Entrepreneur Interview – Tom Dirse

February 3, 2021

As part of our Entrepreneur Series, this month we had the pleasure of getting to know Tom Dirse, CEO of Upside Down House UK, a unique and fun museum of illusions. Tom sheds some light on how Upside Down House has evolved, as well as navigated its way through the coronavirus pandemic.


  1. Where did you start your career and what roles were you involved in?

It was quite a long and weird journey for me. I started my career as an admin assistant at a quantity surveying consultancy. I landed this position through The Prince’s Trust – which I was a Young Ambassador for. I started at the bottom making loads of teas and coffees and doing all the photocopying. Slowly but surely, I worked my way up to become a trainee quantity surveyor and then assistant commercial manager before becoming the CEO of Upside Down House UK.


  1. How did the idea of Upside Down House UK come about?

I met one of the partners of Upside Down House UK through mutual friends. He already had two houses in Lithuania, and we discussed the idea of bringing Upside Down House to the UK. This was really exciting for me as I could see the potential of Upside Down House here.


  1. How has Upside Down House UK evolved since you’ve been CEO of the company?

The business has expanded rapidly since we built the first house here in the UK. The success of the first house gave us great confidence in the project and solidified our idea for expansion.

The company has evolved a great deal as it was just an idea when I joined the team. Together we came up with the name, although obvious, and prepared absolutely everything to get the business up and running. This was an entirely new experience for me as I had never been involved in starting a business before.

I joined the other two partners in May 2018 and became the third founding partner. By November 2018 we had a house in Bournemouth which was amazing as projects like this usually take quite some time. We also managed to transform the business into a £1M turnover in 2019 with only 11 months of trading.


  1. How has the Coronavirus pandemic affected the business, and what contingency plans have been put in place to ensure survival through this unsettling time?

The pandemic has completely affected the business. Our business is a leisure attraction, which was one of the first things to be shut down when Covid-19 hit. We had to close in March, but we were able to reopen in July and remained open until November last year. However, we had to follow government guidelines, of course, which meant far less people in our houses, resulting in a 50% decrease in revenue compared to the same period the previous year.

The government support has helped us tremendously and we are extremely appreciative for this. Essentially, we realised the best way to survive this is to keep in regular contact with our clients and suppliers. Everyone is in the same position and ultimately there is nothing that can be done to change the situation. By implementing honest and open communication and transparency, we were able to come to an agreement where we would not pay site fees for the periods that we were unable to operate. Luckily, the business is self-maintaining which has made things a lot easier during this time. Our staff have also been exceptional and were instrumental in us being able to generate income during those months we could reopen by implementing the ever-changing government guidelines and protocols.


  1. Where do you see the business going in the future?

I see Upside Down House growing with the implementation of more houses in national locations. We were planning on unveiling two more houses last year, however, we had to postpone due to the pandemic, but we expect to open these this year. Ultimately, we want an Upside Down House to be accessible to all without having to travel far to walk on a ceiling and capture these unique moments to share with friends and family.


  1. What is the most important piece of advice you’ve ever been given and by whom?

I think it would be when I went to an event at St James Palace for The Prince’s Trust and had a chat with one of the many CEOs that were in attendance. He had created an accountancy platform which took extreme dedication as he was faced with many bumps along the road. He said that “no matter what you do and how you do it, you just have to keep going”. This really resonated with me because it is easy to do things with less effort but that’s not going to get you to where you want to be.


  1. What advice would you give to young entrepreneurs starting up their own business?

Get a team around you. I know we are very keen on doing things ourselves but sometimes we cannot do it all. There is no shame in asking for help and advice, remember that great businesses are built on great teams as well as great leadership.


Quick Fire

  1. First thing you’re going to do post lockdown? Go out for a nice meal
  2. Out of all the Upside Down Houses, which design do you like most? The Lakeside House
  3. Name one person, past or present you would like to have dinner with? Steve Jobs – it would be great to pick his brain.


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