Sally Wynter, 27, grew up poor in a deprived area of London, with no hope for the future. By 23, she’d set up her own business with just £1,000 of savings, which she sold at 25 for a seven-figure sum, going from poverty to becoming a multi-millionaire.
"Growing up, there were seven of us in a small flat in Haringey, North London. It was crowded, messy and I shared a bedroom with my brother, where it would be so cold that I’d get into trouble with my mum because she’d find the fan heater in there and go absolutely nuts that I’d been using it.
There often wasn’t enough food in the house. There were so many people that a supermarket shop was done and, eight hours later, the cupboards would be empty. When you’re a teenager, you’re hungry all the time, but no one cooked meals. I’d say, 'Mum, what’s for dinner?' and she’d say, 'There’s bread!'
Mum worked as a legal secretary but was in and out of work, and Dad was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis when I was 10, so we relied on benefits.
A lot of children in my class were from asylum-seeking families so, rather than following the normal curriculum, the focus was on learning English. But I wasn’t really aware of my circumstances being different to anyone else until I landed a place in a grammar school.
In theory, they’re supposed to be schools that help bright young people who don't have money for a top education, but the reality is that almost all the intake was from wealthy families – in my year group, I was one of only three kids on free school meals.
The commute to school was 1 hour 20 minutes each way, with three buses. Even wearing school uniform, getting wolf whistled and followed home by older men was not unusual. During winter when it was dark, I’d walk with my key between my fingers and jog between the bus and the front door. It never felt safe.
Shunned at school
I’d never had parties because my parents couldn’t afford them but, when I was 11, they hired a church hall for my birthday. No one turned up and I discovered it was because my area was rough and the middle-class parents didn't want to take their kids there. It was heartbreaking.
I never had many friends, the groups were cliquey and I was always on the outskirts. It was isolating and I started to feel frustrated and angry. I couldn’t understand why my parents decided to have kids when money was so tight and I’d think, 'Why does everyone else have all this stuff? How can they get what they want? Why do they all have TVs in their rooms, have so many new clothes and go on all these holidays?'
Other kids wanted to work in medicine or law and that just didn't seem like an option for me. I felt ambition was something largely reserved for the middle classes. I didn't have any positive role models or know anyone who wasn't on benefits or had a menial job.
Parents split up
My teen years were tumultuous. I sought out the wrong crowds and fell into drugs and alcohol at around 14. That, and excessively violent fights between me and my brother, meant I was quickly assigned a social worker and had counselling with Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS).
There was a lot of arguing at home and my parents broke up when I was 12. There wasn't much parenting, to be honest, and no one told me to do my homework, so I started working in McDonalds.
Abuse from customers there was the norm and, looking back, it taught me a lot about resilience. But my school attendance was as low as 35%. The head of year called my mum into school and said it would be impossible to get the grades to stay for sixth form – I remember clearly him saying it was 'a dire situation'.
In the end, I managed to complete my A levels and got a place at university, the first of my siblings to do so. I had the maximum funding but it was still impossible to survive – I only had £18 pounds a week to live on, so I got a job at the uni arranging events.
I found university boring, I just wanted to get out into the world so I entered a competition to give young people from challenging backgrounds an opportunity in journalism.
I won, finished uni remotely, did shifts for ITV News and got a job as production assistant for a small media company. Hard work doesn't always correlate with how well you do and there was a lot of nepotism so I got frustrated.
One day, I saw an article about an event for young entrepreneurs. I didn’t even know what an entrepreneur was - I had to Google it. But, I’d always had an inventive streak and I had an idea for a CBD-infused gin that I called MuHu. For the next 10 months, I worked three jobs, while slowly figuring out what I was doing in an industry I knew nothing about.
Living in a rented room, I’d do experiments at home with gin and call distilleries and say, 'I want to start a brand, can you tell me how to do it?' I was blown away by people's willingness to help a stranger. I watched YouTube tutorials, learnt about licensing and used Facebook groups for advice.
I didn’t have the funds to produce my first run, so I got a credit card, paid for the labels and photographed a sample bottle, filled with water and a bit of a house plant. I put the images on my website and got enough pre-orders to do the first production run.
I quit my other work that September, and did stupid hours every day with no salary, walking 30,000 steps around London with a backpack full of gin, trying to sell to bars and restaurants. It was exhausting and demoralising. By December 2019, I was burnt out, couldn't afford my rent and desperately needed to raise funds.
I had to learn how to approach investors because I was never going to be in the right room with the right people and, by February, I’d had meetings and couldn’t believe it when one wanted to buy the company. They were offering a seven-figure sum and said I’d see it go global – it was everything I was dreaming of.
Two weeks later, COVID-19 hit, and I thought the deal might fall through. It was a weird, uncertain time where I was completely broke and looking, on the one hand, at being kicked out of where I was living, while also trying not to look on Rightmove thinking, ‘Maybe I could buy this townhouse in central London’.
New luxury lifestyle
But six months later, in September 2020, the deal went through and the balance in my bank account changed dramatically. It took a really long time to sink in.
I'd lived so tightly for so long, I never bought clothes or coffee and didn’t even take public transport, I walked everywhere. The first thing I did was splurge on Ubers. People who grow up with money don’t feel lucky when they can afford to get an Uber or order takeout for the second time that week. That feels like complete luxury to me.
Six months later, I bought that house I’d been dreaming of. After growing up in a crowded flat, I feel so lucky to have so much space and the light just floods in from all angles. I’m five minutes from the River Thames and I’ve been living here for 18 months and I still pinch myself walking around the streets. I feel so privileged, I can’t believe this is where I live.
We didn’t go on holiday when I was younger and now I was able to treat myself to a first class ticket to Mauritius for an outrageous amount of money. I was in shock that this has all happened so quickly but it was amazing, and I just wanted to celebrate.
I even got to shower on the plane, which was quite a novelty – especially as when I was growing up there were seven of us sharing one bathroom and having cold showers because the hot water was gone.
I’ve now invested in other businesses including Thursday, a new dating app, and Iko, a drinks brand making sustainability-focused herbal teas. I’ve recently launched a project called Paper Round to teach business owners how to do their own PR and my next plan is to set up a digital healthcare platform focusing on women’s health issues.
The biggest change to my life is the freedom, the idea that I can get out of bed and choose to work or not. I didn’t have much value as a human being growing up, my self-esteem was incredibly low and I had to learn how to believe in myself. I’m proud of where I came from and it means I really appreciate everything I’ve got now."