27 October 2013

There are many ways to run businesses and I am not sure there is an exact science. I see people adopting opposing strategies, yet coming up trumps. So why is it some fail and others succeed and how much luck is involved?

Great business people make it look easy. The athlete strolling around the track waving their country’s flag has toiled and sweated long and hard to enjoy that moment. Mohammad Ali puts it much more eloquently, “I run on the road long before I dance under the lights.” It’s all too easy to forget the work and commitment that goes on behind the scenes in all walks of life, especially business.

There are always hard times with unexpected challenges that manifest themselves from nowhere, but those who prepare and get fit in a business and mental sense are far more likely to succeed when the climate changes.

Businesses that fall by the wayside usually run out of cash. If all businesses had unlimited resources, running them would be easy. Sadly cash is a very hard commodity to come by and it’s all too easy to squander when you have it. So is cash the most important ingredient to making a success?

I don’t think so? We started UKFast off with around £5000. Yes, it’s hard to believe, but it was enough money to rent an office, get letterheads and pay for the phones for a few months. What we lacked in financial resources though, we made up in abundance with determination, passion and commitment.
Starting off with such limited resources, means you have to have a respect for the small amounts of cash you have and an understanding that you are unable to continue, or even put food on the table, unless you start generating more and fast! If you want more, hunger for it.

Beggars cant be choosers either. In our first few years as we were shaping the products, we’d add new ideas and products, continually evolving our business and relationship with the internet and her inquisitive new early adopters.

And there were times where all we ate was Weetabix and cereal. Times really were that tough. But it’s these occasions that teach you the lessons you need to learn to develop and the values that shape you along the way. You certainly value a great meal out when you have had a month where you’ve struggled terribly.

I learned I’d rather go hungry than sell something to someone that they just don’t need. My customers become friends and although I don’t know them all personally, I understood that I wanted them as friends for a considerable time, forever if possible. This approach helped us understand the level of commitment we needed to fulfil their dreams and ours.

The same quickly became obvious with regards to my team around me. I’d invited Gail Everton my new girlfriend to help me out setting up UKFast. It was Gail who found Neil purely buy chance after I managed to sell Avis Car Hire 4 networked computers whilst talking to them in the lift. I didn’t even know what an elevator pitch was back then or networking! Yet when times are tough, good things start to happen. We never sold this type of solution before or since, but it shows you the importance of trying new things as we’d never have found Neil if I’d not tried to help the Avis team that day in the lift. Is that luck? I am not sure. It feels more like destiny to me.

But these hard times were good times. Gail became my wife and Neil grew to be an incredible IT director but more than that, a friend and set of shoulders I could lean on and rely on when times got really tough; more like a brother than a work colleague.

It was this first year together that cemented the 3 of us and cleared the path for the extraordinary journey we were about to embark on.

Our product was far from clear, but our values were ingrained, bone deep.

There are risks involved in any business, but if you get the first few people right and establish a feeling amongst the founders, anything and everything is possible. I have got many things wrong, but this combination of people is something I am immensely proud of.

Customers need your pure commitment, 100% around the clock and you can never let anyone down, so having a team who all are as passionate about the delivery of excellence makes life a lot easier. I could never have done this on my own.

If I had it all over again, I wouldn’t change a thing. I wouldn’t swap Neil or Gail’s input and involvement for all the tea in China or any amount of money to buy in the “experts” we lacked in the early years. UKFast just wouldn’t be UKFast. Besides, the greatest expertise is learnt in the field from experience.

It’s easy to say this now, with a strong and loyal client base, but along the journey when we were a great deal smaller competitors made us offers for UKFast. I was told I was mad for turning down £17m about 6 years ago. It was much more money than we originally bargained for, however what we learned about ourselves, is that the journey wasn’t over.

What’s interesting is that at every level, you get an opportunity to reinvent a business and continue on your own personal development. It’s difficult to stop doing something that you love. Besides, the longer the journey, the deeper my love affair with UKFast, (my commercial director) and the internet in general, and the more I realise that the journey is just beginning. I am sure my competitors will be overjoyed to hear this, but seriously, in the grand scheme of things we are only on the first few rungs of a very, very long ladder and I am still a young man (at heart) with an extraordinary amount to give and an ever growing army of likeminded hungry and ambitious teammates.

If I have learned anything, it’s that, cash is not king; people are the key to your future success. Treat them well and enjoy the ride together.

 

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