Tech Doctor: Work hard, dream big - and never give up
Walking into UKFast Campus, being greeted by the reception team behind a huge custom-made, spaceship-style desk, seeing people shoot out of the slide and head into our £4.5 million training centre or jogging into our office gym, it is easy to forget the early days that we spent as a tiny start-up.
When people walk into UKFast they see a highly profitable £40m+ turnover company with 400+ staff and an amazing office.
There’s no way that they would know what it took to get here – the challenges during the early days when we were a start-up and my wife Gail and I launched UKFast from a back bedroom.
As the cover story in this edition of BusinessCloud is about the UK’s best start-ups, I thought it helpful to turn back the clock and share my experience of being a start-up 17 years ago.
Back in 1999, I had spent some time looking for my next venture in New York, where the internet was causing quite the stir. I knew that something had to be done when I returned to England and no one was talking about this revolutionary technology!
It was only years later that I realised why what I did worked. The reason was because I was solving a problem. I had tried to set up a website and the experience was so poor that I had to set up something better.
If you are looking to set up a business, you need to find a problem to solve. Ours was solving the lack of great service, the need for a hosting provider focused on helping its customers to thrive and grow.
We worked incredibly hard and we were eventually able to rent a tiny office space, no bigger than one of the cupboards at UKFast Campus. This space, however, came with a phone answering service – something that made us look like the big, professional outfit we were aiming towards becoming.
It wasn’t much later that we found our first technical recruit, Neil. We squeezed him into our tiny office space and he’s been with us ever since.
There were some months that Gail and I were resorting to eating cereal and I couldn’t pay our mortgage, but I made sure that I paid salaries and our suppliers. Back then one of our most extravagant expenses was taking the team out for fish and chips each Friday night.
What did those days as a start-up teach me? Be frugal! There is a culture now of seeking funding before the business has even made any money.
Whilst this may seem like an easier route to get the business off the ground, you’re giving equity away at an incredibly early stage and there is ultimately no replacement for hard work.
I always recommend that start-ups don’t focus on what their office space looks like or how big it is; in time all of that will come.
The most important thing is to invest back into the core of the business, keeping money in the bank and paying your bills.
It may seem like an old-fashioned philosophy but it has stood us in good stead over the years at UKFast and we’re now a business valued at more than £250m.
Invest your money where it will make the most impact. Being a start-up is all about protecting the purse strings and looking after the network of people around you.
As the head of a start-up, you have to wear so many hats that inevitably you will burn out at some point, which is why you need a network of people who you can rely on.
Equally, money will only motivate you so far. Writing down your goals will help you through the tough times and remind you why it is important to invest in your business, rather than in awesome beanbags or a ball-pool for your office.
Most of all, never be afraid of asking for help. It took me years to realise the importance of reaching out to others. Dream big and never give up.
BELOW: Flick through the Q2 2017 edition of BusinessCloud's interactive digital magazine