As part of our series of interviews with ‘Captains of Industry’ – We are delighted to welcome and interview Stefan Töpfer, a leading web entrepreneur and CEO of WinWeb.com. WinWeb is a leading business cloud infrastructure provider. The views and opinions expressed are his and are based on over three decades of personal experience in the internet industry as a serial entrepreneur, editor of The Small Business Blog, mentor and angel investor.
Hey Stefan. Thanks for joining us. So.. How did you first get into the web?
Back in 1989 – even before the web – I first attempted to sell internet services in the form of electronic mail boxes where you would dial up and exchange messages, but I ended up being just one of a small group of business people who were using them for a bit because Tim Berners-Lee came along and changed everything.
What inspired you to start blogging?
Back in 2006 when blogging started taking off big time, I thought it would be fun to share my business experience. Having built Nacamar Group PLC into one of the biggest ISPs in Europe and selling it during the dotcom boom, I was working from 2000 onwards to create an on-demand infrastructure for business via my other company WinWeb and the blog was a good way to get feedback on what we were doing.
Since starting SME-Blog what has been the most noticeable change that you’ve witnessed in enterprise?
Probably the shift towards software-as-a-service. When I first came on the scene with our own Cloud offering in 2005 we were probably too early and it was frustrating waiting for the rest of the software industry to catch up! Now when I talk about Cloud on the blog or about the work I do at WinWeb, people seem to already have a general grasp of what the Cloud is.
What do you think could be done to help more small businesses succeed?
I think the work that is being done by people like Tony Robinson OBE of the “Enterprise Rockers” is essential. He is bringing together micro businesses to collaborate and help each other out, because they certainly aren’t getting any help from the government or the economy. Hopefully these mutually beneficial relationships are going to become more commonplace.
What are the common themes that you see in successful small businesses?
Success only comes with a lot of hard work and business focus. It might seem trite, but there is no shortcut to being successful in business other than putting the hours in and grafting hard, probably a lot harder than you ever would even consider doing if you were working for someone else.
Many spend too much time on non-essential business admin and other distractions. Successful entrepreneurs are always focused on sales and customer service.
What are some of the most common mistakes that are made?
I’ve seen a lot of entrepreneurs burn out by attempting to do absolutely everything themselves and performing about 10+ job roles at once. I admire them for trying, but it just doesn’t work long-term and the Internet has made outsourcing so affordable that there is really no need either. Focusing on your business goals and avoiding distractions will benefit every business.
What technologies do you believe have had the biggest impact on businesses establishing in today’s environment?
Social media is probably the most important one right now, but increasingly it seems everything matters equally. There’s no point having social media pages if you don’t have your own website to showcase your business, there’s no point having a website if you don’t have an online shop that people can purchase from, and so on.
Cloud technology is definitely the most transformational business technology at the moment. Making sure it is an integrated platform will afford every business a big competitive advantage. Combine this with business process virtualisation and you have more time to focus on your business goals.
When you find time to stop working, what type of holidays do you enjoy to relax?
I am a keen photographer so I like to visit places that will provide me with a lot of lovely things to photograph. My favourite is probably Tasmania – the scenery is so spectacular that I have to visit at least once per year!
What is your favourite destination?
Well my all-time favourite is Tasmania, but I really enjoyed a recent trip to Washington this year. I got to see some wonderful scenery in places like the Shenandoah National Park in Virginia and of course the United States Capitol building is always an impressive sight.
What type of holidays do you prefer to take?
Actually most of my “holidays” are in fact working holidays and involve travelling to our international offices in the US and Australia but when I do get some time to myself I enjoy sightseeing and the usual tourist-y activities.
What are the most important factors that you consider when choosing your airline?
Comfort, reliability and customer service are most important to me. If I’m going to be spending most of the day on a plane travelling across the globe I don’t want the absence of any of those elements to put me in a bad mood!
What’s been your worst holiday experience to-date?
I’ve actually been fairly lucky when it comes to travel, but recently I did get stuck on the runway at Heathrow for the entire morning when another plane made an emergency landing. It wasn’t a total loss, I was able to blog about it live from the runway.
We would like to thank Stefan for sharing his time and expert knowledge with us.
Stefan can be found on Google+