15 July 2018

How often do you hear ‘you must have been lucky’ or said that your success comes down to ‘a little bit of luck’? All too often, we hear that the reason behind success or failure is down to good or bad luck. In fact, I believe that you make your luck.

Neil at UKFast - Making your own luck

Neil, UKFast CTO

I used to look back on the UKFast journey, and on my own, and overestimate the role that luck played. In reality, we were – and still are – very good at recognising an opportunity and that’s what makes all the difference.

Looking back almost 18 years, Gail and I had set up UKFast and it was just the two of us, working all hours of the day, doing anything and everything our business needed.

My role was predominantly sales and marketing. Put simply, I needed to get the money in. I’d arranged a meeting with someone I’d worked with in my previous businesses and felt that this was the one. We were going to sign fantastic deal, and it would keep our fledgling business rolling. We’d survived the dot com bubble burst, we were steadily growing and this was another positive move.

We worked incredibly hard and we learned from book after book how to do the basics of programming. So, confident we had the skills we needed, I went to see the business that I’d known from my previous life in music. However, the meeting didn’t go to plan. I left dejected and wondering how on earth I was supposed to return to my business partner and tell her the deal hadn’t happened.

Elevator pitch

Walking back into our business centre, I spotted a new face by the lifts. I never got the lift because we were on the first floor, so it was faster to run up the stairs. However, I walked over and waited with him. By the time he got to his floor, I knew everything about him. His name, his background, and that he was setting up an office for Avis in Manchester, based in the same building as us. As he stepped out of the lift I told him that if he needed any technical help, we’re there for him.

Every person you meet is a potential client. Back in those days, the challenge wasn’t necessarily in selling the benefits of your business, it was in explaining to people how important a website and computers were for a business. It’s hard to believe that that was the case less than 20 years ago!

As luck would have it, he needed four PCs setting up and networking together! In all honesty, we had absolutely no idea how to do that. However, I said: “Yes, of course we can help with that!”

Returning to Gail, I shared the bad new of the lost deal but the good news of a new opportunity with Avis. The only challenge: we had no skills to network! Cool as a cucumber, Gail said she’d sort it. A couple of hours later, she was on the case with a small company called Dr PC.

Two young lads working to fix computer problems from a basement in the Manchester Arndale, Dr PC sorted our problems. The lads worked outside of normal hours to network them together in their own time.

Luck adding to the team

After their work for us, we knew that we needed these skills in house so offered Ben, the chattier of the two, a role at our startup. However, the weekend before he was due to start, my gut was telling me we’d made a mistake. Looking over their code, Neil’s was so much neater. Something just didn’t feel quite right.

Neil Lathwood IT Director and 1st recruit at UKFast

Neil Lathwood, now CTO, former IT Director and first recruit at UKFast

Come Monday morning, my gut was right, Ben didn’t show. I called Dr PC explaining to Neil that I wasn’t chasing Ben, in fact, I wanted to see if Neil would join UKFast.

On Neil’s first day, which we called work experience so he could see how he got on, he arrived with the biggest computer I’ve ever seen, crammed into our tiny office! He has been with us ever since. He always had massive library books in his bag to learn the latest code, to expand his skillset. This development is something he continues to do today. It’s one of the things that makes him such an integral part of the UKFast family.

This incredibly talented young man took a chance on us and, for both Neil and UKFast, it has paid off. Not only did that chance encounter by the lifts mean we acquired a new client, it also led us to Neil.

Some would call that luck, I would call it making the most of every single opportunity that you are presented with. You never know what is around the corner or over the next hill. Just as you never know who someone will become. You never know where a quick chat in an elevator could lead.

Ultimately, you make your own luck. It’s all down to you.

Hear the full story behind Neil and making your own luck in my podcast.

“You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.” Wayne Gretzky

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