Getting to know you: Paul Lees

What do you currently do?

I set up free conference call service company Powwownow in 2004 after spotting a gap in the market.

The company is now the fastest growing free conference call provider in Europe, operating in 15 countries with a turnover of £13.1M last year.

What is your inspiration in the business?
It was really a case of seeing what was out there and believing that there was a viable solution which could really disrupt the status quo of the market. I’d heard of numerous cases where people had been stung by the charges of conference calls and due to my technology background I knew that an alternative could be feasible.

Who do you admire?
Jony Ive, an English designer and the Senior Vice President of design at Apple Inc., and James Dyson, a British inventor who founded the Dyson Company, are two people I really look up to and admire. They are both great engineers that have managed to capitalise on the skills and expertise they had and they are also both responsible for providing great products that have revolutionised their respective fields. I think it’s great when people use the skills they have to really make a difference.

Looking back, are there things you would have done differently?
Everyone makes mistakes in business, you just have to make sure that you’re resilient and learn from them. One of the memorable ones was spending a large amount of money on a social media campaign in 2010-2011. Social media didn’t have the reach it has today so we were probably just a few years early. We still learnt a lot from trial and error.

It is important to listen to advisors but you shouldn’t always let them make your business decisions.This includes partners and goes for all advisors from agencies to lawyers to financial advisors. It was you who started your business and you are therefore the one who knows exactly where you want to take it. I’ve learnt that gut instinct is often the best way to make decisions. This is something I sometimes lost sight of at the beginning.

What defines your way of doing business?
I think it is really important to focus on just one idea and not make things too complicated. It is also imperative that you build the right team. I have built up a reliable senior team that run the company on a day-to-day basis so I can dedicate my time to getting involved in future development which will push the company forward. You need to be able to trust your senior staff and hand over responsibility.

What advice would you give to someone just starting out?
Surround yourself with the right team. Build the right team with complementary skills so you can all excel in your given areas. Make sure you set the tone; your business is a reflection of who you are.