When I decided to write Working the Cloud it was to share the amazing tools and resources I had collected during ten years covering web developments for the BBC and other broadcasters and publications, but I was conscious of the fact that (despite running my own successful business as a self-employed writer and reporter since 1995) my actual knowledge of running a business came mainly from the research I had conducted. That research was extensive (I am nothing if not thorough!), but it was admittedly mostly secondhand, so I decided to collect a group of kick-ass experts to help me solidify my ideas and theories and get some firsthand accounts into the pages of my book. These people are all a complete inspiration and I was amazed and delighted by the ideas they brought to the table and that they would even take time out of their incredibly busy business schedules to share them with me – so that I in turn can share them with you.
Seth Casteel, Little Friends Lifestyle Pet Photography
It’s important to seize the opportunity with both hands. You have a limited window, like winning the lottery but you only have a few days to get back to the shop and collect on your ticket before it expires.
One person who knows the value of the social web is Seth Casteel, proprietor of a small pet photography business in Los Angeles. At the end of 2011 he was struggling to get enough business to pay the bills so he did what every great entrepreneur should do; he blew his last couple of thousand bucks on some underwater camera equipment. He went on to take some brilliantly comical photographs of dogs diving in to a swimming pool chasing toys. After posting them on his website they went viral over one weekend, shared on Google+ and hugely popular links-sharing site Reddit, where they earned nearly 30,000 ‘likes’ in a couple of days and were shared almost 22,000 times. Traffic on Seth’s website sky-rocketed overnight and the increased publicity completely turned his business around, generating print sales in over 40 countries and allowing him to raise his commissioned portrait fee and fill his diary with bookings many times over; he even appeared on UK television series ‘Top Dog Model’, capturing the contestant’s underwater style. On top of this, Seth’s first book, Underwater Dogs, was published and distributed in over 100 countries in October 2012. It showcases more than 80 gorgeous underwater dog photographs filled with passion and personality, including 12-week old puppies, a brilliant Pug dog and even a wolf, and makes a perfect ‘coffee-table gift book’ even if you’re not a massive dog lover.
Theo Paphitis, Star of Dragons’ Den
Hundreds of years ago a gentleman’s wealth was judged by the size of his library, because if you had knowledge you had power, it was as simple as that. Now with technology everyone’s got knowledge just by using their mobile phone.
As one of Britain’s most popular entrepreneurs, Theo Paphitis hardly needs an introduction. Billed on the BBC’s Dragons’ Den as a ‘retail magnate’, he first cut his teeth in a retail environment running the school tuck shop aged 15; a role that by his own account, was mostly designed keep him out of trouble. He went on to become known as a bit of a ‘turnaround king’, reviving the fortunes of brands like La Senza (which he sold in 2006), Ryman Stationary, Red Letter Days and even Millwall football club. Seemingly having developed an eye great lingerie, Theo’s most recent high-profile retail initiative is the launch of the Boux Avenue chain of lingerie shops with an interactive website at bouxavenue.com. Most people will recognise him from the TV but what you might not know is that Theo donates the fees from his TV appearances, speeches and sales of his biography (Enter the Dragon, published by Orion Books) to causes close to his heart, especially children’s charities. He is also a big supporter of small businesses and entrepreneurialism, providing many fantastic online resources and social media initiatives designed to give up-and-coming young businesses a leg up. One such initiative is ‘Small Business Sunday’, where six lucky businesses get to ride on the back of Theo’s fame by having a tweet about their company shared with his 330,000 strong Twitter following – an opportunity that can create a real buzz of free publicity as Theo explained when we spoke.
Duncan Cheatle, Founder The Prelude Group
For most people the scarcest resource is time, so you need to make sure you’re not wasting it by networking with the wrong groups.
Duncan Cheatle has had an unusual career, even working as a cowboy in the Brazilian outback in the 1980s. He’s been championing UK enterprise for over ten years working with more than 1,000 entrepreneurs and founded The Prelude Group to help fulfil his obsession to “make Britain the most enterprising nation in the world.” He now heads up a number of successful ventures, including the award-winning The Supper Club, which is home to 260 of Britain’s most exciting and high-growth entrepreneurs. At a minimum £1 million turnover the membership criteria might be a bit rich for most new businesses, but you need to set the bar somewhere to build a group of similarly positioned entrepreneurs who can share real knowledge and insight when they meet; only then can a club at any level be truly successful. Duncan is also one of the co-founders of Startup Britain, a private sector funded campaigning organisation with the support of the UK government that promotes enterprise, and a director of the recently formed StartUp Loans company, chaired by James Caan of Dragons’ Den fame.
Rajeeb Dey, Founder of Enternships.com
The key is to make sure you have the right team around you and if you feel you don’t have all the necessary skills or expertise, find others that compliment you when setting up your business.
At twenty-six years old, Rajeeb Dey is one of the UK’s most high profile and successful young business people. Like so many web entrepreneurs he came up with the idea for his business while still studying at university, where he was the president of ‘Oxford Entrepreneurs’, one of the largest student entrepreneurial societies in Europe. Giving the ‘internship’ model a good shake up, Enternships is a web service that connects young people with work experience placements in start-up organisations and SMEs. The company has so far connected more than 4,000 businesses in over 20 countries with graduate talent, including companies like Groupon and PayPal. He is also one of the co-founders of Startup Britain, won the O2 Young Entrepreneur of the Year award in 2009 and was named one of 2012’s Young Global Leaders at the World Economic Forum. Not a bad role call considering he only finished university in 2008, so what is the secret to such rapid success?
Tony Banks, Founder Balhousie Care Group
I like my fellow man and I think humility is one of the biggest qualities that any leader can have, although it’s a quality that’s not talked about enough in business circles.
Tony Banks is a leading Scottish entrepreneur and founder of Balhousie Care Group, a venture he started after seeing an opportunity to create a family business at a time when Margaret Thatcher was encouraging more regulation in the care home industry, moving it away from unregulated bed and breakfast accommodation and long-stay hospitals to environments that provided a much higher standard of care. An ex-army man he is also the author of acclaimed war biography Storming the Falklands: My War and After, published in March 2012. He shot to media fame in 2009 when he took part in Channel 4’s ‘The Secret Millionaire’, living anonymously on a poverty-stricken estate in Anfield. He was so moved by the experience he ended up donating hundreds of thousands of pounds to the people he met while filming. He believes it is an experience that changed his life completely; inspired by the fighting spirit of the most disadvantaged people in life it helped him to refocus his energy on things like family and relationships. Tony also serves on the board of the Scottish Entrepreneurial Exchange and the “Enemy Within” Appeal board for Combat Stress.
Martin Lewis, Money Saving Expert
I wish I had been clever enough to invent Money Saving Expert the way it is, but it grew organically; if I had expected such success I would have probably got it terribly wrong.
Martin Lewis is the ‘Money Saving Expert’; consumer finance guru, TV and radio presenter, newspaper columnist and best-selling author – and the man behind the UK’s number one money site, MoneySavingExpert.com, which gets around 14 million unique visitors a month. A trained personal finance and business journalist who studied at the London School of Economics, Martin first became The Money Saving Expert when he worked for a small TV channel called ‘Simply Money’ where he suggested a show that used ‘hard-core analytical research’ to uncover the best consumer finance deals each day. Like the TV show, the website appeals to the ‘bargain hunter’ in us by revealing straightforward ways for consumers to cut down on their bills and living expenses without having to sacrifice quality of life. It has also been the driving force behind several high profile campaigns to get a fairer deal for consumers in areas like bank charges, PPI payments and in the latest campaign, reclaiming care home fees. Martin set the site up in 2003 out of his back bedroom at a cost of £100. Less than a decade later the brand was sold for a cool £87 million – although far from this being a lucrative exit strategy, Martin remains in tight control of the editorial, as he was keen to explain when we spoke.
Doug Clark, IBM Cloud Computing Leader
If someone tells you ‘no, this cannot be done’, you should always query that and see it as an opportunity to make a success out of something that no-one else is doing.
Doug Clark really understands the importance of taking advantage of cloud technologies for businesses of any size. He heads up IBM’s Cloud Computing division for UK and Ireland, pulling together the best cloud skills and technologies IBM has to offer and finding ways to apply them to the everyday needs and challenges of their clients and he is very much an evangelist on the subject. Doug studied biochemistry at university but discovered an aptitude for business communication and networking when he got involved in helping to run university societies. Following a stint in sales and marketing for the pharmaceutical industry after graduation, he ended up running a global pharma-brand as a product manager. It was during this part of his career that he realised the importance of change and developed his skills in helping to affect it despite often strong resistance from the business community. As a result he was instrumental in changing a major ‘prescription drug’ into an ‘over the counter drug’, now available in supermarkets around the world. Next he joined PricewaterhouseCoopers consulting group, which was acquired by IBM in 2002. Doug went with the sale, beginning a phase of his career he describes as “one of the most exciting seat of the pants rides I’ve ever had in business”.
Emma Jones, Founder Enterprisenation.com
It’s never been so cheap to start a business, so we’re seeing real innovation in young start-ups. This is why large corporates, government and the crowd are saying; we will extend those small amounts of funding to help people get started.
Emma Jones started her first business at the turn of the millennium, encouraged by the dot-com boom and operating out of the spare bedroom of her Manchester apartment to help inward investors move to the UK. Just fifteen months later the company was sold to a big PLC and Emma turned her attention to setting up EnterpriseNation.com, an online community, training and events company aimed at supporting and encouraging home-business start-ups. She is one of the eight co-founders of Startup Britain and in June 2012 was awarded an MBE for her services to UK enterprise. As well as a busy campaigning schedule and speaking engagements across the world Emma is a prolific author, having written a number of best-selling books around the subject of starting and growing a successful business from home. Her next book, due out around now tackles one of the issues she sees raised often within the home-business community registered at EnterpriseNation.com; exploring ways you can grow your business from home without outgrowing your home office space.
Paul Gibbons, Owner of Leaderboard Golf
The world isn’t waiting for you to launch a product. In fact the world is completely unaware of what you are about to do and they probably don’t even care.
Like so many of the prominent business leaders interviewed for this book Paul Gibbons started work at an early age, joining Burton’s retail group when he was just 15. Here he discovered an aptitude for communicating with his customers, talking to them (and their wives) to find out what they were really looking for so he could suggest the perfect garment. He quickly realised that selling would be a key skill to develop and looked for roles that specifically offered high-end training and management development courses. It was during his time with Thompson Regional Newspapers – where he was top sales person for three years running – that he met John Madejski. Together they founded Auto Trader with the first issue (at the time called Thames Valley Trader) going on sale in 1977 for just 10-pence a copy. A lot has changed since then and after selling the iconic classifieds car-mag for a reported £260 million in 1998, Paul has gone on to build an impressive portfolio of golf courses and golfing related businesses. His latest initiative is attempting to disrupt the market for last-minute tee-time bookings, which currently involves big websites taking a significant commission on all bookings. With Leaderboard golf tee-times Paul wants to offer every golf club in the country a page in their directory for a small monthly subscription, where they can post course information and special offers and golfers can book last-minute time tee-times directly, allowing the courses to plough more profits back into improving and maintaining their facilities.
Jean Oelwang, CEO of Virgin Unite
As we move more rapidly to a “global village” crowd funding and other social media tools are turning our notion of community upside-down and allowing us to bring good ideas to scale much more rapidly.
Jean Oelwang is often referred to as Sir Richard Branson’s right-hand woman. Starting out in the telecoms sector she travelled the world to help set up mobile phone companies in emerging markets before deciding to walk away from the corporate world to volunteer for VISTA, which is a bit like the domestic Peace Corp in the USA. She landed in a homeless centre for teenagers in Chicago and it was there she told me that she realised “how broken our siloed government, business and social sector systems were as I watched young people as young as twelve try and survive in the streets.” These memories stayed with her as she went back into the world of business and then ended up joining the Virgin Group to help set up a mobile phone company in Australia in the late 90s. Four years on she decided to pursue her dream of trying to change the way the business, social and government sectors work together, and as Sir Richard Branson was also looking to start up a foundation for the Virgin Group at that time she put a plan together, pitched the idea to him and Virgin Unite was born. Today the organisation’s aim is to help incubate new approaches to global leadership; driving change and building a wonderful community of people who never accept the unacceptable and who believe that business can and must be a force for positive change in the world.
A pocket full of inspiration…