At 23 years of age, I sat down at my new desk, in my new office to start my first venture.

It was 8th January 1992: I had a £3K bank loan, a beaten up green moped for essential transport and a mobile phone the size of my forearm.

By 8th Feb I had approx 40 quid left, no clients to speak of and the moped had been impounded by the police one morning along the Embankment (on the very reasonable basis that it was a death trap). And my girlfriend had just dumped me.

Then – to put all that into perspective – my grandfather died and my parents’ business went into receivership, meaning men came to take away cars and furniture as the bank went for the family home.

Our first offices at the Doddington and Rollo Community Association, Battersea

So, my first lesson in business was that there’s never a good time to start one: stuff always happens. And everything will take twice as long to get off the ground and costs twice as much as you originally think. Budget for both, and you’ll be about right.

1990 Puch Maxi. Unbelievably, mine was a lot worse

In a sense I was lucky: with a recession on, there were no jobs, which meant I had absolutely no choice but to keep going; and the low point was also the turning point. I used the only asset I had, namely this giant phone, to ring people up and annoy them until they gave me work. And, by degrees of £10-£200 jobs, slowly got back on my feet. Business, like life, is about the small victories.

Phone wot saved my bacon

This was how The Aktuel Translation Group came into being and it has pretty much been my life’s work ever since – excluding brief interludes to write books about elves and small boys who can turn themselves into monsters.

And I’m proud of it, more than me because probably the only really smart thing I did was surround myself, as soon as I could, with people who were cleverer and more talented than me. This isn’t false modesty: pretty much everything at Aktuel has been made up until I could afford to employ someone to do it better than me. I knew from the start I wasn’t a good enough linguist (or trained) to be a technical translator, so I had to sub-contract; I failed maths O-Level 5 times so I was never going to be a financial genius and I didn’t really know that project management was actually a thing at 23.

So, the real accolade goes to staff and translators who make this company what it is. Thank you from the erratic depths and soaring heights of my extremely lucky self.

Happy Birthday … to us!

Over 2000 projects a year, one management team
Share This