From prisoner to pioneer, Duane Jackson did it his way
Clean-cut, in collar and tie, UK cloud-computing guru and SaaS (software-as-a-service) expert, Duane Jackson, says that drug-traffickers have many skills that are transferable to the world of big business – and he should know, having "served time” for smuggling ecstasy tablets into the USA.
While many successful businessmen might be loathe to reveal a skeleton in the closet, Duane – at 32 the founder and owner of KashFlow, which is worth more than £10-million – believes in transparency, and the fact that everything that happens in life teaches valuable lessons, and makes one stronger.
Duane started out needing plenty of strength, being put into care at the age of 10 after his father had "disappeared” and his mother "decided kids were getting in the way of her life”.
There followed several years of moving around different children’s homes in the London area, which Duane describes as "a very weird and unnatural way of growing up”.
By the age of 14 social workers and educators had just about given up on him as far as sticking to formal schooling was concerned, and left him to his own devices during school hours with a computer as companion.
"Until that point it was the best thing that had ever happened to me. I got hooked and began to teach myself programming.”
By 16 Duane was competent and confident enough to take on an IT job with a travel agency, and moved himself into a flat in Stratford. Earning while continuing to learn, he used his charm and talent to secure contracts from big companies such as Reuters. The money rolled in, but just as quickly rolled out, especially because Duane made frequent visits to a girlfriend in New York.
By 18 he had, through acquaintances, found a new way to fund his trips abroad – initially he co-ordinated a group of drug couriers, but then one day ended up carrying a consignment of ecstasy himself into Atlanta, Georgia. He was searched and caught, while back in London the drug ring he worked for was rounded up and arrested.
The trial was held back in England and Duane got five years at Brixton Prison, and Camp Hill on the Isle of Wight.
Ever resourceful Duane arranged to teach an IT class while in prison – so discovering the pleasure of helping and mentoring others along with the right to be moved to an open prison to serve the last six months of his sentence.
After his release he was helped by the Princes’ Trust to set himself up as a web developer in premises in Hackney. Surrounded by other start-ups and "peer support” Duane set about making a name for himself, and for the online accounting package he developed for small and medium-sized enterprises, now widely known and acclaimed as KashFlow.
Through the Princes’ Trust he met his most treasured mentor, Lord Young – the man hired by David Cameron as an "enterprise tsar” who resigned the office after some unfortunate utterances to the press. Lord Young is now Chairman of KashFlow, having invested time and money in the young "ex-con” whom he realised was deserving of his support.
KashFlow – used by many thousands of small businesses across the world – epitomises the fact that internet based software-as-a-service is proliferating internationally, and Duane is leading the way in the UK, having pioneered the idea which is now regarded as ringing the death knell for software on CD.
He is also a recognised and revered mentor and supporter of young entrepreneurs.
"I could have ended up a career criminal – instead I’m a successful businessman,” says Duane, who was named Young Entrepreneur of the Year and one of Esquire Magazine’s Most Impressive Businessmen, has settled in Sussex with his partner and two daughters.