I really hate writing about myself, self-promotion is not my forte at all. I grew up in the 1970’s. At a young age I experienced some serious business computer hardware. By the age of ten I could write programs in BASIC and assembler. For my first real entrepreneurial venture, at around twelve years old, I started growing and selling Aloe Vera plants to my local florists and a local nursery. Although I had done quite a bit of car washing, to earn pocket money before then.
The School Years
While still at school I started doing graphic design for local businesses, designing letterheads, logos etc. DTP was way beyond my reach at the time. So it involved lots of pen-to-paper activity and Letraset typesetting. In the school holidays I got a job working for a printing company, where I got to experience desktop publishing technology for the first time, which was a complete revelation. We didn’t have the web back then, so web design would have to wait a few years.
University and Beyond
While still at University, I started my business selling PCs and writing software. Once I graduated from university, I carried on building up my business. As a solopreneur with zero funding, it was hard work to build the business. But gradually the business grew, and I developed some software which generated repeat sales.
D. Grant Crawley Ltd
1994 saw the invention of VoiceStation, a voice-controlled home automation system for people with severe physical disabilities. The voice recognition engine was primitive by today’s standards. But it worked well enough, and enabled the user to turn lights on and off, instruct a book page-turner and change their bed positioning.
Then in 1995 I developed a system which utilised dynamic web pages backed by a database, using the very latest web technology from Microsoft (pre-dating .asp and .Net). At the time I developed this we provided our customers with ISDN dial-up connections, but fairly soon migrated the whole setup to an internet-based connection – essentially putting the system into what we now call the “cloud”. As the business grew I got to a point where I could employ people to take on some of the workload.
In late 1996 I launched our online store, DGC-NMS sold Linux CDs, add-on products for Linux and Linux/Unix books. We built and hosted our own server. The whole thing was running over a 64kbps leased line. We fine-tuned everything we could to make the website work acceptably fast. We kept it going until the 2000s, but the market changed and sales started to evaporate, so in 2002 I closed the DGC-NMS store. I’m still a strong advocate of Linux, having used it right from its very earliest beginnings back in 1991. Now, I operate several Linux based servers around the world, providing resilient and reliable infrastructure to Virtco® customers.
Bad Things Happen – Some Good Too
Everything was going well, the business was growing nicely, but my health took a serious downwards turn. I thought I had motor neurone disease and went to see my GP, who dismissed it as some form of inflammation and told me to buy some ibuprofen tablets. It didn’t help, so I insisted on seeing a consultant neurologist. A couple of weeks later I had a diagnosis of Multifocal Motor Neuropathy with Conduction Block (MMN for short). It presents similarly to motor neurone disease, but it’s an auto-immune condition and treatable (but unfortunately not curable).
While all this was going on, I was spending a lot of time in and out of hospital. Eventually going for treatment for a week at a time, every four weeks. As a result, it took my concentration away from the business, and some major customers deserted.
I did manage to do quite a bit of good though; I started raising money for charity by taking on endurance events, such as cycling from London to Paris (twice), running the London Marathon and cycling from Lands End to John O’Groats, and multiple other cycling events. All in, I raised around £20k for medical research charities, and in 2012 something amazing happened. They asked me to be an Olympic Games Torchbearer.
The business survived, just. So I decided to “get a job”. Probably the worst decision I ever made. I’m still stuck in my day job and I hate every moment, I look forward to the day they make me redundant (which is my employers MO), in the meantime I’m trying hard to re-build my business to get to a point where I don’t have to worry about the redundancy package (16 years continuous service has a value).
My treatment regimen improved dramatically over the years. I’ve gone from having treatment one week in four – to self-administering my medication twice a week at home, taking just an hour at a time. My illness no longer impedes my ability to work.
I’ve been re-structuring my business for a while now, and it’s just about time to market the services it will offer.
The Future – Here, Today
Virtco® provides great service offerings that benefit small businesses from start-ups to medium-sized enterprises. The difference we offer is that we deeply care about our customers and want them to succeed and grow. I’ve always kept prices fair and stable, while maintaining the personal level of service my customers have become accustomed to. I recognise that for businesses to succeed they need to concentrate on doing what they’re great at. That’s why they’re in the field they are in. Virtco® takes away the pain of all the online technology in today’s business landscape.
Dizzigo® fills the knowledge gaps, where a businessperson needs to be constantly updating their product or service offerings on their website, engaging with customers and potential customers on social media, or running their day-to-day systems. Dizzigo® provides free online training resources in a variety of online marketing areas. It’s Dizzigo’s mission to help business people understand the technology they have at their disposal. Without having to learn all the jargon, three-letter-acronyms and complicated technical wizardry that goes on in the background.
GC – Designed in England is there to help people level up their woodworking and craft skills. Loaded with articles, tips and techniques, as well as plans and tutorials. My passion is for design and making things, so I’ve recently re-launched the GC – Designed in England website. The long-term strategy is to add more plans for sale to the Etsy store, build on the knowledge articles and investigate the possibility of adding membership functionality.
I’m here to help you do more good, do less work, and do what you do best.