Why it can work to balance instinct with digital momentum

Successful business owner Barnaby Lashbrooke takes a considered approach to digital transformation.

Why life as a business owner was challenging

After starting his first business at 17 years old, Barnaby Lashbrooke grew his web-hosting company to 24,000 customers within a few years. But he admits this came with challenges: “I sacrificed time with friends, family and certainly any kind of social life to grow my business and, frankly, to just keep the wheels on.”

He says he often dreamt of having someone to help but at that point he couldn’t justify the expense of hiring an assistant. After selling the business, he realised being time-poor was too often the case for SME owners, so in keeping with a digital theme, his next company addressed the issue. “I created Time etc with the aim of making really great virtual assistants available and affordable to all entrepreneurs.”


Rediscovering instinct… backed up by data

Data can paint a clear picture for introducing a new feature or change to a service – and then measure how it’s received. Barnaby says that without it, the business world is purely anecdotal, which is a really uncertain foundation on which to build a business. But he believes there’s a point when instinct can also be transformative. He uses his second business, Time etc, as an example.

The idea of matching up assistants virtually with business owners worked well for the first couple of years but after that, he says it flatlined and became tough both to find clients and to retain talent. “At that time I was largely fixated with numbers and was running the business from a spreadsheet in order to keep everything on track. I got to the point where I was ready to jack it all in.”

Then he had an epiphany. “I abandoned the spreadsheets and started to run Time etc from instinct, like I had with my first business, and within a few months it had turned around”.

Learning from mistakes

Barnaby doesn’t shy away from admitting that over the years he’s made mistakes, explaining that getting it wrong or failing can be a positive lesson. “It’s impossible for teachers and mentors to teach you every possible thing that can go wrong in every scenario.”

But there’s a core component in this learning curve, he points out, and when it’s missing, people let mistakes put them off or end their journey in business. He believes resilience is essential to allowing mistakes to be a lesson rather than a serious setback.

Stay tuned to digital transformation but be cautious

At present, Barnaby is approaching the latest digital transformation – artificial intelligence (AI) – with cautious optimism. He’s researching it and fitting it in alongside his team and the processes already in place: “Embrace technology, use it, but don’t let rapid innovation in the world change your course too much too soon”.

For Time etc, AI has already evolved what it can do as a business. “For us, it means we can do things at scale that have never been possible – like enable assistants to better understand tasks and clients in real-time, and help our clients, who may never have delegated before, offload their tasks to an assistant more easily than ever.”

However, he warns that a considered, rational approach is important. “We’re seeing businesses that have altered their entire brand and identity to link themselves to AI. But none of us knows how the world of AI will develop. They’re all positioning as AI businesses – but in doing so lose their true points of difference.”

This chimes with how our own Digital Journey Manager, Ben Brown, believes businesses can approach AI. He urges companies to see it as the answer to a solid use case in areas such as content creation or marketing, rather than a blanket change.


Learn more about innovation in tech and its responsible use.

This material is published by NatWest Group plc (“NatWest Group”), for information purposes only and should not be regarded as providing any specific advice. Recipients should make their own independent evaluation of this information and no action should be taken, solely relying on it. This material should not be reproduced or disclosed without our consent. It is not intended for distribution in any jurisdiction in which this would be prohibited. Whilst this information is believed to be reliable, it has not been independently verified by NatWest Group and NatWest Group makes no representation or warranty (express or implied) of any kind, as regards the accuracy or completeness of this information, nor does it accept any responsibility or liability for any loss or damage arising in any way from any use made of or reliance placed on, this information. Unless otherwise stated, any views, forecasts, or estimates are solely those of NatWest Group, as of this date and are subject to change without notice. Copyright © NatWest Group. All rights reserved.

scroll to top