3 June 2018
If you are striving to be the best in anything, whether that’s in sport, business, music or life, your journey requires a degree of sacrifice. And sacrifice doesn’t mean sitting on the sidelines believing in something, however passionately; sacrifice means dedicating your life to making a significant difference.
That means there will be times when it’s quite lonely and there’s inevitably a lot of discomfort, particularly when building a business. There are often financial stresses that knock your confidence or moments that really test your resolve. It’s all well and good everybody assuming that you’re a great entrepreneur but in reality everybody stumbles along the way, it’s just that we don’t shout about our failings!
In the very early days of UKFast we were selling mobile phones and it was going phenomenally well. We were flying! We made millions and it was our first taste of real success. Then suddenly the landscape changed overnight, we had just got married and we had spent all our savings on the wedding, and we had to shut the business down. That taught me an incredibly valuable lesson: I could never take anything for granted. If you want to achieve something, the sacrifice you make is in direct proportion to what you’re trying to achieve.
Thankfully on your journey to success there will also be a few happy moments that are memorable for the right reasons. These are the special times that give you a huge confidence boost and make you stand tall.
Being given an MBE from the Queen was one of those moments. Until then I always joked I didn’t think I could have worked harder. But as I found out, there is always more in the tank and you can always work smarter too. Since receiving the MBE, any thoughts I may have had of retirement as I approach 50 were knocked on the head!
A year later, a similar thing happened. To be acknowledged by Manchester Metropolitan University with an honorary doctorate was a huge honour. When you consider my academic history which is peppered with failure (that’s an understatement, it was founded on failure!) I never, in my wildest dreams, set a goal to be recognised by a university. It was a significant moment for me. I am someone who writes big goals and maps out my life. That moment, standing on stage addressing the graduates having received an honorary doctorate, was something I had never anticipated. It was extraordinarily motivating. There’s no doubt it inspired me to continue all the great things we do at UKFast, helping others to achieve great things.
The same motivation happens when friends or people who I admire who have achieved great things in business give me feedback. There is nothing better than a pat on the back or when someone says, “Great job”. These moments are priceless and incredibly important.
If you want to be a great motivator, giving positive feedback is the best way to inspire others. Feedback comes in many ways – even if that’s just saying ‘well done’. Think about it, when you teach a child how to ride a bicycle, you constantly let them know how well they are doing. No matter how many times they fall off, you tell them how close they are to succeeding. This is my preferred form of motivation. Always look for good rather than things you can correct.
This week Jacqueline de Rojas came to visit. I have not seen her in eight years. Back then we had both been asked to sit on a judging panel for the Ernst and Young Entrepreneur of the Year Awards.
It was a room full of big hitters and Jacqueline was the Managing Director at Citrix. Jacqueline has a calmness about her, similar to Gail – my business partner and wife – and she stood out in the room.
As you develop, it’s important to learn from others around you and one thing I am a big fan of is reaching out to people and making friends in all areas of the business world. You never know where you can help people, and where you can receive great advice and help yourself as well. Jacqueline is now the president of Tech UK and as we are really working hard with Tech Manchester it makes sense to collaborate, to see how we can help each other. So, I gave her the behind-the-scenes tour.
Showing her the office and new projects that we are building like the data centre, the new auditorium, restaurant and yoga studio as well as the new facilities for Tech Manchester to give a platform for startups to have an inspiring space, it reminded me how far we have come since we last met.
Motivation in itself
What really struck me about the meeting was her reaction. You could see from her face that she was surprised by the sheer breadth of what we are doing.
When you look at UKFast on the internet, you might see a few nice rooms and bright colours, but it’s more that that. UKFast is a pastiche of ideas that culminate to provide a unique and positive working experience.
It was clear that she instantly understood what we are doing and that we building something for the future. I always feel proud when showing people around especially our education areas, where you can see the impact that the team is making first hand. A warm smile and a gentle nod from a peer is motivation enough especially one who is incredibly successful; it’s all the fuel needed to remind me we on the right track and doing the right thing.
When growing a business there are continuous moments when you have to check yourself and the path that you are going down.
I recently watched a documentary about tennis players McEnroe and Borg. McEnroe has a reputation for being incredibly disruptive as a player and that’s the lasting memory we all have of him. But McEnroe did actually modify his behaviour. As someone who was at the top of their game and world tennis, there were very few people who could offer advice to McEnroe and even fewer who he’d listen to. His turning point was when a friend and fellow tennis player who he’d just beaten at Wimbledon gave him some home truths after he spent an entire game distracting him with arguments on court. The advice struck a chord with him, because it came from a peer. The player told him that when kids go out to play, they pretended to be Borg and no-one wanted to be McEnroe. Why? Because McEnroe’s attitude was so hateful and disruptive.
Following the conversation, McEnroe played Borg the next day and for the first time just played tennis. He lost the final against Borg, but gained a lifelong friend in Borg and went on to be world number one just focussing on playing tennis.
McEnroe obviously struggled with the stress of the occasion, something I think we all do from time to time. There are not many people when chasing your dreams and aiming to be the very best you can, that understand the difficulties and pressures you have, so is often difficult to find people to take advice from. It can be a tough place at times.
Friendships and feedback
As an entrepreneur it’s important to seek out and create new friendships. Staying grounded and being ready to listen are important ingredients of any success formula. It’s much easier listening to people who you respect. It’s also easy to be misunderstood and quite often when you are at the top of your game, people perceive you as arrogant when actually you are hugely passionate. Vince Lombardi said: “winning isn’t everything, but wanting to win is.” It’s easy for people to mistake passion for wanting to win and see your obsession as a negative.
Whatever your goal, whatever your passion, the important thing is not to lock yourself in an ivory tower. There are many people out there who, the more successful they become, the more detached they become. I have heard stories of business owners who have their own lift installed so they don’t have to interact with people in their business!
In reality, you want a relationship with your team where they can come and talk to you. More importantly tell you frankly when you are doing it wrong!
I think that’s something we do well at UKFast nowadays. We have a flat management structure so people talk to each other. No one’s time is so important that you can’t stop and help another individual whether you are the CEO or on working on the shop floor. Everybody is important and I think Jacqueline de Rojas saw that, that we have built a business where people are genuinely valued.
If you are trying to build a business that’s successful quite often people, and I did this myself in the early days, become so focussed on what they have to do that they neglect really important relationships and things in their lives.
Just remember that Vince Lombardi quote; “Winning isn’t everything, but wanting to win is.”