Last week, Toby McCartney faced one of the biggest challenges of his life, pitching his business, MacRebur, to Richard Branson in the Virgin Media Business VOOM finale. It ended well for him, and he was named winner of the Start-Up category, but what’s been happening for him and his business since then? We caught up with him to find out…
“I still have moments where I remember Richard Branson saying very casually, ‘Well I quite fancy driving on plastic roads,’ and I thought it was going to be the X Factor kind of thing where he was going to say, ‘I quite fancy driving on plastic roads but eFOLDi you're the winner.’” McCartney admits. “But he didn't say that, he said, 'and Toby you've won!' I still have moments thinking about that moment and that line and that elation of winning and I still get a bit tearful today.”
By his own admission, ‘it’s been a hell of a week’. “We’ve been on ITV News, my phone hasn’t stopped ringing. In fact, we’re meeting with a group on Friday that want us to go out to Australia and pave the roads in from the great coastal route from Adelaide over to Sydney.”
But how does he think the pitch itself went? “I’d practised and practised and practised it, I felt like there was nothing else I could but. But halfway through, the enormity of the event just took over and I though, ‘I don’t know what comes next.’”
If he thought that had affected his chances, he was wrong. All the judges were engaged with his pitch and he managed to connect with them in various ways. “I just didn’t know how I was going to get to Tyra Banks and Sara Blakely because I just thought that they were not going to be interested in roads, but they both asked really great questions,” he says.
Sara’s question, in particular was a great opportunity for McCartney. “I’d planned exactly what to say if we were asked what we would do if we won, so that was a great way to connect with Sara.”
No-one could have predicted the emotional response that McCartney provoked from Tyra, though. When the judge started to talk about the problems she’d faced when trying to drive a relative to the hospital because of a flat tyre caused by a pothole, McCartney thought he was in with a chance. “That really was the plan, to try and get some emotions,” he says.
We never even dreamt of winning it
But once you’ve impressed Richard Branson and won the VOOM competition, what’s next?
“We were at the Fast Track event the next day,” McCartney says. “That was great, there were lots of investors and lots of people that we can partner with, and I wasn’t really expecting that. One of the groups that got in touch with us and we’re going to be working alongside them.”
Truly, the phone hasn’t stopped ringing. “We’ve had loads and loads of work come through from councils and local authorities but also some private work too, which could be a massive opportunity for us. And it’s all off the back of VOOM, it’s phenomenal really.”
But it’s also meant that they’ve had to take a step back and make some big plans. “We’ve had an emergency meeting already where we said we need to get sorted now. All this work started to come in and we’re now stockpiling our product so that when we get these big contracts we can supply to them. It’s definitely been all hands on deck.”
And to deal with all this extra workload, the MacRebur team has grown from three to five already – and they’ll be looking for agents around the country to work with too to source the plastics. “We still want to stick to the idea of local people, local plastic for local roads,” McCartney says. “And I think we can do that if we get the right people on board.”
And for anyone else who might want to apply for VOOM 2017, what’s his advice? “Go for it. It’s a lot of work to go into the competition but it’s work that really pays off.
“It doesn’t matter how far you get in the competition, it’s well worth giving it a go. When we started with the competition we really didn’t expect to get anywhere so to win it was just phenomenal, we never even dreamt of winning it. You just never know, it you’ve got a good idea and you’re willing to put in the work then just go for it.”