Steve Millidge talks to Business Matters about the inspiration to starting Payara Services and his motto “do stuff and stuff happens’
What do you currently do?
I like to say my role as ‘founder’ is to do any job that nobody else is doing (badly) and then get the company to the point where we can hire a professional to do the job properly. Currently I am CEO of Payara, so I head up the senior leadership and management teams, driving overall business strategy and direction. I also head up the Product Management function so I help define what software we build, when and why to maximise adoption in the market and meet customer needs.
What was the inspiration behind your business?
Prior to Payara, I founded a consulting company. Consulting companies are simple, but horrible to manage and difficult to scale. My first love is developing software and building software tools – especially software that is widely used by lots of people – so when an opportunity arose to take some open source software that had been abandoned and improve, strengthen and build its future development, I took that opportunity and decided to turn my consulting business into a software business.
Who do you admire?
I don’t have any specific heroes, however, I have a motto which my wife says she will engrave on my tombstone which is “do stuff and stuff happens”. I therefore admire anybody that gets up and makes things happen. Anybody that strives for excellence in whatever they do. Anybody that tries to make a difference. Anybody that tries to make things better. Doing those things is extremely difficult, and it is easy to stop in the face of apathy and negativity. I admire all those people that make a difference.
Looking back, is there anything you would have done differently?
When I created my first business, I founded a software business, however, I was distracted by my sales team who believed it was easier to sell consultancy services rather than software. Ten years later, I had a consultancy business. I should have ignored that advice and carried on creating a software business. My recommendation for anyone starting out with a product business is not to be lured by short term services revenue over product revenue. After that one big thing, there are hundreds and hundreds of things that I would do differently in hindsight. If I had the knowledge I have now, I wouldn’t have done it that way. Growing a business is doing stuff, making things happen and then thinking “I could have done that better if only I’d known”. However, you don’t know so you have to just do. Hindsight is a wonderful thing.
What defines your way of doing business?
I’m a shepherd. I like to set overall vision, strategy and direction and then let the team take the initiative and deliver to the best of their ability. My role then is to shepherd the team if they are straying away from the mission. I like open environments where people are free to discuss problems and work on solutions to make things better. I think a direction of travel is better than agonising over a plan to get there. Also, I’m product focused. I want to deliver products that are useful to customers. Everything we build must have value to our customers – that is the most efficient way to success.
What advice would you give to someone starting out?
At this point I go back to my motto: “do stuff and stuff happens”. Fundamentally what this means is you shouldn’t agonise and plan everything out. Start small, try your idea, make small improvements, get feedback, reach out to potential customers, users, whoever can give you feedback and help you hone what you want to do. Listen to experts as another data point but don’t slavishly follow anything they say as they don’t know your business. Worry about what needs to be done next to move things forward but don’t worry about mapping out the whole journey as that way lies paralysis. The flip side of my motto is “do nothing, nothing happens” and that is a certainty. So, my advice to someone starting out is: What is the first step you need to do to get started? Do it! And once you’ve done it, see where you are and work out the next step then.