John is a researcher and entrepreneur. He founded Oxford Computer Consultants in 1989. His business has grown to employ over 80 people and specializes in custom software solution for science and engineering companies. His company’s products are used by over 70 UK Local Authorities and health trusts. He is also the Chairman of The Oxford Trust and director of a number of other companies. His company sponsors Oxford Entrepreneurs.
Q: What is your background? Why are you doing this?
A: My first degree was in Mechanical Engineering and I then completed a PhD in Artificial Intelligence at Cambridge. My ideas for my business emerged from my research degree. I also learnt that you could turn an engineering or scientist into a software developer but you turn a software developer into an engineer. Since I wanted to do scientific software it was an important lesson.
Q: What is your definition of entrepreneurship?
A: Entrepreneurship is the ability to have more than one innovative idea. Everybody has one good idea but successful entrepreneurs are those that create the stream of ideas and innovations required to grow a business.
Q: What made you decide to become an entrepreneur?
A: I spent a bit of time in a large company and I realised that the corporate world was too slow at developing innovations. I was impatient. Also, my girlfriend at the time (later my wife) found a mug that said “I only keep a man’s company if he owns one” so I took the hint.
Q: So what would you say are the top skills that needed to be a successful entrepreneur? Why?
A: An ability to articulate your ideas and to share your vision so that others can work with you to realise your products and services. Also, you need the ability to listen to others: Find 10 people who you think should be interested in your product/service. If 8 or more (genuinely) say they would buy it then you’ve got a good chance. Don’t believe the saying that you should ignore naysayers and that only mavericks succeed. I know plenty of mavericks who are just that – still mavericks but not successful entrepreneurs.
Q: What is your favourite part of being an entrepreneur?
A: Sharing ideas and experiences with others and seeing something you’ve designed become a product.
Q: What individual, company or organization inspires you most? Why?
A: Dominic Wishlade. Now you probably won’t have heard of him but he’s built an Oxfordshire company that actually makes something and exports is round the world. He’s also built up a manufacturing company in the UK. These is a small army of Dominics in the UK that have identified a gap in the market; had the skill to design and build a product and the courage to defy the people that said UK manufacturing is dead. He’s just won a Queen’s award for exports – quite right too.
Q: If you could have 5 minutes with the above indiv/company/org, what would you want to ask or discuss?
A: How to build a succession plan for your business – creating the people with the energy and culture to take your business forward rather than forcing you to sell out to the very type of corporation that made you want to be an entrepreneur in the first place.
Q: What has been your most satisfying or successful moment in business?
A: When the leading companies in the UK started to try and buy our company and IP.
Q: What would you say have been some of your mistakes as an entrepreneur?
A: I’ve hired a few people I had a doubt about when I was under pressure to find new staff.
Q: What is good about being an entrepreneur in Oxfordshire? Bad?
A: Oxford is a great size for entrepreneurship. It’s large enough for you to continuously meet new people but it’s also small enough that you get to know a group of great people with whom you can build business friendships and interests. There are also great organizations that can help you such as the Universities and The Oxford Trust.
Q: If a new entrepreneur or startup came to you looking for entrepreneurship information or resources in Oxfordshire, where would you send them?
A: For information and advice, the Enterprising Oxford portal (honestly – I’m a great fan of this site). For business support and networking The Oxford Trust. For interaction with other entrepreneurs, the Oxford Startups networking.
Q: Any last words of advice?
A: Do what you love, do it well and the success and rewards will follow.