The BBC’s weekly The Boss series profiles different business
leaders from around the world. This week we speak to serial technology entrepreneur Andrew Michael.
When Andrew Michael was 17 he gambled on changing his life by spending £30,000 on his mother’s credit card without her knowledge.
In 1997 he was living at home with his mum in Cheltenham, in the west of England, when he spotted a business opportunity.
Wanting to set up his own website with a school friend, the self-confessed “computer boffin” realised that very few of the existing web-hosting companies were aimed at small businesses or members of the public.
So he and his friend decided to fill the gap in the market, and set up their own web-hosting company called Fasthosts.
“We had the computers we needed in my bedroom at Mum’s house, and we had created the software ourselves,” says Andrew.
“But what we really needed was a high-speed internet connection, which in those days involved digging up the road. It cost about 30 grand, but we had no money.”
Thinking he had no other option, Andrew swiped his mother’s credit card and ordered the internet upgrade. “We kind of blagged it over the phone,” he says.
Also booking some magazine adverts – and explaining away the big new computer modem – the gamble was that the business would earn enough in its first month to pay off the credit card bill when it arrived.
Amazingly it worked. “By the end of the month we had enough clients and money to pay for the internet line and the advertising,” says Andrew.
And just as importantly, his mother forgave him for the subterfuge.
While his friend went off to university, Andrew cancelled his own plans for higher education to focus full-time on growing Fasthosts instead.
He ended up selling it nine years later for £61.5m. Aged only 26 at the time, his 75% share of the business meant that he pocketed £46m.
Two years later Andrew set up a cloud storage firm called Livedrive, which he subsequently sold for an undisclosed sum also believed to be tens of millions.
While both businesses proved successful, Andrew also made newspaper headlines for throwing lavish, no-expense spared parties.
His work Christmas parties at Fasthosts were reported to have included performances by the likes of girlbands Girls Aloud and Sugababes, plus rockers The Darkness, and chat show host Jonathan Ross as the compère.
And he admits that he once paid for US R&B singer Usher to perform at a girlfriend’s birthday party.
“I love a party, I love entertaining people,” he says. “And I don’t do things by halves.”
Born in Cyprus but raised in Cheltenham, Andrew thinks he inherited his business drive and focus from his father.
“My father came over from Cyprus, and was very much a small business man,” he says.
“Like many Cypriots, he opened up fish and chip shops and cafés, and so some of my childhood was spent driving around those sites, collecting takings, and discussing business ideas.
“From a very young age I had a trading, money-making, get-up-and-go mentality.”
Looking back on how he expanded Fasthosts, he says that he was “laser focused”, and that “nothing else mattered”.
While the sale of the business in 2006 made him very rich, he says it also left him feeling unfulfilled.
“I remember being in the office when the money came into my bank account, and I thought it would make me really happy,” he says.
“But I actually had a sinking feeling, as I walked through the office and realised I’d sold it all, that it all came down to a number on a spreadsheet.”
As a result, Andrew admits he “got bored and probably drank and ate too much” for a while. Keen to get back into business he launched Livedrive two years later.
Unfortunately the company initially struggled in a crowded marketplace.
“We found that lots of other people had had the same idea at the same time, so just advertising wasn’t working,” he says. “It was my first experience of potential failure, and I was worried I was going to be a one-hit wonder.”
And so it might have turned out, if it wasn’t for a night in the pub.
“I ended up becoming quite friendly with someone from [electronics retailer] Dixons, who I met on a night out with a mutual friend,” says Andrew. “We then started working with them.”
Dixons decided to help Livedrive to develop its product, and then to bundle it with laptops and tablets that it sold.
“It was a smash hit,” says Andrew. “And we went on to replicate the model with other retailers. Eventually the business became bigger than Fasthosts.”
Following the sale of Livedrive in 2014, Andrew’s latest business is Bark.com, a website that allows people to book local service professionals, everything from a plumber to a guitar teacher, dog walker or personal trainer.
Independent technology analyst Chris Green says: “Fasthosts was a classic example of the bedroom computer innovation that the UK was so good at in the 80s and 90s.
“Not only was it an instant success for a 17-year-old Andrew Michael, but it also simplified the process of registering domain names and accessing web hosting for many.
“Meanwhile, Livedrive was unquestionably a pioneer in the personal and small business cloud storage and backup market.”
Looking ahead, Andrew says he still has plenty of ambition.
“I’m the sort of person that the more I have, the more I want. And even though my first two businesses did well, I don’t class myself as wildly successful.”
Credit:By Tony Bonsignore
Business reporter, BBC News