Business Focus: Chris Bingham, Craggs Energy

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This week’s Business Focus is Chris Bingham of Craggs Energy, Cragg Vale.

Why did you start your business in the first place?

I sold my previous software business towards the end of 2010 and was looking for something new to build outside of the IT industry. We purchased a derelict farm with a view to developing the many buildings into a small, rural business park. To launch the business park, we needed some “anchor” tenants to kick start the business, so decided to launch a Personal Storage Business, some serviced offices and a small fuel distributor to service the local homes, farms and businesses with heating oil and fuel. It just grew rather faster than I planned.

What is your business motto?

My general approach to starting businesses in areas where I don’t have a deep experience (which is pretty much all of them) is “How Hard Can It Be?….” the answer is usually - “Much harder than it looks”, which has got me into a few scrapes, but nothing that we have not ben able to sort out.

What advice would you give to anyone starting their own business?

Don’t do it for the money. The failure rates of business start ups are really scary, and if you are just driven to make money, when it gets tough – and it always gets tough, I don’t think the motivation will be there to stick with it. Stubbornness is probably one of the essential traits of everyone I know who has built a successful business. Financial reward will be an outcome of success, just never the objective.

What was the biggest challenge you faced starting your business?

In every business I have been involved I launching, access to cash has always been the biggest challenge. No one wants to lend to a start up, as everyone knows the risks – once the business is established, raising funding is much easier, but bridging the funding gap in the early days of any business is tough. It’s much easier second time around when we had a level of funding from the previous business sale, but its still always the biggest problem, and the thing that brings most businesses down.

What do you enjoy most about being self-employed?

One of the privileges of owning the business is that I don’t need to pretend to be good at things I am not – I just employ people who are much better than me at that stuff. My job is largely to have a vision of what we can be, bring the best people I can find together and help them deliver a plan to achieve the vision – I am hopeless at most creative stuff, and this is how I express my inner creativity!

What do you enjoy least about being self-employed?

We don’t get things wrong very often, I have a great team and they almost always deliver over and beyond, but when we do occasionally get things wrong, which is only a human thing, I take it really personally and feel the weight of letting people down. Fortunately, this is a very rare situation.

Which business figure do you most admire and why?

I attended a Sunday Times Fastest Growing Company event last year, held in Richard Branson’s back garden. He was impressive, as you would expect, but one of the speakers that really got my attention was a chap called David Buttress, who was until recently the CEO of Just Eat – A platform business that created a business worth some £3bn in ten years by linking fast food restaurants with customers is an inspiring story and there is much to learn from him.

What achievement in your career are you most proud of?

As an entrepreneur, taking a business from a brand new start up, navigating the various bear pits, taking the risks and the punches and then selling the business for a reasonable capital gain – is what it is all about. I’ve been involved a several businesses from start to finish, and it something I am really proud to have done.

Where do you see your business going in the next five years?

It’s all about growth. Across the UK and then we are looking at expanding into Europe. Our software business started in West Yorkshire and by the time we sold it, we traded across Europe, Asia, North and South America, so I know it can be done. With the move out of the EU, it is essential that we get our heads around the opportunities and importance of exporting – I read somewhere that only 10% of UK firms export – that needs to be much higher.

If you could invent one new product, what would it be?

More efficient batteries, without it, the move to electric vehicles and electricity storage will be much slower than society demands.

If you could work for one company, who would it be and why?

Having run my own businesses since 2003, I am pretty much unemployable, and how I managed not to get fired when I did work for other companies is somewhat of a mystery to me, but if I had to work for anyone, I think working with Elon Musk, owner of Tesla Cars, amongst other things, would get the heart pounding – I can’t figure out if he is the answer to a number of the world’s problems, or just a potential Bond villain, but he has done some amazing things and seems to have a similar lack of respect for the status quo to me, albeit he is playing on a rather bigger playing field.