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Mike Lynch: have deranged faith in yourself

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Mike Lynch founded UK-based software firm Autonomy in 1996. Its latest results show the highest revenues and profits in the firm’s history. Full year revenues are up 161pc to record $250.7m, R&D investment is up 134pc year-on-year, it has a current cash balance of $121.1m and has no net debt.

Lynch himself studied engineering at Cambridge University and obtained a PhD in mathematical computing. He has held a number of advisory and board roles in the venture capital industry and is currently a non-executive director of Isabel Healthcare. He has been named the Confederation of British Industry’s Entrepreneur of the Year and was awarded an OBE for Services to Enterprise. From 2007 he has been a non-executive director of the BBC.

His advice about setting up and running a small firm is simple and concise. "Don’t bother starting a business unless you are offering something better than what is already there," Lynch says. "It is better to wait for a good idea. I once worked on software for synthesisers but there’s people out there willing to do that sort of thing as a labour of love – plus you don’t get a credit on any albums. Focus is vital: each day write down the five things to do and do them (and think about what matters most).

"If the two founders of a company spend the first three months working out their employment contracts, don’t bother, the business will never work. It is important to manage negativity, especially at the beginning when people queue up to tell you what a bad idea it is and that it will never work. I don’t know if it is a British thing but I once read a great article called ’10 ways to shoot down a good idea’ and that attitude is pervasive.

"When I started, people would say to me there is no point as if there was anything in our products, Microsoft would already be doing it. Now look at us. In the beginning, naivety saves you. I had no business experience and that helped me a lot. Another thing I do is have ‘positive’ and ‘negative’ meetings. In one we only talk about the upside of doing something or a new product. At the other we only talk about the negatives. They’re very informative although if I’m honest I prefer the positive meetings.

To get ahead in business you need a deranged faith in yourself – although it’s best not to be actually deranged. At the end of it all, will people part with their money for your stuff. If they do, it works. If not, it won’t.

 Finally, one universal truth is get good people and hang on to them. Don’t bother with headhunters, find them through people you know or meet. You want to keep enthusiastic people with you. Don’t get in a specialist to help grow an SME. People in SMEs need to be good at many things. Go for good people, full stop."

This is an extract from Secrets of My Success, by Jamie X Oliver. Available at all good book shops and online.

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