Lightning Sites founder Kody Thompson.
Lightning Sites founder Kody Thompson.

28-year-old turns $250 into $1 million

A FORMER youth pastor who started a part-time graphic design business to make money while volunteering for the church has pulled in more than $1 million profit on an initial investment of just $250 to "print some business cards".

Kody Thompson, originally from Bendigo in Victoria, moved to the Gold Coast three years ago to take up an unpaid role with the Southland Christian Centre in Maudsland, having run youth programs in schools after losing a number of friends to suicide as a teenager.

The 28-year-old graphic design graduate began creating websites for local businesses in 2015, but quickly found himself "run off" his feet with work, making $110,000 in revenue in the first 12 months.

"I started the business accidentally," he said. "I basically just handed out business cards. I had absolutely no idea what I was doing. I was doing my accounting with a spreadsheet, doing invoices using Word."

As his graphic design business grew, Mr Thompson started up a second - a subscription-based website design and hosting service targeted at CrossFit gyms called WodSites, which soon took on a life of its own.

Unlike traditional web design firms, which typically charge a large upfront cost in the thousands of dollars to create a website, Mr Thompson decided to focus on a small upfront cost with an ongoing monthly subscription, for which customers receive constant support and site maintenance.

"Most sell their sites for an upfront cost then try to sell you onto a maintenance package," he said. "If you don't sign up for the maintenance package they'll charge you $120 to $150 an hour when you need help. For small businesses, [the subscription model] means they can set up their site in a much more cash flow-friendly way."

It proved such a hit with gym owners - WodSites is now supplying 160 CrossFit gyms around the world - that with the guidance of business coach Dale Beaumont, he decided to relaunch his main business with the new model under the name Lightning Sites.

"WodSites took off like crazy, and I realised this was the model small businesses really wanted," he said. "I only started Lightning Sites because I had so many people from my network asking for it. We now have around 130 small businesses on Lightning Sites, they range from accountants to childcare centres to engineers."

Lightning Sites is on track to make a profit of $450,000 on revenue of just $750,000 this year, a huge profit margin of 60 per cent which Mr Thompson attributes to largely running the business out of the Philippines, where he employs 22 staff. To date, his business has made more than $1 million in profit.

"We're sitting at about $45,000 recurring revenue a month, my goal is to get 5000 businesses within five years - that would be $800,000 a month," he said. "When we switched to the subscription model 18 months ago, we did around 55 per cent profit.

"Although we don't turn over a lot of money, we're very profitable and it's going to scale really well. Most of the businesses that are trying to copy us can't match our price points, [because] they haven't had the same success building the team overseas - I went over and did it myself."

Mr Thompson said he still volunteers at the church when he's home, but he's only home about 50 per cent of the time. "That was a real challenge," he said.

"As my business was first taking off, I felt like I was letting people down with my original passion. But I sort of found through what I'm doing that I'm now able to impact more people than before, not in the same way as through the church but I tried my best to use my business to make a difference."

He said it was "really exciting" to see the impact he could make in the Philippines. "Twenty-two families now have full-time employment because of our business," he said. "We take a lot of students for internships over there. Although it's different I feel like I'm making an impact."