Web success: a moving story

Former accountant James Moeskops is a 28 year-old director of burgeoning Web-based staff relocation service ActiveAbroad. He...

Former accountant James Moeskops is a 28 year-old director of burgeoning Web-based staff relocation service ActiveAbroad. He speaks to Toby Poston.

Tell us about ActiveAbroad

ActiveAbroad is a one-stop service for people re-locating to the UK. There is an increasing mobile professional workforce - many lawyers, teachers, doctors, accountants, engineers and IT workers are moving to work in other countries. ActiveAbroad provides them with information and puts them in touch with all the products and services they need before and after moving, saving them time and money. It can help sort out everything from your immigration status to tax advice, bank accounts and a car to pick you up at the airport. We have partnered with companies including Virgin, Barclays, Forte and Aon.

How did the company get started?

I came up with the idea last spring over a game of squash with a work colleague at Dolphin Telecom, Ian Beaumont. Within a week I had resigned and got onto launching ActiveAbroad. Ian is also a director here, together with Francois Dupuis, who worked in the legal department at Dolphin.

Why a relocation service?

I have moved backwards and forwards between the UK and Australia three times, and found it a harrowing experience. Senior executives usually get the help of an expensive relocation agency. I was just picked up at the airport, dumped at a hotel and then expected to start work the next day. People leaving their country to come and work in the UK often get a raw deal.

What was the setting-up process like?

Horror. Because of the tech meltdown last April, suppliers didn't want to deal with us - we couldn't even get mobile phones. We spent months looking for office space before finding a place in Chiswick, and then had to give 15 months' advance deposit. We spent three months working from my partners front room. Web designers tried to charge us outrageous amounts at first - I guess there was just too much money out there.

Where did your funding come from?

We raised private money through friends and family. We considered venture capital or an incubator, but our timing was horrible. Last April the technology market was in meltdown and venture capitalists were not interested in small start-ups - they were more worried about the Internet-related investments they already had. We were only looking for a small amount of money because we wanted to keep a low cost base, which would give us the ability to set up a strategy as we went along.

What's it like being an e-entrepreneur?

I had an entrepreneur friend who said, "Guys, this is going to be a lot tougher than you think". He was right. Some days negotiations can go sour, or you spend the whole day fixing a printer - we have no IT helpdesk here. That is the downside of not having the supporting infrastructure that many large companies have. But on the plus side, we now have strategic autonomy, something you don't always have in the corporate environment. All of us have been sick of watching senior managers make bad decisions.

How are you moving the company forward?

Mass marketing advertising won't work for ActiveAbroad because we need to get in touch with people before they arrive in the UK. We have been talking to recruitment companies that bring in a lot of foreign workers. We have also approached a lot of established relocation agencies and offered to partner with them. We can make money from the low-end services such as organising mobile phones and setting up bank accounts, that are loss-leading for them.

Moeskop's Top 5 Web sites

  • www.activeabroad.com - "Of course, I am in front of the site every day."

  • www.loot.com - "Before ActiveAbroad, this was the best real source of what things cost in London and where to get them. I bought my first PC when I arrived in 1998 for a mere £200 - I still have it!"

  • www.timeout.com - "Makes you realise how much there is to do in London and nearby."

  • www.fuckedcompany.com - "Oh the irony of it - these guys are even trying to make money out of their site."

  • www.amazon.co.uk - "Very cliched, but I have bought tons of stuff online and only Amazon gets books, CDs and games to me on time and without hassle."

    CV - James Moeskops

  • Bachelor of commerce, University of New South Wales, Australia

  • 1991 - worked for New South Wales Treasury

  • 1992 - worked for Exxon Coal & Minerals, Australia

  • 1993 - 1998 - Ernst & Young Entrepreneurial Services, Sydney

  • 1999 -2000 - financial planning manager, Dolphin Telecommunications, UK

  • April 2000 - founded ActiveAbroad

  • Read more on IT for small and medium-sized enterprises (SME)