20 years ago I was sitting on a plane on the way back from some client. I was an Accenture consultant running big projects with lots of responsibility and a very good salary.  So life was good, except I didn’t control my life.

3 foot rule and open questions

One of the things I was taught was the “3 foot rule”. Always talk to people within 3 feet of you. And by “talk to” I don’t mean “talk to” I mean “ask questions”. Start with open questions which begin with Who, Why, What, When, Where and How.  Open questions cannot be answered with simple Yes or No therefore the person cannot  shut the conversation down. Hint: if you ask questions of people, they think you are great.

So I am on the flight and I start talking to the guy next to me who is a good deal older. I start asking questions, mostly about business, as that is the common ground. He talked about his current job where he is a successful salesman, but just like me he is tied to a mortgage and hence a job. But then talked to me about LEGO. He had always been in sales and when he was significantly younger he was offered the European franchise for LEGO – which he turned down. Why? He didn’t think kids would want plastic toys when they could have wooden ones. One poor decision which has lived with him forever.

Big mistake – huge.

As it is LEGO’s 80th anniversary they have produced a video which tells the LEGO story, which also has some great lessons for those running companies.

So, some 3-4 years later I am presented with an opportunity. But it means leaving my very successful, and now very highly paid career in Accenture. But with the words of the guy on the flight ringing in my ears, I resign. No salary, limited savings, but full of passion.  Ignorance on fire.

Nimbus and TIBCO

The rest is history, but much like the LEGO story, the 15 years that we ran Nimbus, until it was acquired last year by TIBCO, was far from plain sailing. We grew Nimbus from cash for the first 7 years until 3i made a small investment. We lived through 2 major market downturns. There were more days than I can count where I was worried that we wouldn’t survive. We pivoted the product from aiming at Quality Managers to universal access for global multi-nationals. We expanded internationally, including a foray into China. But critically we built a great team, who developed an awesome product, which gained us hugely loyal customers.

Small committed steps

The 3 foot rule meant I started the conversation.

The conversation gave me the confidence to leave a safe place and step into the unknown.

The step into unknown has taken me all over the world and left me with a bank balance that means I now control my life.

As they say, a journey always starts with the first step.


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