Shaper: Dominic List

Show aired on 3rd January 2015

Transcript

Elliot Moss
The powerful and unmistakeable sound of Nina Simone with Feeling Good. Good morning to you, this is Jazz FM and you are listening to Jazz Shapers with me, Elliot Moss. Jazz Shapers is of course the place where you can hear the very best of the people shaping the world of jazz, blues and soul alongside their equivalents in the world of business; a giant from the world of business, a Business Shaper and my giant this morning is Mr Dominic List. He is the founder of Comtact, an interesting name indeed. It is a cloud and infrastructure managed service business and very big too even if you hadn’t heard of it. He is also many other things and he even appeared on A Secret Millionaire a few years ago. You will be hearing lots from Dominic very shortly. In addition to hearing from him, you will be hearing from our programme partners at Mischon De Reya some words of advice for your business and as well as all of that of course you know you are going to hear some brilliant music from the shapers of jazz, blues and soul, including Carmen Lundy, Bill Withers and this from Banda Magda, it’s Doralice.

That was Banda Magda and Doralice, what a lovely, happy, chirpy song indeed. Dominic List is my Business Shaper here on Jazz Shapers and Dominic as I said earlier is the founder of a business interestingly named called Comtact, not anything else; it’s Comtact just in case you didn’t catch that. It’s a cloud business and I am going to stop there and I am going to say hello and thank you so much for joining me this morning. Comtact which is your current business, you are chair of it and you founded it and we will come in to what it means – it’s not your first business Dominic? Just give me a little bit of a sense of where you go the bug to do your own thing?

Dominic List
Good morning by the way. So when I got the bug to do my own thing I think my father was very influential. He’s a self-made man in the Midlands as well and he’d started quite a few businesses based around Stoke-on-Trent and so I suppose growing up I got to, to be around another entrepreneur and kind of get the excitement of seeing someone run their own business but I think also as well you know, from a very early age I think I had a bit of a flare for it, I don’t know but perhaps that was some genetics going on there but even at four years old I did my first deal and I had my old bicycle for sale at four and put a sign at the end of our drive which said ‘bike for sale up this drive’ and it was the number 4 and then sale spelt S.A.I.L. So even at four I had a bit of an aptitude to do a deal and try and do a bit of marketing and sales as well.

Elliott Moss
Well you did start early and just to be clear, we will talk a bit about Comtact so people get a sense of just how big this business is, this is one of the fastest growing businesses in the technology space – you created it back I think in was it around 2005 – is that right?

Dominic List
That’s right, yeah, yeah.

Elliot Moss
Yeah 2005, it has won a various number of accolades, extraordinary number of kind of fast growth, Business Indicator, the UK Deloitte Technology Fast 50, you were in the Technology Fast 500 across Europe, Middle Eastern Africa, Sunday Times 100 Fastest Growing Companies I think in 2010 and 2011 – you have gone from a very small start to kind of turnovers of millions. Do you think – have you found that easy because you strike me as a pretty relaxed guy but obviously we don’t know each other well but you know these are big things to have happened in a relatively short space of time?

Dominic List
Yeah I think – have I found it easy – absolutely not. I think every day is a challenge and probably I think you know my song towards the end might reveal a bit of that. But yeah I think very much you know, as in life, you get out what you put in and it is a very hackneyed phrase but its very true and I can directly attribute you know, a lot of my luck in business if you like to just getting out there and making, making my own luck I suppose.

Elliot Moss
I mean just thinking about and if I am right, you have done and you talked about being four years old and doing your first deal. You’ve also slogged. I mean you’ve worked in factories, you’ve worked in warehouses, you’ve worked in sewage treatment plants. I am assuming that is when you were younger and just you needed money.

Dominic List
That’s right.

Elliot Moss
What drove you to do that? Was it the fact that your dad had always said you know ‘get on your bike and off you go’ or was it just this I actually need some money, I want to go out and buy some nice things? What was driving you then do you think?

Dominic List
It was a bit of both actually. I think some very good learnings from my father who you know again like I said, was a self-made man and so he was always you know very strong to encourage me, ‘get out there son’, you know, make your own you know luck and things like that. Not that I had to start my own business but just you know, you know it’s your world for taking as it were but then also as well growing up in Stoke-on-Trent in the Midlands there wasn’t a lot of jobs available so those were the kind of jobs that were available and actually I think it was a very good process for me to go to because of certain jobs i.e. working at a sewage factory which personally I didn’t find that enjoyable and it kind of forged you a bit to go on and do other things in life and actually find out what you did enjoy doing.

Elliot Moss
Stay with me to find out exactly what Dominic List did enjoy doing because he has done it really, really well and to great effect. Time for some music in the meantime, this is Carmen Lundy and Simphiwe Dana with Grace.

That was the soulful sound of Carmen Lundy and Simphiwe Dana and Grace. You are listening to me, Elliot Moss and I am here with my Business Shaper today, Dominic List and Dominic List is the founder and still the chairman of a really interesting business with a very difficult name, he’s done it on purpose, called Comtact and it is a cloud based business in the world of technology, Dominic has gone that way, doesn’t need to be anywhere except sort of above and around you know, the hard drives and even the software that we, that we use every day and various things. Just give me a bit of an understanding about what Comtact is delivering to business so that people get a sense of that?

Dominic List
So we do, we do all the stuff that goes on behind the scenes if you like. We call it the plumbing. So we engage with large businesses and also we do a lot in healthcare as well so there is a division called Comtact Healthcare and predominantly we are trying to get large businesses to work effectively so there is a lot of applications that you use every day, Microsoft Outlook is a classic one that most people use in a business world every day and your access to Internet, access to your finance packages and things like that so we don’t do that bit, we do everything that fits behind that basically. So those applications sit on servers, they need to be connected together via the Internet or your internal business connections, you need those things to run reliably in what we call in our terms ‘Op Time’ basically so it is all about getting more Op Time.

Elliot Moss
Good Lord, Op Time?

Dominic List
Op Time.

Elliot Moss
Up Time.

Dominic List
Up Time. Sounds like a bit of a Northern phrase but it’s not.

Elliot Moss
It’s very early for that kind of stuff but anyway. Good. The thing I find interesting is I’ve researched you and your businesses is that what you said I believe is that you thought there would be an opportunity in the world of technology which is all around us and which for the last fifteen, twenty years has exploded and now you know everything we do is behind the click of a button in some form, whether it is at work or at home. You said there is an opportunity to take a more consultative approach to the way that businesses can be transformed by technology. In other words it isn’t just about selling stuff. How did you – and then you bridged the two and obviously that bridge has led you to the multi-million pound business. What made you realise that at the time? What was the observation from?

Dominic List
Yeah I think you know, like a lot of people I was, I quite liked technology so it was a natural choice for me when I left University to get into some sort of technology. I quite fancied designing formula one cars actually but that didn’t quite work out unfortunately. But always liked gadgets and so the technology arena really sort of seemed fairly obvious to me and when I was working I started out working for other people and I noticed that you know a lot of companies struggled with IT and I could see that actually you know a lot of businesses spent time, way too much time and effort focussing on trying to get their IT to work and the companies that were helping them didn’t typically want to work together in a very cohesive fashion, everyone was delivering their bit and, and companies were spending a huge amount of time not getting things working particularly well. So, so the kind of vision was actually okay we need to get all those bits working together very well, we need to deliver what’s important to the business, really those business applications just work. That’s what businesses want. They want to use these applications because they know it delivers better productivity and better communication but they just want them to work and that was the kind of the vision if you like, so, so we don’t go in there and just do bits of it, we just say ‘we’ll get all of it to work’.

Elliot Moss
We’ll fix it.

Dominic List
In a very simple fashion. We will just make it work all the time.

Elliot Moss
You can come and work with me any time you like. People listening would probably go ‘yes please to me too’. The truth behind getting that business going though and that’s a laudable goal was that you literally had to pretty much sell everything. You sold your sports car and I know you are a keen driver.

Dominic List
Massive yeah.

Elliot Moss
Massive. You sold the car, you remortgaged your flat, you took out credit card loans and you took thirty thousand pounds from a business that you’d, I believe, that you’d made earlier, you had created earlier. You essentially got a hundred grand together off your own back. How close were you to thinking I am never going to get this money or this business off the ground?

Dominic List
Oh you have that every day. I think, I think that most people who have started their own businesses will say the first three years are really the difficult times I think. You know you’ve got your idea, you’ve got your vision, you see your gap in the market or maybe you’ve got a new product or venture and that’s the bit you start with. So the reality is until you really get going there is a lot of stuff, I always say this to people, you just don’t know what you don’t know and it sounds pretty obvious but…

Elliot Moss
It’s the Rumsfeldian view of the world of business but you were young as well. I mean you are still young but you were early thirties at this point.

Dominic List
Yeah late twenties actually the first time.

Elliot Moss
Late twenties.

Dominic List
Yeah yeah.

Elliot Moss
Right, I mean this is you know, big shoulders or did you not think of it like that? Was it just I am going to do it, I’m going to do it?

Dominic List
Yeah it’s a funny world isn’t it really because I think at the time I was fairly young but nowadays you see Mark Zuckerberg starting at you know, when he is in his college dormitory and things like that. Although obviously as we all know, he is fairly exceptional and not really the norm. But you know if you take the view that you know, it’s big and scary you never do it. This is just the bit that you have just got at some point to stand at the end of the diving board and just jump off you know.

Elliot Moss
Find out what happened when my Business Shaper Dominic actually did jump off. Latest travel though first in a couple of minutes and before that some words of wisdom from our programme partners at Mishcon De Reya for your business.

You are listening to Jazz Shapers with me, Elliot Moss every Saturday morning you can catch me talking to a really interesting and obviously successful shaper of the world of business. If you miss the Saturday slot then go in to iTunes, there are almost a hundred and fifty Business Shapers in there. If you happen to go and want to find them in City AM you can do so or even FT.com or even British Airways Highlife when you are next travelling with them. Lots of places. Dominic List is my Business Shaper today and we have been talking about how he got the money together, about a vision for how IT should just be about making things work, not everyone needs to see what’s underneath the bonnet, they just want to know the car is going to work and about how you got going and Dominic we left you on the top of the diving board just about to dive in. You said those first three years were tough. Where did you go for solace? What made you say ‘no I am not going to give up’. Where there people around you that you that supported you or is it a sense of the, of the internal strength that you had?

Dominic List
Yeah I think a combination of everything really. I have been very fortunate that I’ve, you know, I was one of four as a child and I’ve got you know a very good, strong family in mum and dad and they are very supportive. And then certain friends around you, I think there is certain friends who just – I suppose the challenge is when you are doing your own business most people, most of my peers which is quite normal, were employed so a lot of the challenges, a lot of the stress you were going through they couldn’t empathise with and you had you know, so lots of conversations I would find quite frustrating where people say ‘oh its great you run your own business so you can take Friday’s off’ and this, that and the other. I am like ‘no actually I am working all weekend and I work till 11.00/12.00 o’clock at night I shut the laptop off and I am back in the office at 7.00 in the morning’ you know that is the reality of getting your business off the ground. And yes so there is all kinds of things you have to do to try and kind of relieve the pressures of that. Your family is a great one and I am a big supporter of you know, family life in general; whether it is going to the gym, whether it is listening to your favourite radio and chill out tunes and things like that so there is lots of way you can deal with the issues that are presented to you. Having said all that there are still those very dark days where you just think ‘what have I done, is it going to happen, what do I do if we go bust tomorrow and how do I cope with this situation when they just present themselves’. I have had some pretty stressful times as well.

Elliot Moss
And in terms of the support thing, I mean when you started in business as we talked about quite a few years ago, it strikes me that then (a) it wasn’t as fashionable to run your own business or people weren’t talking about it as much as they are now and (b) there just weren’t the kind of official and unofficial support groups that seem to have emerged. Is it true to say that now if you are a young entrepreneur there are more resources that you can tap into? You know, there were more start-ups last year in the UK than there have been in the last ten years I believe. There seems to be an acceptance and indeed people embracing the notion of entrepreneurship and of putting groups together and almost like you know, a self-help group. Have you observed that? Is that true? Do you think things have changed or are you still really on your own?

Dominic List
I think the market is absolutely transformed in the UK and I am really happy of it and I am a big advocate and sponsor and I do everything I can to try and encourage entrepreneurship in the UK. Britain had the most incredible history, you know, never mind the Empire, our inventiveness is known throughout the world, the industrial revolution we started it etc., and somehow in a way you know, especially when I was growing up at the back end of the seventies and things like that you know, all of a sudden everything just seemed to have gone and British industry was collapsing, cars and all the rest of it. So you know, we have been through some very challenging times and I think for a lot of reasons, actually partly of which has been Government stimulus which has been great to see, a bit of a change of attitude, the fact that entrepreneurship and entrepreneurs has come in fashion, we’ve had a bit of influence from the US which we have taken on board as well. It is very much in vogue and I am really, really happy about that and I think there is a huge amount of support out there at the moment to be able to really get that business off the ground. Also the market has changed as well, things like access to the Internet, access to information. You can go on line now and watch a million videos of all the very famous business people in the world, how they did it. You can very quickly look up on your favourite search engine you know, challenging problems. You can find your favourite law firm and things like that you know so…

Elliot Moss
Or even listen to your favourite Business Shaper talking on Jazz Shapers and it is Dominic List.

Dominic List
Absolutely.

Elliot Moss
And there is going to be more coming up from him very very shortly. Now I promise you this is a fantastic track it is from Bobby Darin and it’s I Got Rhythm and I challenge you not to get up and have a bit of a dance.

That was Bobby Darin and I Got Rhythm, I hope you’ve recovered. Dominic List is my Business Shaper and we have been talking about the different environment Dominic you were just talking then about before we heard Bobby Darin, all about the fact that the environment has fundamentally changed. Government is supporting and so on. You have been a keen and important player in all of this and I believe you set up something a couple of years ago or in fact, last year called the Dominic List Innovation Fund with Plymouth University. You are a backer of businesses, one most I suppose, most publically at the moment that people would know the Gandys business which is the flip flop business, the remarkable brothers that survived the Tsunami have set up a fantastic business. What is it that excites you about business because you talked about the fact that your passion for technology, you’ve gone and done it a few times. What is the thing you still go ‘that’s for me’?

Dominic List
Yeah it’s an interesting one and I think every day I ask myself that exact same question and some days you know, some days you have your bad days and other days you are just absolutely on fire and you can, you know, you’re going to take over the world and shoot to the moon and everything.

Elliot Moss
What’s the mood today?

Dominic List
Very positive, things are going very well with Gandys that we talked about, the other businesses are also doing really well so that’s really positive. You, you’ve always got challenges but what do I like? Problem solving I think that’s the key thing. There is always problems in business and you know, I have often said I could work 24/7 and still have problems to deal with you know, a business will take as much input as you possibly can put into it and more basically and I think there is a very much a direct correlation between you know, input and output of the business. I like working with people. I like helping others. I like encouraging others. I like getting people to you know, fulfil their potential, certainly you know with the, with the Gandys and the flip flops you know when those guys brought me that idea and told me about their background and things like that I was very moved and just felt that I really should do something to you know, try and get these guys to where they, where I thought they could be and I really saw the potential in them.

Elliot Moss
And it is clear why you love business and it is clear that obviously you are very good at it. I think the other thing I read and now tell me if this is true, you’ve kind of as you have got older thought about giving back in a much more specific and structured way and I don’t mean formal but just as in ‘I am gonna do that’. When did that start to happen, was there an epiphany when you know it’s not all about how much I am going to make here.

Dominic List
Yeah I think so. I think I have never been – I wouldn’t say I was massively charitable when I was growing up – I mean I would do things like Boy Scouts and do good things with the Boy Scouts and things like that but I think there was a point where the business started to really take off, contact and things started to go well and we had a bit of an up swell and all these awards you know started coming in and it was just at that point and I just had this feeling that actually I was put on this earth to do more than just to sort of be successful in my own right and just really had this just very strong inner feeling that I should be doing something more that had value I suppose, in a much broader sense and so very very early on started you know an outfit called Telecoms for Charities where we did cost priced telecoms for charitable organisations. I was working with East London Development Agency to take on some youth there and try and give them legs up and just really sort of develop those ideas from there.

Elliot Moss
Fantastic stuff. We are going to hear a little bit more, it’s going to be our final chat unfortunately with Dominic today and that is coming up after the traffic and travel here on Jazz FM and you are also going to hear a track from Bill Withers, one of the greats.

That was Bill Withers and the iconic Use Me. Dominic List is my Business Shaper just for a few more minutes and Dominic we started talking about your epiphany, you’ve been a very successful business man, you are helping, you have created your fund, you are helping other businesses. Lots and lots of really really good things and you were on Secret Millionaire, that must have felt good and I have confided in many people that the last ten minutes are always the best, I like the reveal, I like the bit where I have the cry and people give you know, their money away. You are a very young man and you are still doing incredibly well and you know, as I have interviewed many many people and you tick every box. What’s next? I mean what can you possibly do to top what you have already done in such a short period of time?

Dominic List
Well that’s a big question. I think intuitively I would like to do more of what I am doing at the moment so to help, to help youth more, to be able to continue to encourage entrepreneurship. There is actually a number of sort of TV programs I am looking at supporting crowd funding because I am a big believer in crowd funding and that is a great way for start-up and fledgling businesses to be able to access money so I do quite a lot around supporting crowd funding as well and perhaps I will do more of that. And then really I think it’s just to keep on – I’ve always been a believer as well in if you create more substance around yourself then you can actually deliver more you know, look at Bill Gates and his Foundation and some of the transformational projects that he is involved in there. So I still want to sort of achieve in the business world and part of that achievement will then give me leverage to be able to just do more of that social kind of stuff as well which gives me great satisfaction.

Elliot Moss
Sounds like you might go again, you might set up another business?

Dominic List
Oh it’s always a danger, always a danger.

Elliot Moss
But is that true, is there something genetic in the type of person that you are that you are a sort of a serial entrepreneur, that you will always do things because you will get the business to a point and say ‘well I think I’ve cracked the challenge’ it doesn’t mean its good every day unless we’ve got a fantastic group of people delivering great every day but I am kind of on to the next thing. Are you on to the next thing? Is there another thing already brewing?

Dominic List
There is quite a lot of that stuff going on. I mean I, you know, I get bought lots of different ideas every day but it is about finding – for me I like the kind of worthy projects as well now you know, I think something just – commercial business is absolutely fine but kind of another, another exciting Gandys-type opportunity I think would be great. Although having said that you know, the work we do with Gandys Foundation as well now, building the children’s home out in Sri Lanka I think is, is also a really exciting personal project for me and actually to actually build something physical I think adds a whole new dimension as well so that’s a very exciting project we are working on at the moment.

Elliot Moss
Just before I ask you about your song choice, last question I promise. What advice would you give someone listening going ‘I want to set my own business up’. What would you say to them right now?

Dominic Last
Absolutely go for it. I think that, I certainly think we should take the American view which is there is no harm in failure. Don’t put your house on it on the first time round. I was a single guy at the time so I put my house on it but you know I always figured then I could go out and start again. Nowadays with my family I probably wouldn’t put my house on it but absolutely go for it, I think you know, it is, when you have done your first few years it is very very rewarding and to actually create something and employ people is very exciting and, and yeah, just a good thing to do so go for it.

Elliot Moss
Brilliant advice. Dominic thank you so much for being my Business Shaper today. Just before I let you go, what is your song choice and why have you chosen it?

Dominic List
Jamie Cullum, I am quite a big fan, I’ve seen him at a range of venues from small jazz clubs to Hampton Court. I really enjoy him, I think he kind of adds quite a nice modern twist to it, he brings a lot of energy to his songs but actually the one I have chosen is All At Sea which is a bit of a reflective kind of song which I quite like. It reminds me of those days when I am a bit lost and alone and yes I still have those days very much and you know, my wife is a real rock for me, Andriele and it reminds me of the kind of support that she brings me when I am all at sea.

Elliot Moss
Fantastic, here it is this is Jamie Cullum and All At Sea.

That was All At Sea from Jamie Cullum, the song choice of my Business Shaper, Dominic List. An entrepreneur from birth it seems, super hard working and someone who in later life has really developed a keen sense of wanting to do the right thing and giving both his time and his money to good causes. Do join me again, same time, same place, that’s next Saturday, 9.00am for another edition of Jazz Shapers. In the meantime stay with us because coming up next here on Jazz FM, it’s Nigel Williams.

Dominic List

Dominic List, Chairman, Entrepreneur & Philanthropist.  Having already transformed the commercial success of several companies, Dominic List founded Comtact in 2005 and following success in the healthcare space went onto form Comtact Healthcare in 2006.  In Comtact’s brief history it has scored success in the Sunday Times Microsoft Tech Track 100, Deloitte Fast 50 UK and 500 EMEA and National Business Awards.  Creating two technology companies worth £10 million+ in just four years led to an approach to take part in Channel 4s, The Secret Millionaire.

Dominic invests a lot of his personal time to inspire the next generation of entrepreneurs – “Make Britain Great” a philosophy close to his heart.

Listen live at 9am Saturday.

At four years old I did my first deal. I put a sign at the end of our drive which said ‘bike for sale up this drive.

Have I found it easy? Absolutely not. As in life, you get out what you put in and I just got out there and made my own luck.

I didn’t find working at a sewage factory enjoyable, but it forced me to go and do other things in life and find out what I did enjoy doing.

I started out working for other people and noticed that lots of companies spend way too much time and money getting their IT to work. We deliver what’s important to the business, getting those business applications to just work. That’s what businesses want.

If you take the view that it’s big and scary you’ll never do it.  At some point, you have got to stand at the end of the diving board and just jump off.

I would find conversations frustrating when people said, “it’s great you run your own business so you can take Friday’s off”. I was like, “no, actually I’m working all weekend and I work ’till 12.00 o’clock at night and I’m back in the office at 7.00 in the morning” – that’s the reality of getting your business off the ground.

I think the UK market is absolutely transformed and I am really happy about it. I am a big advocate and sponsor and I do everything I can to encourage entrepreneurship in the UK.

When business started to really take off, I just had this feeling that I was put on this earth to do more than just be successful in my own right. I had this very strong inner feeling that I should be doing something more to add value in a broader sense.

To people who want to set up their own business: absolutely go for it.