Sorry. Too human.

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He-llo.

I hope you can hear the apology in my hello. I haven’t written anything here since November 22nd, last year.

I hope you can hear the sheepish shuffling. I know I promised to openly and honestly document this project. It would be easy to say I’ve just been too busy. That things have kind of exploded and I’ve been deep into it all.

But that would only be half the truth.

The other half is that I haven’t felt like I’ve had anything important enough to say. I’ve sat down a few times to to tell you how things have been going, but every time I’ve stopped, and THE VOICE in my head has posed the rather frank question:  

“Who gives a shit?”

HA! Who indeed?

But this morning, an old school friend sent me a message asking about it, which was a lovely and generous thing to do (so thank you Alleyne), and there has been something I’ve wanted to share.

Also it’s good to see you again – an odd thing to type, but that’s how it feels. Guess that’s connection.

SO – I also have something BLOODY BIG to share with you, but next time. Just have to put another couple of things into place, but I’ve truly found my purpose and the purpose of Cult Tribal, and I can’t wait to shout about it to the world. But I’m going to kick it off as an open source project, so I have a couple more things to work out before I do.

In the meantime, I’d like to share something QUITE LITTLE with you, but something quite profoundly moving for me.

I called this chapter “Sorry. Too human.” The sorry is for not writing for ten weeks. Sorry about that.

The second part of the title is really what this is about.

I’ve had the pleasure of working with a bunch of partners (let’s go with that instead of “clients”) these last few months , from single-founder startups to global corporations, understanding what they stand for, finding their true purpose, the heart of their brand.

And what has struck me, more than ever in my life, is just how profoundly human and personal this all is, if you let it be.

Now I’ve been standing on stage for ten years talking about the importance of being human in business, so this should not come as a surprise to me. But this is a whole ‘nother level.

Let me try to explain to you without compromising anyone’s privacy.

The very first thing I try to do with someone when we kick off THE WORK is to explore what drives them. What they value. What lies in their heart.

I’m looking for a connection between them and their brand. Something true, so that everything we then look to build the brand from is authentic.

Where that’s taken us each time has been humbling and, well, a little dangerous, quite frankly.

God, we’re so human when we let us be.

Bullied, belittled, dejected, exhausted, unworthy, confused, afraid…

I’ve had founders sharing intimate and vulnerable details of their lives, their upbringings, unlocking insights into what really matters to them, and why.

I’ve seen executives throw up defences and justifications and scramble to the safety of WHAT HAS BEEN, triggered by the fear of WHAT COULD BE, and the uncertainty that brings.

I had a founder ring me the other night to talk not about the work at all, but about the pressure they were feeling, and how it was impacting their family.

I’ve felt at times more like a therapist than a brand marketer or whatever it is I’m supposed to be calling myself.

What right do I have? Surely that’s just too human for business?

Or is it just so fucking incredibly appropriate and RIGHT?

You know what I think? I think we rob our souls of light, or connection to our humanity, when we switch off from being personal.

I think our culture of business is broken, and we need to heal it.

I think we have let things get to a place where people are serving business, where business should be serving people.

I think we’ve gotten so caught up in winning, that we’ve forgotten what it is we’re competing for.

And if we could all be given permission, for just a moment or perhaps forever, to be human – really human, and just ourselves, and that would be alright, it would be enough…

I think we are ready to change.

As organisations, we need to find our place in the world we live in, with its people and the planet that feeds us, and be of service. Take responsibility. Be worth having around. Contribute. Do some good.

I think it’s time for a new era of business.

Or perhaps it’s something of a return to an era of old. Before the industrial revolution. Perhaps this is more of a coming round full circle. Only with some learnings and a better understanding of ourselves and the world.

Too human? Go for it.

Thanks for listening. Can’t wait to share more…

PS. This photo was my first kiss. I was nearly two. Her name was Anna. I know, she doesn’t look thrilled. That’s my sister Natascha in the background, rolling her eyes. We’re in a town in Germany called Albersdorf, where my father Werner was born. He died in December – one of many very human things that have happened since my last chapter of this blog.

I also learned a new word. “Sonder”. It is the realisation that everyone around us has a story. Everyone has their own shit they’re going through. Their own hopes and dreams and fears and challenges.

Too human? No such thing.

My first transformation

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“I promise to share the founding of this agency as it happens” is my first broken promise. Or maybe it’s my third. That would be a shame.

It’s been a few weeks since my last post, and if I’d been true to my promise, you’d be forgiven for assuming I’d decided to give it all up and never leave the Fiji villa.

That’s in fact not what I decided, and I’ve been quite busy DOING THE WORK.

Because I now have clients. (Damn it – I never quite settled on a better name, despite the many generous and creative and sometimes quite weird suggestions I received).

I figured that eventually the agency would actually be FOUNDED, and so The Story of the Founding of Cult Tribal would be under some pressure to become the stories of the brands and tribes we’re working with. (I’m starting to say we, because I’d really like to have a small team soon, and so I’m manifesting).

The agency is still evolving every day, so it’s by no means the end of that story, but I thought I’d share my first brand and vision transformation anyway, because they’re a good company and I think it’s pretty good work, and it might help show you how my theories on culture and brand and tribes work in practice.

So – where to start? I’ll tell you the story of how this client came about, and what we’ve done together.

About a week after I left Vinomofo (so I was feeling quite fragile), I caught up with Marcus, who has an M&A Agency (buying and selling companies) and actually helped us years ago to buy our shares back from Catch of the Day.

He was quite shocked at my leaving, and bemused at my idea for Cult Tribal (which at that time didn’t have a name) – probably mostly bemused that I’d already started building something new, and that perhaps my brain and heart should have taken a breath.

But he saw the fervour of my conviction, perhaps he smelled the desperate hope, and he said something to me. Something so simple to give, yet at the time it was oxygen for me.

“Mate, everyone will want to work with you.” How I needed those words at the time, and I’ll always be grateful.

A few weeks later, we were meeting for another coffee, and he told me about the BIG LIFE CHANGE he had just made.

You see there was this company, Polygon, that he’d been advising. The company had been going for about 35 years, was quite successful ($25m or so revenue, nicely profitable). The founders were in their sixties and exploring the possibility of a well-earned reward for their hard work.

But the more Marcus learned about the company, the more he saw the untapped potential, and opportunity for growth.

So much potential did Marcus see in this company, that he had decided to quit his M&A life and become the new CEO of Polygon, grow it into what he believed it could become, and then perhaps take it public.

He was putting together a core growth team, and wanted me to join them.

We sat together for two hours and he told me all about the company.

They’d started as Musicorp, renting musical instruments to schools (there’s a cool backstory before that), which over the years grew into what they did now – basically they were a rental payment solution for music and camera gear.

So if you went into a Yamaha store, or Ted’s Cameras, and you wanted to get a guitar, or an expensive camera, instead of buying it, you could rent it. They would buy it, so you could rent it from them, and either pay it out or give it back when you were finished.

This brand was Studio 19.

They also had musicorp.com, and cameracorp.com where they rented out the pre-loved gear when someone didn’t want to buy it out; sportcorp.com for golfing and other sporting gear, technocorp.com for laptops, tablets, screens, etc.

Useful, but not really very sexy or emotive. None of the brands really stood for anything, and they didn’t even really play nicely together.

They did have a good, solid reputation with the retailers they partnered with, but in the world of Afterpay, Zip Pay and a bunch of other cooler fintech solutions, they simply didn’t have any brand awareness among consumers. Or as I like to say, people.

I went into a few stores, posing as a customer, and nobody was telling me about Studio 19. When I asked about it, the people in the store didn’t know much about it. They’d reach down under the counter, fumble for a folder, and then tell me about Zippay, which seemed a whole lot simpler for them.

It wasn’t great. That wasn’t the experience everywhere, but it was a concern.

So what excited me? Why did I want to work with Marcus on this?

1 – They weren’t in the business of dishwashers or microwaves. They stuck with music, photography, sports… things creative and things of play. That meant that there was passion shared with and among the people they needed to reach. They were already a tribe. They just didn’t know it yet.

2 – It was actually better for the business if someone gave the product back when they were finished with it, and rented something new, rather than buying it outright, because that thing would then go into their preloved stock, and they would rent it out again.

So what I loved was this concept of these creative and lovingly-crafted products not being disposed of, and not languishing unused in the bottom of the cupboard, but going to a new owner, bringing joy and making stories.

I loved this idea that an owner was a custodian.

I saw the potential for this not to be about a rental payment solution at all, but a whole new concept to challenge the idea buying and selling. A kind of sharing. A sustainable ecosystem of products and people and passion and play and creativity.

So we got the founders together with Marcus and James, who had also left the M&A Agency to join Marcus on this new adventure, and I took them up to Seppeltsfield in the Barossa to workshop the brand, rediscover its purpose, what it stands for, or what it could stand for, and what it might become.

I chose Seppeltsfield for it’s life-changing Centennial barrel room, the world’s only unbroken line of port vintages dating back to 1878, because to me it is a moving testament to a truly beautiful and important vision.

In 1878, Benno Seppelt decided to put a barrel of his best port aside, not to be touched for one hundred years. He dreamed of making a hundred-year old port, knowing that not he, nor his children and perhaps not even his children’s children would be able to see or taste the very thing they were producing.

Imagine what it took to see that vision through. Through war and depression, and another war. Through future generations of sons, any of whom could have not shared the vision and sold off the incredibly valuable stock at any time. Through corporate takeover, and potentially greedy executives. But no one, ever, no matter the reason, dishonoured Benno’s vision, and broke the line. And when Warren Randall (bit of a wine industry legend) bought it, he honoured that vision and created the Centennial Barrel Room.

And so now we have this incredible legacy, and that morning before the workshop we got to walk through the barrel room, taste our birth years, and the year the company was founded, and finally a hundred year old port made in 1918, straight from the barrel.  

That alone was spiritual. But I wanted to share this experience together, because this day was about going back to the foundations of this company and its purpose; honouring that, and building that into a new brand.

It would be a mistake, I believe, not to honour the legacy of thirty-five year old company and the values of its founders.

I was finding it hard enough to let go of a company I’d put twelve years of my life into. I respected what they were going through.

After the tasting, we dove into their founding story. What drove them to start this? Why did the company exist? What did it hope to achieve back then? How was the world different by having it? How would the world be worse off it it ceased to exist? Would anybody care? How would it affect people’s lives if they were a part of it? How did people feel about it? What did THEY feel about it, as founders and new leaders? What was important to them? Who was it for? What connected them with each other? With the brand?

We talked about the concepts of buying, and sharing, and what it was to learn an instrument, to make music, or take a picture. We talked about passion, and kids, and the planet, and our own purpose as people.

By the end of the day, I had a full mind, and about fifty flipchart pages of scribbled words and diagrams and post-it notes and concepts and stories that were already fermenting in my brain with the lingering taste of the unctuous liquid vision from 1972 and 1918.

I felt like we’d connected with truth, and I was excited about what we had discovered, only to learn the next day from Marcus that the founders had felt like it was a bit of a waste of time, and were questioning not only my methods but the money they were paying me. I was surprised by that, and it did shake my confidence that we’d opened up something special.

But I believed in this vision that was taking shape, and I guess in fairness, most of that was happening in my head.

Over the next week I sifted through the notes, the stories, as ideas and concepts slowly took shape.

It’s a funny process, this particular creative one. It’s one I find that can’t be pushed, so much as nudged and kneaded and teased out and explored. Like stirring up the waters and letting the ripples take you as you float and feel.

This is where the ripples took me…

This brand was about helping people connect with the things they love, so they may follow their passions. This was the purpose, the why.

They had in fact created a way for people to have the things through which they express and explore their passions – musical instruments to make music, cameras to make pictures, bikes to ride, golf clubs to play…

These were the things the people in their tribe loved to do. Things they were passionate about.  Things the founders were also passionate about, as it turns out. They shared that in common.

They had created a simple, affordable sustainable alternative to having to buy something.

And we would create a world where people can have and share the things they love. A place, an ecosystem. A community of passionate, creative people and the things through which they expressed and explored their passions.

Our mission would be to enable anyone to follow their passion.

This brand would stand for the makers – of music, of pictures, the adventurers, the players, the passionate ones.

We share your passion.

This was at the heart of the brand. The core idea that people would connect with. This was the beacon that would unite a tribe, and differentiate us from the Afterpays and the Zip Pays and the credit cards and Flexirents and all the other alternatives to straight up buying something.

I wanted the brand to be a verb, a new way of thinking about ownership, about things, possessions. I wanted it to be a community, a world. I had visions of John Lennon and of Scandinavia.

We share your passion.

And that’s how the new brand came to me… weshare.

Here’s how the brand and the new vision work together:

It’s quite  simple. If you’re in a store, or shopping online for, say, a camera, you could buy the camera for $2000, if that is the price. Or you could weshare it, for a small payment each month.

It’s yours. You have it. You are the first owner. The first custodian. The makers have made it, and now it is yours.

And then, let’s say in a couple of years, there is a new camera that you want, a better camera, as is the nature of these things. You give back the camera you had, and it becomes available for someone else to weshare, someone in the weshare community.

And you can weshare the new camera you want.

It’s a nicer way than buying and selling – wesharing, don’t you think?

So there. That’s my first brand transformation.

Perhaps you noticed something that I’ve discovered through this – that through finding the purpose, and what a brand stands for, you end up dissolving the boundaries of WHAT the company does, which gives way to a whole new vision.

That’s been an exciting discovery, because I find myself in the business of not only brand transformation, but vision transformation.

It’s only been a couple of months, and I’ve got some good founding clients, and what’s been quite wonderful is that every single one has come from the sharing of this blog, or a podcast I’ve done, or something where I’ve talked about what I want the agency to stand for.

People are contacting me and saying “hey, I really like what you stand for, this doing things good, and tribes, and purpose – I really identify with that. What is it you do?”

And isn’t that a living and breathing testament to what I know to be true, that people want to feel part of something.

They want to connect – with each other, and with an idea, a belief, a feeling. People talk about things they care about. If you want to be that, you have to stand for something.

That is what they’ll connect with, what they’ll care about, and talk about. That something has to be authentic, and connected with purpose and values.

You have to create a world that people want to be part of.

I’m working with a delivery brand that connects local communities to make it possible to have a parcel delivered to you wherever you are, whenever you like. They stand for corner store connection.

A one-woman skincare brand that is all about it being okay to be you, and helping women find their glow. They stand for self love.

An inspiring NGO that do mobile washing machines for the homeless, which is really just an excuse to have conversations, to make someone feel heard and seen, while their clothes are being washed. That’s all about human connection.

A forty year old foundation dedicated to finding, developing and connecting the young leaders of Australia’s future in science, tech and education. I don’t yet know what they stand for, but we’ll find out in a couple of weeks when we dive in.

It’s working. This agency is working. And I just wanted to share with you my excitement, my relief.

I don’t want to be doing it alone for much longer, and have my eye of a few amazing people to join me in February or March next year.

But for now, it’s still just me. But I don’t feel alone.

Thanks for listening. And thank you for being part this tribe we’re growing together.

Go do things good.

My night as a woman

I got back from Fiji last night, and an experience I will never forget.

I learned something about tribes, and I learned something about women. And I guess I learned a little something about myself.

Thought I’d share.

About a year ago my speaking agent asked me if I wanted to do a talk in Fiji for an organisation called Business Chicks. Yes, I have a speaking agent. Yes, I find the whole idea a bit weird.

Nonetheless – I said yes (naturally) and then promptly forgot about it, until about two months ago, when the idea of escaping the death knell of Melbourne winter became understandably appealing.

I started asking around about Business Chicks, to discover that not only were they quite widely known, but they seemed to be widely well-regarded. I jumped online and did a bit of research. Bought a book the founder, Emma Isaacs, wrote, called Winging It. I was drawn in by her candour, and impressed with her hustle.

Now normally in the lead-up to a speaking gig, two things happen for me. One – the conference organisers attempt to tick off potential sources of anxiety. Could I send my presentation, 16×9 format? Are there any videos embedded? Could I send through my flight details. And two – the clients who’ve booked me want to tell me all about their companies, their audience, and what they want from the conference, so I can tailor my talk to help them drive home their message.

But I got none of that in this particular lead-up.

I got a series of emails from Business Chicks, bursting with excitement about the upcoming event, and a link to a form with a bunch of questions about me. Good questions – what am I excited about right now? What am I really good at? Could I share a “pinch-me” moment?

The same questions that everyone going was being asked, as it turned out. I didn’t get treated as a speaker, I got treated as a member. That was a good start, and together with the book and the unpaid endorsements from people I knew and respected, I started getting a little more excited about the event.

And a little more nervous.

I saw the speaker line-up. Impressive women, all.

When I arrived, on the table in my villa was a beautifully printed and bound book with photos and anecdotes from each of the speakers and attendees. Page after page I flipped, wondering… okay. All women.

Someone I am lucky to know named Kate Morris, founder of Adore Beauty, is a bit of a champion of balancing the gender representation of speakers at conferences and on panels. She’s helped me get better at asking the question before accepting a gig, or even better, taking the gig, and then asking the question on social media.

You’ll perhaps be unsurprised by how many organisers “haven’t yet finalised the speaker lineup”, and how quickly three women are slipped last minute into said lineup, when you ask the question on facebook and twitter, rather than email.

And so it was with a wry grin that I accepted the fact that I was indisputably and irrevocably the token male at this conference.

I went to the welcome drinks, and do you know what struck me immediately? This wasn’t like any conference audience I’d ever seen. This was a fucking tribe. There was energy in the air, under the steamy, stormy Fiji skies.

Know what I was mostly feeling? Like I was intruding.

I remember I went up to the bar to get champagne for my table, in an effort that reeked of desperation to be useful, and the Fijian barman, one of the only other men in sight, leant over to me and whispered “so you the only man here, huh?” with a smirk that was part sympathy, part envy, and a whole lot of bewilderment.

And I couldn’t help but think that these one hundred and twenty women had come together to be free and vulnerable and inspired and empowered and you know what? Day one? Token man – you can fuck off, thank you. Day three maybe – come back to us, we may be up for a little male company, but for now, this is our time. Good bye.

Of course, I wasn’t made to feel unwelcome. In fact, I was welcomed very warmly. But I couldn’t help but feel like I was intruding. Like I didn’t belong.

I know it sounds okay on the surface, perhaps if you’re a man reading, to be the only male at a conference full of driven, creative, connected women, and that had occurred to me, but in reality it was a little intimidating. 

But you know what happened? I came to realise, through the energy and hospitality of these people, that this wasn’t a tribe of women after all.

This was a tribe of people, united by a fire in each of their bellies that drove them to make something, to build something, to create something they were passionate about. Something on and of and with purpose.

And with that, I connected. That was me too. We shared that.

And maybe it was the champagne, maybe it was the balmy air or the Pacific constellations or the intoxicating array of colours and shapes and fabrics at once foreign and fascinating, but I didn’t feel like I was intruding any more.

I felt like I belonged.

Know what else I noticed? There was none of the usual posturing and positioning you get when a group of strangers come together at a conference. None of the forced networking. Sure, there were those natural extroverted connectors who were bringing people in, and those introverts grateful for the invitations, but it was all happening with smiles and hugs and simple humanness, and what genuinely felt like giving, not taking.

The stakes rose as the day of my talk approached. I didn’t want to let these people down. They had welcomed me. Had transformed me, in a way.

I told my story, I shared my failures, my mistakes, my fears, and my learnings. I shared my belief that ultimately, it all came down to what we stood for, to unite our tribes.

Someone came up to me afterwards and told me with fervent eyes that they had come to the conference resigned to quit their business and get a job, but during the one hour and five minutes of my story, they had changed their mind.

Another woman came up to me in tears, sobbing “it’s me! They’re not my daughter’s issues, they’re mine. My fears! I worry so that she doesn’t have a solid career, she tries this, and tries that, and I think she’s unhappy, but she’s not! It’s just my worry. Oh, I have to tell her that I understand, that I’m so proud of her…”

The MC – a Jersey-born and twanged inspiration named Karen James (who I want very much to be my friend and mentor) hugged me onstage through choked-back tears and confessed the crippling anxiety she had felt these past four months over an impending and life-changing decision.

She afterward put up a slide of a clownfish and explained how as schools living within their anemones, a female always ruled, and if the Queen died, the next dominant male would somehow manifest a sex change and take her place.

Challenge accepted, I turned up to the final night’s celebrations, fancy-dress themed around the letter “F”, as a Female.

It was funny, but also, and I just giggled a little as I wrote this – it was kind of like the final rite of my inclusion with this extraordinary group of people.

We danced, Farmgirl and Fairy and Flower Child and Frida and I, and we jumped in the pool in dresses and undies, and there was no Fear of sexualisation, only Freedom.

We hugged, and I was taught by not half bad surfer Layne Beachley the humble healing art of not “giving” a hug, but sharing one.

I came to understand that this culture was the manifestation of the true and open soul of Emma, the Business Chicks founder, dressed that night as Fiona from Shrek.

So comfortable did I become, that near the end of the night I found myself, soaking wet and half naked, getting drinks from the bar, having spared the Zimmerman dress I had borrowed from getting ruined.

I got another taste of life as a woman then, as a particularly merry patron smacked my bum and tried to pull down my pants, and got a bit belligerent when I asked her to stop.

My first thought was “it’s okay, it’s late, and let’s face it, I am standing at a bar in wet undies.” The implications of so normalising the situation aren’t lost on me, in these momentous and encouraging times of movement toward equality.

I didn’t feel particularly threatened in the moment, just mildly irritated. But I’m guessing that if I had to go through that every Saturday night for the next twenty years, it would get tiresome at best, traumatic more likely.

I share this incident with you not to shame anyone – god no, it was very not in keeping with the experience I had with this phenomenal tribe of women, one and all. Indeed, I strongly considered not including it at all.

But it was significant to my experience that night, my night as a woman. And oddly, contributed to my sense of connectedness.

What an extraordinary weekend!

I learned, or relearned, that inclusion can and should ignore the surface “likenesses”, be they gender or race or whatever. Inclusion, belonging – it’s about shared values, human experiences. 

I had a wonderful, emotional, connected and transformative time, the only man in a tribe of women.

Thank you, Business Chicks, and the people of Fiji who looked after us. May I, through this agency, attempt to help unite tribes so connected and true.

Alright Then, Go Get On With It

Flipping

It’s raining. And howling.

I’m sitting in an airbnb in Coogee, up for the week in Sydney with my son, who has a “meetup” with a few of his flipping idols. That’s trampolining. It’s a whole thing. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen him so excited. He just ran past me on his way to the toilet screaming “only eighteen hours until the meetup!”.

He feels part of something. Makes me smile, bless his beautiful flipping heart.

I, too, am excited, though not in such a delightfully rabid way.

I have a day booked this week, here in Sydney, with a new “client”. (lord, I hate that word. Partner? I haven’t solved that one yet. Feel free to suggest something non-corporate, non-agency, clear and simple and not naff or overly googley)

I’ve known them for a while, even used their product. The founder (I’ll share more openly once we’re into the project, I promise, with their permission) called my up after reading the first story I posted, and I loved what he said:

“I’m proud of what we’ve built. I’m proud of the company, but I’m not proud of the brand. I want to change that. I want to fall in love with our brand.”

There’s a lot to be excited about, actually, since last I wrote. My week last week kind of exploded with potential.

Two hours in a café in Adelaide and the brand new CEO of a thirty-five year old company and I manifested a vision for their future that is really something quite beautiful and harmonious and worth having in the world, and – in his words – banished the fears he had about his new role, and the enormity of the endeavour. It was the kind of meeting that left us both a little dazed and giddy, and wondering what the catch was.

The catch is, of course, that it’ll take three years to execute on, but it’s a beautiful thing, and I’m so excited to get working on it.

Interestingly, this person was the first person I met with after leaving Vinomofo. I was feeling pretty fragile, I remember, moreso than I let on, and we caught up for a coffee, and I told him about my idea to create an agency. He said “mate, everyone will want to work with you.”

He would have had no idea just how much I needed those words, at that time.

I had a call with the founder of another potential (something), a great business that has grown like crazy and just raised a bunch of capital. He contacted me after a talk I gave for twenty five entrepreneurs that was basically about all my failures, and what I’d learned from them, and the fears and doubts that constantly eat at your dreams.

“I feel that fear,” he said to me, “all the time. I don’t know if I know what I’m doing.”

He does. It’s a cracking business, and he’s executing it well. But I like that it was specifically that connection we had that led to us in all likelihood working together. What a wonderfully human beginning.

In one day last week I was offered three jobs, all paying very well plus equity. I declined each, but will be working with a couple of them through the agency. Another handful of good companies are waiting on proposals from me, as I dive into their sites, learning and experiencing what I can as a user, ideas blooming.

I know this all sounds a bit self-congratulatory, and I don’t mean it to be. It was just such an exhilarating week. That’s exactly how I felt. Exhilarated, purely and delightfully.

This was the week that turned Cult Tribal from an idea into a business.

Amidst the meetings and phone calls with potential clients/partners/(help!) I also got a crash-course in Xero by Kim from Business One Group (her own business), who is going to look after my “books”. Kim was recommended by Marty from Ocean Labs, who is looking after IT for me, and is a good person.

Nick and Andrew from Lynx Digital, who work about four desks away from me at The Commons in Collingwood, helped get my culttribal.com site up and live in under a day, so I could post my first story the week before last. I’m sure I annoyed the hell out of them, being able to simply walk up to their desks and interrupt them with a hundred demands like “do you think we could move the signup field below the articles?”

One of the things I was afraid of was feeling alone. Feeling like I was in this on my own.

I don’t feel that. I feel perhaps more connected, more supported, than I ever have, and I want to say thank you to everyone who is part of this story – not only for helping me build this agency, but for helping me feel like I’m part of something bigger than just me.

One meeting I had was particularly inspiring. I was over at another space, speaking with their community lead, Al Jeffrey (hope you don’t mind being named, Al), about doing some entrepreneur-in-residence stuff with them next year.

I really liked Al, and could have talked about tribes and connection for hours. I was telling him about the way I believed a brand had to be connected with purpose, had to stand for something, and took him through the process I was working on to help brands connect with that.

He told me to check out the Community Canvas – an open source framework for building communities, put together and shared by some very clever people from around the world.

I went back to my desk after the meeting and looked it up – wow. It was virtually play by play, piece by piece, what I’d been working on. A wave of relief washed over me – this made sense, this thinking.

I’m not building a brand agency – I’m building an agency that helps brands unite tribes.

That was a moment of blazing clarity. Thank you Al.

Four days later, I was already questioning it. Not because it might be wrong, but because after another inspiring conversation later in the week, which presented not a brand transformation challenge, but a cultural one. One that also needed an operational transformation, I realised that I’m creating a transformation agency.

I think I’m connecting with the possibility that this agency can, in time, help transform not only brands, cultures, human customer experiences, but can lead social, political, and environmental change.

I know that sounds rah-rah, but it’s igniting me. It’s like it’s all coming together, all the strands, the possibilities.

Even the brand transformations I’m working on now, I’m thinking about them in a way that is bigger, purer, because of this vision that is forming in my future.

I sat down and decided to put myself through the process I was building out for the agency, and I’ll share that with you before I get back to “work”.

I started with one simple question…

“André, WHY are you doing this?”

And this is the honest, unmanufactured answer that came…

“I want businesses to do things right.

“Offer something that betters the world. Stand for something. Treat people right. Be aware of their impact on the world. Care more. Be honest. Be human.”

“And what does that do?”

“It creates trust. And sadly, it’s remarkably different, and will get talked about. That, in of itself, attracts people.

“Start with that at the core of your values, and live them.

“I believe in their hearts, people want permission to do things right, but they’re afraid that will be too naive, or too hard, or will conflict with doing things “smart”, or will conflict with profitability.

“Create a brand that stands for something, and you can be a movement. And attract like-minded people who care. That’s a tribe.”

“So what’s my purpose?”

“To help people do things right.”

“What do I stand for?”

Doing things right.  Or perhaps “doing things good.” 

“So what is it that will connect MY tribe?”

“People who want to do things right, and believe that this would make for a better fucking world. People who think “oh, thank Christ someone’s doing it. I want to do it too”. This is the movement.”

And this is what I wrote down, and then turned into something of a “logo in progress”, as befits my “agency in progress”:

CULT TRIBAL
Transformation Agency
Culture | Brand | Tribe
“Do Things Good”

 

“Alright then, go get on with it!”

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Thing About Cliffhangers

Cliffhanger

The thing about cliffhangers…

Ha. Apologies for the use of such an indulgent storytelling device – it was 40% writer games, 60% awareness that the post was getting quite long.

Before I continue the story, I want to just note what an astonishing thing it was for me, last Wednesday. Of course I felt humbled with gratitude, and I certainly felt connected, and still do, which is… well, everything.

But what fascinated me perhaps most was the spectrum of empathy in the replies. From simple and heartfelt support, to deep shared understanding of this feeling of starting out on something anew. But from a lot of people, particularly friends, there was concern.

Beautiful and caring, but concern for me nonetheless.

I guess in writing about the fears that dance alongside the exhilaration of embarking on a new adventure, I didn’t feel like I was in a bad place. Rather was just being open about everything I was feeling.

And so my response to a lot of really fucking lovely people was along the lines of “hey, I’m good, I’m fine, I’m actually really excited…”, but it was not without wondering each time if they’re sensing something that I’m missing. Should I not be fine? Am I not not, in fact, fine?

Anyway, I think I’m good. Very good in fact. But I have lost that comfort that comes from walking the same route to work each day. You know that feeling? When most of what you’re passing is familiar, and with that comforting, but also invisible.

Venture down a new path, and everything is loud and bright. You grasp those glimpses of familiarity, and you take in all of the new, but your lizard brain is on high alert.

Well, that’s me, I think, as I sit here writing this on a Monday morning, from the dining table in my apartment, rather than the desk in the co-working space (my desk? Not sure it feels like that quite yet, but it’s a good space), because my kids are over here with me in Melbourne for the school holidays.

There was also someone who replied – and I quote – “Wow this is the most contrived BS I’ve ever read. Can I please have my three minutes back.”

Which I found quite excellent, and became the first moment of decision I had to make around compromising my decision to be open and honest. It was a comment directly on the wordpress site where I posted the story, and I didn’t approve and publish it right away.

Which is a bit hypocritical. It won’t be by any means the hardest decision I’ll have to make, in committing to openness and humility. It’s up there now. Cheers, Rod, and no, you can’t have your three minutes back. That’ll learn you…

So where were we? Oh yes…

On Monday 6th August, 2018, as I walked out the door of the board meeting that ended my life as CEO of Vinomofo, I had an idea.

I hadn’t really known exactly what I wanted to do, but I knew this passion for purpose had been building inside me. Not only brands with purpose, but people. Me, my own purpose. What do you stand for?

We humans, we yearn for a sense of belonging. Even if you don’t like RnB or the Kardashians or the Real Housewives of any of the cities or AFL or almond milk or whatever, even if you feel like you don’t belong in the world around you, and you just want to hide in the library playing dungeons and dragons, away from the kids who belittle you or straight out smash apples on your head when you’re walking to your classroom…

Even then, you’re searching for somewhere you belong. Something to feel a part of. Some sort of community, a tribe.

And if you, as a brand for instance, want to be that something, want to unite a tribe, then you have to stand for something.

Also, I have really come to believe (and I’m by no means alone, nor a pioneer in this) that doing the right thing (by your customers, your suppliers, your employees) is the most important thing in business.

Doing the right thing by a customer (a person!) builds trust, engagement, connection. And sadly, it’s still noteworthy enough that people will talk about it. Do the right thing, and people will come back (retention), and tell their friends (organic growth).

It’s always pretty obvious, what the right thing is. We pretend it’s not, we “business people”, but it is. What would you want to happen for you in this situation?

I also challenge this notion that you have to find a balance between doing what is right for your customers, and what is right for the company (what is profitable). Know what is good for profitability? Retention and organic growth.

Anyway, these are the things that had been wriggling around inside of me. I pressed the down button and waited for the lift, expecting to feel… what? Falling, I guess. I expected to feel like I was falling from the sky. Because I was.

But I couldn’t stop smiling. Like, wide and goofy, bigger-than-my-face kind of smiling.

It was a forty-five minute walk from the city to my airbnb in Carlton, up near the cemetery, and on that walk, I was assaulted – that’s the only way I can describe it – with this idea. It came by way of a hundred thoughts, realisations, connections, and they all led to this core idea…

Of starting an agency.

I’ll share with you, absolutely unedited, the scribblings I wrote when I got to the apartment:

Cult

Culture – Brand – Tribe

A culture, brand and customer experience agency.

Surely there’s a better way to charge than by time.

Better off only ever setting fixed fees, or retainers. We should take on responsibility for scoping.

FULL transparency. RADICAL.

Just create a culture that is absolutely uncompromising.

Be very selective with clients and their campaigns.

What about content and social? So many people do it.

Give Back – a program where corporates can pay, as part of their fee, for our agency to service a charity or startup. Robin Hood revenue model: Those who can afford, pay for those who can’t. But they must get plenty out of it.

Build CultOps – a plug-and-play Culture and Operations framework – software and methodology.

This idea of standing for something, building tribes, being proud of what we do and our impact on the world – these are what this agency can bring to the world.

Do workshops in companies, working with founders and leads to build their cultures and brands, that they may stand for something and attract a tribe.

We can help transform companies to be GOOD.

Agency Rules:

–       No cold calling. Build relationships only. If going to pitch to someone, make it an extraordinary, non-sales pitch. In fact, give something first. For free. Something valuable.

–       No bullshit. Not EVER.

–       Transparency and truth. ALWAYS.

–       Only good, smart people who care.

–       Never do anything average.

–       Stay small and make lots of money doing good things.

Is there a freelancer/collaborative org structure model. One where everyone in the agency is an owner, in some part.

Not exactly profound, but it was the beginning of my new adventure. The very next thing I did was to write a manifesto, which I’ll share with you in the next installment.

I have thirteen actual and potential brand partners that have asked me to help them. Seven came in response to my post last week.

I better get on with it, we’ve got some good work to do!

Thank you for connecting with me – we’re the beginnings, perhaps, of a new tribe. What is it that connects us, I wonder?

Cheers,
André