There is a famous Monty Python sketch called The Four Yorkshiremen – if you haven’t seen it, I recommend you have a look.
It’s as funny today as it was when the sketch first aired in 1967. It is performed by the late Graham Chapman, Eric Idle, Michael Palin, and Terry Jones, who sadly passed away recently. They are sitting around in white tuxedos, sipping “Chateau de Chassilier”, and talking about the old days, when they were impoverished and couldn’t even afford a cup of tea.
These Yorkshiremen then start trying to one-up each other with stories of hardship. The sketch soon becomes totally bonkers – “We lived in a rolled up newspaper in a septic tank”.
Whenever I watch that clip, I laugh, but the sketch also serves as a sober reminder of how important it is to remember your roots, and appreciate how far you’ve come in life – and in business.
I never had to work down a mine or live in a shoebox, but times were much tougher in my younger years. Even in the early days of BigChange, when we had no money and were trying to forge a new path in a competitive industry, every day was a battle.
I didn’t draw a salary for two years. We had no money to pay top salespeople but one amazing individual was so excited by the business that he offered to work for free until we were generating revenue. He’s still with us today, and has been rewarded with share options and a six-figure salary.
I will never forget the people – customers and colleagues – who took a chance on me back then. They had faith in the vision, and me as an entrepreneur, and helped me to realise my dream. I owe those people a real debt of gratitude.
As your business grows and becomes more successful, it is easy for an entrepreneur to appear arrogant or seem less accessible. When you’re a small start-up, customers feel like they can phone you for a quick chat, and colleagues wander into your office whenever they have a question. I loved that open dialogue, as it kept my feet on the ground and helped me to stay attuned to what the people who really matter to this business thought and felt.
The other day, I bumped into a customer – someone who started with us seven years ago. They bought just two systems from us in the beginning, which wasn’t a huge revenue generator but we needed that business to help establish the company. This customer said to me: “You’re growing so fast now. I bet you’re too big to talk to us now.” I was devastated by that comment. I would never want any customer to feel they were too small to be important to me.
I reassured the customer that my door was always open, and when I got back to the office, I decided to take a hard look at my role, and how it has changed over the years, to make sure I’m not losing contact with important stakeholders like that individual.
That review has prompted me to make some changes. I have brought back my weekly catch-up calls with key people in the business to talk through issues great and small. I am committed to the BigChange Network, a networking event that travels around the country, bringing customer together to talk shop and thrash out solutions to their business challenges. These things really matter to me.
If you are a customer or a colleague, I want you to know you can talk to me any time. I put my mobile number on the internet so I’m easy to find. I’ll never be the big-shot CEO who hides behind layers of management. Just like those four Yorkshiremen, I remember where I came from, and I know who to thank for how far I’ve come.
Loyalty means everything to me, and it doesn’t matter how big we get, I won’t forget you.