity type transactions and I now focus on public work. I like the commercial environment within which we operate and learning about the businesses that we work with. It is early days but so far it’s going well...
mtl: So where did the surfing holiday idea come from and what do you offer?
Tom: In the time between the LPC and starting work, I went to Australia and did a surfing instructor’s course (hence the “Curl Curl Surf” name). I decided then that I’d like to use the qualification in the future and to set up a company like this. When I started work, I decided to give it a go and set it up at the start of 2007.
At the moment we offer one product. We meet our customers on Friday evenings in Hammersmith and drive the group down to Devon in a minibus. We stay on a fully-working organic farm. On Saturday mornings we do a big cooked breakfast (all the food comes from the farm or is locally sourced). After that we head down to one of the beautiful beaches of north Devon and give a surf lesson to those who need it. Surf boards, the lesson and the wetsuits are included in the price.
After a packed lunch or bbq on the beach, we surf again or just hang out and play some beach volleyball, football or just lie in the sun. We then head back to the farm for a cream tea and then a three-course dinner with a few glasses of wine from our specially selected wine list. Sunday mornings are relaxed and you can surf if you want. After a pub lunch we drive back to London for about 7:30pm. If there’s no surf or the weather is really awful then we will arrange sand-boarding or quad biking instead. It costs £200-£230 for the whole weekend and we take groups of up to ten people.
Biology, St Andrews
PGDL and LPC, BPP
Trainee contract, Ashurst
Qualified into corporate, Ashurst and set up Curl Curl Surf Limited
The point of the weekend is that we are trying to get beyond the snobby, “cool” culture of surfing and expose people to a really fun sport in an accessible way – and we treat our customers like a group of our own friends. I have really enjoyed creating the brand and making the product and our values fit around that.
mtl: It sounds great. What’s the catch?
Tom: There isn’t one! However we don’t operate in July and August as we can’t offer value for money because of the prices in high season. Anyway, there isn’t very much surf at this time of year and the beaches are horribly crowded. It is hard to try to learn to surf when there are hundreds of people in front of you and there are no waves to catch.
mtl: How did you go about setting up the business and how do you mix running it with working in a large City firm?
Tom: After coming up with the draft idea, Helen and I clarified it to ourselves, spoke to friends, refined the product and ran a few practice weekends with friends and then friends of friends. Once we were confident that people would enjoy it, we asked a web designer (also a friend) to set up the site, which was the priority. We then incorporated the company and set up the booking process. Of course once it was up and running I realised what I was missing so I have been learning by doing ever since.
Mixing it with work at Ashurst has been interesting… and tough. I get up at 6am and work for a few hours at home before going into the office. If I didn’t enjoy it so much, then I would find that pretty hard to do! However I’m putting my name to something and my reputation depends on it, so I have all the motivation and energy I need when the alarm clock goes off.
I generally don’t work in the evenings or the weekends (unless I’m in Devon) as work at Ashurst of course takes priority and I have to keep my girlfriend on side! Working in the morning means that I don’t use my employer’s time during the day. I’ve been open about it at work though and have declared my directorship - people there are generally supportive.
mtl: Do you have any tips for others wanting to set up a business on the side?
Tom: If you have an idea, then pursue it. You learn distinct skills in law but it makes me feel more individual to be using other skills such as marketing and web development. Likewise, many of the skills I have learnt running my business are transferable back to, and help with, law, such as customer service.
Organisation has to be the number one skill that I need to use, as well as prioritising what I have to do in a short period of time. If you take this route, remember all the time who is paying your rent – in my case it is certainly not the surfing – so you can’t spend too much time on your business to the detriment of your employer.
Persistence is key and you must always keep in mind the vision that you have for your product. There are so many administrative hurdles to get past when setting up your own business. Clear vision and optimism will keep you going when it seems as if there is too much to do. I also think that it is important to share your idea with a partner who has different skills to you. Helen and I work well together, certainly come at problems from different angles and generally meet in the middle.
mtl: What are your plans going forwards?
Tom: I am hoping that this season will go well and we are trying to increase our exposure. We made a small profit in our first year and are on target to do that this year too. I’d like to add some more products and am running a weekend to Morocco this year and hopefully one to Bali in the future. We’ve had good feedback and repeat customers so I’m happy with the progress so far… I’m limited by the time I can put into it but the trade-off is that I can balance doing my own thing with a City career, which for me at the moment is the best of both worlds.
Click here for the Curl Curl Surf website. Please send any questions to email@example.com Moretolaw readers who would like to get a few friends together for a weekend of surfing can have a 5% discount when booking.
This summer, Curl Curl Surf is running a weekend for the Kid’s Company charity. Click here to see their website.
If you know any other lawyers who have gone and done something interesting or unusual with their lives or who have a great work/life balance then please get in touch.
Send this feature to a friend: