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Darren Jacobs

Darren Jacobs on achieving the real deal

By Darren Jacobs


In the 25 years since Darren Jacobs flipped through the Yellow Pages at the age of 17 and fortuitously found a job in tech, he has shaped a remarkable record in mergers and acquisitions, not just in IT but traversed across many sectors.

When he registered his first business and – just six years later turning over £4 million – sold it to a big telecoms company, Darren’s natural capability for growing and selling businesses emerged.

Between 2017 and 2019 he bought four IT and telecoms companies and grew a group which he sold in 2020 retiring from the business just a month after his 40th birthday.

Now, Darren specialises in buying and selling businesses through his company TOCA Group which encompasses a range of companies including a marketing agency and a suite of hair and beauty enterprises prompted by his stepdaughter’s desire to open her own salon.

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You’ve had some incredible success in business acquisitions, but it can’t be easy – what’s the biggest challenge?

The first question I always ask is why are people selling? What's the motivation? And I look for certain answers.

One of the challenges that we have is the seller’s expectation of the value of their business. We've had to develop some tactics to quickly set their expectations on what their business is actually worth.

You've got some golden rules in your acquisitions, what are they?

I worked hard to sell the IT group and sever my ties to a job so my first golden rule is that whatever we acquire can't create a job for me.

The second one is that we don't get involved in anything where we can't add value. Fundamentally we don’t buy a business just for the sake of money. Obviously, there is a financial aspect but it's not just about monetary value.

We bought a business in Portsmouth, and I asked the husband-and-wife owners why they were selling. The wife was terminally ill, and they wanted to buy a campervan and go travelling to spend the time she had left together. Because of their reasons, we made sure we did a deal that worked for them. They turned up outside our office in the campervan and we see all the pictures of the two of them still enjoying their life together two years later.

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"We don't get involved in anything where we can't add value. Fundamentally we don’t buy a business just for the sake of money."

Reflecting on your journey, what advice would you give your younger self today?

In my very first business, I made every single mistake you could make. I ended up selling it, but when I look back over the six years I owned it, it was at times a disaster.

You put your life and soul into your business, and it can be soul-destroying. There are times when you’re on the verge of giving up. The message for myself would be all about perseverance – you’ll get six no’s but just keep going until you get a yes.

And the biggest lessons often come from the biggest challenges and failures.

100%. I’ve been through everything; I’ve been through the successes; but I’ve been through every possible disaster you can see in business.

I’ve been through all that stuff – but would I do it again? Absolutely – I’ve loved every minute.

How does your Done For A Year concept combine your marketing company expertise with the hair and beauty sector in which you also operate?

Done For A Year is a startup business that I set up last year. In the hair and beauty sector, there are thousands of typically small or micro owner-managed businesses. They’re in a sector that’s saturated, it was hammered by COVID, and things like energy bills and the increased national minimum wage are really hitting it. Marketing isn’t something that businesses in the sector have the resource or budget to do.

To try and help these businesses and the industry we built a whole year of marketing for the hair and beauty sector, and we put it all on a web portal that businesses can access for £100 per year – a price that is accessible to anyone.

It sounds like a great concept and something that could be applied to many other small business sectors.

Definitely – I’ve been thinking about extending the concept to other sectors since setting it up.

The marketing agency we own has also built content for sports therapists and physiotherapists, and we are looking at other sectors where there are small businesses that have to either do their marketing themselves or find the budget to employ an agency to do it for them. We’ve effectively built a third option for them – it’s agency-quality content, for an achievable budget and in a portal that allows them to do it themselves easily.

"I've been through all that stuff – but would do it again? Absolutely – I’ve loved every minute."

Darren Jacobs - CEO, TOCA Group

What are your future plans both for the business and for yourself personally?

For the business, when we started buying salons, we initially set a target of 20 which we did in eight months. It created enough critical mass to fund a group structure and we wanted to make a statement to the sector – we got noticed, we had some big brands knocking on our door, and when you get noticed you attract the interest of investors. Our long-term vision is to get up to 100 salons – that would put us in the top three salon groups in the country.

Personally, we’re in the process of buying a restaurant and we’re looking at buying some property in Spain because I love the sunshine and warmer weather – I love travelling, being outdoors, and being active.

What drives you and keeps you motivated?

What I want to create for my kids drives me – everything is underpinned by them. TOCA is named after them – Toby and Charlie. I’ve got a certain lifestyle that I want to create for myself and my kids and they drive that.

We’ve got a whole video about how the brand’s been built around family: we’re family driven and it’s at the core of what we do.

Darren Jacobs