Colin Ringer, ICRTouch, Sandown
I hung on to a growing business through thick and thin.
The owner's job is to fund the business. I started ICRTouch in partnership with my then boss, Andy.
I was writing new software to allow tills in cafe's and hotels to take orders as well as give receipts. This began as an offshoot of his business with un-computerised electronic tills.
Andy was good at selling the product, I was good at developing it. It grew well through this teamwork and we agreed it was fair that we both owned the results. So we started a new company together.
After some years, Andy felt he wanted to slow down. I had to agree to selling the whole company to someone else, or find funds to buy his half-share.
It didn't come at the right time for me. But I was so sure of the product, and so proud of the team, that I moved mountains to sort it out.
Although it has meant some sacrifices, I am really excited by the progress we are making. We are the best at what we do, we have huge sales in the UK, and we are growing in the rest of the world. All from the Isle of Wight!
Entrepreneurs Can't Help It!
Commentary by Dave Simon
Are all self-employed people budding entrepreneurs?
No – some self-employed only want to earn a living.
Others may build a small business and then steady-up. They may hope to put a little aside for a rainy day.
But entrepreneurs aim to build a continuously growing business.
They have big ambitions and a passion for growth.
They can't stop working on their business.
So entrepreneuring is more a compulsion than a job. Entrepreneurs want to get things done. Their achievement is converting an idea into a productive and profitable organization.
Growing past ten employees is called 'scaling-up' by the Government. So if your ambitions need a staff team of more than ten, you may be an entrepreneur.
Most people are either thinkers or doers. Entrepreneurs are both – a rare combination.
The Island needs ambitious entrepreneurs. They create jobs, excitement and pride. And beyond their earning power, they can also help local community initiatives.
If you're not sure about your ambitions, answer this one really valuable question: “What is standing between you and a much bigger business?”
Check these 'Useful Questions For A Business Owner Hoping To Scale-Up'. For a confidential and creative review of your hopes and hesitations, please call Dave Simon on 01983 614795.
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Make Progress Through Learning
I first started work at the age of 12 as a paper-boy, but only after I pretended to be 13! I owned up to being 12 to the first newsagents I went to and they said I was too young. So I changed my appearance and answered the next one in a gruff voice!
Next I went on to work in cafes, hotels and bars. Even before I started work, and then while I was in those jobs, I was writing computer games. I've always preferred to write them than to play them. I was self-taught in that, learning the programming languages as I went, drawn on by the fascination.
I remember getting very frustrated with the ordering system at one job. I was Chef, but I had to walk through to the front desk to get new orders. Taken by serving staff, orders were put through the till, and then written on another piece of paper which I took back to the kitchen to prepare. Sometimes it was written wrongly, or unreadably, or just had bits missing. I learned there was a problem there, but I had no answer at the time.
Learn From Your Failures
I went to University but I started on the wrong course, and quickly let it go. Then I got the job with Andy and things took off – slowly but definitely growing. I've always learned about things I'm interested in. It's said that progress is not about 'who you know' any more, it's about 'how fast you learn' – I agree!
Part of it is being willing to decide quickly to stop something that is going wrong. I say I've failed often, but I've always learned a valuable lesson and I've quickly moved on. Don't let it get you down. Bouncing back is vital and finding a positive in the results helps you do that.
I still read a lot to learn. At the moment, one book I'm getting through is about public speaking. I have been caught out a few times, and I know I've not been good. So I took hold of myself and I've forced myself to plan talks, to be brave and to rehearse – lots and lots!
Ambition Is Essential
My early ambitions were simply to be a software developer. When I started, it was called 'computer programming', and it was about making computers do useful things. Nowadays it is also about how they do it, improving the quality of the experience they provide to users.
My frustration with the till at the café later joined up with my interest in software. I knew what I wanted to do very quickly – to build a till system that could join several parts of the ordering process together with the cash-and-receipt process. I had no idea about business to begin with, but I learnt with Andy, and it grew.
If there is any advice I wish I had listened to when I was younger, it was to hear advice from older people. At the time, I just thought 'What do they know?'. But now I know they have years and years of experience that I didn't then. It could have helped more than I let it!
Facing New Challenges
When Andy made it clear he wanted to let go, I had to decide whether to take the proceeds of my half or work to take over the whole company.
I had not seen myself as a business leader, but I wanted to keep improving things because I was sure there was more we could do. I couldn't just retire – I'd go crazy! – so my passion for it made me work at fund-raising. That was a whole new experience!
I don't measure my ambition by the money we make. Although it's nice to feel we're supporting the Island economy, the money side of it doesn't ring my bells at all. As long as I've got enough to live on, I'm OK. But making the product better and making the business better – that's where I really come alive.
Profit Supports Growth
So while profit is important to the business, it's not important to me. It has let me build a whole new headquarters, but the modern architecture is more about showing potential buyers that we are successful, and therefore reliable, than anything else.
Since taking over the company, I have been able to put more money into marketing, and that has accelerated our sales.
I have also put more money into attracting new staff to support those sales, and to develop the next line of products. I've discovered that I am getting better at being a people-organiser. It has taken some work because I started as a machine-organiser, programming computers.
Family life pushed me into being independent earlier than most. I remember complaining to the newsagents when my paper round got so large I could hardly carry the bag, but I was still paid the same as when I started. I got a raise, but not much! Perhaps that has made me very determined in doing what I wanted to get done. And checking that we get paid fairly too.
Staff Are Absolutely Central
Nowadays, very little scares me. I feel pretty secure in the company – we're doing well: we have over 80,000 tills using our software, mainly in the UK.
I have also gained some coaching for my people-skills, which makes me more relaxed about managing staff, which I'm pleased about. My biggest fear is losing staff – I'm very proud of them, but I need them all.
I seem to be able to attract the right sort of staff. I write the first draft of my recruitment adverts because I've got a good idea of what I want.
I did once create a job specially for an applicant who didn't fit the job I advertised. He was so good at other skills that I didn't want to lose him.
We've got people who used to work for our customers, so we have a good knowledge of what is important to them. Our customers are actually resellers, who find their own local customers in pubs, hotels and cafes where-ever they are. And we have two members of staff who used to be pub managers, so we understand what they want, too.
Organising Is The Vital Job
When a customer has a problem, I feel it is vital to fix it quickly. Occasionally we've had a problem in the cloud, not in our product and not in the customer's use of it. Even so, we have to get it fixed. I don't understand all the details, but I know who can fix it and so nowadays my job is about organising the teamwork to get it done.
Without an organiser, all the experts in the word would just do their own thing. Coordination is the foundation of teamwork.
I'm pretty calm under pressure. I seem to have a clear head. Perhaps that's my upbringing, perhaps it's because it is my job – my responsibility.
My Job Has Changed
But that job has changed, enormously. From coding I've gone through designing products to managing staff and leading the business as a whole.
I admire people who have been able to create large businesses that have changed part of the world. Bill Gates and Steve Jobs are two in my industry, but another is Bernie Ecclestone who basically created Formula One racing.
Leadership is partly about planning and partly about opportunism. You don't have to be smart, but you do have to see an opportunity and then have the determination to grab it in a businesslike way. These days, I'm thinking perhaps five years ahead – I couldn't do that if I was still working at the coding!
Boosting Our Island
I'm an Islander. I worry about our economy, and I worry about the people who are negative about it. If you look, there are positives – new money arriving, new jobs offered, new opportunities created.
As an Island, we have a lot to offer – to residents, businesses and visitors. ICRTouch sponsored our Island Games team to help them prove that. At the time of writing, they are on their way to Gotland, Sweden and I hope all goes well.
If I was the Island's King, I would create concentrated tourist areas, where visitors can get whatever they want within easy reach. That makes a better experience for them – I know because that's what I want when I go on holiday! So people would be more likely to return, and bring friends perhaps.
Also, it would focus our planning efforts (at all levels), it saves marketing money and it creates a happy identity. We could start small: it doesn't have to be too disruptive. Imagine a small dedicated tourist centre in Ryde, Sandown, Shanklin and Ventnor: tourism would blossom – and the Island with it!
PS from Dave Simon
Breaking News -The Brexit situation is expected to increase staycations in the UK by 5% or more this year - and continuing. Our tourism industry could benefit from this boost and build a great reputation for the future.