Billy Ferguson: 5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became the CEO of Trivelo
Embracing change will be something throughout your journey — Any business needs to adapt to the market and the realities of real business conditions. Facebook didn’t launch with a business model that resembles today. Over time it has made thousands of decisions to develop the business and mature into the business it is today. As a CEO you need to remain open to change and not be too wedded to any idea or element of your business. Back the ideas that work and ditch the ones that don’t. As I’ve outlined above, Trivelo has changed a number of times and I fully anticipate continuing to change.
As part of my series about the leadership lessons of accomplished business leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Billy Ferguson.
Billy Ferguson is the founder & CEO of Trivelo. A triathlon and multi-sport specialist agency providing product testing and digital marketing services to a range of triathlon companies. Clients of Trivelo include HUUB, TYR, Zone3, Proviz, Finis and Orca. As well as devoting his time to making Trivelo a success, Billy works as an IT executive in a leading UK bank helping them transform their technology solutions.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us the story about what brought you to this specific career path?
After working in a bunch of technology roles within the financial services sector for more than two decades my ambition to do something for myself led me to set up Trivelo. Having always had the aspiration to run my own business it was always a matter of “when” not “if”. I’ve been incredibly fortunate to have worked for a number of blue-chip companies in Senior Executive roles and this has allowed me to learn a number of transferable skills much of which is relevant now even as a small business. The trigger to write my business plan and go from an idea to something real came from a growing interest in triathlon as a hobby which I wanted to turn into a business.
Can you share one of the major challenges you encountered when first leading the company? What lesson did you learn from that?
The biggest challenge I faced in our first few years of running the business was facing the stark reality that the business plan wasn’t going to work. The original concept was to build a secure platform for cyclists to buy and sell used bikes. We got as far as building out the full platform that we ran with for a couple of years but a website that relies on user-driven content needs visitors. There is a critical mass that you need to achieve to ensure you have new content for people to find and without this, you are dead in the water. Getting critical mass either needs a boost from viral engagement or you throw money at it with swathes of advertising. The private equity funding behind the business wasn’t prepared to put up an increasing pot of money for advertising so the gut-wrenching decision was made to change direction. The important lesson learned through this was that while a business plan activity ahead of starting up is super important to stress test an idea you can’t be wedded to it once your idea is a living breathing entity.
What are some of the factors that you believe led to your eventual success?
While we couldn’t get the website to really explode along the way we built a following and a network of awesome athletes and firms working in our niche. This network of people and businesses was the gem in our business and this led to the success we have since seen. Taking this community and building on it to find the right model is how we navigated through to where we ended up. This coupled with a determination to make things work in the face of limited results allowed the business to keep moving forwards and evolving. Never accepting that “no” could be the answer.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became CEO”? Please share a story or example for each.
1) You will need to be patient — having read hundreds of business books there is a danger that you can embark on a new business venture expecting within 12 months to be running something that rival Netflix. Of the millions of businesses that start each year it is estimated that 90% of these fail. If you are brave enough to start a new business and you can keep it going you are bucking this trend. If 5 years after start-up you are still growing and the business is alive you are succeeding. BE PATIENT. Trivelo celebrated our 5-year anniversary this year and I still very much consider us a start-up. The Ferrari is yet to be ordered!
2) Embracing change will be something throughout your journey — Any business needs to adapt to the market and the realities of real business conditions. Facebook didn’t launch with a business model that resembles today. Over time it has made thousands of decisions to develop the business and mature into the business it is today. As a CEO you need to remain open to change and not be too wedded to any idea or element of your business. Back the ideas that work and ditch the ones that don’t. As I’ve outlined above, Trivelo has changed a number of times and I fully anticipate continuing to change.
3) You will need to get your hands dirty. Really dirty — CEO of a small business means you wear many hats. Coming from a corporate background there is a culture shock when you have to pick up everything from selecting the right courier firm to agreeing on contractual terms. It can be daunting but the reality of it is that with no depth of resources to call on you have to take it on and make sure things get done. Daily I find myself either making decisions on areas outside my comfort zone or directly keeping us moving forwards with written content and partner engagement activity.
4) You must make sure you hold your nerve — Making money might mean you have to dig in and hold your nerve as it takes longer than you anticipated. This is about more than patience. When the doors are only swinging one way and money seems only to be flowing out while you establish your business this is unsettling times. Retaining confidence and commitment will be a challenge but essential if you are to make your idea a viable business entity. Every new business needs capital investment to get you going. Trivelo has seen three rounds of private equity injection and every time this happens you are facing the reality of winding up or going deeper. Takes nerve to drive this.
5) There will be a lot of noise and distractions — with so many things to work on and progress it can be hard to see the wood for the trees. Every start-up CEO will need a good filtering process so they can have a mechanism to keep focus on the work that matters. I established early the processes that we can share across the business and use on-line to keep track on who is doing what and keep sight of the important tasks that need time and attention.
What advice would you give to your colleagues to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
Make time for exercise in your daily work routine. Giving your mind a break from the demands of being a CEO means that you can retain more of a fresh outlook. Studies have shown that productivity improves through exercise. By factoring this into the middle of your day you give yourself the ability to return invigorated and ready for another start. Don’t put this time for you out of your diary viewing this as wasted effort. As well as refreshing your mind it also gives you time to reflect while taking in some exercise. Sometimes my most valuable breakthroughs have come from doing something completely different. A swim. A ride. A run.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
Corny as it may sound my parents have been a real positive influence on what I have done both in very different ways. My Dad has always been very entrepreneurial and he has always been very open with me on the highs and the lows. I have learned a great deal from this and have been able to use him as an honest voice to bounce ideas off. My Mum gives a very different input to my Dad and has always been more structured and organized. With just my Dad as a North star, I would certainly be less of a completer/finisher which I think is hugely important in running a business able to take ownership for things and ensure you see them through to their end outcome.
What are some of the goals you still have and are working to accomplish, both personally and professionally?
Personally, the most ambitious goal I have is to take my triathlon journey to the next level and complete an Ironman distance triathlon. I have competed up to half-Iron distance only to date. Taking on a full Ironman means a huge amount of commitment to training with 10–15 hours per week for 6 months leading up to the event. At the moment with work and family commitments it just isn’t something I can feasibly achieve.
Professionally the next goal I want to get through as CEO of Trivelo is to see the business clear the last of the investment debt. When we get through this milestone my plan is to begin our contributions to charities with a percentage of our profits. I have always wanted the business to “do good” and the most obvious way of doing this is to donate funds to help charities that we can really connect with.
What do you hope to leave as your lasting legacy?
Big question. If I can try and narrow the question to my lasting legacy of being CEO of Trivelo would help keep me answer with something more succinct. I would like to see things mature into a real global community of athletes sharing experience and supporting each other to race faster and enjoy sports to the fullest. This legacy would be a living and growing entity that would be the golden source of truth on all things triathlon. The go-to location for information on products, races and training. Above all I want it to retain its integrity as an independent and trustworthy source that people will discover and want to become a part of contributing to the community.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would enhance people’s lives in some way, what would it be? You never know what your idea can trigger!
The recent Pandemic has given more time for consideration on how we live our lives more than ever before. Something that I have become more mindful of during this time is the risk on local economies worldwide as we have relied increasingly on monster vendors such as Amazon. I am a user of Amazon-like so many others but unless we collectively consider the use of local vendors to help support these smaller firms we risk losing our high streets and smaller vendors. My ask would be before we make a decision on purchase through a digital vendor consider if you can buy it from a bricks and mortar local firm.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
My Blog — https://blog.trivelo.co.uk
Twitter — @trivelo_bikes
YouTube — Trivelo Bikes
Instagram — trivelo.bikes