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Recipes for a successful business?

Just over 13 years ago I founded DediPower (along with a couple of others). It was September 1998 and we didn’t know exactly what we were going to do as a business, but we knew it had to be ‘Internet’ related. In reality, we spent two years trying our hand at various opportunities, with some web application development work to fund the other ‘experiments’. I enjoyed many late nights programming web sites (in PHP 2!) for clients. Some of whom had business plans which essentially consisted of “Sell stuff on the Internet”, or worse…

Year 2000 came, the millennium bug didn’t arrive, leaving me with a slightly smug smile after being quoted in the local newspaper that New Year’s Day would be a non-event. At this stage, driven by requests from customers, DediPower started to provide hosting services (dedicated servers) – there was a clear market opportunity – most UK web sites were still being hosted in the USA. At first it was an add-on product – after twelve months it was our only product. The business saw tremendous growth and laid the foundation for where DediPower is today.

Nowadays I’m often asked by people either thinking about starting their own business, or in the early stages, on what they should do to be successful. There are numerous books, courses, lectures, degrees, conferences, etc, written on the topic; the advice they offer is often varied (and sometimes rather procedural/technical). Aside from growing my own successful business, I have also had the pleasure to work with many start-up and growing businesses as customers over the years, some of them going on to be even more successful than DediPower (I’m always glad we can be part of that success). A few key ingredients stand out to me that appear to be prerequisites for a business to be successful:

  1. Passion – the founder(s) must be highly passionate about the service or product they are providing. In many cases, the business idea comes from a hobby. In my case it was computers; I would learn about computing regardless of what my day job was. You should want to become an expert in your product or service field, and that is what is driving you. The business is a way to facilitate this.
  2. Self-belief – there will be many people (from banks, colleagues, friends, family, competitors, suppliers) who say the business is not tenable, doomed to failure, or serves no purpose. It is critical to learn to channel this energy in to a “let’s prove them wrong” format.
  3. Listen to those people that are important – the customers, and later on, the staff. You will not find any better advisors, paid or otherwise, than your own customers. They are telling you how best to run your business – listen to them and adapt. It’s the biggest advantage a small business has. Later in the evolution your staff will likely know more about specific areas of the business than you do – so listen to them and allow them to make improvements.
  4. Be ready to work, work and work some more. You will essentially always be working. Holidays will be a rare occurrence in the early days. Unless you have a substantial six-figure start-up fund, you are going to have to do the work of 2 or 3 people. That’s why point 1, passion, is so critical! However, do take time out occasionally so you can get off the forest floor and get a clear view from above the trees. For several years I did 90+ hour weeks – it does take its toll but ultimately is very rewarding.
  5. Surround yourself with great people. This applies to everybody you work with, not just employees. A few committed key suppliers will greatly increase your chance of success (without a few in particular, DediPower would almost certainly not exist today). Find great customers: you can influence the type of customers you win by what culture/message you convey publically. Mentors: have a pool of two to three people that you can trust to give you honest feedback – they don’t necessarily have to be business people themselves – they just have to be willing to be frank and honest with you. Ultimately, if you are surrounded by fantastic people, then you will look fantastic too!

I could probably write much more, or go into lots more detail. However, I think the above 5 points are the most critical and are certainly true in 95% of successful start-up businesses that I’ve come across.

If you are thinking of starting a business, or already have done, please take a look at our Digital Awards ( It’s close to my heart and I’ve been lucky enough to help the two winners from last year to improve their business (I’ve also learnt lots too about some different industries!).

Remember, you create your own chances for luck. If you keep working hard and do the right stuff, eventually luck will find you; and like a sail catching the wind you’ll be bouncing across the waves at 30 knots before you even realise it!

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