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

Yesterday Something Happened

Windswept and pensive

This is me, looking windswept and pensive on a beach.

Yesterday something happened.

I was sitting at a desk in a space and I felt it.

An edginess. An unsureness. Hints of desperation. I found myself staring at the screen before me, clicking on tabs, mind spinning. I felt disconnected. I felt small.

It didn’t help that I was a bit hungover after the dinner party the night before. Which was excellent, by the way. I love to cook. The Fitzroy apartment I live in has a kitchen that is good to cook in. The apartment is basically a kitchen with a couple of beds.

See that? Distraction. Sorry, I don’t want to waste your time, or, I guess, lose your interest.

I felt alone. And overwhelmed.

By this new venture I was starting.

That’s exciting, huh? After twelve years, building what would become Vinomofo into a hundred million dollar global wine company, team of a hundred…

A new adventure.

For five years, I’ve been standing on stages talking openly to strangers about the failures that marked my path to Vinomofo’s “success”, inferring hopefully with some humility a story of resilience, and this balanced dance on the knife’s edge between stubborn self-belief and brutal self-awareness…

And yet I found myself, once again, inert with – let’s just call it what it is – fear.

A cliff, ominous, four months away, when the money I have will run out. I was feeling the weight of the family who depend on me.

What if this idea isn’t bright enough? Isn’t important? What if no one cares? Or worse for me – will I find myself compromising to generate revenue? Will I become ordinary?

It’s just me.

I’m being a bit cryptic, I’m sorry, but I really want to try to let you into my head. I want you to be able to feel what I was feeling.

I’m André. Until this company I co-founded and was CEO of, Vinomofo, I’d pretty much failed at every business I’d started. And a few careers as well.

I’d built this thing, not alone, that didn’t fail, that was of my heart, and defined me, more perhaps than a business should, and now I’ve left it, not in a blazing moment of clarity and certainty, and not entirely of my own volition, but that’s a story for another time.

And I’m creating something new. Something that in concept is inspiring to me. Deeply connected with my own purpose. My own beliefs and values.

And I find myself afraid.

Fuck.

You might think that because I’d already built something “successful”, had learned so much, had built a good reputation as a founder, and perhaps even a thought leader (cringe) or at least a thought contributor on brand and tribes and culture… that I shouldn’t be feeling this way.

I was a little surprised, too, let me tell you. It’s a fucking awful feeling.

Of course I’ve felt this feeling before. And my normal André response is to go into myself, find a spark of inner strength and belief, build up a bit of a wall around the fear, and step in.

But yesterday I made a decision, and today I’m acting on it.

I decided, simply, to share.

Not just how I felt yesterday, but the founding of my new venture. All of it. My decisions, my feelings, the things I learn, the mistakes I make, the person I am, and this thing I’m building, as it takes shape.

Share the whole fucking adventure, openly, as it happens.

Why am I doing this? It’s not a content strategy, though of course I’m not oblivious to the fact that it will also be that.

I’m doing this because of how I felt yesterday.

Because I want to hold myself accountable – to working hard, to staying true. So I can be uncompromising. Nowhere to hide.

I want to force myself to connect, to collaborate. I’m sitting here, remembering how lonely and overwhelming it can be starting something, on your own. And just thinking about sharing it all – I suddenly don’t feel alone. Nor overwhelmed.

How extraordinary.

I feel that it will also force me to be humble. To be okay to show that I don’t know everything. That I’m making it up as I go. My learnings are the sum of my own experiences, but also – this is new. Every person I speak with about this is giving me ideas. Teaching me. I want to acknowledge that, and thank them.

I’m nervous about the fact that I’m going to be pitching myself as someone with expertise, and if I reveal that I don’t have all the answers, where then is my value? I guess I have to trust that it’s in my ability to use my brain and my heart to apply everything I learn and believe.

Also come on – I doubt I’m the only person to feel pressure to project knowledge and self-confidence and self-belief.

I’m going to let that go.

I want to go all in. Arms wide, and trust that being HUMAN about it will be right. Maybe it will resonate with someone watching or reading this. Maybe it will give them permission to be flawed, to have doubts.

I think unless I do this with absolute transparency, vulnerability, humility and humanity, then it’ll be boring and self-indulgent.

I want to share the fears, the ideas, the fumblings and the moments of joy and (hopefully) triumph, as they happen, as I build this.

(Phew)

Okay, now suddenly I feel a bit silly. A bit melodramatic. Why would anybody care? Am I just being a wanker?

Ha – there’s that voice again. Hush, voice. This is either right, and important, or it’s not, but I’m going to do it anyway.

So, here we go:

“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…”

 

– TO BE CONTINUED –