Father’s Day Interview 2019
On International Women’s Day we celebrated some of the inspirational female business leaders we know.
So for Father’s Day, we decided to redress the balance and celebrate some of the male entrepreneurs in our network who are running their own successful businesses whilst being awesome dads.
It’s a bit longer than our usual blogs, but once we got these guys talking about their families and their businesses, it was hard to stop them – and it’s all good stuff!
1) Tell us a bit about you and your family
Daniel – I’m a father of three kids under five. I’m an entrepreneur and I run a business that has people in the UK, Canada, USA, Australia, Singapore. We’re in lots of time zones. With three young kids and a global business, I have my hands full. My wife, Aléna, is a great entrepreneur. She started out in the technology space, working at consumer tech companies like Google and Yahoo. She decided to do her MBA a few years ago and as part of that, she started a business. She built a product prototype, took it to market and within a year accepted an offer to sell the company.
Jason – I’m a professional investor, currency trader and entrepreneur. Since starting my first business at 22 years old, I have built multi-million-pound revenue businesses both online and in the service sector. I’ve been married to Sarah for over 10 years and we have two sons, 14 and 11. We live at home in the West Sussex countryside with our two dogs in wonderfully peaceful surroundings.
Sebastian – I’m founder of Warrior Academy, a global martial arts organisation with over 2,000 students around the world specialising in the development of character in young people. My small #WarriorFamily include my wife (also an international martial arts instructor) and our little warrior, Molly aged 22 months. We currently live in Dubai, where I have recently set up my new Warrior Academy.
Andy – I’m founder of Walpole Partnership, a niche but global IT company. I’ve got a wonderful family – my beautiful wife Sapna – also an entrepreneur – who keeps everything running smoothly with such energy, and is an inspiration to us all. We have two energetic young boys, Luc, 9, and Leon, 6, who keep me young and are funny, smart and (usually!) lovely company too.
2) What led you to start YOUR BUSINESS?
Daniel – I started by building a business in Australia that grew very rapidly to a multi-million-pound business. I moved to the UK after I got out of that business and started bringing international speakers to London, and running a series of events on entrepreneurship. These events morphed into a training program which then morphed into a business accelerator. We applied what we were learning and created a scalable global business that now also operates in Australia, Singapore, the US and now Canada.
Jason – Business was always something I said I was going to do one day. “Start my own business” was a phrase that I would talk a lot about, but never seemed to prioritise until one Christmas.
We had just had our first son, moved into a bigger house, the January blues and the debt of Christmas were lurking. One night that December, wrapping Christmas presents whilst listening to Dean Martin and Nat King Cole, I remember thinking to myself, if there was ever a time that my back was against the wall and I absolutely had to make this work out, it was now!
I turned to Sarah and said, “I’m going to hand in my notice at my job and start the business!” She looked at me with a smile and said “Good for you, when are you thinking? This year?” I looked at her with a deadly serious face and said, “Right now!”
That very moment, I rang up my office and left a voicemail to explain that after the holidays, I was leaving but would work my month’s notice. I felt a huge sense of achievement. When I returned after the holidays, they gave me 6 days to pack my stuff!
From that moment my little family have been the driving force and motivation behind every move I made. I fell in love with the creativity of being an entrepreneur and never looked back.
I guess you could say that my son was the real reason for me finally getting that fire in my belly and finally taking the leap. Without him, I don’t think I would be where I am today.
Sebastian – I was on the typical A level-to-Uni treadmill, but it was never for me. Eventually, I dropped out of studying architecture in Denmark and bought a one-way ticket to India in search of freedom and adventure. I spent several years travelling; a lot of that time was spent in Thailand training on gruelling Thai boxing camps in the North and the South. This re-ignited my passion for martial arts and I returned to the UK to teach martial arts.
The first role I had was a teaching a Thai Boxing club in a fairly run-down club in Bath. The students were a mix of adults and older teens. The biggest change I saw was in the teenagers, I became so passionate about helping them through the challenges they faced and developing their character. For many, it was a turning point in their life. That’s why I decided to focus on teaching young people. The idea that I could combine traditional values from ancient arts with modern teaching methods to create these turning points was so rewarding.
I launched the first children’s Warrior Academy club in January 2011 in a rural village in Somerset, it had around 15 students. Within 8 years we grew to 2,000 students across the UK and Dubai and a team of 15 running the organisation. I wrote a book called The Warrior Method, which became a bestseller and we were voted top five in the UK, not just for martial arts but for all activities for children.
Andy – My family was always my inspiration for the business, wanting to provide for them now and in the future.
I’d studied Business Management at Bournemouth University and had a really fun career at Xerox for 16 years. But I knew I wasn’t going to be earning enough for the lifestyle we dreamed of if I stayed there. I felt it was time to try something on my own and so, encouraged by Sapna, I finally made the break.
I now run an IT consultancy with a team of 15, based in the UK, Belgium, Sweden and India with clients across those territories, Dubai and the US. We combine the standards strengths, skills and experience from such a high-quality corporation as Xerox, with the nimbleness of a startup – no bureaucracy or politics! So far it’s worked well and I have a lovely, supportive and hard-working team.
3) What do you love – and hate – about running your own business?
Daniel – My business brings me into contact with such an amazing range of diverse ideas and people that I constantly discover all sorts of random and interesting stuff.
I love that we work with entrepreneurs across 50 different industries, discovering all the different things that people do. I get to know a little bit about everything, from robotics to healthcare, fitness to AI, to fashion to fertility rates and – of course – branding!
I love seeing people reinvent their business, package it up and grow it. I love seeing the actual results, and I love being a jerk at dinner parties where people say, “Do you know about such and such?” and I say, “Actually, I know an author of a book on that particular topic!” So I get to be this dude who knows a little bit about everything. That’s the fun side.
What do I not like? Being on multiple, multiple time zones. The difficulty is when I launched the business and grew a global team vision, I wasn’t a dad. I was a bachelor. But along the way, I met Aléna, and we had kids.
It’s very hard getting out of the house for certain meetings and time zones and my priorities have changed. When I first started the business I had a very clear vision of being in 20 cities and I loved the idea of flying around the world non-stop and talking to all these different people. Now I don’t even like the idea of leaving Putney!
Jason – What I love about business is being able to solve problems. Being able to pour your love and creativity into a product or service that literally transforms the lives of other people is beyond words. I also feel very lucky to have been born into a period whereby we have an abundance of opportunity to connect, build, culturise, partner and market with such ease. I love being the creator.
I honestly wouldn’t say there is anything I hate about business!
Sebastian – I love educating young people on what I believe to be the most important aspect of their development, the development of their character. Helping to shape a young person’s values, giving them a moral compass to live by and developing their ‘Three Cs’ (Confidence, Conduct and Concentration) to a high level, ultimately results in their success and happiness in life. It’s the most rewarding work ever.
Many children I teach privately are going through bullying, one of the three biggest challenges and transitions of their younger years (the other two being changing schools and adolescence). Martial Arts helped me through bullying, and we’ve developed a system that helps children overcome bullying rapidly (typically within three weeks).
Like Jason, I struggle to think of things I don’t like about the business. I’ve never hated any of it. I know what I’ve signed up to and know It’s not going to be easy. I have such a mental block answering this bit, so weird. Sorry!
Andy – I love the feeling of creating something new. I really enjoy seeing my team come together, and the energy and humour and support, camaderie that fizzes between them.
I love the freedom I have to dictate my own patterns of work and giving that freedom to others too. I can make important dates in my kids’ calendars too.
There’s nothing I really hate – if there was, I would change it – and that ability is something else I love!.
Losing profitable clients is never fun, I guess, and there are always stresses and challenges, but I don’t hate those. Sapna and I will say, “We chose this life!”, which keeps us mindful and grateful that ultimately, we are in control of what we do. I love every experience for what it can teach me. (Wow, that sounded cheesy!)
4) DID you HAVE any lucky breaks or people who helped or inspired you?
Daniel – When I was 19 I got a job for this amazing mentor called John. He was 37, 38 years old and had three kids under five – I’ve literally become John! I was employee number three when John started his company. Two years later, we had 16 employees and a six, seven-million-dollar revenue. That experience of working for an entrepreneur as they started and grew a business really shaped me. It was an incredibly lucky break.
My business has bought me into contact with all sorts of interesting authors and speakers, so I get the opportunity to almost do a real-life MBA, constantly, every year about business and entrepreneurship and growth. So that’s incredibly lucky.
And I also think we overlook the obvious, being born in this particular time, being born in Australia with access to food, and school and clean water. Just the basics. That’s an incredibly lucky break in itself.
Jason – I was born into a family who were broke. I grew up on a council estate in south London. I had no peers or support in business.
What I did do was decide to allocate 10% of everything I earned to self-development which compounded over time until I was able to surround myself with a high-level circle of influence.
The way my brain works today is an amalgamation of lots of different inspirational people. Your environment dictates performance. Get around the right people and you won’t go far wrong.
Sebastian – The biggest, luckiest breakthrough I had was meeting my wife. I know that sounds like a rom-com, corny comment, but here’s why…
In 2014 I had a devastating, life-changing parachuting accident. I had done over 500 jumps and progressed very quickly through the sport onto wing-suiting. Wingsuiting over the cliffs in Switzerland, my canopy collapsed, and I dropped 50 foot (five stories), I survived, local climbers heard me land and came to the rescue. The impact broke both feet, ankles and legs and caused a huge amount of ligament damage. I was told by the Swiss surgeons I would never walk again. Fortunately, I disregarded this prediction and made a pretty miraculous recovery. It took me a year on crutches (still teaching) to slowly get there. It was as much of a mental battle as a physical one.
I met my (future) wife only three months before the accident. She stuck by me without knowing if I was going to recover and the love, care and attention and support she showed, pulled me through. Having a physiotherapist mum was a huge bonus and I had constant access to the best advice out there. I almost lost the business I had spent years building and had poured so much of myself into, purely because at the time I didn’t have a team to help support me.
The accident taught me I couldn’t go alone, as I always had – in life as in business. So, I built a team – I became passionate about outsourcing and delegating. In five years we grew to 15 staff and 15 assistants. I also created a team…in my personal life. Exactly three years and three days after the accident our daughter was born and we were married.
Other huge breakthroughs in the business include meeting Daniel Priestly and joining the KPI program. creating a network of incredible entrepreneurs. It was like finally sitting at the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party – everyone was on the same page. Going through the same stuff and sharing best practice has been transformational.
Expanding to Dubai in January 2019 has been an absolute game changer. Within two months we were teaching over 200 students in 12 clubs and I was working personally with the Royal Family.
Andy – Actually, my wife gave me the nudge needed to get me started. I’d been fermenting and talking about plans to set something up for a few months, but I wasn’t quite sure how to make the transition. We’d just had a second baby and Sapna wasn’t working so we both felt that me leaving a steady job right then would be a huge risk.
At the same time, Xerox was having to make cutbacks and my manager told me there were some voluntary redundancy packages going. I was asked to sound out my staff to see if they wanted to take advantage. I didn’t put two and two together, but luckily Sapna is far smarter than me and gave me a verbal clip round the ears – did I not realise that VR could effectively get Xerox to fund my startup?! Luckily, I qualified and the payoff gave me enough capital to make the leap.
In my career, I’ve tried to take ideas and learnings from everyone I speak to. I read a lot and Daniel Priestley’s Key Person of Influence book led me to the Dent network, who are a constant source of inspiration.
My old friend Steve Wilson, probably unknowingly, inspired me too, with a misquote* from Sun Tzu’s ‘The Art of War’ – “When you are small, look big.” That’s basically our social media strategy! (*This phrase was never actually in the book, but Steve never let the truth get in the way of a good story!)
5) How do you define success? What success are you most proud of?
Daniel – For our company defining success is getting companies to align to the United Nations global goals then stand out in their market place, they scale up and they make a bigger impact. And that’s how we define success. I feel like everyone has to make up what success means to them and that’s all you can really do.
For me, it was making something that I’m passionate about, can we get thousands of companies to embrace the United Nations global goals, can we get thousands of companies to do something in that direction while also building a commercially successful business.
I’m incredibility proud of the way it’s unfolded. We have an incredible team who live the vision and the values of the business. We attract incredible clients who are attracted to the visions and values of the business. I’m proud of the success of our clients.
And I’m also really proud that most nights Aléna and I put the kids to bed together. We do bathtime and bedtime. Most mornings we take the kids to school or nursery – and because I work from home, it’s not uncommon to have lunch with the kids as well. So I’m really proud that although we’re doing this big global vision thing we’re also spending good quality time with the little ones.
Jason – I define success as deliberately working towards something you are passionate about. It’s more of a process instead of a result. For me, being able to be financially free and focus on nothing other than my highest values is what makes me successful.
The money, relationships, opportunities etc are all a by-product of being able to see further than three feet in front of my face.
I’m most proud of creating a life for my family by following my dreams. Making life up each day is something my boys have witnessed me do since they were born which has embedded a deep belief into them that they too can do anything they want.
Sebastian – As a business, I define success from the size of the audience we reach, and the individual impacts we make. We regularly have parents in tears on the phone, giving us heartfelt thanks for impacting their children and their family’s lives.
I’m incredibly proud of our partnerships with local charities we have made, including a children’s hospice where we provide scholarships to the siblings of terminally ill children who are going through an incredibly difficult time.
I want our organisation to ‘make a Dent’ in education. For the system to change so that the development of character is seen as more important than the grades a student gets in school. Character and values mean success or failure, not just grades.
For me, success is all about impacting lives, but also to live a life of adventure. I want to look back in five, 10, 20 years and see a life filled with exciting stories, to have experienced everything life can give me, fully.
Andy – Success is a happy me, a happy family, a happy team and happy clients.
I’m most of proud of growing this business over six years when so many start-ups don’t make it further than the first year. While this may sound a bit uninspiring, I’m a big believer in the concept of a flywheel, and that energy accumulates with time and consistency.
We are constantly building our capacity to change the world for the better, so longevity is a key part of success for me.
6) How do you balance running your business with having a family? What are your typical days or weeks like?
Daniel – It’s a fluid interaction. In a way, I’m always working but I’m also not working. I’m in control of my time. Sometimes I might have a really intense few hours in the morning and do some conference calls but in the afternoon I take some time off. Sometimes I might take the afternoons off and punch out some stuff in the evening. Sometimes I say no to stuff that would be good financially but would take me one or two weeks overseas.
The other thing too is that we’re very fortunate to have help. Aléna’s mother is very helpful with the family. We have a beautiful home with a big back garden so that’s enormously helpful. It’s one of the things that brings the family together again and again. We have a BBQ with space for the kids to run around. It’s rare in London to have a big garden so we’re incredibly lucky in that.
One of my favourite things to do during the day is make up a story that I’m going to do as a bedtime story that night. It’s always just forming the back of my mind: I might be thinking about Xander getting stuck in the chimney, or digging in the back garden and finding an aeroplane and then we take a flight somewhere, or we go to the Science Museum and borrow the rocket for a trip to the moon. My mother-in-law says I should write them down!
Jason – When I started working from home, work-life balance became a bit murky. I went from being a hero (working hard at the remote office) to ignoring the family when I had to work in the home office. My kids would be walking around the house like zombies not knowing if they could interrupt me. My wife would be unsure as to when we would spend time together. Everyone was just uncertain.
What we did to resolve this was one of the most transformational strategies in our family. We bought the biggest whiteboard we could get our hands on. We stuck it up in our kitchen. We then mapped out the entire week and used an orange pen to block in all the non-negotiable family time. Walks, games, lunches, dinner, films, etc. We then each got a different coloured pen and blocked in all the other personal time that we were working on our personal tasks.
Everyone knew where they stood. We became excited for the family times and the pressure was off for the times that were before, a bit grey. This structure in our family life creates certainty and contentment.
Sebastian – Firstly, I’d say a switch flicked in my life when I became a dad. Suddenly I could relate to the families we worked with, in a deeper way. I decided not to separate my personal life and my business.
I believe people now more than ever seek transparency and authenticity. So, this me, this is what I do, here’s my family we are all aligned with the same values. I become friends with our customers, we spend time with a lot of our customers outside of the classroom, go camping together, have barbecues together.
By combining work and personal life, it doesn’t feel like ‘work’ and our daughter often joins us in our family classes. My wife is an incredible instructor too and often if my work takes me abroad, she can take over the whole Dubai operation, teaching 200 students independently.
As a business owner working with my wife, balance is having awesome communication and knowing when the other person needs a break, sometimes, forcing them to have that break, but also pushing the other person to set higher goals and smash it.
As a family, to ensure we have family time I book slots in each day way before work is plotted into the calendar, as a priority. It really stops me missing out on the important things in life.
Currently, I’m working one week in Dubai, one in London on repeat for two months to teach a private client in London, so our usual timetable is disrupted. Typically, our work is in the late afternoon/evenings. I ensure I have a solid morning routine which includes an hour’s training followed by family time, business development tasks and then teaching (if I’m teaching that day). We keep two days off each week to relax, often going camping, canoeing, or something outside, something that keeps us ‘in the moment’.
Andy – With two of us running our own businesses, we have both extreme flexibility and two sets of unreasonable demands on our time!
Sapna takes the lead on keeping the family intact for sure and planning our family diary and social life – and she does an amazing job. I try to pull my weight and have no issue switching roles when our businesses demand it.
Having a joint diary is paramount and we try to plan in regular date nights and stuff with the kids.
The key to keeping it all working though, is communication. As long as we let each other know what we need, what times we need covering, what needs doing and what we want to do, then it becomes natural to support and help each other achieve that.
7) What strategies or tips do you have for…
Daniel – I don’t actually believe in self-motivation but in environment dictates performance. So having external accountability and a peer group of people you respect that are doing better than you are. One of the best things for motivation is having a friend who is massively outperforming you! That always brings out the competitive streak!
Jason – First would be live life by your highest values. Go after what you naturally drives you and you’ll require little motivation if everything is going towards what you want to achieve in life. Secondly, go for a bigger mission, something outside yourself, so you’re always wanting to get to the next step.
Sebastian – We set daily, weekly, monthly and yearly targets with a three-year vision. I find 10+ years hard to digest and often demotivating. My life has radically changed every 24 to 36 months so I’ve been conditioned not to think further than three years. With a background in professional fighting and extreme sports, I naturally always seem to take the harder route, I’ve accepted that, and the ups and downs that come with it, enjoying each moment.
Andy – Journalling is the best tool to keep focused on goals, as well as keeping a level head when things are going against you. It gives you perspective and lets you refocus on where you are going daily.
Daniel – Have a great PA!
Jason – Have a family planner, as I described earlier. Planning helps with structure, certainty and contentment. Family time is non-negotiable.
Sebastian – Use Monday.com for organising all your team, keeping all communication in one place and setting tasks and deadlines. It has been a game changer for us.
Andy – I love Asana for keeping my team on track, and for creating templates for recurring tasks like onboarding new members so nothing gets forgotten, and we don’t reinvent the wheel every time.
On a personal level, I use Things by Cultured Code – the most elegant Apple-centric task manager that I’ve ever used, and we have a family Google calendar so that Sapna and I can keep organised on that front.
Daniel – I make a list of the most important and high-value things I could do for the day or for the week. And I focus on those high-value things and ignore the rest. I’m happy to not check emails all the time if I’m working on something important. And in my mind, I establish that if anything is lower-value than I need to be doing, then it needs to be done by someone else. I have a PA and a team of people around me so I try as hard as I can to make sure I’m delegating things that I don’t have to be doing.
Jason – Outsource low-value or low priority tasks. That helps with motivation as well. Get rid of the stuff you don’t want to do. Also, build systems for everything you do that allow you to leverage yourself. The more time you can free up with more you can work on your big goals. My son is building systems for some of his stuff now, and he’s 14 years old!
Sebastian – I’ve become incredibly passionate about outsourcing. It’s the lifeline for any business owner. I create a list and work through it looking for a way to delegate each task. Any task that we set is always accompanied with a how-to video (or the brief includes, “Please also create a how-to video on this task” so that we never need to explain how to do the same task twice. It’s massively improved our productivity. All our communication in our organisation on Monday.com, and I almost only communicate through voice messages on WhatsApp. Typing is old school.
Andy – Single-tasking for sure. Focusing on one thing at a time until it’s done is a proven way to be more efficient.
Minimising social media and limiting my news intake. I need to improve the latter, but it’s a fake feeling of productivity when actually all you are doing is consuming others’ opinions rather than creating some of your own.
Spend time on things that will save you time in the long run. If you can outsource, automate tasks or make things leaner you will get the benefit of many more hours than you spend setting things up.
Daniel – For starters, I don’t beat myself up about procrastination. There are certain times when I’m just not feeling it so I take time off. If at 3pm I’m just not feeling it I’ll go and sit in the back garden, and spend time playing with the kids. When I feel the inspiration return, I’ll jump back into it. I’m not one who has to be ‘on’ all the time. I’m happy to switch off.
Jason – Break any project, no matter how large, down into tiny pieces. To the hour or to the minuscule bits to limit feeling overwhelm, which is where procrastination comes from. Then put all the biggest horrible tasks at the top and get those done first.
Sebastian – Tackling the biggest challenges first and ensuring I train before I do any work. If I can wake up and within three hours have trained in the gym (60 mins), spent time with family (60 mins) and tackled the day’s biggest challenge (60 mins) … then the rest of the day is easy. The day has already been a success before 10am.
Andy – Several of the tips above will help with this already – being connected to your goals, and breaking tasks down will help a lot.
Remove unnecessary possessions and declutter too. It’s amazing how the space it gives makes you feel, and it removes distractions that can cause procrastination.
Daniel – I suppose a really simple basis for relaxation is getting to bed on time and getting enough sleep.
Jason – One thing we do is to book in relaxation. On the family whiteboard we’ll have ‘hot tub’ sessions, or ‘no technology’ sessions, just reading or talking or playing games. Every day. That helps to relax the mind and get away from it. And I would say a regular change of scene. Mix it up a bit.
Sebastian – I find business comes in waves. When we are super busy and have a huge workload, I accept that it will not always be this way. When we have very little work I fully relax. Business, for me, is a series of sprints. Maximum work followed by maximum relaxing. If I’m relaxing, I want to be right in the moment, as close to a flow state as possible and spending that time with my family, enjoying watching my daughter grow.
Andy – Reading (or listening) – non-fiction is a great way to learn, but some escapism is good too! As often as we can, I like to travel too. Booking in holidays or just breaks or treats regularly is really important to stop feeling exhausted.
Daniel – I’m a big believer in taking a holiday as an entrepreneur. Putting holidays in the diary and making them as important as any other fixture, any other meeting, is really important. At the beginning of the year, we always plan our holidays first. And make sure that they are rock solid in the diary and we book them, and they don’t move. Then you know you’ve got some great moments to celebrate coming up and you can work hard because you’ll be able to take time off pretty soon as well.
Jason – In our family, we do a couple of things. Each year before the Christmas holiday we write down everything we’ve achieved in the year. I write down everything, really exhaust our minds. Everything we think is an achievement. We read it all out and then we celebrate with a meal out or a beer.
And we also have a bell, like a pub bell, on the wall. If my kids do well in school, or if I hit a winning trade, we really anchor it and they get to ring the bell. We really celebrate, everyone jumps up and down! You can get them on Amazon for about £30!
It’s so important to celebrate and exercise gratitude, because you get on this hamster wheel of to-do lists, you forget how much you have achieved.
Sebastian – Truthfully, I rarely celebrate. I’m not interested in ‘things’. Lots of people reward themselves with the latest, newest thing, car, holiday, whatever it is that brings them happiness. Personally, I enjoy what I do, and rarely feel I need to celebrate a milestone. I love this journey so much, the ups and the downs… watching the business and our family grow is enough of a celebration for me. If I had to choose a way to celebrate, it would be to take the family on an adventure. We had two weeks in Thailand, backpacking, we loved it!
Andy – As an international team who are physically remote from each other, Slack enables internal communication so team wins are always celebrated quickly and with humour! It’s a great technology to allow good news to spread quickly and for people to show their feelings. The connection it provides is invaluable.
When we meet in person, I always include ‘Reward and Recognition’ as part of our team meetings. Everyone seems to appreciate a bottle of bubbly or a voucher. I think recognition and being applauded by the team is a big motivator too.
For the family, we don’t tend to celebrate by ‘buying stuff’, but we all love experiences, travel, events, weekends away, meals and days out…We’ll take the kids out for a meal of their choice if had a really good end-of-term report for example, or the cinema, rather than more stuff. It’s lovely as the boys aren’t hugely materialistic either as a result. Good times with each other, family and friends, that’s how we celebrate!
Loads of great tips there, thank you guys for your time.
I’m off to book a table for Father’s Day – and order that pub bell!
Happy Father’s Day to all the dads out there…