24 April 2016
I am often asked what has been my most satisfying moment in business.
I believe that you can only feel the ups if you experience the downs. My most satisfying moment came after the lowest point in my career. I was driving home in my Ferrari, after a great day at work, when I got a call from my data centre supplier. I pulled over and put my head on the steering wheel whilst I listened in disbelief. Its funny how one minute you can feel a million dollars and the next, the world is swallowing you up!
‘We are unable to accept the 15% increase you proposed for the suite that’s up for renewal tomorrow. The board has decided that we need to increase your price by 320% and, unless you sign by the close our business, we will be forced to power down your suite at midnight tomorrow tonight.’
I felt sick and couldn’t face going home to tell my wife who was pregnant at the time; I knew how upset she would be.
I signed the deal under duress. We had 500 servers in there and an outage would have impacted on tens of thousands of websites and businesses. This was my lowest point in business. It was a level of unprofessionalism I had never witnessed before.
What our supplier at the time didn’t realise was that we had acquired land and a building with a huge amount of power in Trafford Park a year earlier to use as we expanded and we were near completion.
Anticipating their next move, I wrote to and called every customer in the next suite that was due to be up for renewal in the coming months.
Like clockwork, the day before the contract renewal, I received the phone call. This time they wanted 480% increase, once again with the threat of a ‘power down’ on your suite.
There were more than 600 servers in there, but, this time we were ready. We had designed flight cases that retained the heat of the servers, we had written software to track every server and we had a team trained with military precision. We had also stepped up the building work and the new data centre was ready.
I arranged to meet our supplier’s sales director at the data centre the next morning where he expected me to re-sign the contract.
However, we’d worked through the night, even my pregnant wife did a shift until 4am, in an incredibly hi-tech operation moving our servers to our own facility. The next morning we scrubbed and cleaned the suite before I sent everyone home.
The sales director arrived to an empty suite to find me sweeping up with a brush.
He asked: ‘Isn’t this your suite? Where are all the servers?’
I handed him a brush and said: ‘You can power this one down now!’
Over the next 12 months, we moved 11,000 servers, firewalls, routers and switches over to our first wholly owned custom-built data centre. Ironically, the sales director that I’d met with that day assumed that we’d moved to a rival of theirs and said: ‘Wherever you go Lawrence, you will still end up as our customer!’
It became clear that they thought we’d moved into a competing Datacentre.
On the day that they announced that they had bought the other data centre supplier in Manchester where we also had a significant presence, we issued notice to them for around 6000 devices.
When we’d set UKFast up, we always had to settle for a level of customer service that fell short of our SLA we wanted to deliver to our clients. When you build a business from £5,000 it’s hard to imagine a day when we’d have a £22 million facility, MaNOC 4, to house our valued clients but we did it.
The team who designed and created MaNOC and who took such care and attention with the migration are all still with me today. They won a data centre award for the military precision and extraordinary level of preparation that went into the server move that day.
We didn’t just save a huge amount of money; we took control of our destiny, we raised our customer service levels and, most importantly, we became a competitor of that supplier. We became a home for anyone needing a supplier that worked to build a long term partnership. The sales director later confessed that UKFast was the largest single loss that supplier ever sustained.
It is extraordinary as an entrepreneur when you realise what is really important. It isn’t about money, I say this often. The driver for us is making a difference in people’s lives, in helping businesses to grow and in offering an exceptional level of customer service.
That one data centre in Trafford Park, Manchester is now part of an ever growing complex of 4 Datacentres. We have built our own dedicated cleanroom for our clients, should they unwittingly delete crucial files. We are even building 2 hotel suites in a new building in the grounds to help make the lives of engineers better who work antisocial hours. It also saves our clients money.
This is without doubt one of my proudest achievements at UKFast and looking back it was an absolutely necessary step to help us improve service and reduce costs. The move also helps us guarantee that we will never have to put the price up for colocation, as we own the land, the buildings and everything in them.
I’d love to hear about your greatest success and most satisfying moments.