Alastair Crawford, CEO of digital directory service 192.com isn't one to let a small hurdle like a court challenge from BT or Royal Mail slow him down. Crawford took on the big boys and won. Here, he tells inspiresme.co.uk why determination is half the battle in becoming a successful entrepreneur.
Q: When does an idea become a business?
A: When you have transformed it into a revenue generating machine, you can start to call it a business..
Q: What kind of person becomes a textbook entrepreneur?
A: Driven, creative, and with absolute confidence in what they do.
Q: What would you advise someone if they wanted to become an entrepreneur?
A: Know the market, research the competition, and go for it!
Q: Will a true entrepreneur only be happy when he or she is working for himself?
A: Not necessarily. Working with, or for, friends can be hugely enjoyable too. Even though being an entrepreneur is generally much harder work, it does not feel like a normal 9-5. It is the pursuit of your own idea, it is like a hobby.
Q: You’ve started several businesses in your career. What are some of the challenges you’ve faced?
A: I started UK Info-Disk which became 192business and 192.com Limited. In doing so, we launched the first alternative to BT’s phone book ever. BT threatened to sue us. They had no idea how we had created an alternative phone book and gave us an ultimatum – stop now and walk away – or continue and be sued. Our data licences were rock solid and we held our ground. BT openly said that if we were found to have breached their copyright they would sue the distributors. That public warning kept us out of the shops for nearly two years, but in 1999 after a prolonged campaign to open up the directory market we became BT’s first licensee four years before 118 and the first and only CD-ROM Phone book to be sold in Dixon’s and Curry’s. It was not only BT that felt threatened by us. In 2002 Royal Mail sued us in the High Courts for using the Postcode (they claimed) without a license – after two years of litigation and a six day trial the High Court ruled we did in fact have a license from Royal Mail. Royal Mail were ordered to pay our costs and the managers of the Royal Mail Address Management Centre were replaced. A victory like this can never properly compensate for the incredible distraction from your business.
Q: What’s the single most important thing you can do to be successful in business?
A: Be determined.
Q: Is there room for ethics in the business world?
A: Yes. You have to be credible and trusted, and you can’t just put profit ahead of everything else. Your customers, suppliers, the wider public, and particularly the competition need to know you are accountable and open in all matters and that all you’re doing is providing a better service at a more competitive rate.
Q: What’s the biggest mistake you made in starting a business?
A: I really can’t remember any, but my advice is that you will always make mistakes when you set up a a business, you need to just accept that, move on from them when they happen and just forget about them, which I guess is what I must have done.
Q: 2011 – a good or bad time to be starting a new business?
A: There’s never a bad time for the right opportunity.
Q: You’ve had several well-publicised run-ins with larger businesses, most notably BT and Royal Mail. Is the UK’s business culture conducive to success for entrepreneurs?
A: I think it is, but in a very fast moving sector like the internet big companies sometimes don't move fast enough in terms of their thinking, it can lead to a clash, big companies need to be more dynamic, and agile, or they will lose out in the long run.
Q: Entrepreneurship - skill, luck, or a bit of both?
A: You have to be skilful with your luck, but luck can always change so your skill levels shouldn’t.
Focus on what could excite the ordinary man on the street about your product Q: If you were advising a company with a fantastic product but no marketing skills, what would tell them?
A: Focus on what could excite the ordinary man on the street about your product and ask yourself why the press should continue to be interested in it. Write your press releases from the perspective of the journalist, so not full of marketing-speak. To insure longevity of press coverage keep on eye on how your product continues to relate to the news agenda and your customer’s changing values and perspectives. We’re confident that as a product, 192.com for example, is superb for reuniting family and friends and for providing free directory enquiries. We have no problem marketing that message.
Q: What are your thoughts on home/work life balance?
A: It’s possible to enjoy both – with the odd take-away thrown in.
Q: Did you consult with people before deciding to start 192.com? If so, who? What were their backgrounds?
A: Not really, my family and friends gave me encouragement, it was all I needed.
Q: Was there a “blueprint” or path of starting your first business, i-CD Publishing (UK), that you more or less followed? How did you know how to start?
A: If there is one then it is; a) have an idea, b) brain storm and research c) business plan, d) finance e) product development, f) marketing, g) repeat b-f.