Interview: Lawrence Jones, CEO of UKFast
In our latest interview, we spoke to Denbigh-born tech entrepreneur Lawrence Jones.
He’s the CEO and founder of UKFast, a cloud infrastructure firm that works with a range of global brands and public sector organisations.
Lawrence reflects on his entrepreneurial journey and the things he has learnt over the decades, while giving some great advice for up-and-coming business and tech talent.
TD: Can you tell me more about yourself and your business?
LJ: I set up UKFast with Gail (UKFast MD) almost 20 years ago when the internet was just in its infancy in the UK. Since then UKFast has grown remarkably, with revenue predicted to reach £53 million in the latest financial year.
In that time, we’ve designed and built our own data centre facilities, created a British cloud range that offers a full portfolio of cloud services and moved into cybersecurity.
Alongside UKFast, my business ventures include a Swiss ski hotel, a cybersecurity firm, building business, head-hunting company and hotel in North Wales.
TD: Why did you set your company up?
LJ: I’d been over in New York and seen just how much momentum the internet had over there. It was like a different world. Coming back to the UK, it was clear that we were lagging behind in our adoption of the online world.
I initially tried to set up a website. That process showed me how challenging it was to get great service from the hosting providers of the time. I knew that that was the gap in the market that we could fill. We set up UKFast to be a British hosting provider focussed on excellent customer service and making operating online as simple as possible for our customers.
TD: What has your journey as an entrepreneur been like?
LJ: My entrepreneurial journey has taken me down an extraordinary number of paths. I moved to Manchester as a teenager from Denbigh, where I was born and raised.
My first business venture grew from playing the piano in Manchester’s Midland Hotel. This evolved into a business renting pianos and musicians to hotels and bars. That grew to such a scale I eventually sold it to Granada, where I became a director.
I soon realised that I was made to create and run businesses, not be a part of a big machine like Granada. Soon after leaving there, I set up UKFast.
Each new area of the business has sprung up from an area of need – for example the cybersecurity firm came as we saw cybercrime growing across the industry. Equally, our building firm evolved from the need to redevelop our office into UKFast Campus. WhilE the links may not seem obvious in every instance, each business in our portfolio is somehow linked in this way.
TD: What has been your biggest success and biggest obstacle?
LJ: Success looks different to everybody. for me it’s about helping people to develop. There is no prouder moment for me than seeing how far people have grown on their journey at UKFastfor example.
Meeting the parents of apprentices who joined us as children, have grown into incredible adults and are now leading teams and departments is one of my single favourite parts of being UKFast CEO. If that’s not a reminder of success, I don’t know what is. When people are developing, the business is developing.
The biggest obstacle right now is the skills gap. The tech industry is in desperate need of more, skilled coders and programmers. Schools and universities are simply not delivering enough of these skilled individuals. That’s why we’ve invested multimillions of pounds into training and education, so that we can take that development into our own hands.
TD: What have you learnt along the way?
LJ: I could fill a book with the lessons I’ve learned in the 30 years THAT I’ve been in business! One such came from Urban Splash entrepreneur Tom Bloxham who said that you have two ears and one mouth, and that they should be used in that ratio!
TD: Where do you see yourself in five years’ time?
LJ: On an island on the Indian Ocean, recording music! I have no doubt in my mind that in five years, I will still be working, learning and setting bigger and better goals.
TD: What advice would you give to the next generation of entrepreneurs?
LJ: Whatever you’re aiming for, make it something you’re passionate about. Without passion, you’ll inevitably lose interest when the going gets tough. Be resilient, be open to advice and listen.