Love him or loathe him, Alan Sugar is one of Britain’s wealthiest and most successful entrepreneurs. From humble beginnings in an East London council flat he built his company, Amstrad, into an electronics giant, amassing a rumoured billion-pound fortune in the process. In its heyday, Amstrad had dominant market share in personal computers and stereos throughout Europe.
Sugar is the quintessential bootstrapper. He starting trading out the back of a van, using his parents’ spare room as a makeshift warehouse. Hard work, drive and tight cost control allowed him to revolutionise consumer electronics by selling them for the first time at prices everyone could afford.
In his autobiography, Sugar writes how his father, who worked all his life in a cloth factory, had an “employee mentality” and couldn’t fathom why his son decided at 19 to leave a well paying job and start out on his own. Sugar says his dad was shocked at the decision and thought it a huge mistake.
Risking comfort and security for the promise of riches didn’t compute for someone who had worked on a factory line for decades. His first question to the future Lord Sugar was: “But who’s going to pay you on Friday?”
In my favourite line of the book, Sugar recalls himself responding firmly: “I’m going to pay myself on Friday!”
I’m going to pay myself on Friday. That sentence is a perfect crystallisation of entrepreneurial grit and tenacity. It highlights perfectly the resolve and self-reliance needed to succeed. Reading those words made me want to roar like a lion! They excited me, gave me strength. They made me want to jump up and get back to work. To try harder. To do better.
How do they make you feel? Do they motivate and invigorate you, entice you to take more risks, be more daring? Or do they make you feel scared and vulnerable? Make you want to retreat to the comfort of conventional employment? Successful entrepreneurship boils down to one thing. A simple decision which affects all others. A single question you have to answer.
Who’s going to pay you on Friday?