11 March 2009

It may look as though UKFast sprang out of nowhere suddenly winning awards and accreditations for a wide variety of things however what we are now experiencing is nothing new. Countless businesses before us go through the exact same process.

We have for a decade (in September) been slogging away with the rest of the world oblivious to our presence. This is typical in the business world, and the best analogy of this comes from Jim Collins the author of the best selling business books “Good to Great” and “Built to Last”. He describes this common scenario in businesses by describing his “chicken and egg concept.”

“Imagine an egg” he describes, “sat there doing nothing. Totally uninteresting to the outside world, yet inside there is plenty going on. One day, the egg hatches and out pops a chicken. Suddenly everyone is amazed and shocked at the new discovery. Although the egg has been sat there for a very long time incubating, until the day it hatches, no real interest is shown in it.

It is very easy to run a small business and think that you are getting nowhere. Whist your competitors fly past with VC (Venture Capital) backing and lavish their shiny brands in your faces in the best of the trade magazines. But you must not get disheartened. Easier said than done, now we have a business which appears to be moving on from the ugly duckling stage!

But it hasn’t always been that way. I have had many businesses and even more daft ideas! Although each one has made money and I even sold one to Granada in my 20’s, I never stuck it out to the hatching stage.

There is a danger these days with the DOT COM bubble and conceptual businesses which attracted interest, one thing still remains firm from that time, the ridiculous question of “when is your exit point?”

To me this cheapens your business and all the hard work you and your colleagues put in to nurture and build something special. I have been scorned at by some pretty large entrepreneurs for not having a set exit date or amount of money we will sell for. I hate the word exit anyway. An exit is place you look for when the building is on fire or when you have to leave somewhere in a hurry. I get equally blank faces when confronted with the same question from accountants, lawyers and the like. What is wrong with wanting to build something solid, with longevity? A family business or a small business where you don’t feel you want to set the world on fire.

I believe these make the best businesses. UKFast was conceptualised in a garden, one summer. I had no idea what I wanted to do. I knew the internet was going to be massive as I had spent a year on and off in America and the whole of the US was obsessed by it. The only thing I was sure of was that my new girlfriend Gail Everton would make a great person to have on the team.

Years later I found out from reading Good to Great that this process was a tried and tested method for launching a successful business. Collins talks of getting the right people on the bus and the wrong ones off, then when you are confident you have the right team, find your product. It seems a backwards way of doing things, but ironically now I look back this is what we did. It was just a very small bus, or may be a tandem! The first 4 people (myself included) that sat in the Ducie House surrounded by a plethora of other tiny businesses all with similar dreams and aspirations, are still with UKFast , 9 and a half years later.

It took us the best part of a week to find out what we were going to be doing, and ironically it wasn’t through sophisticated analysis or market research, it was because we tried to register and host a completely different business called thegallery.com. The irony was that the company we tried to do this through was appalling and so we tried another, then another, then another and so it went on until I turned to Gail and said the opportunity is not in the website idea thegallery.com, it was in the hosting of websites for other people.

Daft as a brush, and with out realising the might of the organisations around us, without the technical expertise at that time in house, without sufficient finances to pursue such a dream we set about finding a name.

All this because we were frustrated with the shocking attitudes of these new businesses that were growing by default, because their industry was exploding.

I didn’t care whether or not we made money, I knew there was a hole to fill in the market and part of my destiny was to fill it. A decade later we still fill the gap. Yes, we have had to evolve our product and service and our ability as managers and business professionals, but our core values are still the same as the first day we set up. We still have the same attitude. It is this attitude you need if you want to be truly successful. It is something we all experience in our lives, be it as a child, at school, or on the sports field. It is something easily watered down, forgotten or drowned by mediocrity if not nurtured and rewarded. But it is in all of us, it is why we evolve, it is why we were put on this planet.

You have to believe that you are going to be the best at whatever you do. If you are not going to be, you may as well shut up shop and look to do something else. Yes you may fail, time and time again, but as long as the attitude is there you will eventually succeed.

Companies who go against these giant industry leaders do so knowing that deep down their service is better, their staff around them are better or their product maybe better. After years of diligence in the incubating pre-chicken stage eventually they emerge with an amazing business. All it takes is belief, resilience and perseverance.

So if you are in the incubating stage, don’t give up. Don’t let anyone knock you off your path, or make you feel your product or business is worth less because you do not turnover millions. It is highly likely that you will succeed. It is also likely during tough times like today’s economic environment that you as a small business have a major competitive advantage over your largest competitors. They will be in a position where they are having to hit numbers to impress share holders and stock market analysts.

Remember there are still customers out there you just have to fight harder to win and keep them. Work hard and when the recession lifts you will emerge a fitter, stronger organisation and if you have not already hatched, you will be ready.

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