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University dropout to multimillionaire in 6 years

The New Investors video series brought to you by Yahoo Finance reveals the secrets of successful entrepreneurs and business people in Australia today. This is the 19th episode of the second season.

Serial entrepreneur, Nick Bell, is many things - a SEO expert, businessman and a Google review-remover - but there’s one thing he isn’t: a university graduate. 

Bell is the founder of search engine optimisation, content, ads and social media management company WME, which he sold in 2017 for a cool $39 million.

But unlike most CEOs, who studied engineering or business degrees, Bell didn’t finish university at all. 

“I’m not exactly proud of it, but I went to university for six weeks,” Bell told New Investors: My Story host Sarah O’Carroll.

And Bell, who was from country Victoria, barely passed high school too.

“I finished year 12. I was terrible - I got 57 out of 100 in year 12. That’s just barely passing,” Bell said. 

“I was just a terrible student - I had no interest in studying or reading textbooks. It just wasn’t for me.”

But while his parents wanted him to pursue a university degree nonetheless, Bell decided he’d take a gap year in the UK.

“Just to get off the farm, I went to London. I went and worked in nightclubs and bars and restaurants in London, and it was awesome. But then I came back to Australia and thought, ‘Shit, I’d better get a degree’.”

Bell applied to RMIT, but was rejected. Then, he applied for Swinburne - and got rejected again. 

Finally, he was accepted to a bachelor of business marketing at Victoria University, but he didn’t last long.

“I was there for six weeks. I was in a microeconomics class, and I sat and thought, ‘This isn’t for me. This is so bloody boring’.”

So he just walked out, jumped in his car, and drove off. 

The first venture: A tough slog

For the next six years, Bell worked in hospitality, recruitment and sales - and at 24, he embarked on his first business venture.

“Don’t ask me why, but I started a skincare business with a friend of mine,” Bell said. 

“I developed a product, a supplement, that helps treat acne with a pharmacist. I thought, ‘This is going to make me millions in the first year’.”

But to make millions, Bell had to spend thousands. One hundred thousand dollars to be exact. 

“I gave a pharmacist my entire life savings, $100,000, and he developed a product for me. I thought I’d be a millionaire in the first 12 months - but no, that didn’t happen.”

From 24 to 28, Bell said he lived on $150 per week: “It was a tough, tough slog. The product wasn’t right. For four years, I made no money.” 

The second venture: $39 million win

While his skincare business was in the works, Bell decided he needed a second income, which led him to start his SEO company, WME. 

Bell introduced his SEO company at a time when it was a new phenomenon, and everyone was overcharging for the service, he said.

“They were often no guarantees or KPIs. So, I came into the market, undercut every single person in the market and offered guarantees.”

While initially he aimed to make $100,000 a year from WME, he made $1.8 million in the first 12 months. 

“That business took off,” he said. “We were profitable within three days of launching the business.”

And in 2017, Bell sold the company for a whopping $39 million.

And what happened to his acne product?

“The skincare business died in the ass.”

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