Q&A with Aidan Fitzpatrick, founder & CEO of Reincubate
“I accidentally built a business. It didn’t take long before I had been wired over $1m via PayPal…” Aidan Fitzpatrick founded innovative data firm Reincubate after he decided to charge $20 for data recovery software he’d created for his own use… but did not anticipate the million-dollar global response!
In the nine years since its foundation, Reincubate has become renowned as one of the UK’s most innovative small businesses for its iOS and iCloud data extraction tech service, which has been used by law enforcement & security organisations, and government, child protection and corporate clients all over the world.
Incredibly, Aidan Fitzpatrick invented the tech at the heart of Reincubate as a solution to his own headaches with data loss during iPhone upgrades. He even put the tech online to help others in the same predicament and found himself inundated with emails.
He thought that putting a price of $20 for a license would stem the flow of emails. Instead, before long, he’d been wired a total of more than $1m in license fees. Reincubate was the happiest of business accidents! It just goes to show, some of the best businesses really do arise out of helping people solve a problem.
Fast forward 9 years, and Reincubate has gone from strength to strength, having been named among the 100 most brilliant small businesses in the UK (Smarta Awards 2014), and with offices in London and Bucharest, Romania.
11 Questions for Aidan Fitzpatrick, Reincubate
Aidan Fitzpatrick is busy with Reincubate, but not so busy that he loses sight of his ‘big picture’ vision of business as a part of life. He is conscious of Work-Life balance, and we’re fortunate that during some ‘downtime’ recently he spoke with AGENT about the story about the early days of Reincubate, as well as sharing some invaluable insights with new startups based on the lessons he has learned during the first decade of his business.
1. Describe your business goals and tell us how you first got into business?
Reincubate had a serendipitous start. I was an early iPhone adopter, and back in 2008, when the second version of iOS was released, I lost all of the data on my phone whilst upgrading. I had some important records on the phone, so I set about building a tool to recover them over a weekend.
A few months later another iOS upgrade led me to lose my data once more, so I put the tool that I’d built online.
In no time I was getting 20 to 30 emails a day from people who’d found the tool and were asking me to help them recover their data. I’d get home from a long day in another business and answer all of these emails.
After some weeks of spending a few hours a night helping people by email, I realised I couldn’t go on: but rather than thinking of turning it into a business, I instead thought of a way to discourage people from reaching out.
I put a price on the software, and asked that people wire me $20 for a license. I thought this would reduce demand to the odd email each week, but instead I accidentally built a business. It didn’t take long before I had been wired over $1m via PayPal.
Of course, there have been many ups and downs since then, and I’ve spent time examining why it is I do what I do. Reincubate’s technology makes it easy for companies and individuals to access data created by apps and devices.
People stand to gain huge value from working with their data more freely, but much of it is ring-fenced by a few companies. Breaking those silos will share that value and create a more even playing field.
2. What age were you when you realised you wanted to run your own business?
I set up a web business with my friend at the age of sixteen, but I got the bug fully about ten years later.
3. Who are your business icons and inspirations?
I admire Elon Musk most, probably for all the wrong reasons: he has a fanatical commitment to business and growth, and time and again he has chosen to pursue his goals in a very definite way. It’s not just that he’s sharp; he is also disciplined and focused. There’s a lot of unnerving one-dimensional fetishisation of “super entrepreneurs” in the news, but as another ‘INTJ’ his example serves as a remarkable inspiration.
4. What has been your biggest challenge in business, and how did you surmount it?
Not being focused enough earlier in the life of the business. With so many options in front of us, I set up another company, did some investing, and broadened our product range. All good things, but in hindsight losing focus was an indulgence: the real results come when you double down!
5. Work-Life balance: is it possible? How do you achieve it?
I’d like to spend the time I have achieving something important. If one lives a purpose and values-led life it can be hard draw a distinction between things that are solely work and things that aren’t. Trying to divide them can create an unreconcilable tension.
I see work as my progress towards a greater purpose I have in mind, not something to be isolated from the rest of my life. Work brings many benefits — a sense of purpose, autonomy, mastery — and the more I do, the better I get, and the greater my capacity becomes. Having some downtime along the way is a natural part of it.
6. What is the first thing you do every day?
I have a morning routine; I like to write a little, to read, to meditate, and to review at the goals I’ve set for the period.
7. What screen saver picture is currently on your phone?
My lock screen has a photo of a human pyramid with entrepreneur friends from the US, Australia, Pakistan and China… I’m in there somewhere. We met on a leadership course in Washington, DC. The picture reminds me that I’ve got friends around the world who face challenges similar to mine, and who I can count on for inspiration and support.
8. What is the most important app on your mobile phone, and why?
Amazon’s Kindle app. It gets used every day.
9. What is the last thing you googled?
I’ve been writing a screenplay with my partner over the last few months, and I’ve been Googling all sorts of things that might fit into it. Last night I was reading about Ratatoskr, a mythical squirrel whose job was to carry insulting messages between an eagle and a dragon at opposite ends of the Norse Tree of Life.
10. What item do you never leave the house without, and why?
11. What advice would you give to your younger self starting out in business?
Entrepreneurs aren’t different people. Anyone can be one. It doesn’t take a particular education or a forceful personality.
Watch out for advice! Seeking and sharing experience—particularly from other entrepreneurs—can be much more valuable than advice. Family and friends are rarely neutral and they’re often eager to advise or tell one exactly what to do. Sometimes when I meet people I’ll deflect questions about what I’m doing in order to avoid being told what I should do next.
Focus is really hard. I’ve found that thinking about work “on” rather than “in” the business is helpful. It is easy to get carried away working on day-to-day tasks in the business, as if it were a job, rather than paying attention to the future of the company. There is a lot of glitzy lifestyle nonsense that can be distracting for entrepreneurs.
Reading is a hugely valuable source of learning and inspiration, but as before, focus is important. When the team is rushing around and things are busy, concentrating on learning, on one’s ability to learn, and discovering how to get to the next stage with the company doesn’t always feel like the right thing to do. But often it is. I’ve found the books of Jim Collins and Verne Harnish particularly powerful.
Understanding one’s values, and the values of a company is really helpful in building it. For me, they have have been instrumental in decision-making around strategy, product, recruitment, and operations.