Richard Osborne is an ambitious, influential entrepreneur who has been a champion of the small and micro-business sector for the past thirty years. He started his first “proper” business in 1999 and has grown a number of highly successful technology and social media SMEs including start-up and small business intelligence specialists, Business Data Group, and UKBF – the UK’s largest and most active online community for small and micro-businesses – which he purchased in 2005 and re-acquired in 2020.
Richard has successfully lobbied the UK Government for improved corporate transparency and register reform to bolster the nation’s defences against money laundering and fraud whilst spearheading the Robust campaign group.
Outside the office, Richard is passionate about supporting young people with special educational needs and disabilities. He is a coach, mentor and governor of a special needs education trust and supports the Careers & Enterprise Company with its SEND agenda. Richard also works tirelessly to inspire disengaged youth into work and employment opportunities.
Tell us a bit about your background.
Business and entrepreneurship saved me. Growing up, I was what is known as ‘at risk’. I had a turbulent upbringing, I wasn’t interested in my future and I fell into the wrong crowd. It could have been a very different story if it wasn’t for one particular person who helped pull me out of that hole and set me on the right path. Fast forward many years and I found myself working for someone that I aspired to be like. I had found my purpose in life and I knew the direction I wanted my life to go in.
The time naturally came that I decided to start out in business myself and it was in those early days that UKBF was born. Sitting at home, on my own, I desperately missed the camaraderie of my former colleagues. For the first time in my life, I was running my own business and I felt out of my depth. It was a lonely time, to be honest. I wanted someone to run ideas past, to find out what the best way of doing certain things was based on the experiences of other business owners who had ‘been there and done that’ before me. Nothing existed at the time, so I created it myself and that is what is now known as UKBF.
In 2002 I started Quick Formations, one of the UK’s most prominent formation agents, before transitioning to launch business start-up platform eFiling in 2008, which today is part of the Business Data Group product suite. Through Business Data Group’s award-winning technology, we support hundreds of thousands of UK founders to start in business and commence trading every year. We also connect essential business service providers with entrepreneurs at the company formation stage – the very start of their new business journey.
What do you think makes an entrepreneur?
I cringe at the term entrepreneur, to be honest. I don’t call myself an entrepreneur, but I do have a definition of what it means to be one. In Stephen Bartlett’s podcast, The Diary Of A CEO, he talks to John Vincent, founder Leon, who defined an entrepreneur as a community that comes together to create something that is more than themselves. There isn’t an entrepreneur, there is entrepreneurialism. That resonated with me and was the first time I heard a definition of an entrepreneur that I can get behind. One person can not achieve everything they want to achieve in business on their own. I couldn’t have achieved what I have, without a great team around me.
How did you get into your industry?
I sort of evolved into the industry that I am in now. I started out in web design, then from web design moved into server management and domain registration. Then Companies House started using technology that was similar to domain registrations, so I used my knowledge to get into company formations. Once I hit company formations, everything sort of evolved from there. I got into providing services that fitted with supporting new business startups. It wasn’t a conscious decision, and at every step of the way, I had to keep learning new skills.
What makes your business different from your competitors?
Business Data Group is unique in that it does not have any direct competition. We serve a very bespoke sector with our eFiling product that is married to our Partnership Platform. The two are symbiotic and you cannot launch one without the other. We did have a competitor who had some financial backing, and that did raise a concern, but they couldn’t get market traction and closed within the year.
I made the decision to give away eFiling in the early years to get market share and then, with that, we were able to launch our partnerships as we had a significant reach. It would be very difficult for someone to replicate that now, and the market isn’t significant enough for two large players within it.
We continue to evolve as a business, and that’s why we bought UKBF (UK Business Forums) in 2021 and are working with our existing clients and relationships to widen our reach and portfolio to meet their changing needs.
What are you most proud of since setting up your company?
Seeing two members of my team, who joined me straight out of college/university, develop into great managers, and watching them lead.
How has COVID-19 impacted your business?
It exposed some weaknesses in our business model that we’d never realised existed. To be fair, if it wasn’t for the pandemic, they wouldn’t have been an issue, but it did push us to strengthen the product offering that we’d never have thought to do before. We do now have a much more robust business with a better and stronger product portfolio, plus the addition of UKBF and what it enables us to bring to our partners.
What is your biggest challenge at the moment?
Time. Since buying UKBF back there is so much that I want to do with it, but we only have so many team members, only so much time, and so much budget. I want to do everything right now! There are many times when I am either sitting on my hands or trying to stop myself from interfering. What annoys my CTO the most often is when I just do some of the work myself!
What do you love most about your job?
The teamwork. Covid was tough and everyone sort of drifted apart, but since we’ve started returning to work ‘hybrid style’, see each other more, and now that we have a new exciting project to get stuck into, the team has been amazing. Their energy is reignited and they are as excited as I am which makes me feel really happy in what we’re doing.
What is the most rewarding aspect of your job?
Building something that stands for something important and will outlive me.
If you had to sum up your business in five words what would you say?
The Cogs Driving UK SMEs.
What skills do you think someone needs when starting their own business?
None. You can learn whatever skills you need, or you can bring people in who have them. It’s your attitude that is more important.
What has been the most significant challenge that you have overcome?
As an adult, I was diagnosed as being on the autistic spectrum. Understanding my diagnosis, and then being able to identify where it helps me personally and professionally, and where it can sometimes hinder me has definitely been the most significant challenge that I have overcome.
What do you value most – price or service?
Without question, it is service. Things were different when my business was smaller and money was tighter, but now, with business as it is today, I talk about the service first and then come to the price later.
What book(s) changed your life or perspective the most?
Three books spring to mind
- Who Moved My Cheese? by Dr Spencer Johnson. This is a really old book now that refers to keeping up with changing trends and markets in business. Despite it being first printed over 20 years ago, its messages are still highly relevant to early-stage founders today. Learn, adapt, be open to change and be ready to do so quickly. The most important lesson here is, don’t become complacent.
- The E Myth Enterprise – How to turn a great idea into a thriving business by Michael E Gerber. I think many aspiring early-stage founders would learn a lot from this book. Generally, everyone who is starting out in business knows how to deliver their product or specialist service. More often than not, though, they have very little knowledge of or give very little thought to the business of running the business. The boring bits!
- Steve Jobs by Waater Isaacson. I was also really inspired by the Apple story after reading Steve Jobs’ endorsed autobiography. Reading this book cemented my appreciation of the customer “experience” that Jobs wanted to deliver. Apple embeds the customer experience in everything that it was created to deliver, right down to the opening of the box of a new Apple product. A lot of businesses can learn from that!
What would you say is the single biggest way you impact the world?
I hope that I’ve inspired or motivated some young people to stay out of prison, focus on their development, or in some way or another, helped them see a better future for themselves in business through the mentoring and coaching that I do with disengaged young people. That really means the most to me, but in business, I have seen the impact that UKBF has had on so many people. This is especially true of those who have felt lost, or out of their depth. I’m happy that I’ve played a part in facilitating that lifeline for them.
What is your next BIG thing, your next BIG goal?
Ultimately, it is to continue to grow UKBF so that it becomes a household name for small business help and support. I do also want to launch an equestrian clothing brand – if my wife will let me!