25 February 2010

It would be a great deal easier just to explain that I hopped on a plane and flew there, after all I am currently flying on the smallest plane I have ever been in that we have chartered to take us from Barbados to Beef Island.

But in real terms the journey started way before. And if Richard Branson has taught me anything, the brand experience is truly transferrable between Virgin businesses.

My first encounter of Virgin was Culture Cub. A great band in the 80’s. They wrote a song called Victims, which has truly the best piano introduction of any pop song.

I went on to approach Virgin Records years later with a demo after recording a song called “Whenever the Leaves Fall” on a load of old recording equipment once owned by John Lennon. It was in a tiny recording studio, not much bigger than this cockpit.

I spent months trying to talk myself into an appointment at the old Virgin headquarters on Ladbrook Grove and Harrow road, London.

It was there I learnt the art of instant relationship building and the importance of getting to know the gate keeper. I’d ring back in different accents, and the receptionist would say, “is that you again Lawrence?”

I never gave in and one day after hearing the receptionist ask a colleague “is Danny in?” after I asked to speak with the head of A&R, after getting knocked back again, I rang back 10 minutes later and confidently said, “hi there, is Danny in yet?”

I was promptly put through. This technique and confidence has stood me in great stead for many years since. On this occasion I was quickly brought down to earth with a bump after a lady answered the phone.

I said, “hi is Danny there?” “Danny speaking” the lady replied. I was taken aback as I was expecting a man!

In true Virgin style she was lovely and said on the basis that I had got this far, she agreed to see me.
I remember the meeting well, and she liked the track. The disadvantage I had was that I did not have a readily formed band. She was in the process of signing The Railway Children, ironically my next door neighbours in Salford! What is the likelihood of that?

In my opinion they signed the wrong act, and the Railway Children never left the platform. They spent their advance on MGB roadsters and were dropped after never cutting it.

I went on to get an offer from a chap called Brian St.James Carr, a well known solicitor involved with The Sex Pistols, PIL (Public Image Limited) and Andrew Lloyd Webber. He heard my songs and got me involved with a chap called Lawrence Roman an incredibly gifted classical musician who did all of Lloyd Webbers musical arrangements.

He did the clever stuff in my opinion and made Webber look amazing, however I was young and I thought I’d get loads of opportunities like this and I turned it down.

I then made a decision to make it on my own in business first and pursue my music later. I knew I would either be incredibly poor or incredibly rich but it was highly unlikely to be the latter on the basis of how the industry works.

I had also developed some friends who worked in the arts, and I quickly learned that I was not someone who coveted the limelight. I’d have thrived off a publishing deal, but being a star was not a motivator for me.

To be successful in anything you have to devote yourself to it fully. 20 years later, I am still devoted to the cause and although hugely successful in certain elements of our business I am only on the first few rungs of a very long ladder.

And the music? Well one day! That is if I ever calm down my love for developing people. When I met Gail, I sold my recording studio and focussed on developing UKFast.

Not a bad gamble as it turns out. Especially when you consider the odds that were against us.

If you use the Jim Collins 3 circles principal to identify should we have set up UKFast as a hosting business, I’d have quickly identified that this was a daft venture to embark on. However it does demonstrate that passion and determination can on occasions replace common sense and logic.

  1. can we be the best at it?
    Well truly honestly at the time, no way. We were competing with multimillion pound corporations. That being said, we have won 6 years out of 10 the ISPA’s Best Hosting Provider accolade, so it is funny how things turn out
  2. are we passionate about it?
    Absolutely. After trying to host our own domain name thegallery.com we had appalling trouble with a business called Newnet. Peter Coates (who recently sold his business for £3m) and his son Gary had huge potential, however they were techy people and appallingly arrogant. My wife just reading this laughed and asked if that was tetchy or techy? They were so bad that when we moved, we simply left our equipment with them as we couldn’t face dealing with them further.
  3. is it financially viable?
    Well, if I’d known the difficulties ahead, I would not have ventured down this road. We were self-funded, which is a posh way of saying we had no money; so everything had to work immediately. We had to work so hard around the clock, if we made one error, we were dead in the water. That was the simple truth of the matter. Not something you want over your shoulder, yet that being said, you wont get a bigger driver! If I didn’t sell, we didn’t eat.

Times are very different now. I have 2 wonderful kids and a wife, who is still my business partner, with the added responsibility of a working mum. We have been very lucky. We still have no debt (which is a posh way of saying, now we have money in the business) and we have had numerous offers from competitors to buy UKFast including one for in excess of £50m.

But it is not the money that motivates us, it is the journey that we are on, and I simply love every day and I live for the challenge.
So why Necker? Well, when I was turned down by Danny Van Endon at Virgin, I set a goal. Right, I thought, I will get there myself. One day I will do business with Branson and Virgin in some capacity. I will become successful on my own.

A few years later, I hired a Grand Piano to the Virgin company for a new artist at a place called the Boardwalk in Manchester. I remember the Fax Header, with all of Richard Branson’s businesses and locations. It was incredibly inspiring. It had Necker as one of the destination boxes to tick. It was then that I decided, “I’d like to go there and one day meet the man behind the company.”

Last year whilst staying at The Lodge another property owned by Virgin, I said to Gail, we need to find out who hosts this business and get them as a client. It transpired they are already a customer, and have been a happy one for a number of years. We also host UKTV which is owned by NTL part of the Virgin Group.

And 15 years on from that Fax and that initial goal, here I find myself, mid air on the way to paradise.


view from the main house, Necker Island.

Lawrence Jones

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