In the summer of 2004, friends Cliff Haviland and Leonard Dorr were lounging around a pool in Florida and thinking about businesses they’d seen in the US that might work in Britain too.
One in particular struck them as good – companies designed to sell things on eBay on behalf of other people, businesses and charities.
But the pair didn’t think much more about it as real life kept them busy.
But a year or so later, another man – Ian Montgomery – went on the hunt for a decent business idea.
“I had been teaching snowboarding in the Pyrenees for a few years and was intending to return to the UK,” Ian told Mirror Money.
He asked if anyone had any openings, and got something even better back.
“One of my contacts outlined the idea of eBay drop shops to me but explained he did not have the time to develop it,” Ian said.
Six months later, in September 2005, the idea – that was cooked up on a trip to the USA – was ready to launch in Essex, after Ian secured premises in Chelmsford.
XS Items was born – and the idea was to take any excess stock companies had, and then sell it directly to members of the public on eBay. All money would then be shared between the new company and the people supplying the goods.
But while that idea was good, it took another two full years and a world-changing product to make it something special.
In November 2007, the first iPhone was launched in the UK – and Ian was perfectly placed to dive into the smartphone revolution.
It so happened that this was the exact time Ian was starting a contract where his firm would clean up the data and sort out repairs on mobile phones before selling them on eBay.
“We had come to the conclusion that the overhead involved in trying to deal with many individual items and customer expectation of value was too much,” he explained.
In fact, if they’d kept operating the old way, Ian estimates they’d have had just four months before the money ran out and they were forced to close up shop.
It’s fair to say the new model worked, with the dad of two having sold an incredible 190,000 iPhones in the years following its launch.
XS Items now has 42 staff, offices and a 12,000 square foot warehouse in Colchester and is set to have an incredible £4.5million turnover this year.
But he’s not stopping there, with plans to expand his range of products, sell to more countries and develop the firm’s smartphone refurbishing team.
“There is huge potential within this division still. Not many consumers realise the quality of a refurbished model,” he said.
And the long road from the slopes of the Pyrenees to a mountain of sales has taught Ian a few things along the way.
“It always takes longer than you want,” Ian explained.
But if you’re willing to adapt, that doesn’t mean you won’t get there in the end.
“Start small, think big,” Ian said to people wanting to follow in his footsetps.
He’s also a fan of research, and determination – but that shouldn’t come at the expense of flexibility.
“Be prepared to change strategy, if it is not working,” Ian advised.