Ben Legg – Little Big Vets Podcast – Series 1

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They’ve overcome the biggest challenges.  They’ve pushed through the hardest times.  They’ve slogged it out, and come out on top.

[Music] Larry Page I used to speak to you quite a lot was one of the founders at Google when he heard about my daughter he said Ben if you want to stop your job and

cure cancer I’ll fund you I thought about it for a few weeks ago thinking of Larry Page I wonder if I can

cure cancer at some stage with Google we’re doing a European sales conference

in Seville Larry and Paige and Sergey the founders had come down and they had their Google jet which you know was a

big deal and Larry said to me Ben do you want to jump on the Jet and we’ll go back to London we’ll go back to London

they said um which which airport are you going to the City Airport I said I know my car’s at Gatwick so thank you but and

I just thought there’ll be plenty more chances to go on the Google gym never got asked again when are my roots gonna coincide with

Larry Pages where it’s hardly ever you know

I’m Nick Haley founder of littlebig tech after more than a decade in the Army I left and joined civilian life in this

podcast series I’ll be speaking to entrepreneurs who left military service and started the next exciting chapter in

their lives we’ll hear how these inspiring individuals transitioned from active service to the world of business

how did they take the first step on the road to becoming an entrepreneur we’ll find out

welcome to little big vets the veteran entrepreneurs podcast [Music]

we often think of Our Lives as running in tandem with our careers we go to school for the first Decades of our life

work for the rest and then retire for the last some of us stick with the same career whilst others move from one to

the next not many of us can say we’ve had a career as varied or distinguished as my guest on today’s podcast Ben Legg

Ben spent the 1990s in the British army the Northeast as a blue chip corporate

leader the 2010s as c-suite executive in Tech and is currently spending the 2020s

as the co-founder of his own business the portfolio Collective thanks for having me on today Ben good

to be here so if we go back to to the start uh when you join the Army yeah you tell us a bit

about your your experience joining the Army and yeah so I always wanted to join the Army since I was three years old not

from a military family Dev from the counter mom as a teacher I just wanted to join the Army he was in the Scouts in the cadets Etc then I discovered there

was this boarding school for potential army officers went there called Welbeck College it’s closed now and so I literally went straight from school did

A Levels went to Sandhurst but knowing I’d pick up an engineering degree after Santa so another thing that’s been

closed probably because it’s too expensive but I basically got a degree on full pay so I want to join the Royal Engineers great I wanted to travel

around the world building things and blowing things up and that’s what I did so you know studied civil engineering

went out all over the world doing interesting things to do with military engineering involved things like

designing bomb proof structures in Northern Ireland a ton of fun in that partly because when you design something new you have to check if if it can be

blown up the best way to do that is to build it and try and blow it up so that

was a lot of fun I’ll spend time Bosnia during the war in charge of all the military engineers in and around

Sarajevo basically our job was to end the siege of Sarajevo and as a royal engineer that meant turning the mountain

range around San Diego into a big military base for NATO including gun positions you know takeoff and Landing

points for planes uh roads clearing mines Etc and ultimately getting the a convoys in avoiding mines and feeding

750 000 people in Sarajevo before they starve to death so really interesting time first 10 years of my career and

yeah a lot of Adventures a lot of learning a lot of fun what made you want to want to move on from that I think

partly I joined the army for adventure and learning and other stuff and I kind of feel like the Army in your 20s is all

about Adventures regimental life and you’re always busy and as I was looking at the next decade I was kind of

thinking there’s a lot of desk work there and although there’s nothing wrong with desk work I kind of thought if I’m

gonna do it I’ll do it on a higher salary quite frankly and so there’s the Army’s very clever having lots of little

hooks to keep you in so I was you know running up to you know master’s degree on full pay but it would be two years on

that plus a four-year Time bar I thought that’s six years I’ll do without the master’s degree and so I left when I was

29 about a year or so away from that master’s degree and said I’ll try my chances elsewhere that’s a similar

position I got to so yeah to spend my twenties just basically doing all the cool stuff yeah doing the Army to do and

then I was coming up to 30 and it was like yeah it might be time to go and go and try something else exactly yeah and

maybe earn a little bit more money in the process exactly I have read articles that kind of say you know it’s a good

thing to change careers every 10 years I’ve read it after I’ve done it three times so it wasn’t a plan it’s just kind of like a i fancy something different

basically yeah yeah we’d always be told things by like people who’ve been in the Army a lot longer or you wouldn’t get

paid as much for doing the sort of things that you do if you left the Army and um yeah that’s just categorically

not true yeah I tripled my pay when I left the Army yeah that took me about three years yeah but but still yeah

that’s three years yeah yeah there’s definite opportunities yeah so when you

were when you made the decision to leave yeah did you have a clear plan about what you wanted to do not really I kind

of said look I want to be a CEO one day what is the powerful paths to get there and do I need to retrain or can I go

straight into work because by the time I left the Army I had two kids they were booked into private school I didn’t know how I was going to pay the fees so the

whole going off and doing MBA wasn’t really an option so I was looking at the world and thinking you know maybe

there’s kind of be an MD of a small business unit a bigger company you know maybe Consulting I thought about law for

but realized I wouldn’t make a good lawyer I’d get bored and so I was kind of thinking about this whole Consulting

but a lot of the top Consultants would only take you if you had a top MBA and I

couldn’t afford to do that so anyway I randomly applied to some at the post MBA level without an MBA and just got lucky

timing so I approached you know McKinsey which is like probably the sort of top

strategy Consultants at the post MBA level and lucky for me they’d got to a point where they

realized this is like 99 they realized that if we keep hiring people from the

same mold typically engineering economics degree time as an analyst in Investment Banking Consulting you know

whatever then an MBA they would be too samey they needed some variety they also realize that they

might have to lower their standards because they’d hit a certain scale or if they only hide from that one pool they might have to lower their standards so

they said well where else can we get people of a similar caliber who culturally would fit even if they’ve got a different background and they said

let’s look out for any military doctors or lawyers who might fit and I

guess they’d had their conversation a few months before I applied and they said this guy looks like he might be he’s got the engineering degree so you

know he’s got so I actually had half an MBA so I did half an MBA in Bosnia during the war in the evenings I kind of

alternated my evenings between doing an MBA and drunken arm wrestling with French Foreign Legion it’s like a nice

way to mix it up so I had half an MBA I had an engineering degree they put me through the process I passed and so I

kind of got into McKinsey at the post MBA level without an MBA that’s quite an achieve yes yeah so then what was life

like uh working at McKinsey it was cool you know so and strategy Consulting is an amazing thing to learn so in my I

spent three years there worked on eight client projects so it’s kind of you know projects are fairly long few months per

time and first of all because I didn’t have an MBA account did this mini MBA as like a you know a few weeks of intense learn

fill in the gaps yeah uh and if when you’re exim military you don’t know much about Finance or Marketing in particular so I had to learn all about those and I

did that and then they said right for your first project the most important thing is to learn the Consulting toolkit

so let’s start close to home so actually my first job was a sort of Defense technology related project and then as

you start to learn how to be a good consultant they start saying what else do you want to learn about so I want to learn about you know um

Finance okay do you want to do a job in a project in banking so when did a job in banking I want to learn more about

marketing okay right let’s do a job marketing so in three years I kind of deliberately picked projects where I

started off learning the consult salting toolkit but ended up learning about industries that looked interesting functional skills that I felt I had gaps

in so it got to the end of it kind of really feeling like I didn’t need the MBA I picked up a whole load of skills I

have McKinsey on my CV but I didn’t really want to be a partner McKinsey I want to go out and sort of be a CEO of

something and so I kind of aft when the training at McKinsey started moving from learning about business to learning how

to be a better consultant like it had to be like how to become a partner I thought right at the right time to sort of move on and do something else while

you were picking the projects yeah things to get involved in was that all still with the the thought in mind that I’m trying to build the profile for me

to go yeah it’s so I very much joined it thinking this is like a paid MBA but instead of having case studies you have

real clients so how do I learn obviously do well learn but try and fill the gaps

that I had you know from the Army so that my CV would look more like a CEO C

TV yeah extra military is awesome makes you a good CEO a good Chief of Staff you

know good in HR there’s a few things where the Army is really good but to be a CEO you do need to understand things

like finance and marketing and things so it’s filling in the gaps um getting a good strategy consultancy on under my

belt as well and also traveling I mean I I was officially based in London I think I ran one project in London the other

seven were all over the world so that was pretty cool too nice so do you think that the time in the Army like moving

around job to job yeah helped you then go into a consultancy where you were moving from one thing I don’t think it’s

necessarily the travel I love travel so I have picked jobs based on location and travel but it’s it’s more the ethos and

especially being in the Army and an engineer like every you know engineering project is is a project so you you don’t

work in some steady state you’re always saying there’s a problem let’s solve it let’s build something let’s check it

works let’s move on and so and so Consulting everything’s a project you know there’s a client they’ve got a

problem you’ve got to try and solve it come up with recommendations get them accepted you know hand over move on so

that whole very professional high standard work hard play hard project

management was a very easy cultural switch there were just gaps in my learning I had to fill in it’s also

quite fun in a way because a lot of people say it’s strategic it sounds very high pressure because you know clients

are paying you a fortune and expect Perfection but at the same time when you’ve been in the Army nothing

afterwards is that stressful again because No One’s Gonna Die yeah so I’m shouting out you’re not the same as someone shooting exactly yeah it wasn’t

happening we get fired you know okay we’ve got good CVS we’ll be okay you know um so not that let’s be slack but

you know let’s not get stressed about this let’s just do the best job we can you know with the resources available yeah so you just covered why you were

thinking about why you decided it was the time to move on yeah and uh to what what did you do from that so my next

step I was still thinking right I you know I need to be a CEO but still haven’t got all the right building blocks yet so then I was coming back to

what would be a good next step and because I was still thinking corporate life I wasn’t thinking portfolio care or

startups that then it was less popular than it is now and so the things that

were lining up I thought were either Biz Dev you know Business Development which would be great with my background and it’s good stepping stone towards a CEO

or maybe coming back to being a MD of a business unit in a bigger organization and then a random thing cropped up this

is the day still of a job ads in newspapers there’s an ad in the Sunday Times for director of training and

development for a big chunk of Coca-Cola like 28 countries 40 000 people Etc and

I like training development yeah you know coming out of the army you go to training development actually at McKinsey I redesigned a lot of their leadership training I thought I’d be

quite good at that it was in Athens too and it was a Pampered X patch of you know the job came with the house you

know the all expenses paid school fees the works I thought it’s kind of but it’s a cool brand to work for Coca-Cola

it’s a job I could probably do well but I can afford it’s HR I’m not sure I want to be labeled as an honest I

believe in it but I don’t want to be labeled I don’t want to get stuck in the HR function so I went for the interview really for interview practice not

thinking it would go anywhere and met the group HR director who was would have been my boss

and she was awesome and she liked me I liked her and she said you’re not convinced are you I can tell you’re going to turn me down and I said yeah

probably and she said why I said we told her why I don’t want to get labels they are happy to do this job for a couple of

years but I want something else after it she said the CEO of Coca-Cola’s in the Next Room do you want to meet him is he

sure sorry I’ll do that um went in he said um I get exactly

where you’re coming from he said you know I’ve been thinking of getting myself a chief of staff do you want a hybrid role where you’re parked my chief

of staff part you know director of trained to him I said yeah I’ll take it it will involve a lot of travel on the private jet I I’m sure I could go yeah

you have to write my decks yeah I’m okay with PowerPoint three is Consulting you can do PowerPoint so I kind of got this

the other thing he said he said if you do well I’ll give you a job with p l responsibility two years later

as just a handshake nothing in writing but you know he was a man of his word I did that job did it well loved it and

two years later I moved with Coca-Cola up to from Greece to Poland was the number two in Coca-Cola problem running

sales marketing logistics for the whole country um that was my first p l job and then that did went really well and actually

we were rated as the best run Salesforce in the world for Coca-Cola and asked to host the global conference for Coca-Cola

all the CEOs and heads of sales from around the world came to Warsaw and at

some stage we were showing them around Warsaw introducing them to customers Etc and the CEO of Coca-Cola India was there

and he said I need you in Poland can I talk is that in India can I talk to your boss

and I said yeah totally India sounds cool so uh he told my boss I went off to

India and it was a big turnaround so in some ways it was the same job bigger territory but much more high profile

because Coca-Cola India had previously had lost 100 million dollars which is a

lot even for Coca-Cola a mixture of bad strategy and competent execution and Corruption so they fired the whole

senior manager team and brought in you know an expat CEO who brought in four or five people so I was there to fix sales

marketing pricing Logistics Etc that was a massive turnaround every month the global CEO of Coca-Cola came

to visit us to see how it was going but we went from 100 million lost to 100 million profit in two years and it’s got

like a really monster turnaround so it’s a really good thing wow what do you think was it was about that you bought

to the table that enabled that kind of turnaround so it wasn’t just me it was a team effort but you know I guess one of

the biggest things was rigor so the previous team are kind of written

strategies not thought it through and then there was a bit of a brown-nosing

culture of you know if the boss says it will all do it and no one really challenged the plan and kicked it around enough actually Atlanta the global head

office challenge it said no you can’t do it so then they did it anyway and hid what they were doing from Atlanta that’s

where the correction came in they weren’t classic Corruption of trying to line their own pockets they were hiding from Atlanta the fact they were executing a strategy they were told not

to execute because it wouldn’t work and it didn’t work so it was really just rigor of thinking about who are we

selling to what are we selling at what price what’s the margin how do we do you know Logistics how do we do distribution

uh how do we train our 20 000 sales people how do you train them rigorously how do you check standards how do you

ensure you’ve got great leaders all over the place and India’s obviously massive and diverse how do you avoid corruption

they’re just all these things and it was just joining the dots it was like you know really complex execution and it’s

just bringing rigor to all of that okay back to basics for a lot of the well it’s back to basics but the complexity

comes in the scale you know when you’ve got you know a country of a billion people with 300 million people drinking

or consuming your products and 20 000 sales people there’s complexity in that yeah for sure yeah so you’re now what

four years at cocoa five so I did two in Greece two in Poland one in India and then things going really well in India

and then I one day I was like it was another pampered X Factor I was lying by my swimming pool in Delhi having a

dinner tonic on a Sunday I think got a phone call from UK I thought that’s random it’s probably a family thing it was Google

saying do you want to come back to the UK to be the CEO of UK Benelux in

Ireland so it was only five countries but half of All European Revenue I said why do you want me you know you’re

Google I’m selling fizzy drinks in India so there’s a fun story that went with it which kind of defined it so what had

happened is Google for UK Benelux in Ireland had a new uh leader center from

the US guy called Dennis Woodside really nice guy and he turned up and was kind of appalled of what he found it was like

a bunch of amateurs selling a product they didn’t understand Revenue was growing like crazy 100 a year but no one

could explain why it was just selling itself because basically people kept using Google for search and there was

some text ads on their own side and people kept buying them but your average sales pitch was pictures of the early Google servers made out of Lego getting

drunk and picking up a check for 100 grand if only we all had that problem but it

was really amateur and on top of that they were trying to monetize the other products like the Google Display Network

and Google Maps and nothing was working and basically communication between Europe and Mountain View have broken

down because both sides thought the other side were stupid and unprofessional no one was stupid but

there are a lot of really immature it was basically Google was still behaving like a scrappy startup even that had a few billion in Revenue so Dennis

realized the problem but he didn’t know exactly how to implement the answer

but his background was you know studied law worked for a Supreme Court Judge a very smart guy then I think what he do

did an MBA worked at McKinsey for it did a strategy job Google and suddenly he’s running a big chunk of Google so he’d

never got his hands dirty with that so he said not a problem I’ll hire a right hand person to help me and that person

needs to be a an extra consultant because Google didn’t have a strategy found to make money so so who can write

that plan number two an engineer because there were no Engineers on the business

side of Google he wanted something to build Bridges with the engineers because ultimately we had to build ad products number three they needed to have done

senior sales or marketing roles because Pro our primary job in Europe was to

build a disciplined sales force to sell a new type of marketing to ignorant customers you know digital is still new

then and number four ideally the person’s ex-military to kick some butt literally that was the wish list they

searched the whole world found one person and it was me hence the phone call on a Sunday so someone accidentally

described to you yeah exactly so it’s kind of it when they told me that on the phone it’s like well I’m back for

Christmas in a couple of weeks I’ll come in for a day for an interview and this is when Google interviews were like you know 12 interviews but over three months

I said you got a day that’s it because I’m gonna have something for Christmas so they lined up six interviews in a day

made me an offer before I left the office wow yeah that must have been quite some day it was a busy day yeah uh

but it was fun and so you know my three years at Google I did lots of stuff obviously and ended up as the CEO of Europe but really the primary thing I

did was write the first ever plan for how Google makes money and that is still the plan today obviously it’s had a lot of upgrades but it became London became

the tale wagging the dog of Mountain View when it came to how on Earth are we going to monetize all of our different products that’s incredible I I guess

there’s not a lot of people realize that it’s an ex-army officer that actually ended up at Google and said no this is

how you do it yeah and and that is now how they do yeah there you go fantastic so then three years at Google crushing

it yep why would you leave so what happened is my boss who was the head of Google Europe got promoted to be the

chief business officer at Google he moved to California and and wanted me to go with him but they didn’t have

my role because there was someone doing a hybrid of that so they said do you want to be the global head of search

monetization now for some people that’d be flattering as a 20 billion dollar business I mean I’d be in charge of let’s say monetizing a 29 Million Dollar

business but it sounded really narrow to me so I was the CEO of Europe I could do

anything in Europe like oh let’s Tinker with sales Tinker with marketing with Partnerships Also let’s make sure the

guys in mountfield are building us what we want let’s you know play around with a few new initiatives Here There and Everywhere so I could it was a like a

playground it was like Google cash and brand and I could kind of like just how do I build an amazing business and

somebody’s like no you’re going to be you and a bunch of Geeks sing right let’s keep pulling more levers for search so just sounded too narrow so I

said no to that I also at the time I had a daughter who had a brain tumor and was being treated by the Royal Marsden and

kings and we didn’t want to break that it was going well so both personal reasons and professional reasons why

that job didn’t work in California it was actually funny um funny Larry Page I

used to speak to you quite a lot and was one of the founders of Google and he liked me and I liked him and when he heard about my daughter he said Ben if

you want to stop your job and cure cancer I’ll fund you [Laughter]

I thought about it for a few weeks ago I’ve got the backing of Larry Page I wonder if I can cure cancer

and then I realized I couldn’t and I got him with my job but it’s kind of fun to have the offer of having the

backing of a founder of Google to kill kids anyway there’s a fun aside but

basically decided not to but then I thought my life’s going to get more boring because now the decisions are

going to be made in Mountain View and I’ll be executing someone else’s plan not as much fun as writing the plan and

so I wasn’t really looking around but in the back of my head I was thinking I’ll leave soon and I got approached about a

job it was actually a turnaround jobs it was like a global Yellow Pages or Global rather pan-european Yellow Pages company

in the days when it was you know had a few hundred million Revenue maybe a billion in Revenue 300 million in profit

but it was a Yellow Pages company so the writing was on the wall the prince gonna die yeah you need to turn this into

additional business before print dies and like I guess a lot of it’s military people I’m a bit of an adrenaline junkie

and I thought that sounds like a fun challenge it was well paid it was based in Amsterdam as well I love Amsterdam so

I thought a great city to live in fun challenge give it a go did that for a couple of years we did turn it around

although along the way my boss got fired not but he’s a great guy but basically

as one of these companies that was Private Equity backed and they’d borrowed something like 3 billion euros

which was like 10 or 12 times ebitdar on a business in print so kind of silly

because obviously in the turnaround profits we’re going to go down possibly forever you know certainly during the turnaround they couldn’t afford the

interest the whole company got restructured my boss got fired and then they said right who replaces him I put my hat in the

ring someone else did I said right there’s a Cool Tech strategy here we’ve cracked how to sell websites to small

businesses and web services we can license that to all the other Yellow Pages companies in the world very long story which we haven’t got

time for here I thought was very excited about it I pitched that another guy came in to pitch for the job he was next

Banker said I’ll break up the company shut down the head office you know save money they went with his plan and basically it

became a downsizing exercise which I wouldn’t have wanted to do so when they picked him I thought I don’t want to hang around for it just a cost cutting

exercise nothing wrong with cutting costs at the time but it doesn’t get me out of bed in the morning I like growth and excitement and technology so um I

had another off on the table to move the us so I took that wow

so there’s quite a lot happened in the uh in the time that you since leaving leaving the Army oh yeah big time

um actually another fun story so it’s so um at some stage with Google we’re doing a European sales conference in Seville

and we finished on a Friday and actually Larry and Paige and Sergey the founders had come down and they had their Google

jet which you know was a big deal and Larry said to me Ben do you want to jump on the Jet and we’ll go back to London

we’re going back to London this is how stupid I was I said um which city which airport are you going to the City Airport I said I know my car’s a Gatwick

so thank you but and I just thought there’ll be plenty more chances to go on the Google gym never got asked again

when are my roots gonna coincide with Larry Pages where it’s hardly ever you know so never got the opportunity again

so I should have just gone to City airport and then got a taxi together oh no but anyway so I’ve never been on

the Google jet oh missed opportunities yeah I’d have to go on the portfolio yeah

they’re environmentally friendly so yeah it’s something else so then you you’ve now moved to America

another employed job uh yes so basically I moved a company called ad knowledge to take over from the founder so as group

CEO job uh ad knowledge was the biggest ad tech company in the US so basically

like a holding company for typically around six business units in ad Tech so

I think an email marketing business a data exchanges display businesses viral video distribution social media

advertising all sorts of interesting stuff and the idea was take over from the founder get it ready for an IPO IPO

ad Tech at the time was the hottest industry you know so it’s kind of cool and sexy Etc turned up started doing

that things going really well along the way another fun story we’ve got a lot of fun stories but in about six months before we were going to launch the IPO

formally we thought we need to do some events that kind of pick things up there was a big ad Tech Conference in San

Francisco we actually managed to rent out Alcatraz for the night which no one ever thought was possible but you give

the right donations to the right Charities you can do it and we basically had a party on Alcatraz and literally you know the ticket said turn up appear

33 uh whatever six o’clock or something and we went out to arbitras um that’s really cool very cool anyway random

things in our tech there was a set phrase at the time ad Tech’s the new Wall Street it was kind of a little crazy was this the first time you’d hit

a CEO an actual CEO role yes yes so everything until then was CEO or I’ve been the number two a lot

um this is my first sort of you know CEO role anyway so yeah the journey there we had two or three years of building the

business growing Revenue growing profit polishing our story really getting things lined up and we actually had the

accountants in the lawyers in the bankers in we were so close to ready for an IPO and we were thinking on a good

day with the win behind us we’ll get a billion dollar evaluation I thought we were worth seven or eight hundred million but you know there was a hot Market before we ipoed

four other AD tech companies IPO they all missed their first quarter’s earnings and then ad Tech IPOs as a

category just evaporated investors didn’t want to know they said add text to volatile forget it so we had to pull

the IPO and then work out how do we help our investors get an exit you know if you can’t IPO carried on growing it was

like a really healthy business we thought we could sell it to a big company at one of the telecoms companies

or whatever they all said you’re too big and too complex but I like that business unit or I like that one so in the end

after four years of running a really cool group with a really cool strategy we said we have to break up the business there’s no exit other than breaking it

up so we started breaking out the business I actually stepped in to become the CEO of the biggest business unit

called ad parlor did that for another couple of years we sold that and I kind of moved back to London and is that when

you then started the portfolio Collective not quite so I did one more job so I moved back to London without a

job without really a plan just thinking I’d like to live in London for a bit and I’ll work something out I really my only

rule for my myself was don’t work in ad Tech not that I didn’t like it I loved it but I felt like adek had kind of been

through a lot of its Evolution to digital and I just thought there’s a whole load of other industries that need

to be shaken much more you know and digitalized emotional so I was thinking maybe education Healthcare Mobility

whatever just came back told a few headphones are back in town and then just got on with some other stuff did a bit of teaching at Oxford that kind of

thing and at some stage a head hunter came to me and said that’s just a little throwaway comment just did a bit of

teaching at Oxford yeah it was a fun way all the time um and uh yeah the headhunt came to me

and said there’s a a company called Ola ola’s like the Uber of India basically and they said they’re thinking of

launching in Europe they need ahead of Europe um how does that sound it sounds kind of interesting it’s like okay Mobility is cool it’s you know very

green which is great uh they had an electric vehicle business which sounded cool I thought right give it a shot so I

became the basically head of Europe for Ola employee number one wrote the

strategy hired the team team acquired 300 and something licenses taxi licenses all over Europe launched in about 10

cities Great momentum a lot of fun but about a year in I Quit for two reasons

one is my day job was frustrating me so it’s a regulator business my name on the licenses anything goes wrong I go to

jail there were some safety issues that were frustrating me and not getting

fixed on top of that was being pushed to launch in London when we weren’t ready and I refused and it became a bit of a

standoff so in the end I quit so that was one thing but in parallel I had a whole load of side hustles I was enjoying more than my day job uh and

this is where you know portfolio careers and kicked in so my side hustles then and still now were kind of three things

all interrelated so one was working with startups that’s the biggest part so it’s like board jobs mentoring Consulting Etc

just helping Founders build great businesses number two is working with investors either helping the fine deals

do due diligence maybe educating them about how things work and number three was kind of thought leadership so it’s

the teaching of adults with speech wrote a book Etc so you wrote a book whilst doing all of these others yes it’s

called marketing for CEOs Death Or Glory in the digital age so fun sort of story behind it is it was in was it 2015 I

decided to write the books I never plan to write a book in my life I’m an engineer Engineers don’t write books unless they’re about engineering but I’m

I was living in the US and chatted to lots of CEOs because you know that’s just that was who I would chat with and

in 2015 six of them in a few months apart said to me Ben can I pick your

brains I’m planning to fire my chief marketing officer my CMO because he or she is a dinosaur and you know we need

someone more digital said can you help me find a new one I said well I’m not a Headhunter you know I’m running an ad

Tech business I’m not even a marketer I’ve never studied marketing you know I’ve kind of learned about it McKinsey and in my jobs at Google but it’s kind

of learning by being an engineer and playing with stuff they would say well okay but you work in marketing your

clients are marketers you’ve met the good ones and the bad ones what are the good ones look like and I thought fair question so I would sort of describe

what I thought they look like but It ultimately they needed more help than I could give so I said I’m going to help you by finding you a good book that will

say what is in a world where so much has changed you know there’s more data than ever before mobile is the biggest device

people interact with social media is everywhere you know there must be a book that says with all

this change what is marketing you know what’s changed what stayed the same how do you

build an amazing marketing team marketing strategy Etc with searching on Amazon searching on Google I just couldn’t find a book that explained it

so I decided to write it myself so I did that’s an engineer’s solution yeah exactly yeah yeah there’s a problem no

one else has solved it I’ll solve it uh so I haven’t cured cancer but I have written a book on marketing so yeah so coming back to my time at Ola I had

these side hustles I was enjoying them more than my day job so I ditched the day job because then I could spend more

time doing those side hustles so when you had a day job I had maybe five to eight hours a week to do my side hustles when I ditched the dojo I have 40 50 60

hours a week just to do this other stuff so I was doing that loving it some stuff

was paying me great paid the bills some stuff was paying me in in stock options fine you know long-term wealth creation some stuff wasn’t paying me at all but

it was kind of fun so why not and uh really didn’t know where it was headed I didn’t have a plan I just thought one

day I’ll probably like a one-person VC I’ll have you know lots of stakes and companies either because I invested or because they gave me some that would be

a nice life you know it sounds like a good end game then lockdown began and

the great resignation kicked off and within a few weeks literally two three four weeks of lockdown my calendar was

full of one-on-one chats with people asking for a career advice and it was along the lines of either Ben I’ve quit

or I’m planning to quit your career looks kind of cool how do I build my version of that and I love helping people and love helping people’s careers

so I would say yeah fine here’s a zoom I was very generous at the time because I had a bit of free time so I gave people an hour each but then a few weeks in I

was looking at my calendar I color code my calendar because I’m really alien retention about calendars and it was like way too much like a blue or red or

whatever it was you know like just helping people and thought I’m kind of saying the same thing to everyone so why

am I saying it 20 times a week or 15 times a week yeah so I designed a workshop then I realized people what I

had I didn’t even know it what I had was called a portfolio career um do you want to explain what a portfolio career portfolio in very

simplistic terms is someone who has multiple sources of income so it might

be as simple as you’ve got a day job but you make some money on the side that’s often step one when people go all in the

portfolio query it’s typically you’ve ditched the day job and you have multiple sources of income so it could be anything at the top end of the market

where you know we sort of operate it’s board jobs it’s Consulting it’s mentoring coaching writing a book making

speeches but you know we’ve also got like deep deep experts in search engine optimization or videographers we’ve got

script writers uh one of our members is a fight choreographer pretty cool so

awesome yeah all sorts of random stuff there’s some sorts like sports stars on their second career you know this is a

really cool interesting bunch of people it could also be just your freelancer you know you don’t want to work for a company you want a bit of flexibility to

work from anywhere and you know take time off when you want to fit around family Etc so it’s just a much more

flexible way of working and and most forecast say over 50 of the workforce will work like that by 2030. it’s

already like 20 now and growing fast so from that angle I realized what I have

it’s called a portfolio career um I guess I I’m quite chatty so I told a lot of people how much fun I was having and so then they said right

you’re having so much fun tell me more you know how does it work how much do you charge how do you find customers so

I realized my calendar was clogged up I thought right I’m going to build a workshop call it a portfolio career

Workshop because you know I realized what it was called if people say Ben can I get some career advice is it I say is it about portfolio careers they say yes

they say here’s a link see you Wednesday so it’s just the same Workshop every Wednesday nothing changed oh I kind of fine-tuned it and it started off I think

the first one was 15 people then it’s 20 25 it just grew up it’s up to about 50 people a week

and for a short period I thought this is nice and efficient you know it’s only

I’m helping loads of people with their careers and it’s one hour a week you know half pattern on the back you know Well Done me but it kind of got a life

of its own so two things happen that kind of made me realize there was more one was people

kept asking me questions I didn’t know the answer to like how much do I charge my services I thought well I know what I charge but a I’m winging it you know

that’s not very scientific um and B what I charge isn’t what you charge because everything’s different so I think everyone to a degree is winging

yeah you could have that tattooed everyone’s winging it but basically I thought I’d

probably need to do some structured thinking around that and they say well what’s best practice for networking on lockdown I thought well I know what I do

but is it best practice and I realized literally I was winging it I like the wing it with confidence and it was working but you know to really have a

structured approach to helping people launch portfolio it took more than a one-hour Workshop the second thing that happened is in the workshop it’s just on

Zoom I’d say to people introduce yourself in chat and people would introduce themselves and they were just

ridiculously interesting people and afterwards people say can you connect me with him or her or whatever because basically I think there’s a

collaboration opportunity or I want to learn from them pick their brains whatever I realize this needs to be a

community rather than a workshop yeah and we needed formal training not just one hour you know good luck goodbye so

luckily I was sitting on some spare cash that I was going to invest in other people’s companies invested in my own instead and launch support portfolio

Collective and here we are two and a half years later we’ve got eight thousand members all over the world we help them with training we help them

with collaboration we help them find work really cool community and a lot loving it basically that’s awesome yeah

so then if we just quickly touch on how we met yeah I remember I uh one day I just get this random message on LinkedIn

from this guy I’ve never heard yeah yeah uh who says hey it’s great to see yeah other veteran entrepreneurs yeah let me

know if I can help in any way who who is this guy that leg and look at your LinkedIn profile and I was like wow okay

shoot your shots was that hey do you fancy meeting for breakfast yeah and then we had breakfast there you go and

then you told me about your uh the veteran entrepreneurs group that yeah so it was just kind of a random thing as I

was one of the the founders of a startup that I was mentoring as ex-army as well and um we often meet just go for a walk

in the park it’s kind of nice and oh we were just reflecting it’s kind of nice hanging out with ex-military entrepreneurs you’ve got two things in

common yeah you’re ex-military um and you’re entrepreneurs and so there’s loads to talk about it’s just

kind of nice and we said I wonder how many we know maybe we could pull together five or six people for a few

beers at some stage and I just looked on LinkedIn and said oh I know I had 20 30 40 people something like that I’ll just

drop more note and say hello to think you’re getting some veteran I literally a search for I think entrepreneur or founder maybe and then ex-military knew

about 40 dropped about you know 40 of them a note you included and I think 25 turned up to drinks it’s like whoa this

is demand and since then it’s really just been Word of Mouth you know people in the group tell others but it’s just quarterly drinks getting together

ex-military people who are entrepreneurs to chat learn from each other network Etc really easy to organize really fun

group it’s a brilliant group yeah I love it if you could give a piece of advice to someone coming up to the end of their

time in the Army what would what would you advise them so first of all start

networking early and ex-military people are really nice to each other like it’s a really supportive group don’t be shy

just you know connect with people and say can I connect with you and they’ll almost suddenly respond and they’re allowed to say let’s have a chat or come

along to this group or whatever or join that group but you’ll end up just just start picking their brains ask them for

stuff that’s at number one I’d say polish your LinkedIn profile early because version one’s never good enough

and try to avoid the kind of embarrassed I put my military CV in through a thesaurus and got some you know civilian

wig out at the other end but try and sort of work out the right language and get opinions from people who do

recruiting and then probably finally try and work out where you want to be not for the first job out but for the second

or third because the first one just needs to be a stepping stone to get to the step after yeah that’s brilliant Ben

thank you so much for your time today all right it’s been lovely listening to you pleasure your experience yeah cool

thanks very much no worries thanks for listening I’m sure you’ll agree the stories from the guests on the show are incredible starting your own company is

a brave and difficult thing to do there’s a theme of resilience running through all these stories which is key

to success as an entrepreneur if you’re a veteran with a good story to tell we’d love to have you on if you’re leaving

the military and you want to get in touch email podcast if you run a

business and you’re looking for an I.T company that’s entrepreneurial and forward thinking please do get in touch

I hope you enjoy the rest of the series [Music]

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