22 September 2019
When you look at the big businesses of today, it’s all too easy to forget that they were startups at one point.
Everyone, every business, has to start somewhere.
In a few weeks, we celebrate 20 years since our business, UKFast, began. It is astonishing to think that my wife and fellow UKFast co-founder, Gail, set the business up two decades ago.
Whilst when you walk in the doors of UKFast, you may see the unique space, the gym, the big team and the slides, and assume we’ve always been this way. The reality is very different.
It is always important to remember that nothing is an overnight success.
I remember my dear late friend Tim Bacon describing his empire as an overnight success, then with a pause and his inimitable rye smile he added, it only took me 30 years! I can hear his softly spoken Australian and Tazmanian accent as clear as if he were still here with me now.
However easy Tim made it look on the outside, I guarantee you that behind the scenes there were years of hard work, sacrifice and sadly too a great deal of stress. But that’s the life of an entrepreneur. That’s the reality behind all successful businesses.
UKFast: The early days
Those early days at UKFast were hard work! We’d be in the office all hours of the day and night. When our first daughter was born, Gail came in to the office overnight, with the baby in her car seat, to make sure that payroll went through on time. Everything rested on our shoulders.
For one thing we didn’t really have any technical expertise, and for much of it there were only the two of us. We were learning as we went along and we still are. With every new stage of the business, we need new skills and experience. That’s what business is; a learning curve a complex challenge of a myriad of puzzles. That curve is never steeper than in those early days.
I still see myself as a small business owner, despite UKFast’s size. Perhaps it’s mindset, or because several of my businesses are SMEs or startups. Either way, I strive to maintain that mindset at much as possible. Why? You will never have more fun in business that in those startup days. It is far from easy, but you know every person in the team. You are all pushing in the same direction, giving it your all. And, as a business, you are more agile than ever. It’s fast-paced, the stakes are high and so is the energy. Resting on your laurels is simply not an option.
As you get bigger, that doesn’t necessarily change but the way that you operate does. Priorities and responsibilities change, and new challenges emerge. You no longer need to do every single job in the business, and whilst that brings its benefits, there is something to be said about juggling all of the business needs between the two of you.
Back then, had anyone predicted we’d reach the heights we have today, whilst hugely ambitious, I would not have believed them. I still saw myself as a musician. How could a musician run a multi-million-pound tech business? If you’ve listened to any of my podcasts or read any other blogs, you’ll know just how much of an advocate of goal setting and dreaming big I am. Yet, even I could never imagine the journey UKFast would take us on. And perhaps that’s the secret. Our end goal has never been to earn a certain amount of money or grow to certain size. It has always been to change people’s lives – whether that’s customers or our team or the community around us.
Importantly though, we haven’t got here 20 years along because of any one person. UKFast is the business it is because it is a pastiche of all the people who have been a part of it along the way.
Ultimately, businesses are shaped by the hundreds of individuals and the decisions they make in them. Over the past 20 years, there have been so many different special characters – too many to list – who have shaped UKFast along the way. As our anniversary grows ever closer, its important to remember each and every one of them, past and present.
There is an extraordinary amount of commitment needed to build a business like UKFast. I think its probably why most organisations don’t exist 20 years on. Very few make it to the ten year milestone, let alone 20 years. I am immensely grateful for the contributions everyone makes going the extra mile for colleagues and clients alike.
I am not a great believer in luck as I believe we shape our own futures from the effort and decisions we make along the way, yet I cant help thinking things would be very different, if I’d not stumbled upon Gail in Tim Bacon’s bar Via Vita in Albert Square all those years ago.
So to the UKFast team, to all of our clients and to everyone we’ve encountered along the way, thank you for being a part of the journey. I can’t wait to see what the next twenty years hold!
I will no doubt be talking more about the UKFast journey over the course of the next few weeks and sharing some stories and lessons I’ve learnt along the way. I share some interesting stories and lessons in week’s podcast which is out tomorrow. Have a listen and let me know what you think.
Subscribe to download it directly to your device as soon as it is released. I’d love to hear from you.