It’s 15 years since Moto Shakoori, Founder and CEO, set-up Ideal. From where he began renting a desk to helping to deliver some of the smartest buildings in Europe today, these are the 15 lessons he says he has learnt over those 15 years.

Lesson 1/15: People

Over the 15 years, I’ve grown to really appreciate the power that good people bring. Not just skills and experience. Positivity. Enthusiasm. Drive. Today I think of business as a battle; you want to look around and think yes, these are the people I can rely on when things get tough. We’ve got 57 people today and I can confidently say they’re all right there with me.

Lesson 2/15: Trust

When I look back at the Twickenham contract, which shaped who Ideal is today, I now know we were seconds away from losing that opportunity. We’d made it to the final tender interview, and were as prepared as we could be, practising over and over. What we hadn’t factored in was waking up to storms and flash flooding. Motorway closures meant we had to take slow country roads. It was a race to get to the customer on time and we only made it with seconds to spare, running into the reception, trying to not look flustered. The client later confirmed that had we been late, he would have awarded the contract to a better known, bigger competitor. He said he would’ve felt that we had let him down, even though the circumstances were out of our control. It was all about trust. And it still is today.

Lesson 3/15: Acceptance

When I started in business, I worried that being called Moto Shakoori would confuse people and maybe create a barrier. So I became Mo Merrick. (Yes, that guy is me!) It was only about two years ago that I got rid of that pseudonym and reverted to my real name, Moto Shakoori. I’m not sure if that reflects a growing acceptance of myself or a more accepting world, but either way I’m just relieved to be me.

Lesson 4/15: Bullets before cannonballs

There’s a business book by Jim Collins called ‘Great by Choice’. In it, he says: “…fire bullets, then cannonballs.” We learnt that the hard way by making some wrong decisions that cost us a lot of time and money. For example, why did we take two vast floors of a new office development in Brighton ‘to grow into’? We could have kept our egos in check, taken one floor and saved ourselves a fortune. Today we favour innovating on three, four or even five targeted fronts (bullets) and ride the ones that show real potential. It’s less risky, more agile and ultimately more rewarding.

Lesson 5/15: Sales for start-ups

Sales for start-ups. I’m a sales person through and through. When I started, back in 2009, there was a very competent two-person company who started a similar business at almost the same time. They had far more technical capability than me. I had the sales passion to find new business. After two years, they ended up coming to work with us here at Ideal. When companies get established, it’s fine for the finance, engineering or production people to run the business. When you’re in start-up mode, sales is king.

Lesson 6/15: Hiring

If it’s a yes, it’s a yes; if it’s a maybe, it’s a no. Sometimes we shoehorn people into a position because we see the good in them and we’re under pressure to fill a gap and get things done. ‘Shoehorn’ is the key word here. Uncomfortable shoes rarely become your go-to footwear. Best to walk away and look elsewhere.

Lesson 7/15: Going the extra mile (and miles)

In the early days I was trying to win a well-known retail client when they casually mentioned they had some aging tech they needed to get rid of. Even though it meant putting all my personal savings on the line, I offered to buy it, as it had value. The problem was it was distributed in large stores all around the UK. “No problem”, I say, “we’ll pick it up.” Which we did, using a friend with a van on an epic road trip. They were so impressed with our can-do attitude, they asked us what else we could for them. We were soon helping them to implement a whole range of technical solutions and they’re still an important client today.

Lesson 8/15: Curiosity

When someone buys a drill it’s not because they want a shiny new tool. It’s because they need to make a hole. Why? What’s the hole for? Where will it be? Wherever you work, asking more questions is generally a good idea. Unless you understand the real problem, you can’t provide a comprehensive solution. It’s something we instil with everyone at Ideal today.

Lesson 9/15: Working with my wife

About eighteen months in, I was struggling to manage the business and also keep up with sales demand, so Claire, my wife, agreed to come in as MD. (Did I ask, or did she offer? We can’t remember.) Claire had no technology experience, but she’s smart, a quick learner, and unbelievably capable. It was a brilliant decision for the business, which grew 100%, year on year, for the next five years. However, it was a challenge for us as a couple, and we no longer run the business together. Looking back, would we do it again? No chance! But thankfully we’re still happily married, and the business is thriving.

Lesson 10/15: Fresh perspectives

As MD, Claire was attending lots of tech events in the UK and abroad. Wow what an eye-opener! Having been part of the industry for 25 years I had been naïve to the overt sexism and blokey tone we all quietly accepted. I think things have shifted over the last decade or more, but it taught me some valuable lessons. Take time to look at things from other people’s perspectives, be that customers, employees, friends or relatives. Stand-up for what’s right. If it’s not OK, call it out.

Lesson 11/15: Taking time out

The rapid growth in the business coupled with work taking over family life eventually took its toll. My wife Claire and I both felt we needed some time away from the business, so we decided to appoint a management team that would allow us to step back. It was really valuable for me. Life slowed down. I spent as much time as I could in the great outdoors. And I took on projects using my hands, developing skills that I always wanted to learn, such as carpentry and construction. Eventually though, I found that life just wasn’t fulfilling enough for me. I missed working with our team and our customers at Ideal. I needed that purpose. Now I’m loving being back at the helm, but I leave work in the office. Work-life-balance lesson learned.

Lesson 12/15: Surround yourself with experts

Steven Bartlett, famous for his ‘Diary of a CEO’ podcast, said: “Having access to people smarter than you is a blessing rather than a threat.” I’ve been a big believer in that from the start. I look back to the early days and recall the pride I felt at delivering a telephony and core networking solution across all of IKEA’s UK & Ireland stores; a smooth deployment only made possible by assembling a fantastic team of people. That’s where I cemented the lesson: always look for amazing people who are going to make a difference to your business.

Lesson 13/15: Make the hard decisions faster

We all know that any big decision you make could affect people, relationships, harmony, culture, bottom line – and sometimes that causes you to naturally delay a decision. At the start, I would ruminate on these things, and it would take my mind off the ball, whilst potentially creating uncertainty in the business. I’ve learnt that holding off doesn’t help the company, yourself, or anyone who might be affected. It’s the right thing to make hard decisions early.

Lesson 14/15: Sustainability

Sustainability comes into virtually every discussion we have with customers today as part of their smart building conversation. Organisations want to reduce their carbon footprint, energy consumption and costs. One piece of advice I’d give to anyone is that the ‘smarts’ need to be factored in at building design stage and constantly fought for. There’s a tendency to remove some of these features to save money, but it’s a false economy. Design for the future and don’t cut corners, otherwise your building will never be as smart as it could be. Tenants won’t be as excited to move into it. And the sustainability benefits for the building and the planet will be compromised.

Lesson 15/15: And for the next 15 years?

Middle age! Actually, for the next 15 years, my focus will be on enjoying work. I’m also going to be super careful about looking after myself – what I eat; how much I drink; how many hours I work; going to the gym. If you don’t look after yourself, you won’t be able to look after or help others. I think the basis of a good company is one where everyone looks out for each other. If you don’t have happy people, you’ll never have happy customers.