These friends mean business

(l-r) Tom Soane and Jody Gough
(l-r) Tom Soane and Jody Gough
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Tom Soane and Jody Gough struck up a friendship at Portsmouth College. It was in the corridor after they had been thrown out of their media studies class. It was a regular occurrence.

The subject bored them, but what did not send them to sleep were their lessons in business studies.

They were 16 and both were old, albeit rather amateurish, hands at the game.

Jody had been determined to have some sort of shop since he was eight, quietly drawing up business plans which one day might fulfil his dream.

At the same age Tom was making up things to sell, working out how to sell them and writing it all down.

When he was 10 he was designing clothes, pricing them and working out how many staff he needed. He went around his school selling self-designed T-shirts featuring the wrestler Hulk Hogan.

Their school reports were remarkably similar: intelligent, has potential, lacks focus.

Jody is the quiet one, the schemer. Tom, by his own admission, is ‘the front man, the big mouth’ with a gift for selling.

So, when the two were forced together outside that classroom at Portsmouth College in the mid-1990s a natural double act was formed – a wise-cracking Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau, Odd Couple-style relationship.

Both are now 32 and they have been inseparable ever since. Tom says: ‘It really is like a marriage.

‘All our old girlfriends always said we spent more time talking to each other than we ever did to them.

‘I don’t think we’ve been a day without talking to each other.’

Somehow it seems apt that they are talking beneath a giant cut-out of a Friesian cow. It’s the quirky logo of their latest company – an estate agency called u moove. Geddit? Their corporate colour is pink.

It got off the ground at the beginning of the year when the duo hit on the idea of setting up a house-selling business which left would-be buyers to be shown around properties in which they were interested by the owners themselves.

No estate agent is present at viewings. Their commission is just 0.5 per cent.

This comes on top of a three-year-old telemarketing firm – biggreen – which they run above the estate agents. The shop is just outside the Cascades shopping centre in Portsmouth. They have 15 Portsmouth people working for them.

‘We wanted to do things differently and thought we’d spotted a way to do it with u moove,’ says Tom.

In the window properties for sale are advertised. Nothing unusual there, but here the cards are attached to sticks which in turn are planted in pink flower pots.

Tom, who went to Mayfield school, was Jody’s best man and is godfather to his two children. Jody, a City Boys’ School old boy, will soon return the wedding favour to Tom and is, he says with a wicked glint in his eye, currently planning the stag.

Jody is director of operations, Tom director of sales and marketing. The respective women in their lives have learned to live with their partnership.

‘As soon as I get in from work I’m on the phone to Tom and if we see something funny on the telly we’ll text each other about it,’ adds Jody.

‘When Tom and I first started in business I had left a well-paid, full-time job and we’d just had a baby. We had no guaranteed income, but my wife never once asked what I was doing. We’ve come out the other side now and everything is rosy.’

He adds: ‘Tom is the ideas man. He comes to me with loads of them which I just bat out of the park.

‘Occasionally there’s a great one that we’ll go with, but we have an understanding that if one of us doesn’t like an idea, we won’t do it.

‘I always knew that I wanted to go into business.

“I never wanted to go to university although I know I would have had a great time.

‘I used to say to friends who did go that I couldn’t see the point, they’d only come out with £20,000 of debt and by that time I’d have my first house. I did.’

The pair have worked together on and off ever since they left school. Behind the bar and waiting on tables at The Thatched House pub, Milton; in a menswear shop and selling mobile phones.

Tom flitted from job to job, usually selling – working for estate agents, selling mortgages and then moving on to Barclays.

Finally, little more than three years ago they dreamed up the telemarketing company idea.

Tom says: ‘It was me and Jody in my front room with a landline and a mobile.

‘We started off working for a mortgage company and a firm which provided security technology. We just spent all day calling customers and generating leads and gradually it took off and then we made enough money to start the estate agency.’

Jody cuts in: ‘We might not be to everybody’s taste. We’re bright, we’re pink and if we want to stick a cow in the window we will.

‘We’re huge fans of entrepreneurs, the likes of the Bransons and Sugars who did things differently. We’re not like them yet. But we will be.’