Exceptional entrepreneur: Wyn Ackroyd
API Talent are Amazon Web Services experts who ranked 12th on the 2017 Fast 50 index with a whopping 408% revenue growth. Co-founder, Wyn Ackroyd, shares his thoughts on building a fast-growing business and how to interpret the many pieces of advice given to him on his career journey. Over to you, Wyn…
I’ve been given so much advice over the years and I didn’t necessarily understand it all as it was shared with me. It has taken time and experience to truly understand what the advice meant – and I’ve tried to itemise key points here. I hope this helps any business owner reading this (or anyone thinking about starting a business!)…
How do you define success? I think there are thousands of roads to the same success as well as variations of the definition of the word itself. When I try to define it, I realise there have been successes for the company in the last four years, but the great feeling in a successful moment doesn’t last long.
I think success is an ability to make progress despite obstacles. Think of it as progressing on a journey by pushing obstacles over. Accept some obstacles won’t move and you have to go round, under or over them! Another way of describing this is to think carefully about what your bottom lines are - which can you compromise on to keep moving forward on your journey?
I think a large part of any business is chance or luck. I’m not talking about the kind of luck we make ourselves - I’m a big believer in self-made luck. I’m talking about ‘dumb’ luck. If you give 100 people $100 dollars and tell them to bet it all on red or black, half will lose in the first spin of the wheel. Half again on the next. After six rounds the chances are only one winner is left and they’ll have over $6,000.
Maybe 80% of our overall success is luck and I think what really counts is what you do to make it work. The 20% you actually have control over makes all the difference. People say the only thing we really have control over is ourselves and our thoughts. I’m sure I’m reinventing a model must already exist, but your motivation, influence and good judgement still doesn't guarantee success, but it does make success more likely. Don’t give up, just be prepared to adapt.
Funding comes in all shapes and sizes. There are a number of ways to fund a business and growth costs, debt/loans, funding or organic. We made a conscious decision not to have any outside funding or debt. We saved up our cash from our previous jobs and paid ourselves practically nothing. It meant we’ve always been lean and we could remain 50% shareholders. The downside to this organic model is growth can be throttled. I understand product firms are completely different and often need funding so there’s probably a different perspective there…
Growth is hard. Growing to the ‘next level’ is always hard as you need new skill sets. I’ve also had to learn to delegate. It’s hard to let go - especially when people don’t have the same vision, investment or ability you feel is needed. This is where I really understood the advice “hire for attitude, not ability”. Employees are complex and diverse they bring strengths and weaknesses I never imagined. The people who have chosen to work at the company have as a rule been exceptional. They are the face of the business and they’ve had to be the best. It is difficult to understate how key they have been to success. Seeing some of this human nature has been insightful.
I could also mention stress and mistakes as they go together nicely. While stress exists with hiring, firing, winning, losing and more, it’s stress from finances that have been hardest to manage. Things going wrong when you take your eye off the finances, which is easy when so many things are competing for your attention. Making mistakes can also be stressful but the lessons are huge! The trick is taking them as lessons, keeping your head, learning, adapting and moving on.
Never give up! Before running API Talent, I’d worked at home for seven years. I was well paid but didn’t have much time left outside of work. My technical skills were eroding and I wasn’t sure what my job was anymore. I swung from feeling good at my job, in particular dealing with high intensity severity-1 customer issues, to vulnerable because I wasn’t really sure what I did. My social network was almost zero, except a couple of really good friends - it was like starting again. The business was luck we created out of nothing - a gamble, yes, but the agonising doubt was tempered when my business-partner-to-be told me he’d be there for me if the business failed. That was enough! Four years later, I've just sold a company made up of the most amazing individuals and started on the next career adventure. It is amazing what you can achieve if you try and just keep going.
02 August, 2018 by Alice Potter,
Alice Potter works in the Deloitte clients and marketing team and closely with Deloitte Private.