Closure and clarity

It’s cliche to write something like this on New Year’s Day but this isn’t about resolutions.

When I think about what was 2015, and what might be ahead for 2016, it all seems like a blur. So I’m hoping that writing this down will bring some closure and clarity. While therapeutic for me, and a bit self indulgent, maybe something I’ve shared here will help you.

It’s been a bloody hard but defining year. I haven’t slept well. In the first half, I did five (short) overseas trips, set up two companies and just about burnt myself out. The second half brought about a life shift, which involved refocusing personal, family and work priorities.

In early 2015 I pushed the limits juggling full time work (marketing and communications, Tindall Gask Bentley Lawyers), my role as co-founder of a London based startup (TalkLife), the launch of a new crowdfunding platform (Casefunder) and also attempt to be a semi-functional husband and dad to two kids (Frankie, 3.5, Pearl, 1.5).

Sweating up in Ho Chi Minh

Working on TalkLife meant trips, over five months, to Ho Chi Minh to work with our developers, London (a couple of times) to work with the team and meet investors, Boston to progress our collaboration with MIT, Harvard and Microsoft Research plus a quick trip to Bali for a mate’s wedding.

MIT Media Lab, Boston

While exhilarating the long haul, short turn around travel takes its toll. When my crowdfunding platform launched with a feature in the Sunday Mail it was the middle of the night in London and I was sick, exhausted and wanted nothing more than to lie in bed for a week. I brought home a chest infection and was no good to anyone around the house for a month.

I managed to fit all this in by taking annual leave, then unpaid leave from the law firm. I’m incredibly lucky to have great support from the firm’s partners, but this lifestyle was clearly unsustainable. So I bit the bullet, and set up my own consultancy (Apiro Consulting) — reducing my hours with TGB, picking up more time with TalkLife and seeing what else would unfold. When I raised this idea with TGB’s managing partner, Morry Bailes, with no hesitation he made it happen — within a couple of days we’d signed off on the new arrangement with the firm. Morry has been a fantastic boss but also a great mentor and friend who takes pride in helping people progress (even when it doesn’t always align with the needs of his firm).

The idea was to split my time evenly between TGB and TalkLife, but that wasn’t as easy as it sounded. I’d spent four years heading up the firm’s marketing solo, so cutting back my time, delegating to the new marketing assistant while still meeting expectations has been a challenge. It was also a frustration for TalkLife, as there initially wasn’t as much time available as hoped.

Very early on, it became clear to me that playing my marketing, business development, director role for a London based startup, while based in Adelaide (a city which now has little relevance to the company apart from the founders starting it there) was not going to work. The option of moving to London was not suitable for my young family.

At TalkLife’s London HQ, the amazing Somerset House

So I decided to step down and leave TalkLife. While it was a tough decision, I felt a fair bit of relief after four very hectic years. The timezone-related late nights, the tension and pressures of the company and its personalities; I was tired and my family was keen to have me back.

We’ve just about finalised the details of my exit and, having been working for “sweat equity”, leaving means losing (I’ve learned a fair bit about the pros and cons of sweat equity). Retaining little, commercially, after four years of toil can feel like a bit of a kick in the guts, but thankfully TalkLife has given me value in many other ways. We started TalkLife because we saw a need in the youth mental health space, we overcame obstacle after obstacle, naysayers and built something truly global and life changing for many young people. What I’ve learned about business in the last four years, from experiences and the amazing minds I’ve been blessed to work with, can’t be taught from a textbook. It has been some ride and I wish the team all the best.

There was no time to pause and reflect as I immediately focussed on building up Apiro Consulting. Specialising in PR, content, digital and business development, in just six months I’ve worked with some excellent companies, including PickStar and Tract Leadership, both founded by James Begley.

James was playing AFL footy for the Adelaide Crows when I was a kid at the bottom of the club’s administration food chain. We reconnected this year after James returned to Adelaide following a stint in Perth. It has been exciting to work with his companies, and personally, with an entrepreneur who I share similar philosophies with, in business and life.

James and I also kicked off a business and leadership podcast, Rooster Radio. We’ve been having conversations with interesting people “having a crack” in business, and even if no one was listening, we were learning a lot from our guests! Pleasingly, the podcast has been getting good traction and we have plans to take it to a new level in 2016.

Interviewing cricket star Shaun Tait for Rooster Radio

It’s set to be quite a year ahead, even though I can’t say for sure how things will unfold. PickStar, the marketplace for sports stars, is going through an investment round that will likely see my role expand. Signs are promising for Apiro, with some premium clients and scalable marketing solutions kicking off. And of course, I’m expecting plenty of surprises.

Personally, in the last couple of months my approach to life has changed and that will continue to shift in 2016.

No more glorifying “busy” (unfortunately “busy” is a badge of honour in the startup scene), eliminate waste (unfocused, unproductive, non-income generating activities), free up time for what’s important and live life on my own terms. Part of this is my plan to do a working stint/holiday with the family overseas later in the year — see how that goes!

The big challenge, for all of us, is to remove limited thinking. If we have no fear of failure, what could we achieve?

If you’ve reached this line, thanks for indulging me and all the best in 2016.