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‘I want to retire early to spend more time with the kids’

Starting his own business was a gamble but one that paid off for Rhys Dilks.

16 August 2022

Seven years ago, when he was in his early 40s, Rhys Dilks came to a crossroads.

He was working long hours in management at a major telecommunications business when the company offered redundancy payouts to anyone who wanted to leave.

He enjoyed his job, but the offer prompted him to think seriously about the direction he wanted his life to take.

“It was almost a mid-life crisis,” he laughs.

“When you’re on the corporate ladder, you get caught up in endless goals but you never get there. My wife Claire and I decided to create some personal goals and figure out what we needed to achieve those. We wanted to set ourselves up so we could retire earlier, have more freedom to choose how we live and spend more time with the kids.”

A 30 per cent return on investment

Dilks knew that running his own business could deliver on several of those goals – if he could get it right.

Trained as an electrician, he had moved into IT, and was familiar with managing customers and corporate clients, so he knew that a home automation business would be a perfect fit.

Dilks used his payout to launch Digihome, which provides smart home systems that allow you to control security, sound, lighting, and any connected device through a central hub on your phone or tablet.

It was tough. That first year he took a 50 per cent pay cut. Claire went back to work part-time to help offset the lost income.

“It was a gamble at the start – if I hadn’t made it work after the first year it would have been a very expensive failure,” Dilks admits, “and it’s a pretty lonely place when you’re starting out.

“I think small business ownership could be a big risk factor for mental health issues.”

But the business was a success. From a one-man band, Digihome grew to a team of technology specialists.

“From the second year I was back at my corporate salary, and then from year three onwards I was earning double that.

“We invested a lot in the business right from the start, keeping three months’ running costs at all times, which allowed us to make it through Covid successfully and remain debt-free.”

Dilks believes starting a business has been outstanding as an investment. He estimates he’s seen a 30 per cent return on funds reinvested into growth.

“I could be even more aggressive and take riskier strategies but I want Digihome to be a solid business with a trusted brand.”

Hitting those goals

The profits from the business have exceeded Dilks’ expectations, and in that respect the business is delivering on his goals of financial freedom.

A home renovation has helped their house grow with their three children and they’re building a beach house.

“One of our goals before I started the business was to be mortgage-free in 20 years,” he says. “Now, even with a newly rebuilt home and a beach house, we’ll manage to achieve that 10 years earlier than we originally planned.

“And it’s not just about the money; we’re investing in our quality of life and having more time together as a family.”

Unfortunately, he does spend long hours away from home.

“The biggest single thing that I haven’t succeeded on is having more free time with the family,” he admits.

“For the first year or two, yeah, I did, but since then absolutely not – it’s probably worse than when I was working in the corporate world.

“One of my goals for this year and next is to try to build that family time.”

Stepping back – or starting again

The long-term aim is for Dilks to step back from running everyday operations. Or he might sell if the right offer came along.

One thing is certain – he’ll never go back to a corporate job.

He loves running his own business and all the rewards that have come with it. “Even if I sold the business, I wouldn’t go back to working for the man. I’d just rub a couple of sticks together and start again.”

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