I’m Maddy founder of My VIP Rewards, and this is my story!
When I moved back to Southampton 12 years ago, I was 40k in debt from uni – I’d got myself into a bit of a mess with credit cards, overdrafts and loans. I didn’t understand money at 18, and when I was given some freedom, I went a bit nuts, so to speak.
At freshers’ fair I was like a kid in a sweet shop! FREE money! whoop! or so I thought, I signed up for every credit card, bank account and loan going.
Pubs and nights out every night; I bought ALL of the clothes Leicester had to offer. Within about 4 months of starting my first year I was skint.
I got a job and had to work all the hours under the sun. I neglected my course and felt depressed all the time. I went to the university hardship fund and got a grant: I blew that.
I got another loan, and I was spiralling.
In 2004 I left university, penniless without a degree and in a whole load of trouble with the debts I’d racked up. I tried to run from them and buried my head in the sand. They’d never find me in a new city!
WRONG! The letters started to come. Threats from bailiffs – some even came to my house and took my things.
I got a job and started to earn some decent money, got a debit card specifically for people with bad credit: I couldn’t even pay in shops with it. All I could do was get out cash, a certain amount each week.
I was forced to learn how to budget by this card scheme I was on, but I didn’t learn. Instead, I started to use sites like Wonga to get money fast. My debt spiral was insane, and in 2008 I had to turn to family for support. My mum helped me to write a budget plan.
And I used the 50/30/20 method to start paying off my debts. I paid of 15k in my first year! and another 15k in my second year through budgeting, being more frugal and having a plan.
In 2011 I was at my lowest. I lost all my possessions in a house fire. I lost my job, my boyfriend and I wanted to end it all.
Things had to change
In 2012 I started my own business, a recruitment agency in Southampton. It flopped because I still hadn’t got to grips with my spending, and I couldn’t get to grips with how to get my business visible (that is another story).
I had to go back to the world of work, but that was ok. I worked my way up in the HR world, and the more I earned the more I paid off. But I was always so resentful of friends who had money. Working in HR, I learnt about employee benefits, I worked hard and I cleared the last of my debts, this time vowing to myself I would never get myself in trouble again and that I would live within my means.
In December 2014 I had repaired my credit rating enough to buy a house! Eek! I bought a shared ownership two-bed house. I was really excited about having friends to stay and it being a nice summer garden party type house.
A shock to the system
In January 2015 I found out I was pregnant, which was a huge shock as I had previously been told I wouldn’t be able to have children. Overwhelmed, my first thought was holy crap! How am I going to afford a baby? What if I get into debt again?
Eight months of ailments followed: gestational diabetes, cholestasis, rib flare, dagger crotch (dont ask!). And then a scary labour, a week in hospital due to low blood sugar and jaundice. I was already a mess when I took my newborn home.
I am the sort of mum who lives for sleep. I love an afternoon nap for no reason. I love lie ins. I also like drinking and socialising and having a new born came as a shock, as it does to most people, but my baby cried ALL THE TIME.
I didn’t know what to do; he was just so cross.
I started a parenting forum because I felt alone. I didn’t have anyone to talk to and I didn’t know where to turn. I began to get sick; I would have visions of throwing my new born baby down the stairs or us getting hit by a car.
I didn’t know what was real, and I genuinely felt like I was living in a parallel universe. My mum noticed I wasn’t myself and suggested I go to the doctors. My doctor said I had post-natal depression and tried to prescribe me tablets. I wasn’t interested; I started to be fearful of leaving the house. I felt like I was being judged by other parents. I thought they knew what I was thinking and knew I had visions of killing my child.
I knew I was losing it. I went to see a therapist who diagnosed me with a condition called postpartum psychosis. I got some help, luckily before it was too late, and I did something stupid.
I also found out why Ben cried so much: he had a compressed neck muscle and was in a lot of pain. This was easily sorted by the lovely Alex Lys, a local cranial osteopath (and now partner offering discounts).
The parents I met through the parenting forum I’d set up were amazing and actually the least judgemental people, but I knew I still wanted to help more parents, so I kept the forum running. Local businesses started to contact me about advertising; I wanted to help them too, but I didn’t know how.
A VIP birth
Ben never really slept properly and one sleepless night in July 2017 I had an idea which would change my life. What if I could have a discount card that supported local businesses and helped parents to save money?
I’d kept on top of my debts but eating so much coffee and cake with my mummy friends was starting to take its toll on my maternity leave salary.
I started to contact local businesses offering them free advertising in exchange for a discount. Everyone I spoke to thought it was a fab idea, and after four months of plugging away in my spare time, I had 80 parent-related discounts to start off my card! I wanted to call it My VIP Card – the VIP originally stood for very important parent.
We launched on 30 November 2017 with just a Facebook page. By February I’d sold 200 subscriptions and we were growing the offers daily. I decided it was time for a website! So I reinvested the money I’d made to get a website. People loved it but wanted more, and it was so hard to do everything on my own, so I took on a virtual assistant. Katie was the best thing to happen to my business, she was honestly the glue that kept me together.
I started to network in my spare time, and on learning I’d be made redundant in April 2018, I decided this was worth fighting for. I didn’t look for another job, I did a temp job for a bit but then found out I was pregnant again.
This time it was sort of planned. I wanted another one, but I was really scared about how it would affect the business which was just starting to build momentum! Also, I’d just agreed a partnership to offer national offers alongside my local Hampshire offers.
In November 2018 I won the Hampshire Women’s Business of the Year award! This really pushed me forward with articles in local and national press and an interview BBC Radio Solent.
I had a huge blip in my mental health after that. I suffered with imposter syndrome and felt I didn’t deserve to be successful.
My world changed at a networking event when I saw a wonderful inspiring lady give a talk about manifesting. She gave me a small cube of rose quartz which I’ve kept in my bra ever since. My imposter syndrome went away, and I started to manifest what I wanted for the business.
In February 2019 I gave birth to my beautiful daughter Harriet. The pregnancy had its fair share of complications, but I decided to plough on without maternity leave. Instead, Harriet came with me to corporate meetings, networking, and awards ceremonies. She was the best networked baby in Hampshire and helped to get me noticed.
I continued to grow the business and decided to franchise and go nationwide with our offers. We signed up over 2300 businesses across the UK and made it so that My VIP Card helped you to shop local wherever you go, helping hospitality, leisure and small businesses nationwide.
Covid and crowdfunding
Covid hit us hard. We instantly lost all our sales. No one could use our discounts, so we ploughed our energy into helping businesses to stay visible. I manifested daily; we crowdfunded to support our suppliers and make sure they got paid and supported others. We then did an equity crowdfunding campaign and raised 84k and got another 150k worth of investment from angel investors.
Crowdfunding is the hardest thing I have ever done to date. I couldn’t have done it without my operations manager Nicola Toner. Also manifesting! It sounds crazy but it works! I opened myself up to the universe and it gave me what I wanted.
We now have 246 shareholders, which is amazing! I knew I had to use the money to make our product strong to go into a new (hopefully covid free) world!
We hadn’t been just a card for quite some time, so we decided to change our name and rebrand the whole business over the last six months. It’s been really tough but, I haven’t lost sight of our end goal.
We relaunched as My VIP Rewards in November 2021, the money saving app and benefit for families, businesses and corporates that helps to reward people and community with a different business model to the franchise.
We now have over 5000 offers on our new app, so people can save money on anything and everything, from supermarket shopping to days out, and most important, it continues my mission to support small independent businesses across the UK.
My journey from being penniless and homeless to debt free and running a business valued at 2.3 million has been such a learning curve. But I want to inspire people. I didn’t come from a business background, and I’ve learnt everything I know from networking and connecting with others, believing in myself and being resilient as hell.
No parent is perfect, especially not me, but working mums totally rock. We aren’t given enough credit. So if you’re reading this and thinking about starting a business… just do it and manifest the sh*t out of it, work hard and don’t give up!
We are currently raising 200k for our seed round, we then plan to crowdfund and raise a further 500k, we are going to be launching a savings account with cashback card which we are super excited about! we are looking for lead investors to help us to get to crowdfunding stage, if you are interested please drop me an email email@example.com
Bio: [JDJ1] Maddy Alexander-Grout Money Saving Expert is a mum of two Ben (6) and Harriet (2). She and her children live with her husband James and dog Dexter in Shirley, Southampton. When she’s not working, she loves reading crime dramas, crafting, and going to festivals. She’s also a bit of a gin fanatic.: Maddy’s been a radio presenter most of her life, and she hosts a podcast called the VIP Cast. She loves networking and can often be found running rooms on Clubhouse. You can learn more about Maddy here www.myviprewards.co.uk