abica is a successful business that until a few days ago I was the managing director of; I have now left the company as a director and shareholder. As myself and the company received a fair bit of publicity in the last year and since I have a wide network of contacts I thought I would put in writing some of my reasons for leaving the company, for a number of reasons:
- honesty is one of mine and abica’s core values
- it’s helpful for me to wrap up and conclude my last few years by writing about it
- vague announcements of someone’s departure from a business usually pose more questions than they provide answers
- to save time answering the same questions from lots of people
Background and vision of abica
abica started in 2006 trading as “abc” and we expanded our B2B telecoms service from the core product which was mobile telecoms, to broadband internet and fixed line telecoms. Right from the start we had a very successful lifestyle business, but we recognised the long-term limitations of that and created a new business model focused on enhancing the value in the business by owning and billing the customer directly, to significantly grow recurring revenues. In October last year we launched our business mobile service and rebranded the company to abica with a clear long term vision which was quite simply to be the best telecoms operator for SMEs in the UK. If you want to know more read the “painted picture“, I hope it conveys the passion and enthusiam I had for this business until recently. (A painted picture is a vivid description of how a business looks at a specific future date and provides a clear visual description which helps guide everyone; more info here).
To achieve a challenging goal like creating a great company you need to have the best systems and the best people and putting both in ahead of the growth curve is a costly but necessary thing to do. It takes a lot of confidence and determination but it’s key to building a quality brand. I am delighted that quality has been recognised and one of my goals for 2009 looks set to be achieved as abica has been shortlisted for “excellence in customer service” at the Glasgow Business Awards. [Update: I am delighted that abica won this award, beating household name, the John Lewis Partnership to the prize!] Other success to celebrate includes winning many new clients and cross-selling new services to existing ones which has significantly grown recurring revenues.
Exit from abica
So with the business progressing and developing nicely in many areas why did I leave? For any business to succeed it needs the owners to be 100% behind a single strategy and almost one year after the re-launch was a good opportunity to review that. Even if everyone thinks the destination is the same there is more than one way to get there; as one of three co-owners of the business I found that I placed a different emphasis on factors such as the level of risk, pace of growth, long-term versus short term and re-investment versus income. I realised recently that while we had made consensus decisions in the past that was going to be less likely going forward due to a difference of opinion in the route we should take. I felt it would be the right time for me to exit while we still get along, it’s the grown up thing to do and because of that we have agreed to disagee and parted ways amicably. Rod Matthews, abica’s non-executive Chairman also stepped down this week and I would like to thank him for the support and advice he has given me over the last year of working together. We both leave the company in good shape for the future with lots of potential and I wish all those who remain at the company the best of luck for the years ahead.
Growing up fast
I really grew up as an entrepreneur during my three and a half years at abica and the catalyst for that was the Entrepreneurial Exchange and Richard Emanuel in particular. An “evening with” event with him was the first I attended and he turned me on to two really inspirational things: a book called “Good to Great” by Jim Collins and the sage of Omaha, Warren Buffett. That was around two years ago and since then I have met Warren Buffett (twice) and devoured, as Buffett does, dozens of books on business, leadership and personal development. I’ve listened in person to the stories of success and failure of many incredibly talented people including Bob Keiller, Stewart Milne, Jim McColl, Doug Richard, Richard Tait, Rod Aldridge, Seth Godin, Cameron Herold and Brad Sugars.
Company culture – the bedrock of success
The best moments of my time at abica were great times with the team, so I know what my priority will be in my next business and a great culture from the outset will form the bedrock. To get it right I want to learn from the very best and right now that is a company in the US called Zappos which I am visiting later this month. Zappos was founded 10 years ago in a bedroom in San Francisco, and it has just been bought for around $1Bn by Amazon. Jeff Bezos, founder and CEO of Amazon cited a number of reasons for the purchase, including Zappos customer-service obsession, the quality of the leadership team, future growth potential and their “totally unique culture” which he described as a “very significant asset”. I’m shortly going out to Las Vegas to spend two intensive days inside Zappos learning from their top managers and meet with their CEO, Tony Hsieh and I’m incredibly excited about it; expect to read a blog about my experience at Zappos later this month. In the meantime, if you want to know more about Zappos’ groundbreaking culture watch this video of Tony Hsieh on You Tube; I found it inspiring.
As well as my visit to Zappos I will be researching business schools as this break is an ideal opportunity to obtain an MBA; if I don’t do it now then I never will. If I do take time out for an MBA it will not be until this time next year, so in the meantime I look forward to helping other businesses, both as a volunteer with the Prince’s Scottish Youth Business Trust, which helps young people set up their own business and also on the board of The Entrepreneurial Exchange, which helps entrepreneurs create companies of scale.
Often the main challenge with running your own business is that sometimes when all the day to day stuff gets on top of you, you lose sight of the really important things, the things that actually make a difference to the long term success of your company. So for that reason an outside voice and/or support from peers is particularly useful and that’s why I’m a great advocate of organisations like The Entrepreneurial Exchange and of non-executive directors, mentors and business coaches. I am hoping that I can help other businesses in that way and I relish all the opportunities ahead of me and the time to pursue fresh challenges.
With that in mind, if you want to talk to me, please get in touch – my diary is now refreshingly clear!