Guy Denison-Smith – Little Big Vets Podcast – Series 1

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From commanding and training infantry soldiers during operational tours in Northern Ireland, Afghanistan and Bosnia to becoming responsible for the day-to-day management, leadership and welfare of Battalions of up to 650 men and women, my guest on today’s podcast, Guy Denison-Smith, is no stranger to the qualities it takes to lead.

I don’t think that our way of reporting

on people serves the Army well it’s almost based on what you’ve done not

necessarily how people think you’re going to be in the future because if you look at the potential paragraph in any report it’s the smaller bit and I don’t

also don’t think we necessarily judge people properly against leadership and if we think that an army is all about

people and all about how we lead people and we’ve all seen it in the Press over the last three or four years you know

some of the stories of toxic leadership have come out but you know it was all about bringing our people through properly and and empowering them we just

didn’t do that I’m Nick Haley founder of Little Big

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] foreign


[Music] infantry soldiers during operational tours in Northern Ireland Afghanistan

and Bosnia to becoming responsible for the day-to-day management leadership and Welfare of battalions of up to 650 men

and women my guest on today’s podcast guy Denison Smith is no stranger to the qualities it takes to lead from Paving

the way at the Forefront of the digitization of Officer training across the British army to advising the UK’s

representative in the United Nations on foreign policy few people can say they’ve had a career as interesting and

impressive as guy since those days guys founded his own Croatian wine import company blue ice

wine UK LED an expedition of eight Grenadier veterans five of whom with life-changing injuries down the Yukon

river in open canoes across several days and now serves as a managing director for a recruitment business Universal

Recruitment and interim Solutions which has the aim of helping service leaders and Veterans find a second career

something very close to his heart what’s a career guy thanks for joining us it’s

great to have you here at pre-chat it turned out that we actually were on the same tour as each other uh some years

ago we were Nick and and thank you for inviting me to come on your podcast it’s a great pleasure to be here and so I

think yeah we probably didn’t meet but we were in the same geographical location in 2007 yeah so tell us a bit

about your career in the army I joined the army uh at Sandhurst in early 1991 uh passing out at the end of

that year and then joined my Battalion the first time Grande Gods who at the time were on ceremony duties in London

um and then I sort of went through the normal routine for a a young officer of

between Commander taking the recky between to Northern Ireland two tours of Northern Ireland as a between Commander

um then going on to the staff doing training jobs uh then company command

which took me back to Northern Ireland again a tour in Bosnia as a as a staff

officer in the NATO headquarters in the late 90s and then I went really onto the

staff for quite a while um including Staff College itself and then going back out to Africa also not

back out to Afghanistan but out to Afghanistan to head up the SSR cell the

uh kind of what it stands for now that doesn’t really matter but running the police basically

um helping them set up the police force security sex reform that’s the one um uh helping them run the police set

the police up um and then from there I got promoted went into to headquarters of the army to

do a job of digitization which was basically helping the Tactical level of

the army digitized so they could actually use um both voice and data on the

battlefield rather than having to use sort of paper maps um and insecure voice they could use

secure voice and digitize mapping and text and the like and then I thought actually it’s time to

put my family first say I applied for a job which took me out to New York for almost four years

um and the best of the world probably killed my career at that stage but went out there knowing that that was going to

be the case and had the most amazing four years advising the UK’s ambassadors United Nations

then from there we went to Kuwait and then back to the UK for a year and then I left in 2017. if we go back to the

start ceremonial duties yeah uh so I did ceremonial duties in the 90s uh also

with the Irish guards um how did you find that so to begin with it’s it’s quite a

thrill and it’s quite an honor you’re there you know people laugh at it in

terms of the army but actually you do have a role that you know in those days there really was a role we were the first point of contact if anything went

wrong particularly at night and okay we worked very closely with the police but we we were the ones that that did

everything if something went wrong we had to be there the trouble is you get into a bit of a routine where you end up

on what they call the Blue Line sometimes for six to eight weeks at a time which almost means you’re you’re

mounting a duty every 24 to 48 hours and that prevents you from training it

prevents you from maintaining levels of fairness um and so you had to come up with quite in you know different ways of of

managing that and we were quite fortunate the fact that we had an operational tour in South elmr

um uh thrown in sort of halfway through our five years in London district and

then from there went back out to Northern Ireland for a stand I remember um when I did trooping the color the hairs

on the back of my neck standing up thinking like yeah this is a really famous thing yeah and it’s watched all

over the world and it was I I got a really cool experience from yeah I think

I believe the numbers are something ridiculous like at any one time there are people say there’s a billion people

around the world watching trooping the color I don’t know whether that’s true but you know those numbers I mean it’s

it’s a lot of people it is televised around the world there’s no two ways about it and I think it’s something that

that we as an arm as an army but also the nation can be incredibly proud of you know we do do state ceremonial like

no one else and I think a lot of people um who who are not from military circles

don’t realize that they’re actually fighting soldiers that are doing these ceremonial duties yeah I mean I I mean

sort of are sort of our whatever you call it our Unwritten motto in the grand

is you know twice the man and that relates to the fact that our primary role is as infantry soldiers

um and our secondary role is public duties um and you’re quite right Nick in that a

lot of people look at the foot guards and they see them wearing red tunics in London

actually the vast majority of time they’re actually wearing um you know combats and either training

for or going on operations if we fast forward along to uh to the

New York Post so how did that come about so I uh I saw I was looking for a way

out of getting out of headquarters land um uh I was fed up with with the culture

um I just saw it quite often as toxic you know not great use of people’s time

you know generals would be getting kernels to brief them when actually the

person that should be briefing we should be a captain you know it just it just the whole thing was quite toxic and I

saw a job come up on this list and I thought I want that job and it was the first time in my career

probably I should have done it before but I I didn’t I just thought you know the system will look after one I rang up

people I knew who might be able to influence it and I made quite a few phone calls

um including to uh one of your Royal signals once one star as a guy with Andy

Bristow who was incredibly helpful and the next thing I knew I’d been allocated the role to go to New York

and so uh as a family we moved there in late February early March 2011.

and it was great it was great I we we were living in a civilian community on

you know the people around us were either expats or or Americans who most

of him worked in Manhattan either in banking or or in roles that supported banking whether they be recruitment or

I.T or or something along those lines and we lived a lifestyle that that you

couldn’t get anywhere else in the British army it does sound quite a Gucci posting well

if I can if I can say that I think our last winter um that we started being able to ski in

the November and we stopped skiing in in April and I think I’m right in saying I

think my wife and I and my younger son managed something like 30 days skiing

across that winter if not maybe slightly more because you could go up on a Saturday morning and you could be on the

slopes in two hours and then you come back on a Sunday night um and you know it was just fantastic we

visited 35 States in three and three and

three quarter years um it was brilliant wow and so uh was your uh was your son

out there with you as well or yeah so our youngest was there because he when we went was four so he went through uh

what they call uh pre-kindergarten then kindergarten year which the kindergarten

year is sort of the equivalent to our um reception year although it’s done a year later

um and then he went through first and second grade and then my two our two older children were already at um

private school here so they stayed and they basically commuted for holidays and half terms aged at the time it was

horrible aged nine and uh what were they 9 and 12 I think one

or nine and ten no nine and nine and twelve and we went then I then on to Kuwait yeah so we left there and we

thought let’s have another let’s have another Journey overseas so we went off to QA for two years and I taught at uh

the Kuwaiti Staff College so uh teaching International

um officers uh so clearly lots of q80 officers uh but all all the middle

eastern states were represented um and then you had a British student an Australian student an American Turkish

yeah you know a wide range of students and we ran a course a year-long course and we did I did two years there

um fascinating place to live very very different culture um you know money no option money sorry

Money No Object um uh just quite quite absorbed I used

to live we we to be if I was honest we couldn’t quite get to groups with it we had the option of staying on for a third

year but we wanted to go home so then that was uh that’s five years of of posting sort of

out of the almost almost six okay almost six yeah and so out of the

normal sort of uh type of jobs was it then when you got back from Kuwait that

you would you you then quickly made the decision of actually it’s time to do something else yeah I sort of set my

stall out by saying that I need to if I wanted to have a proper chance of a second career

whatever that looked like or I needed to be out before I was 50. so going back to the UK the job that I

went to was teaching then at the UK Staff College um and it was basically a three-year

tour um and so the moment we we settled back in the UK I started

um and I started looking um and I was talking to Head Hunters I was writing letters I was networking

um and then uh bizarrely an opportunity came along that

um I got a text from a friend that said I’ve got a job you might be interested in he was a serving officer at the time

and he’d he’d received a a text from a friend of his um and I said yeah fine why not and it

turned out this job was basically to go and be uh the chief of staff for an ultra high net worth family

um they they needed somebody to run all of their private Enterprises uh so not

clearly not Investments because I’m not an investment manager um uh and I probably struggle enough

with my own Investments let alone someone else’s um so uh I applied

um I went for my first you might not believe this my first interview

since 1987 in 2018.

um and that last interview was of interview to get me into the British army

um say I I went down to London uh chatted with the lady who was

interviewing on their behalf said to us so how many people are you seeing she said well I’ve five

um uh one hadn’t responded one hadn’t shown up and therefore there were three of us and she said you’re by far the

more experienced than the others um and I’ll be putting your name forward I thought this doesn’t happen to me

uh so I then went to go and see the family um I had an hour and a half of them and

literally left them and by the time I got to Paddington Station um I got a call saying they were offering me a job

um and that was my flash to bang and so then uh had you already signed

off at this point no so then so I then had to go through uh the PVR

process yeah um you know asked to be able asked to leave early effectively

um and you know it it shocked me how difficult

the Army made that you know they were it was a period of time to 2017 2018 where

they were still screaming out that they had too many officers they needed to you know cut numbers and so on and so forth

and there was there was me as a lieutenant colonel age 47. who was willing to just say I want to go now

and they couldn’t have made it more difficult um and so this was about

April this was April early May 2018 where I’ve been given a job offer

um and I managed to actually leave on the 1st of September and start a work on

the third didn’t have direct um uh consideration from Glasgow fully that

it was all clear until four weeks before so the end of July beginning of August they actually formally told me that I

could leave um and that you know I found that quite surprising um but I you know I gave up all my

resettlement so I didn’t do any resettlement I gave up all my leave um other than sort of bit of annual

leave um uh you know because if I’d signed off properly I’d have got out of end of

January 18 I’d have got out um rather than rather than September 17.

um so you didn’t do the joyous CV writing Workshop no no possibly

[Laughter] I’ve seen some horror stories that come out of that

um so um what would you say the highlight of your of your career was your military career so I think it’s

difficult to put it on to one thing um I think the first thing I’d say and I

I’m sure a lot of people say this I think the greatest privilege I had was being

given the opportunity to leave in command soldiers um and I I hope that I never took that

for granted in the way that I went about it because ultimately that’s what we’re there to do as officers

um and so going on you know three tours of Northern Ireland a platoon level

Requiem level and then company Commander level commanding soldiers on operations was a huge huge challenge huge honor and

just what I signed up to do and I loved it um so I think you know that that’s easy

to say and you’ll probably hear that from a lot of people in terms of job in physical job

I would have to say that if somebody had told me when I first went to Sandhurst

that I would go to New York for three and a half almost four years I’d have laughed at them

it was one of the most fascinating things I’ve done you know to see UK foreign policy first hand on the floor

of the UN Security Council he is just staggering and and having a part in it

you know when I first arrived it was the time where Libya was collapsing

um Cote d’Ivoire was was collapsing again um I think you know the Libya resolution

I think was uh resolution 1973 I think it was you know that was going through

the chamber in the first couple of weeks I was there you know watching how the Russians and the Chinese behaved towards

that um and then you had Syria um and you had Mali it just it was a

continuous so the three and a half there she is I was there it was a continuous change of uncertainty

particularly in Africa and you know the sort of Syria Iraq Middle East area that

area of the Middle East um the rest of it was pretty much normal jogging I mean you know yes there were

problems in Afghanistan but it wasn’t a un it wasn’t a un Mission there was a U.N Mission there but it wasn’t a U.N Mission

um uh there was a U.N mission in Iraq but but it wasn’t being led by the U.N

again it was being led by a coalition so the other one was the Syria’s and the Libya and so on really made it for a

really interesting time and seeing the dynamic that the Russians were absolutely against

everything that asked the U.S the French and other like-minded people wanted to

do and they would bring the Chinese along with them and so getting anything through the security Council was incredibly difficult if we look at uh

challenges you faced what do you what would you think your your greatest challenge during your your military

career was I think the greatest challenge that

I faced in my career was was that I probably naively thought that the Army

would look after one in everything that it did I’m not saying I had a bad time I loved

my time in the Army but I don’t think that our way of reporting on people

serves the Army well and I’m not saying that I would have necessarily been

promoted further I’m not saying that I just don’t think it was particularly done I think that I found quite a

challenge see you know you would if if you had somebody that wrote well then that would pull somebody through if

you had somebody who wrote badly yeah that person’s career was it’s not quite the meritocracy that it’s painted the

picture is painted no because it’s based on it’s very it’s almost based on what you’ve done not necessarily what you’re

going how people think you’re going to be in the future because if you look at the potential paragraph in any report it’s a smaller bit

and actually what people should be looking at and I don’t also don’t think we necessarily judge people properly against leadership

um and if we think that uh an army is all about people and all about how we lead people and we’ve all seen it in the

Press over the last three or four years you know some of the stories of toxic leadership have come out you know in the

current CGS is it’s very much of a mind to drive to drive that out I don’t I don’t believe that we’ve ever

properly done anything about it I mean I remember as a as a as a left-hand Colonel writing to the then I I don’t

know the position what position he was but he was a three-star in land saying what I thought was wrong with lante

courses I mean it’s quite a necky thing to do as a lieutenant colonel you know it was three sides

um I got a response but you know it was all about bringing our people through properly and

and empowering them and we just didn’t do that so we we come to the end of your career

and you’ve got this job offer and you’ve you’re off to start the the new career after after 26 years in uh in the Army

what what was that like so like very short amount of time from last day to first day Nick it was it was amazing I

mean you know I literally I left shrivenham on the Friday I got on a plane on the Sunday morning

and I flew up to um uh Inverness Airport and I got picked up and I got taken to

their their Scottish pile up in the highlands and that was my first introduction to the job

and I spent three days up there with them no getting to know them seeing what the

problems were getting to grips it and and that was it and then you know I was

it was everything that that you would expect somebody to be able to do from the military you know it was

about how do you prioritize you know where do you need to put effort um so you know they had their property

in London their property in Sussex their property in Scotland they had properties in Amsterdam they had property in France they had a 50 meter yacht on the

Mediterranean and you couldn’t be everywhere at once clearly but you had to be you had to be

able to go and visit you had to be able to go and see these places to be able to understand how they worked and where the

problems were and where where the good things were I mean it wasn’t just about problems but often with these

High net worth individuals all they can see is problems they can’t necessarily see the good so I also saw that part of

my role was telling them what actually was going well um because it’s they were very quick to

complain um and actually sometimes it doesn’t need to be told actually this is going well

um but it was a really real eye-opener um you know I’d never dealt with tax

advisors before or you know investment advisors at that level or you know I’m

gonna go and buy a car for a million pounds uh right and you want me to do what well I want

you to transfer the money and and go and pick the car up okay I’ve never driven a

car up for that’s been more than about 20 grand in my life you want me to pick someone else a million you know it was that environment

um it was absolutely it was staggering were they looking for someone specifically from the military well so

he had had some pretty bad press uh in the run-up too when I took over

and so they had brought in a PR advisor and one of the things that she suggested

they do was look to have a chief of staff um I think she describes as a private

office manager um but actually it was it was it was a very similar role to being you know

clearly not as many assets but especially a brigade Chief of Staff or a battle group Chief of Staff you you are

looking after all the stuff that’s going on that makes things work

um and Advising upwards and often talking truth to power um and so she said well I think what you

need is you perhaps might need an army if somebody an army officer somebody with a background the Army and hence why

the job came across my across my um uh

across my table um and that’s why you know I went for it and it was great fun

um it got quite toxic towards the end but I always knew it had a chance of

going that way because of the types of individuals you’re dealing with I think generally people uh say Chief of Staff

roles in uh in civilian organizations and not long-term positions

yeah I think that’s probably true I mean you can get people who they just slot in

naturally and the person they’re working for is exceptional and I think you know one of those characters potentially

something like you know my understand you know I mean I don’t know them clearly but I’ve listened to podcasts on him Richard Branson suppose he’s

delightful to work for because he empowers people he he wants people to to feel that they are needed and so on and

so forth and I think they’ve you know you fall into that type of role then it gets it but there are others like the

one that I was with you know there was often times where I was thinking you know I think we had

six personal assistants in three years

um you know it was and there’s nothing you know they turn around and say they don’t want her

there’s nothing I can do about it so I have to go and find another one but I’m the one that’s doing the hiring and firing

you know and and it’s so you know three years for me was long enough

so I did it until sort of Summer 2020 so you know from September 17 to I think my

last paid day was I think middle of July 2020. and so you started thinking that you wanted to move on and do something

else yeah I knew that he was I knew that he was trying to make life difficult

for me and wanting me to leave um I I think he missed the fact that and

this will make you laugh you know if you’ve been screamed and shouted out by sergeant majors and color sergeants at soundtest you can put up with with an

angry High net worth um uh and so I just abided my time

and So eventually he made me redundant um and I had a three-month nature spirit

so I worked off my natives um and it coincided with the beginning of the covert pandemic and lockdown so

it really wasn’t a huge skin off my nose so we’ve moved on from that job start of

covid sounds like a perfect time for a new company

actually if I go slightly back because I knew towards the end of uh 2019 that

things weren’t looking good um just the way that the behavior patterns Etc

um and so I’d started looking um elsewhere and I’d started uh and the

reason this is important was because when we move forward to the recruitment you’ll see where where this sort of fits in

um and so I started looking and I was going for interviews and I was you know I think on four or five occasions I’d

got down for the last one two or three and each time the feedback was oh you

don’t have enough commercial experience or you don’t have enough experience with this you don’t have enough experience that and not being arrogant

I knew that I could do those jobs and I knew that I could do them well the fact that I you know I I didn’t have

commercial experience in a particular field I know that I could have learned that quickly and I could have added

value and it frustrated me and so I thought rather than continue to be frustrated why don’t I Look to do so

myself um and I’d and I and I slightly have worked

off the old adage that if you have an itch you should scratch it and I’d had an slight itch for a while

thinking God it’d be nice just nice to try and do something myself my my older brother’s always been an entrepreneur

um uh and a highly successful one you know he he said his own set up his own um value investing fund about

12 13 years ago they’ve now got I think two and a half billion under management he’s done it all himself and so he’s

always been that Gene I think that of slight entrepreneurial thing um and I was chatting to a mate of mine

uh who’s an American who had established a wine business in the U.S

in about 2017 I think it was and and he’s so the idea and he said

well you know why don’t why don’t you know I’ll give you the contacts The Vineyards why don’t you see if you can

do the same in the UK um and so I did research I looked at how

easy it was to get Croatian wine in the UK you know what would you know what did people say about it what were the

experts saying because I’m no expert I enjoy a glass of wine but I am no expert um and I believe that actually

your ability to sell something is equally as important that you enjoy what

you’re selling then it is that you’re an utter expert at it

because you can have other people that are experts yeah um uh and and so I thought well why not

how difficult can it be to set up my own business in the middle of a pandemic and so I

started um and I did literally step by step

researched on my own not knowing whether I was doing the right thing or the wrong thing you know trying to find out you

know did I need a license to sell alcohol it wasn’t clear so I did the exam anyway just to make sure that I was

covered um because nobody could tell me uh trying to set up a bank account uh took

you know which normally you know if we were outside covered you would expect to take probably three to four weeks I

think took three and a half months maybe four months um you know trying to get uh samples

sent over so that one could taste them so that you could say whether or not I actually think they’re gonna think then

you know working out how what platforms you were going to use to to sell not

only on a website but clearly Twitter Instagram um and the like

um and then bringing the wine over um and of course all those delays I mean

I thought I’d set it up so nicely that you know the first shipment of wine would arrive you know a good six weeks

before Christmas um and therefore my first sales could be over Christmas of 2020 and because that

would clearly be a loot of time you know the first shipment arrived in the UK on the 29th of December

so of course I couldn’t certainly you know I couldn’t be selling wine before Christmas so I mean unbelievably

frustrating but there’s nothing to do about it you know January yeah and dare I say it you know brexit probably didn’t

help I mean although we weren’t fully into it then it was it the processes were slowing up

um and then I started selling um and the first year I think for a

small business like that was was good you know uh if there was any benefits

that came out of covid the alcohol business the online alcohol business was was was strong I mean it was it you

know people couldn’t go out so they would they would go searching online and I think you know that year or the year

of sort of 21 we were selling probably 300 bottles a month which is a decent

turnover for uh a first a small business

um uh and if you’re you know retail we were we were looking at selling at about a 30

um uh margin and sorry business business to customers a b2c 30 margin and then

for uh B2B anywhere between a seven percent and ten percent margin

um so you know it wasn’t bad um the trouble was that it became more

difficult as restrictions were lifted how manual was the process were you having the wine chipped to your house

and then no you’re not allowed to so you’d have to have a special license to do that to store it there and to sell it

from there you know you’d have to have or who who had to come in but somebody three or four different organizations so

it’s stored with a company called London City Bond and they pay uh you pay them a

certain amount each month to store the wine and then they will do the shipping for you as well which really they pay

you you pay for so you know um a standard shipment or for them is you

know it starts at 12 pounds 50 for a case uh and then depending on postcode

can go higher so if it’s up to Scotland it can be a lot higher it’s down to Cornwall it’s a lot higher clearly but

most of the time it’s about 12 pounds 50 plus v80 um uh but you know they with all these

processes you know you’re only often you’re only as good as as the people you are beholdened upon and sometimes you

know deliveries will get smashed or you know so on so it was it was all quite difficult but I was doing everything and

like a Shopify store something like that so I had Shopify absolutely set that up I designed it myself I used one of their

templates I’d never designed a website before so how easy did you find that to

be able to create a website that someone could browse products and purchase one

uh Shopify I found very easy because I was starting for Scratch doing the whole

thing myself clearly it took me time to do the full design and there were issues

that you would think you you go live and you suddenly you go on and you go that page is blank so you’d have to go back

in and work out why it had gone blank because yeah they’re they’re online help tools aren’t very helpful

um often things like linking the uh the

Shopify sites and I’ll get my technology terms wrong I’m sure you can pick me up on that to your web address which is

done by a different organization was pretty tricky Shopify were not easy in

bringing in linking making the link between those two um and that took time and then the only

thing that staggered me was the additional charges that they put on for each sale

to quite High I think for what for actually for what they’re producing bearing in mind you’re paying them a fee an annual fee anyway or you know you can

be you can do it for two years three years or five years I think um but also every single time somebody makes a purchase they charge a fee so

easy but not the cheapest no I mean I think

uh say that they were as good as anybody else I that I could see on the market at

the time now I can’t remember who else I looked at but I did look at a few others

um I mean for instance I started using PayPal as well at the beginning I

stopped using them very quickly um because they were whole withholding some

payments because something about the fact they they wanted proof of address

of the person buying I mean it was ridiculous I said but hang on they’re buying my products

you just give me the money I mean you know and you know it’s a date so the customer then luckily it was a friend of

mine had to then go onto their website upload their home I mean it was just pathetic and their charges are really

quite big um and so I I stopped using them very quickly and I ended up literally either

just doing just doing um either backs um payments or payments on the website

so you you identify a product that you’d like to sell then very easy to set up

an e-commerce website that you can transact from I think I think it is

you think it is and I think that it goes back to I think something you said earlier before we started this which is you know continuous learning

you know don’t be afraid of going on to something like Shopify and you can play around

you don’t have to have a contract with them you can just play around on their sites and try and build something so go

on there play around you know don’t just use Shopify use something use other platforms I mean I can’t remember what

what there are but there are a lot of platforms out there you know go on there and work out what is best for you

Shopify is absolutely designed for selling Goods

um you know if you want to sell a bottle of something Shopify set up for if you want to sell in shirts or boxer shorts

or whatever it is Shopify is set up for it it is a proper if you’re selling a uh

uh you know I don’t know a consultancy you know your consultancy services Shopify is probably not the way you’d go

it’d probably be somewhere else um you know I I you know I wouldn’t use wouldn’t be using Shopify as as the as

the backdrop for our recruitment business because it’s not set up for that so you do need to work out what

you’re trying to sell and what is the right platform for it if it is a product as in something

physically somebody has then something like Shopify is the way I would suggest

um to go down but but don’t be wedded to them and actually there are so many nowadays that

fight the cost yeah so then from when someone placed an order

um I’m gonna assume lower levels of automation but I could be wrong that you

would then get an email saying someone’s places order they paid the money and then you would contact the yes yes so so

what what happens was that say Nick goes onto my website buy six bottles of wine I get a notification that’s been paid

what I then have to do is I then have to go onto the London uh City Bond website yeah

um onto their their system and load up your details

wine you’ve ordered yeah the address it needs to be shipped to and any other bits and pieces so for instance you know

if you say I I can only get it shipped at between 8 and 12 each day because that’s the only time at home you know

that information has to go in um and then you determine whether or not it is it is cheaper to get a second

delivery companies do it or London City bonded um and to be honest you if if it was

over nine bottles it was easier just to get on and said you wanted to do it if

it was under nine bottles I used uh I think they called APC um because they were a couple of pounds

cheaper well if you’re starting a business a couple of pounds cheaper for a delivery is is when a couple of bands

might be yeah 10 to your margin yeah exactly exactly and that’s the point um although what I would say and I don’t

think I was in my first round of pricing um I I wasn’t very good at at working

this out and it wasn’t until I sat down with a friend of mine this guy in America and I just said right you know

what do you think of this and he said well how much have you priced into the bottle delivery charge

and I think I priced in something like 25p and of course if you’re pricing in 25 p

and you’re doing free delivery on orders um of 75 pounds or more

you know it might be six bowls of wine it might be six bottles of wine and you’ll

actually only getting whatever that works out as one pound footy I mean you know and he said no no you need to be

adding in a pound of bottle yeah I went really anyway yeah and he said right how much does it cost

to store the wine and I said well it cost whatever it was each month and he said right that

storage cost how long is it gonna take to sell that wine and I said well I would hope no no more than six months he said right you

need to take a bit of ahead of that but you then need to put three months worth of storage into the price of the bottle

and the advice I would give to anybody who’s doing it is you’ve got to and I know it sounds silly but you’ve got to

look at all of your costs yep doesn’t matter how small they are because it’s

the smaller ones that will tend to run up behind you and bite you so we we went through this uh this process with um

with my company looking at the packages and at the start I’d looked at things and said oh but that’s only a pound per

user to add in but then when we look to the margin it was like well you know um you’re only making eight pound per

user and you’re giving a pound of that away by dropping another product in and it was

um it was I open until now I I have a spreadsheet that manages all my packages so we see exactly what’s involved in the

delivery of every single one and it’s real I think it’s really important that you know when it’s that understanding of

of all the associated costs and I don’t think anybody I was

fortunate that it didn’t matter to me because I’d done all of that work before I launched mainly because the wine was

so late in arriving but but you know I’d gone through that indicative process and

one of the other things I’d gone through is uh which was everyone said to me you

know uh markup and margin yeah I got those completely wrong to begin

with I went to this one retailer and I said um uh you know these are my course

and he said he said right well if I want to sell this wine I’ve got to sell it for X I went but why

he said because my margin is X and I went

oh I’ve done a little markup haven’t I anyone yes I went back I had to read literally redo the figures but it was a

very good lesson yeah is you you’ve got a base on one or the other but when I think it comes to Pure sales

of products you’re always best to work it on margin rather than markup so did you

have a plan for if it became really successful if all of a sudden you were shifting volume or

were you just dipping your toe in the water and seeing what what you could what you could do with this idea uh so

to begin with it was it was very much different than water and seeing see what I could do it was but he was also seeing what I could do yeah so it was all that

was part of the the journey it was part of the journey that I liked was the fact that I’d never done anything like this before

yeah and you think of all the different things involved yeah you’ve got the negotiation of purchase you’ve got all

sorts of regulatory things to deal with you’ve got Logistics in there you’ve got some sales and marketing you’ve got a

bit of high-level web design there’s there’s a lot of pieces to string together there is no one goatee that can

tell you how to do all that yeah um and so so there was a bit of that um uh so there was probably a bit of ego

involved in making sure that I could actually do this um I have heard a couple of people said to me um subsequently that I could have

chosen an easier product um but but you’ve got to find the product I think is the issue you know

it’s all well and good to say you could have had an easier product but what would that product have been I I enjoy

having a glass of wine so why not do something new with what you enjoy

um you know I probably find it very difficult if I was to sell blue and red glasses you know it it’s not you know

that even if there was another blue one on the side well exactly yeah yeah yeah

um uh but you know it’s it’s I think you’ve got to if you’re going to do something and do

something well I personally think believe you’ve got to enjoy it yeah moving on from wine you then move to

recruitment uh yeah so I joined a uh a defense

consultancy called Universal defense and Security Solutions we should I think have been set up in about 2018 as one of

their Associates um and it was just a it was just do a little bit of work on the side of the wine this time so the wine was the main

thing that was going to be the side hustle that you know because I could take the wine wherever they wherever wherever I went because you just need a

laptop um and I did a bit of work for them on a couple of projects and then they

approached me in uh April of 21.

and said we’ve got we’ve got an idea that we want to set up a recruitment arm

to Universal defense and Security Solutions and we’d like you to to lead it

so I said oh okay you know what what does this look like and originally it

was that they might look at buying into or buying

um an existing recruitment company and then taking that on and I was going to

be one of the team managing directors um but as we went through that process we quickly realized that actually was

probably better if we’re going to do it we do it on our own and the the principal aim behind this

was to help veterans and service leaders find jobs

um with one slight caveat in that that we we weren’t ever looking to get into

the mass recruitment Market um and the reason I say that is that if somebody you know the real estate is

that somebody came to me and said guy I need to find 40 guards for something I’d

go it’s just not what we do you go somewhere else

um because that’s not what we want to do we want to help individuals have second

careers not have a job and I think there’s a there is a difference yeah um

and and so we set off doing that and and part of the driving force behind that which I talked about earlier was my

experience of going for interviews and job hunting as

I was being made redundant where people would go oh we just you know you don’t have enough experience you don’t have

enough there about that and and I wanted to do really do two things one I wanted

to help the veteran service even Community um and give them you know my guidance

from my point of view it may not be right but it’s what I’ve seen um and you know I’m not arrogant enough

to say that it’s it’s absolutely the way you should do it but I will advise um take that advice or don’t eat a

it’s up to you but also to go to clients and say listen

employ somebody from the military um you know you will get somebody who is

adaptable they’ll work hard they’ll go the extra mile they’re Dependable

they can they’re resilient they can manage risk they can they can solve

problems interestingly though what I don’t talk about is I don’t talk about leadership

management um and for me there’s a reason behind that in that often when you talk to

clients if you talk about military leadership and management they have this notion in

their head of a sergeant major screaming and shouting um and that’s not the type of leadership

that they want in the commercial space um and therefore actually what we want

to do is you want to be singing from the rooftops about the other bits and pieces that veterans bring and service leavers

bring um and that is the bits I’ve already talked about and then you add to couple that to in most cases honestly Integrity

selfless commitment respect for others you know it all adds up I mean there was a story I was told where

um a bank in the city uh started a veterans program and they they brought

some veterans in and he said that it was very obvious after three or four months

that they’d had this sort of Osmosis change on the rest of the community and that suddenly others who would turn up

in a either just on time or five or ten minutes late because they’d stop to go

and get a coffee at Starbucks or whatever and then would sort of sneak out five or ten minutes early at the end of the day you know and so on and so

forth we’re turning up early we’re leaving slightly later well that’s a good thing about anything doesn’t matter

it’s just the coming they were looking smarter they were they were playing playing nicer in the office in terms of

teamwork and he didn’t know whether that was because that that’s the way the veteran behaved

or whether it was the individuals in the office looked to the veteran and thought we owe this person respect for what

they’ve done he couldn’t put his finger on it but he just said there was a change and he said that change stayed

um he said you always get the odd one or two who who go back to to the original ways

bad good or indifferent but he said it had an effect and I think that’s something that we should all be very

proud of um we aren’t the we aren’t suitable for every job in the marketplace at all but

there are a lot of jobs we are suitable for and we shouldn’t be afraid of going for them and the likes of you and me and

others can Champion that um you know it will improve the loss of the veteran service lever

yeah I will say sorry the other thing I I think that is important to add is that

I think that rank is now almost immaterial

when it comes to who gets what job in civilian Street in a lot of cases I

think there are clearly right at the top end General officers very different but but I think

senior non-commissioned officers warrant officers captains Majors Lieutenant colonels

it’s it’s slightly seamless now whereas 10 15 years ago there was still an air gap I think you are now seeing a

difference I think you’re now seeing much more equilibrium in in the marketplace and I hope we are but but

I’m I would never if I felt that there was a senior non-commissioned officer who is absolutely right for a role but

the client just said well actually what I really want is a major I wouldn’t hesitate in putting forward that senior

commission officer yeah because I would explain to the client what they’re getting because you uh because you had

so much spare time while you were doing all this uh do you want to tell us about what your little passion project uh so

the Yukon 700 yeah one of the great things I think about lockdown was

he bizarrely brought people together over Zoom or teams or whatever because I

think we all have more time um and I reconnected with a mate of mine

who uh who who was in the region with me he was actually my reputation um in America he lives in America and we

were chatting about staff and we were just chatting away and he said well you know I’m thinking about with this other guy of of looking at Expedition where we

might take UK and wound American wound and Military on a on an exhibition on the Yukon

um and the other guy he was talking about was a chat called John freyth who’s still serving um and John is again in my regiment and

I rang up John and I said I just had a chat with Rob you know I’d love to help

um and that was literally all it was it was can I help you raise the money to go

and do this um and those conversations were the beginning of 21 so we’re talking about sort of March 21.

um and John said yeah great you know why don’t we come you know come down here and have a brew he lives about 20 minutes away

um and we had a brew in his garden and by the literally by the time I got back into the car as I sat in the driver’s

seat I said to myself I think I’ve now sat in a canoe in June

next year I he literally managed to I don’t know how we’d gone from me helping

him raise money to me helping him raise money and be on the Expedition with him um sat in a canoe I mean he didn’t take

a huge amount of persuasion I can promise you he sounds like a good salesman he’s a he’s a very salesman I mean he didn’t take a huge amount of uh

of of convincing I mean you think of the challenge so our challenge was

to go to the Yukon Territory in Northwest Canada and we would canoe from a place called

White Horse down to a place called Dawson City um weirdly I say down because that is

going down but we’re heading north um because the River Yukon sort of uh

goes north flows north up through Canada from the Rockies and then turns West and

goes out through Alaska into the bearing almost into the Bering Straits um and the route that we were going to

do is about 740 kilometers um and we wanted to take five wounded

veterans and the reason it’s five was three non-wounded and then five were

ended we didn’t want to do four and four because that takes a bit of a challenge away from it

um so if you’ve got two people in the canoe at any one time there are always

going to be two wounded in the canoe um and again that adds a bit of a challenge clearly

um and uh we were going to do this this 740 kilometers in seven days totally

unsupported so you know if something conversation didn’t but if something went wrong you know we could probably

get somebody to a main hospital bed within 24 hours

not the golden hour or anything like that because you know the chances are

they’d have to fly in a small plane or helicopter to somewhere to pick the injured party up transport into

somewhere else to then transport them onto a bigger something or other whether it’s a plane or a vehicle or something

to then take them to the nearest hospital to properly triourism so there’s there was huge challenges

involved in all of this um and so we set the we set the process

in motion um we we’re very lucky in the our regimental charity the Colonel’s fund

the ground their guards um we employ a casualty officer that looks after all our casualties

um not just from Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts but also anybody that’s been um uh suffering

um and we’ve had people you know coming out of the woodwork with PTSD as one as lots of regiments do

um but they he also still looks after the bereaved families um uh and so we got hold of Matt and

said right Matt this is what we want to do can you give us five names and so we did he gave us five names

um uh and do you want me to give you the names yeah I mean I’m happy to yeah

it really matters so we had we had Paul Richardson who was the oldest on the

trip uh had joined the army in the early 80s mid-80s and left in the mid 90s

um uh we had Garth Banks who was the uh

was a team commander on a Herrick tour and lost both his legs uh we had Tony checkley who was a

Guardsman who’d lost one leg uh we had Dougie Adams and then we had Alex

Harrison who had been shot uh through the eye uh on the same tour that we were

on with he was attached to Royal England um and these were our these were our

five and then uh and then we had to bring on because Rob couldn’t make it uh because

of work commitments in America we then brought on a great friend of ours called Ben Stevens

um who had helped to raise a lot of money for us by bicycling 700 kilometers

continuously around the Suffolk Countryside and raised about 15 000 pounds

um uh I would hate to see what the swords were like on his body um uh I can just about sit on the

bicycle for an hour he did it for I think it was almost 20 something out 27 hours continuously

um uh and then we said about the process of raising money and by the time we had

got back I think we had raised uh about

80s 85 000 90 000 pounds um in total uh raising which was

included a big fundraising dinner for our regimental charity uh which raised about 45 000 pounds are just getting

paid which raised about 19 000 pounds which all of that money went to Safra

and combat stress um so we managed to give them about nine and a half thousand each

um I think just over nine and a half thousand um and then since then we’ve had some amazing amazingly generous

um uh donations from um different organizations and different people and so it was a huge success we

went in June um John and I flew over together had spent a day sorting out admin the rest

of the team then arrived at night We’ve Ended a day’s training which included cap size drills the whole day

all day training all day training um uh oh yeah what else do you need

um uh the Water unbelievably cold oh yeah this is glacial water so you know

two degrees oh my God anyway um and then uh and then we set off the

next day at midday the following day just the eight of you we’re talking about and some bags

um a few fishing rods uh some bear spray um some bangers to scare off Bears if we

saw them um uh you know Russian packs

um I think a bottle of whiskey a bottle of ports Hollow chocolate

and yeah off we went good banter I was huge man it was huge it it did

everything that we wanted to do and more if you could give a piece of advice to

someone who was leaving within the next 12 months Network

One Word Network um you know I I’ve always lived off the

rather trite adage it’s who you know not what you know

and I know that’s quite a try saying but actually you’re the more you can Network the more you

can reach out to people speak to people um is the better and but

always I and I think this is this is something about I say manners but if you

have resell someone and they’ve given you time drop an email say thank you because that makes the world and also

what it does it makes them want to help you more yeah and I think that’s key you know to too often you speak to somebody

and you don’t get anything back from them and you think actually why did I bother it takes nothing to say thank you

but network network there are some great networks out there and you probably come across

um uh is it the Gen debt had a set up by Chris Shaw he’s an ex-royal Marine I

think he sets up six months or nine months ago they got over nearly nine thousand followers now wow it’s

brilliant little Network um you know get on things like that don’t be afraid to reach out to people

who you might not have spoken to for 10 or 15 or 20 years because I believe that

most people particularly if if you’ve served either alongside them or you’ve served will will give you time yeah

um and that’s so one piece advice Network and you can’t Network enough when networking

do it in the way that your going to that person to ask for their

advice rather than going to them and asking for a job and I think there is a very subtle

difference there in that people are more likely psychologically to want to help

you if you say can I come and pick your brains about something yeah can I have asked your advice on something you know

you want their help rather than I’m demanding something from you yeah I want to take something from you no no you

want them to give you something that’s they’re in their power which is their advice

um or to you know just to pet their brains about something and you never know what comes up because they open the door to somebody else or someone else

and then the next thing you know you’re off at a job Ben sending me a message on LinkedIn uh led to the idea for this

podcast after meeting people who I was like when I was leaving the military I didn’t know that stuff like this happened I

thought people just want to work for BT or G4S but that’s that’s not the case

can I throw in one tangential piece of advice they never ever ever

pay for somebody to write your CV [Laughter]

yep the CV is a personal document get advice on it absolutely but if you

haven’t written it it’s very obvious get someone else to check your spelling and grammar yeah but never ever pay for

your CV and I’m probably doing a lot of CV writers out of a job there but never ever pay somebody to write your CV and don’t do it on chat GPT either

absolutely thank you so much for your time today it’s been really good it’s been great I

think we could have gone on with boring people even more blue perfect

thanks for listening I sure will agree the stories from the guests on the show are incredible starting your own company

is an incredibly Brave and difficult thing to do and there’s a theme of resilience 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 littlebigtech dot Co dot UK 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


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