At 64, Mr Weeks has proved that when it comes to inventing, age is just a number, as he discovered a large fault in boiler manufacturing after attempting to fix his one. Now looking to make a hefty income from his entrepreneurial venture despite being almost a decade into his official retirement, Mr Weeks shared his journey in an exclusive interview with Express.co.uk.
After a career in finance speaking to a range of business owners and entrepreneurs, he commented: “I’m one of those unusual people, I started working at Barclays at 16 and retired at 55 still working at the same place.”
Mr Weeks also explained that his retirement left him wanting more: “Having done the things that needed to be done around the house and fixed everything that needed fixing, I thought there’s something else I want to do.
“I thought maybe setting up my own business could be something to consider.
“It’s fair to say that through my career at Barclays and working with business owners, I was fairly convinced that I could run my own business too.
“The thing was I didn’t really know quite what I wanted to do. But it so happened that we needed a boiler for our house and I started looking around for them. Some people were selling boilers on eBay but what struck me was it was almost like. ‘It might work, might not. These are for spares and need repairs.’
“I spoke to a guest engineer so that if I bought one and he tested to confirm it’s all working, then I would sell it on eBay but saying that it’s all working. People were interested because boilers are quite expensive and people were happy to buy them if they knew they worked,” he added.
Discovering this gap in the second-hand boiler market was not Mr Weeks’ last tweak to the business, as he soon noticed an even bigger problem facing the heating industry: “That’s where it started but as we bought more of these boilers we soon realised that although they are very reliable, a common fault was this diverter valve.”
He had an idea to change the way boilers are repaired, saving both time and money for consumers and engineers alike. Now, with his product patented, he has sold over 2,000 units.
Fit Once is the world’s first sustainable diverter valve. As Mr Weeks explained: “If you’ve got a combination boiler, that heats both the hot water and central heating but there’s only one heat source so this valve diverts the heat depending on which you are using.
“The problem all manufacturers have with these valves is that the leak all the time and the current design was that these valves could not be repaired.
“I think manufacturers generally think about making the design as simple as possible to manufacture, they don’t think about the serviceability. So they’ll ensure the serviceability of the boiler in the sense that you replace the part that is broken but the parts themselves aren’t serviceable.”
This is not a unique or rare problem, the majority of boilers in the UK and Europe use similar types of valves and Mr Weeks noted that it’s not just a problem of time and money but also pollution.
“There’s around 25 million of these valves out there across Europe and about four or five million of those are thrown away every year. It’s an awful lot of plastic so I do think there will be a time when manufacturers think more about this, which will be sooner rather than later.
“I was very surprised that they weren’t designed to be repaired. I thought I could come up with a better designed.”
Determined to solve this problem, Mr Weeks also proved that it’s never too late to learn new tricks as he taught himself how to design and 3D print prototypes of his invention.
Mr Weeks has since been enjoying the freedoms, as well as the busy-ness of entrepreneurship, saying: “For me personally it’s been very rewarding in terms of achieving success and learning new skills along the way and the other thing about being your own business is you can set the pace so if you want to have a holiday you can.
“Financially, it has been rewarding as well; we’ve sold a few thousand of these units now and we’re expanding into Europe although that’s quite a challenge now with Brexit.
“It’s a seasonal business so last winter was our first year in business, we managed to recover our costs and they were quite significant. This year we’re looking to make some profit and I’m convinced we will,” he commented.
He added that while starting a business when one is well into retirement may seem daunting, unknown to them they actually have a career’s worth of experience to back them up: “You don’t realise what you pick up. By the time you get to 60 whether through your working life or hobbies or just things you do around the home, you actually pick up skills along the way. They’re quite invaluable when you start thinking about what you might do for your own business and it will steer you in the right direction. I was quite fortunate at Barclays to help support lots of businesses on their journey.
“The other thing you don’t realise when you’ve been on the planet for 60 years is that there is so much information now for free. For example we used Fusion360 to produce 3D drawings, it’s not a cheap company but for start-up businesses they’ll let you have it for nothing.”
Mr Weeks shared some of his own advice, discovered from first-hand experience, on how other retirees can make their entrepreneurial debut:
“This has taken us six years to get where we are. It doesn’t happen overnight and you have to be resilient.
“My advice would be to do as much as you possibly can yourself. Take the time to learn because once you’re there the sky is the limit. There’s a lot you can do to keep the costs down and learn things while you’re going.”
Mr Weeks noted that when an entrepreneur has an idea, they should seek to find out what is unique about their idea and why a consumer should buy from them instead of a competitor.
“If you’ve got something really unique then you should consider a patent but make sure there’s not someone else out there doing the same as what you’re thinking of doing. That’s one of the biggest challenges is to come up with that lightbulb moment.
“For me, eBay has been quite useful because we started out in the boiler market and did well there. We had 100 percent feedback on what we were doing which gave us the confidence to think we could make a success of this as well.”
Mr Weeks continued: “One of the other things we found very useful was YouTube. It’s great for our world where you’re looking at practical things; how to do something. We put up our little story about our valve and got loads of people watching it. That gave us the confidence people were interested in what we had and that it was a common problem.
“YouTube is the way to get out there, because certainly practical people will search on YouTube. It just means there are opportunities and it’s a good way of seeing whether people are interested,” he concluded.