Jake Munday, a dyslexic high school dropout, is now the co-founder and CEO of Custom Neon. A global manufacturer and retailer of custom-designed LED neon lights and signs, a multimillion pounds company.
Jake has started many successful businesses and learned many lessons along the way! His passion is palpable, and his enthusiasm is infectious. He’s an inspiring entrepreneurial visionary adept at recognising and capitalising on opportunities!
Despite his incredible business acumen, Jake really didn’t thrive at school. Suffering dyslexia (without knowing it at the time), he felt stupid amongst his peers, struggled to engage and felt like he didn’t fit in.
What he lacked in book smarts, he made up for in social intelligence, which he’d honed watching his entrepreneurial family, volunteering at his local church and as a child selling newspapers to businessmen and women at a busy train station!
This all stood him in good stead. Once out of the classroom environment, he hit the ground running and flourished.
Aged just 23, He purchased a Facebook page called “Dog Lovers”, where he managed to grow from 440K followers to over 4 million quickly! This was bringing in £20,000 a month through affiliate sales, and he was hooked!
In 2014, he was approached by US investors to sell the page, which he did, enabling him to really expand his business portfolio.
In 2017, he was awarded Young Entrepreneur of the Year at Geelong Business Excellence Awards.
In 2018, the Custom Neon journey began the latest and most successful venture which he co-founded with his wife Jess Munday.
What started as a £250 investment, after identifying a gap in the market whilst looking for a neon sign for their young son’s bedroom, is now a global business, turning over in excess of £9 million.
Custom Neon has provided signage for Paris Hilton’s wedding, Elon Musk, Facebook HQ, The Grammy’s, The Olympics, The Tennis Open, Love Island Australia and many more!
Jake’s journey is remarkable and inspiring. Rather than letting his neurodiversity and early failings define him, he honed his strengths and let them become a superpower!
In this exclusive interview with C. Hub Magazine, Jake tells Faustina Anyanwu, our Chief Editor, all about navigating his way as an entrepreneur, his business growth, and challenges.
Tell me about starting your business Neon Lights.
Custom Neon (originally Neon Collective) was initiated quite opportunistically after identifying a gap in the market whilst struggling to purchase a safe, affordable sign for our son Jagger’s nursery in 2018.
We sourced a manufacturer directly and had signs created for our upcoming wedding, which we decided we could potentially hire out as a little maternity leave side hustles for my wife Jess.
Little did we know how soon an Instagram page that Jess set up would soon gain traction! Before long, our wedding signs were fully booked. Delighted couples would tag Custom Neon on their socials, this only served to drive more customers our way. No longer looking to hire, but purchase bespoke.
Less than 3 months in, no longer just renting out, we were averaging $10K in sales per week and realised that with just a $500 investment, we had created a very viable business that would no longer be just a side hustle.
What were your early days like as an entrepreneur? Did you try your hands at other things or businesses before finding success in neon lights?
From an early age, I was always entrepreneurial and looking at ways to make money. I was buying smartphones off eBay and selling them at a higher price. After some time, my uncle asked me to sell some of his reconditioned car rims on eBay as he owned a wheel factory. This was all whilst I was still at school. I quit school when I was 17. From there, I worked my way up as a salesperson until I found a new venture online talking about dog lovers, which I then sold for 520k USD. From there, I ran several other online businesses, selling golf products, detox tea, teeth whitening, hair care masks and all which then lead me to Custom Neon.
3. What was the biggest challenge you faced when you decided to drop out of high school? And how did you go beyond that tag to becoming successful?
I didn’t actually feel it was a challenge to leave school, it felt more of a challenge to stay. I wasn’t engaged and wasn’t really getting anything from being there. I had had part-time jobs or little side hustles alongside my studies, selling newspapers, phones, wheel rims etc, and I felt much happier and more productive outside of the classroom.
I soon got a job working in sales for a mobile phone provider, and I loved it. It was like flicking a switch. My mind was a million miles an hour! Always looking for ways the business could scale or streamline processes. I was excited, inspired and ambitious, and I flourished, quickly getting recognised and promoted.
However, my enthusiasm wasn’t always well received by senior managers. Having an overzealous high school dropout trying to change old processes was met with some resistance! I realised then I didn’t want to be stunted by the constraints or ambitions of others, and following in my father’s, uncle’s, and Grandad’s entrepreneurial footsteps, I knew I wanted to be my own boss.”
4. You later discovered you were dyslexic, and it was apparent why you didn’t thrive with formal education. How much relief does that give you knowing that now? Do you think the current school system has evolved to accommodate people with dyslexia and other disabilities?
I always felt a bit different, so it was a relief to realise it wasn’t that I was stupid. My brain just saw things very differently. I think there is more of a spotlight on neurodiversity these days, which is good. Hopefully, more kids are getting the support they need from teachers offering different solutions for learning and really helping them play to their strengths. I’ve met several succesful business people that shared my schooling experience. That quote, “Everyone is a genius, but if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it’s stupid.” really resonates. I do think there need to be alternative methods for assessments and grading in schools so all kids have the potential to shine. I am really passionate about sharing my journey with kids who are in the same boat. Enforcing them not to see their differences as a disability or limitation can actually be a gift.
5. Are there any advantages and disadvantages of dropping out of school and going on to become an entrepreneur?
For me, there were only advantages. Staying in an environment that wasn’t suitable would have been detrimental to my mental health. I wasn’t afraid of hard work, I am from an entrepreneurial family, so my parents were never concerned about dropping out of school. We were all confident this was the right path, I was fortunate that my parents really supported my decision.
What are some of the biggest mistakes and lessons you’ve had as an entrepreneur?
The biggest mistake I have made is that you can’t trust everyone. I have had partnerships that have unfortunately soured. That’s difficult to navigate when you are young and inexperienced.
I also realised I need to be more patient when scaling up. A previous business endeavour grew over 3000% in 12 months. It was fantastic and very profitable, but it caused me to make reactive hires and also resulted in fulfilment issues. In hindsight, I should have staggered the growth so things were manageable. All part of the learning curve, though.
What drives you, and what would you attribute your success to?
I am naturally a really driven person. I am always considering how I can scale. I am excited by growth and innovation. I was inspired by my father and uncle growing up, who both had their own successful businesses. I saw that hard work pays off, and I am driven to create a good life for my own family and team.
Do you see yourself in the league of Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg?
No, not really. However, it’s only one great idea away…
What does the future hold?
For the moment, I’m focusing on growing Custom Neon, as we believe there is still growth potential. Three years from now, I will be eager to explore new opportunities to see what I can create and build next.
What advice would you give people with dyslexia who are not coping well in school and anyone starting their own business?
The advice I would give to people with dyslexia who are not coping well in school is that this chapter in your life is short. Don’t compare yourself to those around you, and focus on your own passions and skills. Believe that anything is possible. School success does not equate to life success.
Anyone starting a business, I’d advise you to do your homework.
If you have a product in mind, check the search volumes on Google. Search volumes are important to understand if there is a market for your product and if there is competition. If the market is already saturated with established businesses, unless you have something better (actually, tangibly better, not just your opinion) you might find it difficult to gain traction.
If you have a tangible product to sell, placing an ad on Gumtree or eBay is also a good way to assess demand. If there is little customer demand, then it’s probably advisable to consider a different product. It’s so easy for an entrepreneur with a huge belief in their business or product and positive feedback from friends and family to become tunnel-visioned, only to realise later down the track that there wasn’t a large enough market for a sustainable business model.
I’d also recommend considering if this is something you are passionate about. Starting a business requires you to be living and breathing those products or services, coming up with new content, diversifying products, and identifying target markets. It’s a hard slog, especially in the early days, when you may be doing a lot of the hard yards yourself. If you aren’t passionate and inspired by your niche, motivation soon wanes, and you’ll struggle to gain traction. When you identify a niche that excites you, and you can really see the need for your product, that momentum drives the business. It pushes sales and ignites the team, which in turn will drive innovation and growth.