Jonathan Brealey is one of the key figures in the UK hosting market over the past decade, starting his career in the industry in 1997. At this time Jonathan realised that even though the Internet was becoming increasingly popular, web hosting services were predominantly technical in nature. Jonathan and his brother Tim set out to change this with the launch of 123-reg and Webfusion in 1997.
After seeing both businesses grow rapidly, Jonathan and Tim identified reseller hosting as an undeserved and stagnant market they could tangibly improve. On this basis they then moved on to launch Heart Internet, which has constantly raised the bar for reseller hosting leading to it being named the UK’s fastest growing internet company in 2009.
Given Jonathan’s knowledge of our industry we took the opportunity to sit down with him to get his views on what help and advice he can offer to help fledgling entrepreneurs grow their own successful businesses.
The first question that we asked Jonathan was just how significant the decision to set up 123-reg has ultimately been in opening up the internet to entrepreneurs who may have been put off by the price of domains back in the late 1990’s. ‘In 2000, domains were a bigger story. 123-reg was, and still is, all about buying online. 123-reg was an instant success. The reasons we were competitive on price was because we wanted to build large market share. We were not hooked on profit. 123-reg was making money but our main aim was to make 123-reg the number one choice for domains which it clearly is today.’
Setting up one thriving business might seem daunting to most of us but the fact that Brealey has set up three successful businesses in 15 years makes him an authority and a respectable individual to absorb knowledge from. It is Brealey’s opinion that with every venture you undertake, the business person behind it becomes stronger. ‘We have done things differently at Heart than Webfusion, and that is normal. Of course, we have made mistakes, but business is a constant learning cycle.’
For Brealey, the tools for success of any business are inside the entrepreneur. ‘Anybody wanting to do it has to be serious about it. You have to believe in what you are doing. Key to this is you have to be prepared to change. You will start off being the guy who does everything but as you grow; your staff will end up doing things that you were once doing. You have to accept that people do things differently.’
While success may come at a price, Brealey believes that owning your own thriving business is what should ultimately motivate a businessperson. ‘It is not just about financial rewards. Building something that people respect is the ultimate. Heart has an incredibly loyal customer base and we have a lot of brand advocates who are passionate about what we do. That keeps everybody motivated here.’
What any budding entrepreneur can take from Brealey’s story is the passion that is needed for each customer. ‘It may sound like a cliché but nobody knows what we should be doing better than our customers. I genuinely want to work with our customers because it has a two way benefit. I can’t tell you just how many things we have done thanks to direct customer feedback. We aim to make customers lives significantly easier.’
Brealey’s advice is not simply for those who are looking to set up their first business. In the opinion of the entrepreneur, people are continually gaining knowledge and should always look to the future. ‘Second time around you have experience of doing it before, and that is enormously important. I have also learnt a lot building Heart Internet as well.’
Brealey does feel that there needs to be a more positive view of entrepreneurs that might not get it right first time round, something Brealey believes could be holding people back. ‘One of the things I think is a real shame in this country is that when a business fails, it is seen as a real failure. In the United States things are far more positive. They seem to have the view that if you fail and come back, you will probably get it right second time around. I much prefer that style.’
The prevailing message is that young entrepreneurs need to go for it, be bold, exhume passion and success is achievable. ‘Anybody wanting to do it has to be serious about it and you have to believe in yourself. I certainly had a number of people along the way that I relied on for advice. Go and seek somebody like that out.’