This week I had a number of talks, my favourite of which was at Central Library where I opened my talk with: “Anyone can create a multi-million-pound business. Anyone.” Whilst you might think that is an easy thing for me to say, I put it into some context.
Imagine a 16-year-old lad; Doc Martins, duffel bag, skinhead and skateboard, being frowned upon for skateboarding up and down the 4th Floor of Manchester’s Central Library. Well that was me, whilst studying for my A-levels.
Fresh from Wales, looking to make my way in the world.
Safe to say, I had incredible results in my A-levels, so much so, I am wheeled out by the BBC every year on A-level results day… sadly not for doing well, in fact quite the opposite, to reassure young people who’ve failed that “don’t worry you didn’t do as badly as this guy!” I achieved three ‘U’ grades. The U stands for unclassified, which I am told is quite an achievement.
Failure has taught me to keep learning.
From there I worked at A1 Music as an odd job boy, before landing a role playing the piano in the famous Midland Hotel. The piano player I succeeded made a point of telling me “you are the worst piano player in Manchester and you will never make it as a businessman.”
It’s funny how negative comments and behaviour can inspire you. I have always found that the more negative a person can be the more it fuels me. It’s worth remembering anyone who has the time or inclination to write or say mean things often overlook their own misgivings and usually have some serious flaws of their own.
So rather than giving up, I did the complete opposite and set up The Music Design Company, an events company, renting out pianos and booking musicians, doorman and bands across the North West. Slowly but surely it became quite successful and after about a decade Granada appeared out of the blue and acquired it to help them with their expanding hotel chain. I worked at Granada for a year and learned some incredibly valuable lessons from a big brand that I was proud to be associated with.
But it all fell apart when my uncle (who was visiting Manchester to do my accounts) told me how proud he was, saying, “Look at you Lawrence! You look so at home here as a corporate lad…. you were never meant to be a businessman.” I felt sick hearing this and whilst Uncle Anthony was just being nice, he’d struck a raw nerve. I knew right there and then that I had to leave. With in days I’d left Granada knowing I had to forge my own way.
Leaving that role was a big step, I had a comfortable life with 2 city centre apartments, a beautiful Audi and a big salary and no worries whatsoever. But I am a great believer in stepping stones. Everything happens for a reason and often experiences are just a path towards where you are supposed to to be.
After Granada I spent a few months in New York, back on my skateboard, drifting around central park, playing chess in Washington Square Gardens and painting watercolours of beautiful buildings. It was a wonderful few months and well earned and well needed. It was during that calm that I saw that that the internet was thriving. Back home, no one was really using it or talking about it.
Being a creative at heart, I naturally gravitated towards a business idea involving art! TheGallery.com, a website for artists to show off their work was born, or almost. On reflection, it was a terrible idea for the time. There are sites like this now, but back then Artists were not interested in publishing their work online where people could copy and print their work.
Fortunately for me, that was just one of my stepping stones. When trying to find a hosting provider for the site, the customer service was so poor, arguably the worst I’d experienced even to this day, that I realised we needed to set up a hosting provider to help all British businesses, not just artists and bring some of that great service to everyone on the internet. And so UKFast was born within hours of putting down the phone.
If I’d known how complicated the journey was at the outset, who knows, Gail and I may have not made the first step, but I am a great believer that if you are passionate about something, you can pretty much achieve anything. Its remarkable that 2 kids in a spare bedroom on Oxford Road have been able to create a business like UKFast with around a £5,000. I still have to pinch myself sometimes.
And so you can understand why I say, “Anyone can create a multi-million-pound business. Anyone.”
It’s important to see rejection as an opportunity and find ways to hurdle the obstacles people put in your way. 17 years on we have a very different business and whilst excellent customer service is still at the heart of everything we do, the products are continuously changing and completely different from our first year.
Interestingly enough, we have ventured into a number of businesses with a similar inspiration, when being told we can’t do something or after a negative experience. Our adventure into online cybersecurity happened after the CEO of the market leader dismissed our ability as tech entrepreneurs at a fund raising where my wife was quietly explaining what we did. It was his brash arrogance that triggered our deeper exploration into cyber security as opposed to outsourcing it. As we entered the lift Gail calmly said, “you know what you job is now don’t you Lawrence.” I simply answered “yes boss,” and in the small hours of the same night the name Secarma was born. A blend of Security and Karma.
There will always be people who tell you you can’t do something, this is mainly because they judge you on their own ability and the simply can’t see the opportunity like you. Plus if you are passionate about something, dedication to the task kicks in and success becomes the only option.
Having the ultimate challenge when we set up of not eating if we didn’t get customers is a huge incentive! Not one I wish on others, but it certainly makes you focus on making the right decisions from the outset.
Whatever your idea, don’t be put off, get stuck in and even if it turns out not to be the hit you imagined, dust yourself off and look at it from another angle. It’s highly likely that its just another stepping stone.
Whatever you do, have fun on that journey. Be nice to everyone, no matter how you are treated and eventually, things have a habit of working themselves out.
Good luck and have an awesome week.