Scale for Success is a project that I have lived and breathed for nearly two years. It comes from two passions of mine: writing and entrepreneurship.
In 2017, I was mainly retired but still writing for my old editor at Real Business. I loved it sufficiently that while I was also investigating plans for spending my dotage in the sun, drinking wine and lazing by a swimming pool, the idea of doing more writing kept on niggling at me.
Two half started books later, and I began to learn a little bit about the craft, a lot of blood, sweat, and tears down, but the determination had grown. As any creative knows, there is just the niggling obsession that makes no sense to anyone else, but you know it is just something you absolutely have to do. More than that, you have to do it to the best of your ability, even if that isn’t very good, and even if only one person ever sees it or reads it.
By 2019, I was in the middle of the first half of a house move. Friends asked what I was going to do with my life and my time, and I was rather airily waving my hand and announcing I would know in September. Quite what or why I would know in September, I had absolutely no idea for one. But it was an oddly deep, inner conviction that I would know then.
Sure enough, come September, my thoughts came in loud and clear.
- What did I know most about – the problems of scaling up a business.
- Would writing about that be of any value to someone else: yes, if it had some answers.
- Did I know enough of the answers – no, I would need to get help.
The Start of Writing Scale
It was so incredibly simple and straightforward in my mind. I never questioned it, never hesitated. I drew up a list of all the different business areas, from vision and values to financing, sales and marketing, and people, not to mention supply chains and exit planning. I kept writing and the list grew.
I started thinking about who I knew that were experts in each of these fields and would share their advice. I began to contact people, wondering if now I had sunk into the obscurity of semi-retirement they would even take my calls. I should never have doubted. Many promptly responded with offers of help. It was fantastic catching up with old contacts such as Jeremy, Rob, Mike, Natalie, and Bev and talking about mutual sales experiences with Andrew.
It then started to dawn on me that writing was all very well but at some point, I would either have to self-publish or win a publishing contract, and I had read enough of how hard that was. Fully expecting my half-finished efforts to end up in the back of a drawer gathering dust, I put together a book submission and drew up a shortlist of publishers. At the top of the list was Bloomsbury. Their whole history struck me as the very essence of what a publishing house should be, and if you are going to be writing and dreaming it had to be them. So, I hit send on their submission page.
Just sometimes, fate takes a hand in one’s life. Bloomsbury’s submission page was down. Being pretty active on Twitter, I tracked one of their business editors and reported it. Nicely (it was the festive season after all), he offered up his personal email to send it in to.
I was amazed and thrilled to get invited in for a preliminary interview. I told absolutely no one. This was too precious, too near and dear to my heart. I drove to London, getting there on a chilly January morning somewhere around 5 am. Shivering, I found a very dubious travelers’ hotel that let me into their dining room for a questionable breakfast that I felt far too nervous to eat and to unthaw. I then hot-footed it round to Bloomsbury for an early meeting.
The whole writing journey
It wasn’t all plain sailing. My submission needed re-writing a couple of times, the idea re-hashing. But the long and the short of it was that they took a punt on me and the book, asking that I broaden the people who were advising to suit their global markets.
I was able to add more astonishing stories to my collection over the coming months. It is entirely correct to say I was utterly fascinated and totally in awe of the people I spoke to.
With several of them, David Siegal, in particular, I was to get an incredible eagle eye view into the early days of Silicon Valley. With David, Ed Molyneaux, and Simon Wadsworth, the history of how the internet impacted business from its first arrival on was re-shared, something I hadn’t appreciated enough at the time. And when we are talking tech, not only did we journey into Silicon Valley talking to Stephen Kelly, but I also heard hugely exciting plans for the UK through the impact of Tech Nation.
I heard the most incredible stories of triumph over adversity; extreme poverty in the case of Dame Shellie Hunt, domestic violence for Matt Sweetwood, burnout with Paris, and bereavement with Durrell Coleman, had shaped their lives. There was also Natalie Douglas’s resilience and passion to form a new life after a business knockback or Jeff’s in dealing with a terror of cancer by learning about nutrition and starting a health food chain.
All were so candid about their near misses, how James ran into trouble with tails.com, Adrian fought staff turnover at Mezzo Labs, Lex and a much earlier venture that didn’t make it, Anneke balancing motherhood and battling to sell at exhibitions in the early days.
There are stories of building national and international consumer brands, such as tails, Winebuyers, Eloments, and The Three Wolves. There are the business to business brands stretching across the globe from Mezzo Labs, Content Cal, and Athlon.
There were humorous stories, from David Meerman Scott about his days in Japan, or Bev joking about her early days in a Canadian goldmine and wondering if a gold bar would be too heavy to put in her handbag. Nostalgia for me (with Scottish blood) talking early entrepreneur stories with Russell.
I remain in awe of the business George is still building with The Sole Supplier, having started in his bedroom and following Roby’s footsteps, who has gone from a garage to a $318m float. And the passion with which James Bartle fights for the women they support in Cambodia and changing the face of the garment industry and slave labor will always stay with me.
It has been a roller-coaster of emotions, but most of all, the most incredible privilege. I hope everyone enjoys it.
And here is the link to the book...Scale for Success