In this latest edition of our series delving into the realities behind entrepreneurship, we caught up with a man who, after almost 25 years spent in advertising and direct marketing channels, knows how to give a straight answer.
Having played a crucial role in the company’s growth in the North American market – where Your Baby Club now has over 2.5 million members – FanFinders’ CCO and co-founder Adam Gillett spoke to us about why there are actually millions of ‘aha’ moments for any business, how to scale sustainably and the thrill of helping to steer your own ship.
What do you think about the word ‘entrepreneur’?
It’s interesting, because my immediate first thought was of my grandfather, who was a very successful businessman across a number of years and hated the word ‘entrepreneur’. I remember being about 8 years old when conversations were going on over the table at Christmas. When my dad referred to him as an entrepreneur and I asked what the word meant, my grandfather quickly corrected with: “No. I’m not an entrepreneur, I’m a businessman.”
Did you always want to be an entrepreneur?
I think I stand a bit by what my grandfather said: I prefer to see myself as a businessman. In the sense that I love doing deals and always have. I remember being told I could only have 2 paper rounds when I was twelve, but I had 5 or 6 at a time anyway. I used to knock on doors around the neighbourhood and offer to clean cars or do gardening – anything to make money basically. Which, after a few side hustles and failed business ideas, eventually led me into commission-only sales and advertising.
Does the ‘aha’ moment exist when building a business?
For some businesses yes, but what you think of as the ‘aha’ moment generally gets pivoted so many times, you might remember when you came up with the idea but what you end up with bears no resemblance. You’ll go ‘aha, let’s do that’, but if I look back over the evolution of FanFinders, what it became by the point of going live was very different to the original intention. I would say for us, there hasn’t been an ‘aha’ moment, but instead lots of little ones that have built to where we are now. Equally, there have been moments where you go ‘Aha, oh wait actually that didn’t work!’ The ‘aha’ moments are generally always going to be quite short-term in the wider scheme of things, but if a piece of that moment remains, you’ll always remember it.
What are your non-negotiables in business?
The only non-negotiable is no bullsh*t, because it doesn’t work. Even going back to the earliest deals I was doing, the one thing I was never willing to do was lie to people or ‘overpromise’. What we’re trying to do as a business is create something where you’re not taking people’s money without giving them real results in return – we want to build a business generation model that works for all of our partners. Sure, you may not make it work for absolutely everybody, but you can still mitigate the risks. If you’re going to build relationships – particularly in the modern world where everything is trackable and people can call you out based on data and facts – what you can’t do is lie to people.
Do you have to get on with other people to build a business?
I think you learn how to deal with people in most circumstances. What I would say is that it’s a lot easier to fall out with people if you generally have a good relationship and you’re nice. Because then that 1% of the time you have to be an arse just to get an idea across, it can work in your favour.
What’s your perspective on failure?
The reality is if you fall down on your arse, you have to get back up again. Most successful people haven’t got to where they are without falling on their arses a lot and I do fundamentally believe that. If you get it right first-time, you’re either lucky or a genius; and most geniuses aren’t very good at business, but at theory.
Where does your drive come from?
If I’m honest, I probably have a chip on my shoulder about a few things [laughter]. I remember a teacher many moons ago saying “If you don’t do things this way, you’ll never be a success”. I also remember family members dictating the route to success as being education and following norms, or you would fail. When in fact that route mostly leads to a career working for other people. Nobody ever said “grow some balls, roll the dice, go out and get sh*t done”. Yes, education is important, but I’ve never regretted choosing to not go to university for example.
So, is the thrill in reflecting on the build or day-to-day growth?
I’ve always worked lots of hours, not because I have to, but because I enjoy solving problems, coming up with ideas and building things. FanFinders represents something different, because I’ve spent a lot of years doing things for others and despite being handsomely rewarded, never had ownership status. The idea of what we’re doing now is that we have to get it right. For me, it was a case of roll the dice or always be an employee. With building the business, the joy is in the journey and those challenges.
How does a business scale effectively?
It all ultimately comes down to ROI and conversion. Scaling and scaling sustainably are two different things: there are many businesses that are chasing scale without profitability on the belief that if you get enough people using your product or enough visits to your website, that you will make money. But for all the businesses that do succeed that way, 90%+ fail. If you have capital behind you, you can just throw money into certain areas and that’s one of the reasons so many startups fail. We’ve grown without external support, so the primary objectives are getting the right people on the bus, reinvesting in the future and making sure that when we do scale, we have a firm, clear plan behind it.
Coming full circle, do you think there is a point at which you move from entrepreneur to business person?
I think they are widely the same thing, but an entrepreneur is often seen to be jumping off buildings as part of some PR stunt, whereas a business person is usually busy doing deals rather than self-promotion. I don’t care about being called either one, as long as I’m coming up with ideas, learning and finding ways to progress. Entrepreneur has become a very fashionable phrase in recent years, but while every business person is an entrepreneur, not every entrepreneur is a business person. I just see myself as someone who’s trying to get sh*t done.