Duane’s journey started at 14, when he first became interested in IT. At the time he was living in a children’s home in Newham, East London. Having been suspended from school, the staff at the children’s home were left to teach him. As they weren’t teachers they didn’t know what to do so they left him with a ZX Spectrum and a book on how to program it.
During his late teens Duane Jackson contracted for several organisations including the CBI, the BBC, Proctor & Gamble, Eidos and Reuters. But at aged 19 he found himself between contracts and out of cash.
This lead to some bad decisions that would have some dire consequences; His peers from his upbringing in care were involved in criminal activities and he got involved in a bid to earn some fast money. This ultimately resulted in him being arrested and spending time in prison in the US and the UK.
In the 2.5 years he served in prison in the UK he spent his time teaching basic IT skills to other inmates and received a Millennium Volunteers Award from the then home secretary, David Blunkett.
In the interview below, Duane kindly answered some of our questions about his incredible success story:
**How old were you when you first entertained the idea of becoming an entrepreneur?
I was very much a later bloomer. I was 24 when I started a business. Prior to that I hadn’t even considered the idea starting a business always seemed to me like something other people did. People with a university education from middle class backgrounds. As an east London boy that left school at 15, it didn’t seem like a route that was open to me.
It was only when I was released from prison with zero employment prospects that I realised that starting my own thing was going to be the only way to legitimately put food on the table. My now-wife was pregnant, so going back to crime and risking missing my daughter grow up wasn’t an option.
**Do you think that not having a high level of formal education created any kind of barriers to you setting up a business?
I think not having much of a formal education was a problem if anything, it helped. I see a lot of MBA students that have been taught a certain way of doing things. What they’ve been taught may well be useful and applicable in the corporate world. But when it comes to start ups, being scrappy and street-smart counts for so much more.
I guess early on I was worried people might not take me seriously because I didn’t even have a GCSE, never mind letters after my name. But it turns out that was a problem that only existed in my mind, not in the real world. The reality is that people don’t care about your qualifications of background. When going for a job you have an interview and these things matter, but in business all that matters is whether you can do a good job or not.
**What advice would you give to young people who have experienced similar backgrounds, and are worried that it will impact their ability to start a successful business?
Simple - it won’t be a problem unless you let it be a problem. It’s very much in your head and a result of your perception of yourself. Get over it. No one cares.
**What importance did receiving support from the likes of the Prince’s Trust play in your success? Would you recommend that other young people get involved with similar organisations?
The Princes Trust helped me get started in business. The loan from them was useful, of course. But the big thing was having someone that believed in me and encouraged me to pursue this path. That counts for a lot, especially when you come from a background where there’s no one you can turn to that has experience of starting a business. As well as the support from the Trust themselves, they also arranged networking events for the startups. This actually developed into more of an informal peer support group. It really helped to be around other people with similar backgrounds and more importantly the same aspirations.
**Do you have any mentors or role models who have helped you in business, and if so, have they played an important role?
I was fortunate to meet Lord Young early on and he mentored me through growing the business and is now my chairmen. He has played an important role. As well as a politician, he has a very successful business background. Having access to his experience and advice has been invaluable. Do seek out someone similar if you can - it’ll be a massive help!
**What do you think are the most important skills or attributes required to be successful in business?
Three P’s: Passions, Perseverance and Pragmatism. You need to be passionate about what you’re doing to make sure you can persevere when things don’t go to plan or when others around you don’t understand why you’re doing what you’re doing. And you need to be pragmatic - actually doing things, and learning from the experience, are far more important than just taking and planning.
**What tips or words of advice would you give to a young entrepreneur starting up their first business?
Don’t worry about not knowing the rules or how it’s meant to be done. In the early days of starting a business there are very few rules and it’s a well-kept secret that nobody actually knows what they’re meant to be doing. Be smart, work hard and you can and will get your business started and growing. If this business doesn’t succeed (many don’t) then you’ll learn lots of lessons that you can’t learn any other way, and it will all help you ensure you do ultimately achieve the success that you’re seeking.
**Any final thoughts or comments?
Don’t click any links on this page. Don’t read another article on this website (as great as it is!) instead - go and take some form of action right now that will progress your business.