Starting a business at any time is a daunting prospect, but starting a business at the young age of 23 takes guts.
Andy Gilbert’s determination and drive helped get his data centre and cloud business off the ground and 10 years later, his company Node4 is nearly 80 people strong, with four data centres offering a plethora of cloud and communications solutions.
Over the past decade, Gilbert has learnt some valuable lessons on how to grow a business, here he summarises his top five:
1. Aim for a flat management structure, where possible
When I started Node4, it was just myself and two colleagues. Each of us had defined roles, but no one was the other’s boss. This is a structure we maintained as we began to grow and expand. By empowering people to work how they want, encouraging and welcoming different perspectives, we have created a very ‘open’ culture where no-one is afraid to ask questions or to try to do something in a new and innovative way.
Naturally, as we’ve expanded, opened more sites and employed more people, it is often quite unnerving sticking steadfastly to our flat structure policy. But it continues to pay off. We have great people, who do an excellent job and we know they will always ask for help when they need it.
2. Get the right people even when it’s hard to find them
We have always been a firm believer in the old adage that ‘it’s people who will make or break a business’ and have rigorously stuck to our rule of only hiring great people. But ‘great’ people, in our mind, are so much more than having an outstanding CV. The team at Node4 all have the same values and principles and naturally fit into our relaxed but work-orientated culture.
At many times over the years, it has been extremely difficult to find the right people, but we have persevered and in some cases had roles left vacant until we found the perfect person for the job.
3. Learn from your mistakes
Mistakes happen. It’s a fact of life. The important thing here is to learn from the mistakes and not to get caught up in beating up either yourself or a colleague for the error. Over the years, we have all made mistakes. None of them have been on purpose but we have learnt from each and every one and on many occasions the outcome has been enhanced by what was, at first, considered a mistake.
4. Focus on a goal
When you are building a business, it is easy to get side tracked by something that you think ‘might’ be that golden ticket. Don’t be distracted is my advice. Get your plan in place from day one, have achievable goals that are reviewed and reassessed regularly, but don’t be tempted to cut corners or veer off in a completely different direction.
Here at Node4, one of our key goals has always been to deliver outstanding customer service. As we have grown, it would have been easy to lose sight of the importance of this goal. But we have always ensured that our customers are at the heart of everything we do. The vast array of customer testimonials and case studies that we have that say things like ‘outstanding service’, ‘a true partner’, ‘extremely helpful’ and ‘really support our business’ are a true testament to our ongoing adherence to our core goals.
5. Don’t forget to be nice
Although it might seem clichéd, here at Node4 we firmly believe that ‘being nice’ is just as important as having great products and innovative solutions. Our management team lead by example, making a concerted effort to get to know all employees. For many organisations, spending time with the team is often a ‘nice to have’ or something that is always bumped to the bottom of the to-do list in favour of more pressing business issues. At Node4, we go to great lengths to ensure this does not happen. We have quarterly staff nights out, ensure that we recognise employee excellence on an ongoing basis and always welcome feedback from all those that work at Node4.