Stephen Davis, StarBase founder and MD, provides an insight about his experience in starting his own company.
Why did you start StarBase?
“The reason I started StarBase was basically because I was fed up with big company politics and the fact that some people were more interested in empire building than working together for the benefit of the company, customers and staff. I was looking for an alternative to working for large companies; I wanted to work for them, but I realised I didn’t have to work for them directly.
“By understanding their requirements and challenges, I aimed to deliver solutions that would help them achieve their business objectives. I wanted to focus on delivering a great service and use the skills and knowledge I’d accumulated for the benefit of other businesses. I say to new staff, ‘you only know what you’ve achieved by looking behind you at what you’ve done.’ And most people want to do a good job.”
How has your view of running your own business changed since you started StarBase?
“The enthusiasm and optimism I had at the beginning was replaced very quickly with a realisation that starting and running a business is tough. You’ve got to be able to dig deep to stay the course. The enthusiasm gave way to pragmatism: I had to lower my sights initially, and I had to revisit my business plan a few times.
“My initial aim was to focus on smaller companies, and that concept completely failed. My view was to target companies with a turnover of £50m – £150m but the reality was that they don’t buy enough services to warrant doing this. Further down the line, a significant turning point for StarBase was when the market we were targeting completely disappeared in January 2000. We had been focusing on the IBM AS/400 business computer but with all the upgrades put in place preparing for Y2K, no one planned to spend any money in 2000. I had a major decision to make: shut down or change. That was a major learning point – you have to be prepared to be adaptive and change as your market evolves.
“You do something, and you think, ‘okay, that should work.’ And when it doesn’t, you have to think, ‘why isn’t it working?’ You’ve just got to be ready to adjust your course and willing to revisit your business plan. You have to plan but you don’t have to stick rigidly to it. It has to evolve with you. Sometimes the plan is just not as clear as it should be; at other times you have total clarity.
“I’m a great believer in trying things, in experimentation. But I also have a view that if I’m not sure if something is going to work, try it, but if it’s going to fail, let it fail fast. I used to procrastinate and I don’t any more. I realised that by not making a decision I was making the situation worse. If I make a decision and it doesn’t work, I know it’s the wrong answer and it must be something else.
“Sometimes business leaders don’t like to be seen to fail, but if you look at the big ones, the ones in the media, they’ve all failed at some point in their careers. They’ve all had companies that haven’t worked or products that didn’t sell. You have to be prepared for things not to work; otherwise, you’re being too cautious.”