Steve Purdham and the fellow board members of software company SurfControl had no idea what to expect when American Max Henry walked into the room.
Henry had previously worked with Apple’s co-founder Steve Jobs and looked SurfControl’s board members directly in the eye and asked them one key question: “Why?”
Purdham recalls to TechBlast: “Max Henry had this aura around him and he just asked that one simple question. Too often people are turning the handle without actually knowing why they’re doing it.
“We weren’t sure what he meant by the question so he said ‘why are you doing this and what do you want out of it?’
“He went around the boardroom and everybody wanted different things. Max said: ‘That’s your first problem, unless everybody is steering in the same direction.’
“By asking that question came the realisation of whether we had a £5 million UK business with a 20% net profit or whether we changed and created a business that grew to over £100m revenue and 800 people around the world.
“Sometimes you just need to ask yourself ‘what do you want and why are you doing it?’
“Max was definitely not a consultant. He just understands people. You’ve just got to start with what your ambitions are. If your ambition is to have a nice lifestyle you can do that by growing your business to £5m and taking 20% out of it on an annual basis.
“However, if you want to grow a business and go for that gamble of a one-off hit then you take a different approach. It’s the realisation of what you want as an individual or a team that can make that difference.”
SurfControl was sold to California-based Websense for $450m in 2007 and Purdham also founded online digital music service We7 with Peter Gabriel.
The entrepreneur, who is also the founder of 3rings care and the chairman of Westfield Health, says there’s no secret to growth but he uses the acronym SAFE – simplify; action or accelerate; focus and execution.
“If we knew what the secret to growth was we’d do it again and again and again,” he says.
“It’s important to do the basics. You’ve got to have passion and make things as simple as possible. You’ve got to accelerate what you’re doing.
“You’ve got to have very clear focus and you’ve got to execute against things. You shouldn’t be worried about failing.
“Too many people are frightened of doing things because they’re frightened they’re going to fail. In reality I fail every day and by failing every day I’m doing something. You just have to hope that you get more things right than wrong.
“I would love to have an equation because there’s a very fine line between growth, hyper growth and failure.”
Purdham, who appeared on Dragons’ Den, says the decision to take investment was crucial.
“In my particular cases investment has always been the catalyst that has allowed us to go from one point to another,” he says.
“Often you need that injection of something, whether it’s people, finance or whatever, to make the next step.
“If you don’t put the right amount of money in you’re never going to get beyond the next step.”
Purdham was speaking at the latest TechBlast Going 4 Growth roundtable.