A couple of weeks ago after a wonderful weekend of sunshine I travelled into a very grey and dreary Leeds city centre to catch up with a colleague who has very recently successfully sold his IT business.
As an aside, I was delighted to be on the train outside the rush hour free to think and breathe and took a moment to appreciate being out of the “rat race”, however without an established income stream in my new venture I was really keen to capture the formula or the “recipe for success.”
Andrew didn’t disappoint at all, what struck me most was his absolute and utter clarity and direction.
Here is a man with purpose and focus and a clear path to success.
He absolutely understands what this success looks like for himself and his business partner and every step he takes brings him closer to this success.
Alongside this certainty of purpose through discussion we discovered some of the ingredients that go into Andrew’s recipe
Mesmerised by technology
A passion for his specialist field emerges as one of the first clues to Andrew’s success
Andrew is a self confessed geek and more latterly a “technoprenneur”, he was, despite the fact that it wasn’t a cool thing to be, obsessed with all things IT during the 1980s,
“I was the computer whizz kid at school, mesmerised by technology”
The use of the word “mesmerised” is fantastic it conjures up something magical which Andrew worked hard to unlock, studying for a BTEC in Computer Studies before moving into his first job in IT, by the time he was 23 he had set up his first business.
If you’re looking to write your recipe for success then maybe the first step is to make sure the answer to the following questions is Yes ?
What is your passion and is your business constructed around this passion?
Are you mesmerised by what you do on a daily basis?
Could you make the following statement?
“I’m doing something that I really enjoy, it’s my hobby as well as the thing that earns me money, I enjoy solving technical problems, it never feels like work”
Andrew voluntarily acknowledges the support of his family particularly his father who as an engineer himself was delighted to buy him the latest technology of the day, including his first computer, the ZX Spectrum. Despite the fact he wasn’t into the technology his father ensured he had access to the toys, which enabled him to quench his thirst for knowledge.
Later on we return to the subject of support and again Andrew is clear about the type of support he needed and unsurprisingly received. He felt a gap in terms of getting a business in shape to sell so he filled this gap.
“People used to look up to me for advice and I looked up and there was no-one there. I never had a mentor but one great thing we did was take on a NED who had experiences of selling businesses. He had most of the answers to the questions I couldn’t answer, it was great to have someone impartial who also gave us homework; it gave us a bit of structure. He was a roll your sleeves up sales guy, he’d been there seen it done and done really well, he really helped us see the importance of what we were doing He made us get our affairs in order so that we were ready when somebody did ultimately come along to buy us”
He tempers this with a note of caution, which we leave unexplored as it speaks for itself.
“Be careful who you take advice from, the worst kind is generally free or from friends and family”
Do you have the right level of support in place ? Could you achieve more with guidance ?
Focused on making money
“I’ve always been entrepreneurial, a bit of a wheeler and dealer, looking to make a bit of money”
Once we start to discuss his early business start-ups the main reason behind Andrew’s success becomes obvious
He is absolutely and utterly focused on making money, now this statement will probably be a surprise to Andrew, not the statement itself but the need to make it, as this seems to be part of his DNA, unquestionably his mission.
Before starting up any business he establishes its purpose
“How will it make money?”
Can you as succinctly answer the purpose question for your business? It doesn’t have to be the same purpose but do you know what it is?
Teamwork & Like minded people
Andrew has as a business partner someone with synergistic strengths.
His business partner, as well as being completely aligned to Andrew’s purpose has complementary strengths, they both have the humility to acknowledge the others strengths and weaknesses and work perfectly together as a team.
There are several questions to ask here
Do you and your team have alignment of purpose?
Do you have all the skills in place to achieve this purpose?
Are you able to acknowledge the rest of the team’s strengths?
Taking control of your own destiny
“I don’t like taking orders”
“I don’t like having a boss who’s inferior to me earning more money than me”
Andrew unashamedly acknowledges that he likes to be in control and to be at the top of the money earning pile, with absolute conviction and confidence in his own abilities.
Now this may make some people squirm a little but I suspect that it’s the honesty of the statement that’s unnerving, are we all able to be so open on the subject of control?
Whilst Andrew acknowledges a degree of luck in having chosen IT, an industry which, has enabled a lot of people to make big money he reiterates his drive and purpose which makes me feel that luck has only a small part to play
“I was only driven by shaping my own future”
Who’s in control of your destiny?
Are you shaping your own future or are you waiting for someone to do it for you ?
Understanding the offering and how to make money out of it.
“If I’m going to learn something I’ll look at the commercial value of it to me or to the business”
Whilst on a constant mission for self improvement through learning there’s clearly little that Andrew picks up that isn’t going to end up on the bottom line
“One of my strengths is that I am very good at looking at a technological opportunity and realising the commercial value in it”
He’s not necessarily an innovator but looks to disrupt by
“Picking up on the latest and greatest and creating a commercial model that goes on the back of it”
Talking about his last business, Andrew acknowledged that despite the fact that there are a lot of people able to set up businesses creating crowded market places, he always knew that they would be successful by doing something slightly different.
Just by tweaking the offering, and forgive the over simplification, by understanding more clearly the customers needs and adapting the product to meet these needs they were able to go to an existing market place and disrupt it.
Are you crystal clear about what your offering is and why it will be more attractive than your competitors offering?
A little word about the Nay Sayers
This was a really revealing discussion and is perhaps something that’s worth preparing for.
It reminds me a little of how people react in the face of a serious illness, either gushingly sympathetic or being too caught in their own responses choose to ignore it and you!
Andrew found that his true friends were delighted to congratulate him on his success but others caught up I guess, in their own jealousy or inability to admit that they had been wrong in dismissing his ideas chose to completely ignore his success.
There’s a sort of karma though around having Nay Sayers at the start
“There’s one person in particular who was extremely negative, he drove me on because he wanted to me fail”
Are you letting other people’s fear and jealousy stand in the way of your own goals ?
The tough times
We move on to talk about challenges, again there’s a very clear answer when questioned about the biggest challenges
They are all around people there won’t be many business owners who can’t relate to the sentiment expressed here
“We’ve hired a lot of people sales guys, technical guys and it doesn’t always work out for one reason or another.There have been some hurtful situations, people going to public forums to slag you off and your management style it hurts when you read that, it can be quite upsetting, I believe in people and sometimes I believe a bit too much in people and it can be quite hurtful when they seek to do you damage personally when really there’s no reason.”
The next challenge again around people is the tough transition from one of the team to leader in the rapid growth stages.
In the early stages Andrew describes a really strong sense of team with the lovely expression “you all have your arms around each other”
But as the business grows he describes the challenge of having to try and separate yourself out from the core team and lead everybody.
Managing and leading the later arrivals is more of a challenge as the people joining later don’t see what’s gone before or appreciate the sacrifices you’ve made.
“People don’t see the hard bits, driving around the country in a battered old car with no air con. Cancelling Sky because you can’t afford it. Shopping at discount supermarkets not having holidays, working nights, weekends never turning off”
“People don’t see that they only see where you are now and what you’ve got
They think its ok for you”
Are you leading your team or do you still have your arms around everybody?
A little note on Giving up
Having I suspect, got a little bored with some of the questions Andrew suddenly seemed re-energised largely by shock when I asked him if he’d ever felt like giving up.
He actually looked as if he didn’t understand the question.
“Why would I give up?”
He firmly believes that you get what you focus on, and that positive affirmation of belief yields results.
One single tip for success
Well, not really just one! This is pretty obvious stuff but I’m not sure all of us follow the tips and perhaps follow a passion in the absence of a renewable profit & cash-generating model.
“Pick a good market
Pick a good business model
Choose a business in a sector that’s growing”
Does the customer need the product service, i.e. they need to have it not they should have it, and will the need remain in recessionary times?
Can you build a renewable revenue model ?
“with Random Storm 90% was renewable so we had repeat billing, after three years we covered the costs of the business, we weren’t starting from a standing start each month”
By way of conclusion I want to revert back to the discussion around controlling your own destiny with Andrew’s outline of his career plan
“I made a choice a long time ago that it was going to be ok for me
I spent my 20’s studying and learning, I spent my 30’s doing and now I’m going to spend my 40’s honing and enjoying and I hope to spend my 50’ s on the beach”
I strongly suspect he won’t just be lying there doing nothing.