“Our mission is to get 1m people working at home one day per week”

Name: 

Tom Ball

Role and company: 

CEO and founder of NearDesk

Employee numbers: 

12

Growth forecast for the next three years: 

We currently have a network of 45 permanent and seasonal hubs (approximately 5,000 desks) across London and the South East. We aim to expand this across Great Britain.

In under 50 words, what makes your business distinctive in its marketplace: 

Unlike traditional work hubs, NearDesk grants users access to a network of hubs across the country so they can work at whichever happens to be most convenient for them on any given day, rather than being tied to a specific location.

What’s the big vision for your business? 

Everyone should be able to work productively five minutes from home. Our mission for the next five years is to get a million people working near home one day per week.

Current level of international business, and future aspirations: 

Focusing on Great Britain initially, then look at expanding overseas. We believe it’s much better to do one geography really well than offer patchy service across multiple.

Biggest career setback and what you learned from it: 

The week before I got married, 9/11 and Enron’s bankruptcy led my business, CD9, to collapse. As you can imagine this is not the best way to start married life, but with the support of my family I set up a communications business with clients including Vodafone, Cisco and Orange, which I recently sold. This taught me to never give up, to always persevere and that when a door closes, a window opens!

What makes you mad in business today? 

Waste! Particularly poor processes that waste time, effort and money – having to fax sign documents, forcing staff to travel for no reason. When you add up all the costs, some companies spend more on the desk than the person sitting behind it, so obviously we think companies should cut empty desks, not great people.

What will be the biggest change in your market in the next three years? 

The Games (I assume we still can’t say which games? Can I add that to my list of things that make me mad?) this summer silently represented a massive change in how we work. The lack of chaos was caused by more people staying away than extra visitors. Many of those staying away would have worked at home for several weeks. Working from home is not practical or possible for everyone for a variety of reasons, so after twenty years of everyone talking about it, we expect a massive increase in flexible working. Hence building NearDesk now.

We also believe a lot of co-working hubs will be operated by independent entrepreneurs locally – either as their main business or alongside it. Hopefully that’ll include a lot of Real Business readers.

Can businesses in your sector/industry access the finance they need to grow? If not, what can be done to improve things? 

Angel investment is still a challenge – we just have fewer very wealthy entrepreneurs willing and able to write a £50,000 cheque to get an idea started. We should stop vilifying rich people in Britain and instead call on them to step up and make wise, early-stage investments. EIC and SEIS are a great step towards this.

How would others describe your leadership style? 

You’d need to ask them – but I hope they’d say fun, fast-moving and supportive. I try to hire great people, and as a fast moving company, throw them in at the deep end, with support available, and expect people to achieve their best. I’m rarely disappointed. I’m very comfortable with people making mistakes.

Your biggest personal extravagance? 

Tricky one… Either the tree house I built my daughter or the fancy dress shop I bought myself. Both huge amounts of fun with friends.

You’ve got two minutes with the prime minister. Tell him how best to set the UK’s independent, entrepreneurial businesses free to prosper: 

Embrace businesses of all sizes – make it much easier for civil servants to work with small companies. Get rid of tedious tender processes and let managers choose the best suppliers. Learn to manage rather than eliminate the risks associated with small companies. You’ll get better services, save money and build a better, more entrepreneurial country.

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