Evolve or die!

“Companies are living organisms, if they do not evolve, they die”. I can vividly remember my father telling me this during one of our frequent chats on business in my early twenties. It is an established fact and yet from start-ups to global corporations, from departments to regional offices, we constantly see organisations fail to do evolve and become irrelevant. Nokia would be a very current example, with RIM, the makers of Blackberry heading the same way.

I am not going to continue this posting detailing an approach a corporation should adopt to drive an innovative culture, or attempt to prescribe a methodology that will assist in evolution. Instead, I am going to tell you how in my little world I can ensure that in the areas we operate in, we continue to be develop and compete effectively.

With the exception of a few companies that make a living from strategy consulting, there are very few enterprises or executives that regularly get beyond the day to day tactical requirements of their business. Indeed, most would suggest that in itself is enough and they will deal with the future when it happens. I understand that, but if no time is given to looking at the direction you are going or how to improve your position and efficiency, you are failing to evolve and any competitive advantage will be eroded over time.

Another favourite phrase of my father has always been “keep business simple” and that is exactly how I approach ensuring we evolve as a business. My main tool for this is “Idea Day” which to be totally honest is inaccurate, as in reality it is nearly always “Idea Morning”. It takes place once a month so a six day commitment per year. I can remember when this was a day every two weeks but whilst it is still imperative I think I am more efficient at it now.

Idea Day has no agenda, no particular structure and no planned outcome. It starts with ensuring that I am in an environment where I will not be disturbed, receive any calls or have interruptions of any kind. An open web browser, my Evernote account open and a clear head. I will then spend the next hour reading websites such as Business Insider, Harvard Business Review, Mckinsey Quarterly (though I do enjoy having a contrary view to anything pushed out by this organisation if possible), Mashable and Bloomberg’s Businessweek. This is not just to trawl for ideas, I find that the multitude of content activates me and I generally find myself taken down a direction of thinking from that point. Maybe it will be someone’s innovative use of technology or organisational structure. It could be a new method of communicating with customers or employee incentivisation. Sometimes I find the hook within 10 mins and move the broad concept along, applying it to our businesses and understanding its relevance and application. Other times the stimulus will drive me to consider our current direction on a sector or approach in relation to the market commentary or opinion I have been reading.

I find this approach productive because I rarely find anyone to be able to work with the alternative. Consider telling yourself that today is Idea Day and then locking yourself away with your pad and paper to get started. It takes time to get fired up and you don’t always know where to start. Using external stimulus is a good catalyst and it gives the variation to the path you can take, which makes it that a little more interesting.

Another approach I like to take is my oft repeated mantra that “if you keep on doing what you are doing,then you will keep on getting what you are getting”. There can be no holy grails in business, be they products, people or processess. Organisations, like physical structures, are only as strong as their weakest point, so a constant drive to look for improvement (call it evolution) is required.

I am sure most can draw parallels with a business function, department or process when I give my specific example. The terms of reference would be the repeating nature, a competitive environment and customer satisfaction/sales.

Vanda’s White Collar Boxing has been going for 5 years now and in that time we have enjoyed great success. Over 14,000 people have attended the 21 events and $1m+ USD has been raised for children’s charities. We have had plenty of impersonators and opportunists invade the space, yet we continue to sell-out, attract hundreds of applications to participate and receive countless testimonials as you can see on the Vanda Promotions website.

In all of my career, I have found establishing, evolving and executing on this property the most satisfying. I believe my team shares that enthusiasm and our success has been due to our willingness to drive improvements. I could write a paper on the evolution of this property but our overall approach is very simple.

Before we commence the run-up to every event we review the previous event. Sound obvious? How many times do you see the same mistakes repeated in your business? We look at what went right and what went wrong. We then look at the core operations for efficiency and effectiveness and understand whether this can be improved. A few of the questions we would ask ourselves;

Did we select the right 20 boxers from the 120+ applicants. If not, what did we learn?

Did we have any adverse challenges during the training stage e.g a unusually high drop out rate? What were the reasons and how can we improve?

Which suppliers performed below expectations? What are the alternatives?

Have the post event interactions with guests been full of praise for the event?

We would then consider the detailed feedback we had garnered from our guests and sponsors. We have never failed to produce a guest survey and we are blessed to have clients more than happy to share their experiences, good or bad.

We will then dive into the P&L and look at what came in above cost to the plan and why. We will question the value of the larger expense items and discuss the possibilities for alternatives that drive better value or better returns.

Finally, we will always ask ourselves what can we do differently this event that will

-Delight the audience and drive “wow” factor
-Improve efficiency and increase value from the costs.

In 21 events, we have NEVER done exactly same event format twice. Yes it may have been a phenomenally successful event but that was “that night”. Every event we modify, improve and develop. Whether it be the weigh in event venues, the cocktail reception formats and presentation, the boxer videos or the items in the charity auction. Every little piece of the puzzle is reviewed and improved if possible.

When my father was over in December, he admitted that he had seen little potential in the White Collar Boxing when I had initially explained the idea. He has always been supportive but from that date in 2007, he had expected the “fad” to pass. Since 2007, we have sold out 21 events, on a premium price platform, during the most challenging economic environment in the last 100 years. We have a waiting list of sponsors and participants and an eager client base snapping up every ticket at each event. The secret to the success? We treat the property like a living organism, we evolve, adapt and improve so that it is as relevant now as it was five years ago. Little did my father know back in 2007 that it was his sage advice that would help demonstrate his fears were unfounded.

Your business, your department, your responsibility is no different, give it a try.

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Dealing with adversity

Over the course of my career and especially in the last twelve months, I have found myself burdened with a number of adverse challenges to the businesses that were not planned for. It is neither interesting or relevant to go into specifics but to overcome them I have employed a very deliberate strategy that I have found effective and would like to share.

Stage 1. Emotional

When you come upon the major issue, in whatever form, get all the emotion out of the way now. Get annoyed, scream, shout, cry, do whatever you want but get it out of your system. Emotions will play no useful part in the resolution going forward so stage 2 is only relevant when you have stage 1 out of your system. From my personal perspective, the time needed for this has decreased, as I have become increasingly aware, through experience that the value is in stage 2 onwards.

Stage 2. Comprehensive, honest evaluation.

In this stage I face the reality of situation head on. I have always been amazed at how often, when faced with a problem, people will underestimate the challenge by a natural gravitation towards blind optimism. They figure it isn’t as bad as they fear and it will resolve itself. Optimism is good, but it is good in the context of producing positive momentum. I am optimistic when I understand the issue comprehensively, realistically and can see the potential to resolve. I am never blindly optimistic, expecting the solution to resolve itself or placing to much emphahsis on a third party to do it for me. Experience tells me you need to be knee deep in the mire and feeling the situation live to make progress.

In this stage, I write everything down. First of all the problem, all parties with an interest in the problem and then, often the most painful part, all potential outcomes, regardless of how difficult some of them can be to face.

Stage 3. Solution Roadmap

Having faced up to the challenge and understood all the potential scenarios, the next stage is to put a plan in place for resolution. I will start by ranking the possible outcomes from best through to worse. I will then look at how I can build the plan to start driving towards the best case scenario but with realistic action plans for each and every scenario. In a very much abbreviated form, let me take you through how this may have looked on the large challenge we had with Fidgets in 2011.

Problem: Primary site of business lease coming to the end.

Scenario 1: Present landlord continues and marginal increase in rent.
Action: Secure contract for a duration as long as possible

Scenario 2: Present or new landlord willing to continue but with large increase to rent.
Action: Shock test the P&L to understand in advance the possible increases that could be managed and what level would not allow continuance in the present form.

a) If proposed increase is between X & X % then secure agreement.
b) If proposed increase is between X+ & X++ then secure agreement and ready business for sale
c) If proposed increase is between X++ & X+++ then evaluate alternative sites with rental levels within tolerance and ready business for sale.

Many months before the potential situation, we had plans in place for the three eventualities. In this case the outcome was “b” as the P&L could tolerate the new rental level but not provide the type of return we were eager engage with, therefore the plan continued.

If “b” concentrate on building the correct environment for sale. Entertain all enquiries, move capital expediture to the minimum, understand what price would be acceptable and ensure communication and actions drive towards “dress to impress”.

As a side point and off topic somewhat: As I wrote in “Letting them go” there has to always be a realisation that circumstances can change to the degree that a sale or structured closure is necessary. Blindly continuing in some dumb expectation that “things will get better” is unrealistic. If bankruptcy notices had epitaphs, this would be a front runner for the most used.

Stage 4. Communicate

Internally
I do not believe that everyone involved in the company needs to be fully aware of the major issue. If an issue has the potential to de-rail the bigger plan, it will achieve its aim very quickly if everyone within the business stops what they are doing to concentrate on it. I will only engage with members of the team who can aid resolution and whose involvement in doing so will outweigh the impact on the business overall.

As an example, I was advising a tech company that had multiple product lines. One of the product lines had gone out to the market sub standard, so customers were deserting and the PR backlash had been severe. Earnings were disappearing and the company looked to be on the ropes as the resolution time was likely to be months and not days. The investors couldn’t understand how a recently introduced product could have had such a detrimental effect on the overall financial performance that had previously been very robust. Within 48 hours of arrival, I was able to see the problem. Despite the fact the faulty product line was new and represented less than 4% of revenue, the entire company was focused on the resolution. The CEO had made it “the only priority” internally and the sales team was divided into two camps, those that could not service client requirements because of lack of internal resource and those that were using the faulty product as an excuse for poor performance. They had made quite a few errors in production and a number in their handling of the customer communication and PR situation but the potentialy terminal one was moving all their focus to the resolution and taking their eyes off the rest of their business.

Externally
Externally it is critical that you let all parties involved know your engaged. I find that in conflict situations, resolution is often achieved quicker when it is understood that you are resolved to achieve the outcome necessary. This counters the natural optimism that people approach their side of the issue, whereby they envision a quick and favourable outcome based on how they believe you will react. When in reality they are met with determination and resolve, there is often a noticeable reduction in their enthusiasm.

For most issues (including the conflict orientated), I make a point of projecting my intention to resolve and a willingness to listen to all view points and potential solutions. My prior preparation means that I have action plans for most scenarios and can move fluidly through the process without excessive procrastination.

Finally, there has be an ongoing, brutally honest evaluation of the situation. Don’t be fooled into confusing activity with productivity. At the start of each day, be very clear who you need to speak to, what are the outcomes you need to see and what the next actions are to be. It may seem simple but I find people become comfortable operating within the issue and their direction becomes confused or aimless. The initiative passes to the side with purpose and my focus is to always be on that side.

I am stating categorically this works for me. It doesn’t guarantee a satisfactory outcome but it does guarantee you will keep control of the developing situation and be able to take advantage of any opportunies to close out in your favour. You can’t avoid the big problems as your business grows but you can tackle them head on and not let them consume your potetial.

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Effective drinking from the information fire hydrant

I read incessantly, I have 68 books on my Kindle in a folder called “wait list” and have 49 that I have read in the last 14 months in the archive folder. I have the same appetite for day to day information and I make it a priority to be on top of the news in the areas that matter to me. These days, the ease of information availability is both a blessing and a curse. It can feel like trying to get a drink of water by putting your mouth over a fire hydrant.

Markets, trends, opinions and the news move at an astonishing pace and I think it is essential to keep current of it all if you are to make informed decisions, provide sound counsel to clients and develop as a person.

Back in 2010 I sat down to deliberately tackle the challenge in a systematic way. My aim was to ensure I had the required sources available to me, organised and structured. My life is Apple dominated so naturally my Mac, iPhone and iPad play a large part in this but PC and Android versions of all I use are also available for the Luddites out there. Effectively, there is no time when I do not have access to the latest news as I am always close to one of these devices. This means that any time I find myself with available time, I have access to what I need. I rarely find myself relying on the Mac’s at home or in the office as I find my iPad to be the “go to” reading device or my iPhone if I am find myself waiting for a meeting or sneaking an update before the doors close on the plane.

iPhone & iPad


Feeddler Pro
This App is an RSS reader which allows me to capture news coming from sites I like to follow. For those of you that have not heard of RSS before, it stands for Real Simple Syndication. Effectively it  is providing the site in a format that the App can take and allows me to see only the changes that have occurred since I have last been there. I follow around 30 websites and rather than have to go to each one of them, this App consolidates and serves up the relevant updates. I have divided the websites into sections so I can choose what subject I am looking to review and the app will serve me up the websites I have placed within the subject. My Feedler Pro has

Activations – inspiration and creativity sites for client activation ideas.
Blogs – For any of the blogs that I may follow
General business- Sites such as Inc, Business Insider, The Economist
Social Media – Tracking all the latest developments in the market
Sports Business – Provides all the news in the commercial world of sport
Sports News – Mostly Everton websites


Thomson Reuters News Pro
I have tried Sky, BBC, CNN and Bloomberg over the last 2 years. I have chosen News Pro as it gives me the correct balance between what is going on in the markets and general news. I find the updates constant and the interface a pleasure to work with.


The standard by which all information should be presented on an iPad/iPhone. I use FlipBoard to collate my personal interest news such as tech, Apple and gadgets. Connect your Twitter stream to it and it brings those little tweets to life.


Downcast
My podcast manager. iTunes is so more cumbersome and outdated. I listen to a great number of podcasts from the BBC, Economist, Harvard Business Review and my beloved football club, Everton. Once you select your content, Downcast takes care of the rest, ensuring the latest editions are always available to you.


A fantastic product with a simple concept. You see an article on the web, it is either to long for on-screen reading or you just don’t have the time to read it at that moment. All you need to do is press the marklet in your browser and the article is immediately formatted, stripped of ads and other rubbish and placed in your Instapaper account for reading when you choose.


iAnnotate
PDF’s continue to dominate the work environment and document management. This app allows me to review them, annoate and organise. Linked to my Dropbox account, I can throw any PDF’s that require reading in the future (I have a penchant for research papers on certain social science disciplines) into the Dropbox folder and it is integrated into this app.


One of the must have Apps in any business toolbox. This service allows you to have access to all your documents, photos and videos on any advice, anywhere. I actually use Dropbox for my working files and SugarSync for all others as it is even more customisable.

Office and home Mac


Reeder
This is a desktop equivalent of Feeddler Pro. I have it for the odd time that I look at my feeds in the office and my iPad or iPhone are not close by.

Read Later Marklet
You drag this on to your browser bookmark bar from the page and from them on, when you see something you want to read later, you can press it and it will send it to your Instapaper Account.

Dropbox
I have a folder within Dropbox called Reading. Any PDF’s filed in here become readable/editable on my other devices.

My day flows around the discipline and though every day is different I use all available time. At the breakfast table I catch up on the overnight via Thomson Reuters News Pro on my iPad and any time remaining is spent with Feeddler catching up on sites and blogs. I drop my son off at school every morning and on the way to the office I use Downcast to catch up current affairs with podcasts from the Radio 4 program and 5Live Sportsweek. I will inevitably come across interesting work related articles during the day but with one press of the “Read Later” icon, the article is passed to my Instapaper account which I generally review on a Sunday evening. If I come across interesting PDF articles or if I am sent documents that I need to review, I save them to my “Reading” file on Dropbox which means they are on my iPad for reading using iAnnotate when I chose. Additionally, any changes I make to the documents are also automatically available on all my other devices thanks to Dropbox. Flipboard tends to be the presenter of my non-work interests which  I will read in the evening.

As I said at the beginning, it is critical to stay informed and when, as an entrepreneur, you set the direction of the ship, it is even more so. Develop the habit and refine the system to suit you and you will find you have more time available than you think and a greater personal capacity to take it all on board.

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Lessons learnt from the North Pole

I had written another post that I intended to post today but when I was looking through my diary, I realised it is a year since I arrived back in Singapore from the Arctic. That journey provided me with the type of life shaping experiences that define many of my actions today and I couldn’t resist using the anniversary to write a little about them.

 I arrived home 15 kilos lighter than I am now, forever changed and I don’t just mean the removal of the top of my thumb that was to happen the following day. After fourteen months of planning, hundreds and hundreds of training hours, subjecting my body to some of the hardest conditions possible on this planet , I was home with my family. Ultimately, the expedition had not been a success for me personally. Whilst I arrived to the embraces of my family, my team mates, Georgie and Tom, were being airlifted off the ice, having reached the Pole five days after I was taken off. However disappointing this reality was, I was overwhelmed with the positives I got from the experience and it is them I would like to share.

For anyone interested, I wrote in some detail on the Polaraceteam.com blog about the race itself. My final entry started off with a “I doubt too many people will read this” and I was flabbergasted when more than 3,500 people did! However, what I want to look at now is the last twelve months and see what what I really learnt.

The number one thing I gain from the extreme challenges I undertake is learning about myself. Whether jumping out of a plane, running marathons in the Sahara or surviving in the high Arctic, they have made me a better person. I experience a different set of emotions and physical challenges than I experience in every day life. They reset my self imposed boundaries and open my mind to the possibility of what I can achieve with application. Inevitably they help me to understand what areas I can improve on and whilst this is not always a comfortable exposure, it is essential to growth . When you are free of the limitations you place on yourself, you find you grow as a person, as your willingness to take on new ideas and challenges develops you.

Ok, so from a business perspective, what did I learn from my adventures in the high Arctic? Nothing that is going to re-write the content of MBA courses around the world but in my opinion relevant.

Fail to plan and you plan to fail – It has been said many times before but in the Arctic just as in business there has to be more than Plan A. The harsh realities of potential death in the Arctic meant that there were well thought out back-ups for all major eventualities, whether it be polar bear attacks or cooker failures. In business it should be no different. Plans should be set based on all the available information at that time but circumstances change and there must be alternative plans in place for alternative circumstances.

I, like most, have voiced off about teamwork in virtually every internal company presentation I have ever done. It was not until in minus 40C and 60km/hr white outs that I realised what it actually means to be part of a high performance team. When your very survival depends on each other, you realise the importance and power of true teamwork. I could write a book on this area alone but in summary;  A common goal that is understood by all, backed up by clearly defined duties and responsibilities, combined with regular communication and feedback . We all have good and bad days, when doubts creep in or the challenge seems too much. It will be the team that gets you through.

Break the goal down and celebrate the small victories. In January 2010, the idea of raising the funds for the charity, training for the event and then actually accomplishing a 650km trek, hauling 50+kgs in minus 40C seemed a pretty lofty proposition. We immediately broke this down in to manageable chunks and this behaviour continued to the race itself. When I arrived at Resolute for the start of the event, it seemed like it would be an eternity before I would return to my wonderful tropical home. When I left, three weeks later, I felt it had all gone by in a flash. Every day we had a goal whether that be time out on the ice or a specific distance. This would be reviewed during the day to take into account circumstances (weather conditions, injuries etc) and with the tent on each night and the stoves burning, we would give ourselves unadulterated self and team congratulation as another day of progress was celebration in itself.

- Imagine for a moment you have slept 4-6hours fitfully for the previous 7-10 days, having being skiing 16-20 hours a day hauling 50kg behind you across ice rubble. Add to that being constantly cold, a joint freezing, shriek inducing cold. Your feet are a mess, to stand is painful and that is before you put your boots on. Your toes nails are gone and your heals are a bloody pulp. To use your hands brings tears to your eyes because of the damage of frostbite, you can see the flesh dying and the skin blackening. Your sleeping bag and the inside of the tent is covered in ice and you can hear the 60km/hr winds howling around outside. But you get up and set off on another 16-20hr day. I now know that the physical limitations I lived my life to previously were self imposed. I know, with full confidence, that there is no business agenda or schedule I cannot accomodate. I know that if I choose to, I can focus with a steely single mindedness on a task to completion.

Challenge yourself, it makes life worth living! HAGS is a concept that Jim Collins spoke about in his brilliant book “Good to Great“. Tom, one of my team- mates on Polar Challenge, is a huge fan of the terminology. Big Hairy Audacious Goals is defined by the author as “An Audacious 10 year goal to progress to an envisioned future”. I will cover another time why the time horizon of 10 years is too long for me, but I have found that publicy setting a HAG has seen me realise or come close to realising the result considerably more times than when internalised.

I am not suggesting that we all look to the Arctic or Mount Everest for enlightenment. However, the career expeditions we undertake can produce challenges also and I am taking the experiences above with me as I tackle mine.

Next posting will be Thursday and is ” Drinking from the information fire hydrant” which looks at how to stay current in a time of ever changing and available news.

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Letting them go….

When you gave birth to them and they have been part of your life for so very long, it is always a difficult decision to set them free. In some cases, they make the decision for you through delinquency and ultimate self ruin, but others fill you with pride and we often find ourselves ignoring their faults and continuing regardless.

No, this is not a post on parenting, this is about our other little babies, the businesses we start. Last Monday was the last trading day of Fidgets under Mullane ownership. We started the business, a giant children’s indoor playground, in March 2008 and it has been a fantastic success, becoming a household name in Singapore with parents of young children. In four years, Fidgets has seen half a million visitors and held more than 9000 birthday parties (it also sold over 35,000 pairs of socks, go figure). Its success is based on the quality and simplicity of the offering. A large free play structure where children can enjoy themselves, combined with a 100 seater cafe and party rooms for eighty children. Located in a prime residential catchment area, it was one of the few places in Singapore with extensive free parking.

Over the four years, we developed the business and after a very strong first year of trading, we continued to see annual 10% + growth in revenue and made constant improvements to the costs. The business was cash flow positive from month one and returned its capital within 16 months. A fantastic business that thanks to great management from Michelle and her team, operated smoothly throughout.

People are always asking why we never opened more Fidgets. Well the answer was simple. We didn’t want to. Fidgets produced a phenomenal return for us over the four years because of deal we negotiated with the landlord and the uniqueness of the space. In a business such as this, in Singapore especially, the rental costs of your location will normally be higher than your staff costs and account for 50-60% of your total costs. The contract we negotiated had rental nearer 10% and allowed us to enjoy what I always viewed as artificially high margins.

Fidget’s very existence occurred through chance. Vanda’s head boxing coach, Alexis and I were looking for a site to open to formalise the fledgling club. I had lived near Turf City and made an enquiry about space. We went down to take a look one Friday evening and were shown a 13,000 sqft space that was perfect for what we needed. The one slight challenge was that we needed a mere 1,500sq ft. However, the company managing it had the market all wrong and when I was able to negotiate it down to what I believed was 20% of the true market cost, I signed for it, on the spot.

My wife Sandy and I mulled for a number of weeks what to do with our slab of Singapore real estate. We could see the potential of the site, we just couldn’t decide what to do with it. We discussed a larger gym and a variety of entertainment orientated businesses but we kept coming back to Sandy’s idea of opening an indoor children’s playground. With average temperatures year round of 32C, parents were always looking for safe, clean play options for their under 10′s. At that time, there was only one option in Singapore and it was small and crowded. In December 2007, 7 weeks after signing for the property, we decided to go for it. Vanda Boxing Club opened next door in December and Fidgets, after an extensive fit out over three months, opened in March 2008.

Maybe it was the accidental nature of the its foundation but I never really felt passion for Fidgets that Sandy did. It was a simple business, so once set up with the correct people, processes and controls, it could be managed remotely and that is exactly what we did. Daily revenue reports provided Michelle and I with the performance metrics and a monthly operations meeting allowed us the opportunity to discuss marketing initiatives and any issues. Sure, in the early days we needed to work with team to get things right and there were a number of big initiatives that took some on-site time but I can honestly say, in the last 12 months of operations, I was on-site once.

Fidgets did play a part in the growing community programs we were developing, and we regularly gave over the facility free of charge to the Spastic Children’s Assoc of Singapore (SCAS) as well as donating $1 from every admission to SCAS and other children’s charities, which amounted to tens of thousands.

Could we have opened more branches? Yes, most definitely, as others have subsequently done, with the strangely named, Polliwogs and Frisk & Romp being examples. But to have done so would have meant we would have involved ourselves in a business that didn’t meet our return on capital requirements, as any new branch would certainly come with a cost profile 70 or 80% higher. We had also built a brand that was renowned for the quality of its offering and the size of the premises. There are very few sites, in sensible locations in Singapore, that could give us the size required (or the height as we need ceilings above 7m) and those that could, would be in more industrial areas and thus affect the quality perception of the brand. During this period, we were seeing tremendous growth at Vanda Boxing Club and Vanda Promotions and the newly formed Vanda Sports Group was already showing promise. Therefore, reduced margins, increased risk and the potential for Fidgets to take away focus from the other businesses led us to decide not to expand.

That’s not to say I was in a rush to get rid of what I had. I made it very clear to the team, we would be staying with Fidgets for as long as the present cost base could be maintained and therefore the returns. There is absolutely no sense in punching the proverbial gift horse in the mouth when he isn’t causing you any trouble.

In November last year, a new landlord meant the days of low rents were over. You couldn’t even get a storage room in the industrial parts of the island for what we were paying, so it was of no surprise when the 400% increase in rent appeared. We didn’t gnash teeth or protest, we had prepared for many months for this eventuality and immediately we dusted off the contingency plans that had been prepared a year ago. One of the options was to sell the business and Michelle went out to the market to find a buyer. Even with a 400% increase in rental costs, Fidgets was still a very profitable business and would give the type of return, many would find highly acceptable so we knew we wouldn’t struggle to find a buyer.

Funny enough, it was only at the sale time when I felt any emotion to what had been built. I was eager to see what was a well-known and very successful brand continue. I was therefore delighted when a group of investors stepped forward to acquire the business. Not only did they have experience of this type of business, they also wanted to keep the brand and use it as the cornerstone of their growth going forward. In a matter of months, we will see three Fidgets in Singapore and the expectation is that will grow and probably regionally. It is not a direction we had any interest in going, but it is nice to see what we started continue to develop.

So, what is my point? Simple, it is one thing to build a business but it is also fundamental to understand what changes in circumstances will prompt you to exit. The exit can take the form of a sale or a structured closure but there is little chance of either of these scenarios taking place if you haven’t planned for circumstances in the first place. The alternative is an unstructured closure and any time unstructured is mentioned, we can guarantee it will be expensive and messy.

For us, we will always remember this week as when our first baby left the nest. I have bought and sold other businesses in my corporate life and indeed have bought since choosing the entrepreneurial route. However, this is the first time that I have had the opportunity to conceive, grow, develop a business and then have the opportunity to sell it. The last part only happened because I knew the circumstances of what would trigger such a scenario and I am very pleased I did.

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Here we go…….

Why the blog? There is no simple answer to that question. I can think of many motivations, some selfish, some not. I have thought about writing this blog for some time because I enjoy writing. I don’t claim to have an particular talent in the discipline but I do find it rewarding. I also frequently get asked questions, whether by people looking to start up a business or just with an interest into how Vanda came into being and what the future plans are. This will give me an opportunity to answer them.

I am not a stranger to blog writing, having chronicled (in excrutiating detail) the physical challenges I undertook when attempting the Sahara Ultra Marathon in 2010 and the race to the North Pole in 2011. However, this blog is different and will not be my ramblings about some ridiculous physical challenge that is part of my mid-life crisis. My writing will be dedicated to the decision I made in 2007 to leave corporate life and follow my desire to create a life around my passions of entreprenuerism, community and work/life balance. There has rarely been a dull moment over the last five years and I don’t see that changing any time soon, so I thought I would share it.

It is not my intention to write about the past. What I want to share is the here and now, the challenges of running and building a business in this present climate. Every day we make decisions, encourage behaviours and develop habits that influence the brand we will become. In this blog, I will do my best to share the thinking behind many of the ones we make.

I will post weekly, it will help me work to a shedule. I am not known for being someone slow to speak their mind and that is not likely to change here.

What I would like to achieve is to give you an understanding on how we are approaching building the business. From the tools we use, to the metrics we manage with. All supplemented with some real time successes and failures that are part and parcel of taking the chances necessary to have a chance of succeeding in the modern business environment as a growing enterprise. When I started this adventure I thought I knew plenty but would learn more. What I have found, in reality, is that I knew sufficient (barely) and the rest would come from hard won (and often expensive) experience. I would certainly be pleased to see others get value from what I have learnt.

With this post doing no more than setting the scene, I will post again with some content this Thursday so check back and let’s see how we get on.

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