In early 2008 I was offered £1.2 million for my first tech startup ukdata.com. I turned it down.
Having grown the credit reporting site up from nothing in 2000 when no one else was doing anything similar, my co-founder and I decided that the offer we’d received didn’t reflect its true value. After the money had been divided two ways and Capital Gains Tax had been paid, the offer would have paid us an income for only eight years, so we agreed to carry on for a better offer.
A few short months later in October we were offered €2 million (£1.5 million) and we thought we’d been vindicated in our decision. But just days before we were due to sign the banking crisis hit; the markets crashed, the Government came to the rescue of the banks and our deal promptly collapsed.
Failure is a vital part of any successful entrepreneurship because it’s so rare for someone to get everything right at the first attempt. Even harder than getting it right though is being able to let go at the right time once you do. When it’s ‘your baby’ it’s easy to fall into the trap of overvaluing what’s really there, when the reality is that your business is only worth what someone else is willing to pay.
I missed that first time around. I’d invested so much that at the right moment that I couldn’t let go. In hindsight I should have been questioning whether I was really able to grow it further, or should I instead take an offer that would have allowed me to invest in bigger things.
For me, spotting when to let go has been just as important as deciding when to start up in the first place – that’s because the confidence and determination we associate with entrepreneurs can also be the traits that hold them back. That’s good news for entrepreneurs who have the ability to change quickly with circumstances because the odds of success increase each time. Mainly because mistakes are rarely repeated.
I went on to become a serial entrepreneur by accident rather than design. I subsequently set up the ecommerce website Simply Moleskine, growing it into the most popular site selling moleskine notebooks in 24 months. Then in 2011 Company Check was built as a business information site which has grown to 500,000 registered users.
Each time the difficult job of setting up a new business gets easier. People take you more seriously, your contacts are in place and things like financing take hours rather than weeks. My approach has matured too as I’ve proved to myself and others that I could do it time and time again.
With each one comes a larger network of relationships with more interesting people to draw on and a different vision of ‘success’ at the end, whatever that looks like to you. Never give up!
This article was written by Alastair Campbell