Mike Welch: adoption the 'catalyst' for tyre entrepreneur

Being adopted at the age of six months was the “catalyst” that drove him into the world of business, says Mike Welch, the founder of online tyre-fitter Blackcircles.com.

“I remember being quite bitter about it when I was young, and the rejection was a big issue for me,” says the entrepreneur, who sold the Borders-based firm to French tyre giant Michelin in a £50 million deal in 2015.“For most of my early adult life, I was hell-bent on proving myself. It was an odd mix of confidence and insecurity, but it gave me a real drive to prove that I was worth something.”

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Welch left school at 16 to become a tyre fitter in Liverpool, and admits that the “whole schooling thing was lost on me”.

He adds: “I was in a situation where I didn’t really grasp education and I didn’t have the choice of college or university. I was a joker but I wasn’t going to be a comedian. So I took a job as a tyre-fitter, and was made redundant from that. It’s a bit of a cliché but when I was at school I was always trading stuff.”

So he set up a mail-order tyres business and “started to mess about” building a rudimentary website to sell them over the internet.

“Customers started asking if I could fit the tyres too, and I didn’t want to build a garage so I started recommending them to local fitters. If you look at the ‘shared economy’ now, with the likes of Uber, that’s what we were doing back then in 1998.”

Having built up Blackcircles, which is now poised to expand into Asia, Edinburgh-based Welch is now rolling out a similar model with Atterley, an online platform aimed at helping independent fashion boutiques take on the major retail players.

“We’ve got 30 boutiques signed up, with 100 in the pipeline and we can take that to 300 over the next 18 months. If we keep it simple and keep listening to our customers there’s no reason it couldn’t be another Blackcircles.”

Now with a six-month-old daughter of his own, Welch has set up a charitable foundation with wife, Victoria, to fund adoption services as well as the Prince’s Trust, which helped get his own firm off the ground with a £500 grant.

“We’ve given a fairly significant commitment over the next four years to put some money back into the system that got me started. To be able to be part of that is hugely satisfying.”