Who: Mike Gadd
What: Sales and Start-up Advisory company
How to create a Sales and Start-up advisory company
Introduce yourself and your business?
I’ve been doing sales now for 10-15 years. I wanted to share the skills I’ve learnt with other businesses, which is why I set up Blue Relativity (BR) to assist startups and more established businesses in the SaaS industry with their commercial models and sales training.
Did you go to university and what did you study?
I went to the University of Essex and did Business Management, Marketing and Psychology. Funny story, I almost didn’t go to university because I was enrolled in a graduate scheme with PwC after college.
Luckily, I didn’t get the grades in the end; and looking back on it, I know now I would not have been able to utilise my skills/traits in an audit or accounting role. Failing my A-Levels, was a defining moment for me, and probably one of the biggest learning curves I have ever gone through.
What grades did you get at college?
Cs, Ds and Us. This massively under represents the potential I had at the time, which goes to show that despite intelligence you really do have to work hard in order to get the grades you deserve.
Tell us what your first job was coming out of university?
My first job was in a recruitment firm in London. If people have had a chance to work in recruitment I think they’ve learnt how to work hard, pick up the phone and develop skills which are needed in any sales career. It is a great foundation.
What was your journey after this?
So after the recruitment company, I went to work for Good e-Learning. The story behind this role started when I originally applied for a job to do software sales. I got asked to come in for a final interview with the CEO, but decided it wasn’t what I wanted to do for my next step. I wanted something that would stimulate me a bit more intellectually. So after I turned down the role, I got a call back from the CEO saying he was thinking of starting a new company and asked me if I’d be interested in coming in for a coffee? I ended up being the first employee for Good e-Learning, a new SaaS start-up in the edu-tech area and in the end was there for just under 4 years.
We grew very quickly and by the time I left we had grown to 15 people. I was responsible for sales execution, marketing and strategy at a high level, and contributing to product development and road maps. So it was quite multi-faceted and I got a lot of exposure to the different elements needed in order to build a successful and profitable start-up. In our first year we turned over £0.5 million and by our third year, we were turning over just under £2 million and becoming profitable.
At the time, it was very much like “here’s an overdraft facility go and build a business from scratch”. The learning curves were extreme.
I remember working crazy hours with clients in Australia. I would sleep until 2am and wake up and take calls in Australia, then go into the office to deal with the UK and Europe and then the US.
I learnt really valuable skills and collected a lot of knowledge on how to build a successful start-up off the back of that. It was a great foundation and at the end of that I started Blue Relativity.
At 21 years old you were the first employee at Good E-learning and your growth has been expotential. With very little experience within sales and marketing, what do think the CEO saw in you to give you all that trust and responsibility to build up his business?
To answer that question, I would probably talk about what I look for when employing new people. It comes down to culture and teachability. You can teach skills but what you can’t teach are their traits and who they are as a human being. Having someone who is honest and culturally going to fit with other members of the team, and how they want to be managed is important.
Reflectively, I was very passionate, driven and I wanted to put the work in. When you couple that with my degree (a mixture between management, business and marketing), you can apply a lot of knowledge and use that as an accelerator. This was also coupled with good timing and luck.
So you then went on to start Blue Relativity. How did you make the transition between the two?
It was quite a difficult decision to take. As an individual, I have a healthy appetite for risk and this was probably one of the biggest risks I’d ever taken in my life. I no longer wanted to work for someone else and I wanted to put some of my learnings and education into practice. I resigned without having a business idea in mind, I did that in order to incentivize myself.
“IT’S LIKE JUMPING OFF A CLIFF AND BUILDING A PLANE ON THE WAY DOWN IN ORDER TO SURVIVE.
I WAS YOUNG AND HAD NO RESPONSIBILITIES, YOU JUST HAVE TO ASK YOURSELF ‘WHAT IS THE WORST THAT COULD HAPPEN?”
I came up with the business plan, and registered the company within 2 weeks. After the initial shock, my CEO from Good e-learning was very supportive and turned out to be my first client, and then one of their clients turned out to be my second.
When you’re new it’s difficult to market yourself, tell us how you won clients in the early days?
It’s really simple, it comes down to genuine relationships. You can do a lot of networking but when it comes to generating real relationships, you need to go out of your way and take the time to be helpful to others. I am a big believer in karma and I see that in my own business. Be a genuine human being, know what you’re talking about, create and bring value to conversations you’re having with others and a business will come as a result of that.
Do you want to give some examples of start-ups you’ve worked with?
I mainly work with software businesses. Examples include a company that develops software around GDPR, virtual reality, mobile phone service apps, marketing apps, e-learning and training software companies.
There are common themes within these business, i.e. execution of sales and commercial models that enable businesses to meet their growth strategies. Once you’ve cracked that formula, you’ll understand the essentials to get to where you need. My job is to share that formula. I’ll tell you how it works and tweak the element within your business to make sure you’re getting the most out of that and help you building a successful and sustainable business.
Your company offers advice on customer success, sales strategy, marketing and funding and investment. What would you say is the most important aspect when starting up or are they equally important?
When you’re starting a business, you need to be realistic about what you know and what you don’t know. You’re going to be the passion and driver of that company but you’re not going to know everything.
I see a lot of companies which have a lot of passion and energy (which is great) but they also need help taking it to the next step. Once you embrace that, you can bring on people that can help you, build your confidence and steer your company to success. That realisation is an important step.
So how big is your team at Blue Relativity?
With the clients we have at the moment I manage it myself but as we grow I may look to involve others.
You are also a sales leader at PatSnap, how do you find time to work on Blue Relativity and do your day job simultaneously?
Well I’m very single! I’ve learnt to be very selfish with my time, to say no and prioritise based on my objectives and goals.
It’s very easy to say, “I want to do x”, but the next step is to break that down into clear objectives and then execute against them. This is what I’ve learnt to do and as a result of that I’ve managed to acquire the time to deliver against my clients at BR and my team at PatSnap.
What do you look for when hiring people to join PatSnap or hiring further down the line to potentially join Blue Relativity?
For most start up’s, because the brand is so closely associated with the founders, it’s someone who is going to be a good cultural fit. Someone they can trust moving forward that will enable me to expand the business without having to be involved in every aspect of it. Ultimately it comes down to values and culture, it sounds a cliché but its far more important at any early stage than experience, that can be gained with time and opportunity.
Harvard university did an experiment some years ago called the “electrified banana”. They put several monkeys and an electrified banana in a cage together. The banana would electrocute all the monkeys if just one of them touched the banana.
As you would expect, on day one, one of the monkey’s touches the banana and this electrocutes all of the monkeys in the cage. What started happening was by the third or fourth day, when one of the monkey’s went to reach for the banana, the other monkeys held them back.
Over time, those running the experiment would take out one monkey per day and put a new monkey in the cage. As you would expect the new monkey had no idea what the banana did and had to be held back by the others. Over time, they had swapped out every single monkey that was originally in the first group that had actually been electrocuted, and yet all the monkey’s now shared in this act of holding each other back from the banana without knowing the impact.
This is a great illustration for how you build culture and values in your team. Don’t worry I am not suggesting you have to start electrocuting your team, but you do need to find people that are coachable and share in your values, so that when you leave or step away, the team can continue to grow, run and perform.
”When you find that person you end up sharing accountability with them, and great leaders can share that accountability for a companies values and culture with every member of their team, it actually becomes the teams values and culture, and when new people enter that team they help ensure those values are maintained”
What’s the big dream and 5 year plan for yourself and Blue Relativity?
My goals and ambitions at BR isn’t to take over the world and become a giant corporate organisation. I really enjoy working with start-ups and problem-solving and I love seeing the value of helping others build their dream. I love being an architecture of those dreams. I’m very happy building these startups organically.
This will probably be something I can do for the majority of my life. BR itself, will probably be self-sustaining at some point in the next two years. The company is split into two parts, the first being startup advisory and the second being the nuts and bolts of the sales training you need to develop a sales team that performs at the level you need it to be commercially viable. That’s part of the business that I’m currently looking at developing into as an online video resource. At the moment, I do a lot of that in class sessions with clients, but I want to make it much more scalable and consumable for less cost to my clients.
In Q4, we will be in a position where I’m able to release online resources specific to start-ups at a low cost but with a high quality content.
It takes a certain level of focus, resilience and character in each individual to drive routine and want to make their mark on the world. What do you think taught you to be this way and what childhood influences have contributed to this?
I had very hard-working parents and saw a level of dedication (and also the benefits of that work) from a very young age. My dad got up early every day and did so much before even leaving the house to work, I saw first hand the benefits of early mornings. My mum worked exceptionally hard over the years and now has a successful business of her own, neither of my parents were afraid of hard work, they embraced it, and that stuck with me. I’ve always had those role models from a young age, I would couple that passive support with the encouragement to get a job quite young, at 16 I was selling door to door double-glazing in my evenings weekends and summers.
Not enough people do this in sales anymore, my biggest learning curve came here, the psychology, work ethic, grind, techniques, reading people and understanding objection all took root in my first job.
It was hard work but if you can sell double glazing in summer, you can pretty much sell anything.
With social media being a platform to showcase your successes and us being a generation avoiding the topic of failure. How would you say that failure has set you up for later success?
No one should be ashamed of failure as it can be a powerful motivator if you allow it to be. I think rejection is just as good for us, because when one door closes another always opens. From my own experience I can think of countless times, when something’s not worked out and I’ve been frustrated, only for something to happen shortly after which results in a much better outcome.
A lot of times rejection is seen as a no, in reality it’s not. It’s the ability to discern the difference between a real rejection and an objection which will allow you to push back and explore every opportunity fully. Once you have mastered the ability to spot objections in the face of rejection you can start to handle them and turn what seemed to be a rejection into a great opportunity.
My biggest failure was probably at college and didn’t get the grades that I expected. I thought I could get through college without doing too much work, I was lazy, lacked focus and thought I could rely on intelligence rather than putting the work in. As a result of that failure I’ve worked extremely hard ever since to show myself that I can, and the realisation that that’s what’s required to be successful.
Do you think if you’d received the right grades you would be where you are today?
Probably not, and that’s a great example of where one door closes another opens for the better. I would love to think that who I am as a person now, I would have gotten to eventually (perhaps in a different way). I am very comfortable with who I am at the moment but no one can tell what would have happened.
When you feel overwhelmed or unfocused, or have lost your focus temporarily, what do you do?
Everyone has good days and bad days, especially in our generation where we stress too much about the little stuff and we need to learn to let it go and concentrate on the big stuff.
…”But when I am stressed I like to meditate. It’s something I’ve been doing over the last six months and I’ve noticed a difference to my well-being and mental health”
What tools or apps do you use that have made your life better?
Outlook tends to rule my day-to-day life and Dropbox is my virtual repository for everything I have ever worked on. I try not to rely on too many apps and prefer old school pen and paper for objectives and plans, I have my objectives for the year written on a cork board at home, along with a huge Kanban board for positive reinforcement and tracking of big tasks that feed into my objectives.
If you had to gift one book to someone what would it be and why?
Think and Grow Rich by Napelon Hill. It’s a really important book for anyone wanting to start out and aspiring to do something with their lives.
I love that book! Especially the part where it talks about when people go through heart-break they tend to turn to drive and destruction and how most people never actually learn the art of transmuting these emotions into dreams of their constructive nature.
Generally in society, when people go through break ups, your friends will tell you to go out and get drunk. It’s similar to when people go travelling after something big has happened and it’s often that emotional shift which has forced them to take that step out of their routine. It’s just about building that muscle to use the emotions for the better.
If you are interested in emotional shifts, and how our brain works, read the Chimp Paradox book by Pref Steve Peters. This talks about not letting your emotions rule you and using it to fuel a successful outcome.
If you could have a gigantic billboard anywhere with anything on it - metaphorically speaking, what would it say and why?
‘Friends are the family you choose’. Who you surround yourself with says a lot about you. You draw energy from the people you surround yourself with, they are your support network. It’s an important thing to remember and often over looked.
23 JULY, 2018