Why a 3-year-old makes for a better leader than most adults.

I just came back from week long trip to Dubai where I got to spent a good amount of time with my 3-year-old niece. The more time I spent with her the more the realisation dawned on me that kids really exhibit the raw traits of great leaders better than most adults! Here’s why

 

  1. Kids keep asking WHY

 

Spend time with any kid and you’ll be drowned with a series of Whys. Why are you here, why are you leaving, why are your trunks wet? Then you say “because I got in the pool” which in turn is followed by ‘Why?”.

 

Kids start with Why. And so do great Leaders, as Simon Sinek so eloquently argues in his book by that name: Start with Why.
Why are we building what we are building? Why does doing what we do even matter? Why are we doing things this way? True that was a good way to do it yesterday but Why is it still relevant today? Why have we made these decision? Or – more importantly – why have we not?

 

If you keep asking why firstly you will eventually – with a few more wrinkles under your eyes – foster a culture of always ALWAYS challenging the status quo.  This is a must for any company that wants to stay relevant. You cannot afford to take anything for granted in business.

 

Secondly, you will instil a sense of purpose within your organisation. People will understand why things are happening, why they’re happening in the way they are happening, why their sweat and hard work matters, and therefore why they should get out of bed tomorrow and come back to work.

 

This holds true for customers as well. Tell a customer what he is getting and –  unless it falls in the rare category of being a total giveaway – they will consider it sceptically at first. But tell them WHY that thing will change their life, or that of others, and you’ve got them hooked. Their purchase now has a purpose, not just a utility.

 

  1. Kids like story-telling

 

Kids don’t do well with matter-of-fact talk as I found out the hard way. Dry factual statements don’t engage them. Stories do

 

It really is the same in business. Present your team, shareholders or customers with a matter of fact statement and they will at best give you a nod.  Dress it up in a story and you may put a smile on their face. You win people with stories.

 

Which is why great leaders are great story tellers. They are anecdotal, witty, humorous, and engaging. Think Winston Churchill.  They get the message across to you via mesmerising story telling.

 

Perhaps the best known example of this is Steve Job’s Stanford commemoration speech where he famously opens up by saying “today I want to tell you three stories from my life… that’s it, no big deal, just three stories

 

That speech was literally three personal stories, but within them a wealth of wisdom dressed up in such a way that it made the messages unforgettable. Had he just recited his words of advice like he famous ‘stay hungry, stay foolish’ in a straight matter of fact way it would not have resonated the same.

 

  1. Kids like to say NO

 

Ask a kid to share their candy with you, give you a hug, come play with you… unless you hit them in a good moment or bribe them with something their instinctive reaction is to say NO. Not ‘No because…’; just ‘No’

 

Running a company is quite the same. People will keep asking for more no matter what you give them. No customer is eternally happy. Give them a discount, they’ll keep coming back for more. Until you say NO. Give your employees some perks, a salary rise, a pat on the back… they’ll keep coming for more. Until you say No.

 

The groomed ‘MBA way’ is to be transparent with them, engage in dialogue, present them with your limitations, with your annual budget, you may even transparently share your P&L and show your razor thin margins expecting naively that they will just know better than to ask given how transparent you’ve been. Wrong. They will keep asking. Until you just say No.

 

Not that long ago I made this mistake. After I overheard whispers in my company PeoplePerHour such as ‘but if we are doing well why aren’t we getting salary rises or why are we sensitive to costs’.. I thought I’d address the issue the civilzed way. I spent hours explaining to my people, team by team, drawing charts on whiteboards showing transparently how our costs are rising in comparison to our revenues. I explained that the ‘delta’ (a terms that’s now become anecdotal in the company’) needs to be widening for a healthy business. That’s it plain and simple. An undisputed statement of fact – not a story.

 

Total waste of time. None of that stuck. And given that not everything can always be packed in story telling, sometimes its just commanding to simply say NO.

 

  1. Kids are instinctive

 

When you try to bribe a kid with candy they will look at you judgingly with piercing eyes, as if thinking “what’s this guy up to…”. They are too shrewd to fall straight in the trap.

 

The logical decision would be to take the ‘candy’ if it’s up for grabs. Customers would certainly do that without blinking once! So would your employees and your shareholders. Do you think they’d be like “hmm wait why is this guy offering us a dividend, sounds fishy”. Not a chance.

 

Lacking the tools to make a fully formed logical ‘analysis’ of a situation or follow the empirical evidence forces kids to use their intuition, or instinct. They operate ‘from the gut’ as Jack Welch used to famously swear by, much more than most adults do. It’s refreshing and almost always gets a better result.

 

Conversely having an over developed logical brain can be a handicap both in life and in business. Its like having a tool that’s too sharp for its own good. You tend to over-analyse, over-think things and get stuck in indecision. Indecision is – in the end – much more expensive than even the wrong decision. Have you ever seen a kid be indecisive?

 

There’s good reason why instinct matters. Firstly it’s the thing that differentiates us from a machine. Logic is limiting by definition, whilst intuition and its derivative – imagination – is boundless. Einstein put it perfectly:  “Logic takes you from A to B, but imagination takes you everywhere”. Man can no longer compete with computers in processing logical sequential thoughts. But we do better in scattered imaginative thinking.

 

Secondly, our limbic brain – the part of the brain that’s responsible for all our feelings such as trust, loyalty and intuition -– is actually more developed than the rest of our brain, and forms first at the core of the human brain. It’s the part of our brain that controls all emotions but can’t for example process language, numbers or logic. But its what tells us if something ‘feels right’. Decisions made with the limbic brain tend to be faster higher-quality decisions but our logical brain tells us to ignore them. Simon Sinek in Start with Why calls this the ‘overthinking’ syndrome and explains

 

“The more time spent thinking about the answer, the bigger the risk that it may be the wrong one. Our limbic brains are smart and often know the right thing to do. It is our inability to verbalise the reasons that may cause us to doubt ourselves or trust the empirical evidence when our gut tells us not to”

 

Very simply the reason gut or instinctive decisions feel right is because the part of the brain that controls them controls our feelings too.

 

  1. Kids are fearless

 

Being indecisive and fearful one could argue are both different expressions of the ‘overthink’ syndrome. But not quite. Kids demonstrate this too: sometimes you’ll see a kid go for it after evaluating the odds, whilst adults won’t.

 

If logic is our brain’s desire to process information in order to make a decision, fear is HOW MUCH information we need in order to be comfortable with it. To feel safe.  A high threshold on both is a double handicap.

 

Jeff Bezos recently said in another amazing memo to his employees   “most decisions should probably be made with somewhere around 70% of the information you wish you had. If you wait for 90%, in most cases, you’re probably being slow

 

So true.

 

Speed matters in business (and in life), so if you multiply all the decisions that are taken daily across an organisation by that extra 20%, it could easily be the difference between success and failure.  ‘High velocity decision making’ as Bezos puts it is crucial in remaining nimble or ‘Day1’ as he likes to call it.

 

In other words, seen in context with intuition: trust your initial gut as a first port of call, your limbic brain is telling something for a reason. But if you must deploy logic and analysis, make sure it doesn’t become paralysis.

Or hire a three-year-old!

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My latest painting – just looooove colour!

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Why I invested in VillageLuxe

 

Yesterday I completed my first startup investment of the year in a company called VillageLuxe.

 

Founded in New York City by a dear friend of mine Julia Gudish Krieger, VillageLuxe operates in the sharing economy and aims to be ‘the Airbnb for high-end fashion’, as Forbes magazine put it in a recent article.  Very simply VillageLuxe allows you to rent out your closet to utilise ‘spare capacity’ much like Airbnb does with your apartment; and conversely as a renter to open you up to a whole new world of possibilities without having to fork out the full purchase price.

 

Aside of  the obvious reason of operating in the sharing economy for which I feel very passionately about having ran PeoplePerHour  for a good decade now, I invested in VillageLuxe for the following reasons:

 

  1. I believe in Julia, the founder, blindly. She’s a Harvard grad who started off in Venture Capital and so she’s clearly of high intellect and has seen many businesses succeed and fail. Although she’s young and has a lot to learn, her energy, drive, passion and magnetism will definitely be assets that help her plough through inevitable roadblocks.
  2. Julia has managed to attract some great people early on in building her team. Especially in a place like New York with so many startups fighting over talent, a founder’s ability to both identify and woo them in is a key ingredient of success. If shows good judge of talent to start off, but equally important, persuasion, grit, tenacity and charisma.
  3. Great PR: in its relatively short existence VillageLuxe has managed to generate some impressive PR coverage and get the brand out there amongst influencers. Putting money behind organic marketing is always a safer bet than paying to generate traction – and the latter can be very dangerous as could make the founders bask in the sunlight of fake growth that never sticks. This was also our story at PeoplePerHour – PR was our key jump-starter of growth in the early days.
  4. Downside limitation: even if it doesn’t become the Airbnb of high-end fashion, as a platform businesses it can be  very capital efficient (if VCs don’t push you to do stupid things) and so can reach profitability relatively easily and high Return On Capital ratios. The challenge is to resist over-expanding beyond a point of no return in pursuit of the big dream.
  5. It’s a business i can help and contribute with my experience of building a successful marketplace, so that makes the investment all the more meaningful to me. What’s more i would greatly enjoy working with Julia: she’s smart but not a ‘know-it-all’; she’s thoughtful, has humility and listens; attributes which i rate higher than raw intelligence in the path to success.
  6. The market cannot NOT grow: again the key question (much like a VC would ask on Day1) is how big the market for sharing one’s closet will become. Maybe it will be a huge phenomenon like Airbnb or Uber, but, lets face it: it doesn’t have to be be at that level to make a successful business.  The way i see it it’s highly unlikely that it won’t grow from where it is today: it just makes sense in every way that matters to the consumer: price, diversity, ease of use. And that will only increase as more people get online and get more web savvy which again cannot NOT happen over time.

 

Last but not least – maybe i can rent some stuff myself and become a little more fashionable 🙂

 

Julia – wishing you every success, I know you’ll do great and look forward to the journey ahead!

 

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Reflections on 2016

2016 for me was, if I had to pick one word to describe it, a year of ‘regrouping’.

 

I had only moved properly back to London end of 2015 from New York. In the year that ensued I regrouped with old friends whom I had partially lost touch with – people with whom I go back over a decade, spent more time with my family and my ‘auxiliary family’ – my beloved colleague PPH-ers.

 

The year reminded me of the importance of having long-lasting relationships in life, people with whom you’ve gone through life-transforming experiences like university or school years, the army, trips or expeditions, or building a startup together. The tough times more than any others are the ones that build long lasting bonds between people. No amount of ambition and the success it fuels is worth sacrificing that.

 

Even though I first moved to London approaching 15 years now, it’s only in this last year, my second spell upon my return, that I got to appreciate how much London is home for me. More than ever I’m in love with its contradictions. Fast-paced yet balanced and civilized; old-school in so many ways yet modern, cool and funky; deeply traditional yet cosmopolitan and international like no other city I’ve experienced; demanding and tiring at times yet forgiving, warm and communal at others; close-knit in its social circles yet easy to meet people and make new friends.

 

Apart from regrouping the things that I’m grateful for in 2016 are having made new friends, build relationships that I’ve learnt from and hopefully contributed to, travelled extensively, grown my company and team, rented a studio so I can devote more time to my art which is my passion, and setting the foundation for what seems a great 2017.

 

By far the highlight of my year was being appointed Godfather to my beautiful little niece (my brother’s daughter)  whom my sister and I  baptized this summer, and more recently being asked to be Godfather to one of my best friends’ unborn child. No honour can be grander or more gratifying to be bestowed with the trust and responsibility that comes with being a Godparent to someone’s child. I feel blessed and privileged to be in that position twice already.

 

The best trips I’ve had in the year include visiting one of my old friends in Mumbai, India, my family in Dubai and later Cyprus for Christmas, spending time in the beautiful South of France this summer and falling in love with the breathtaking Cap-Ferrat. My trips to the U.S. have become less frequent, yet I visited New York twice including spending my birthday there in May. I spent time in Marbella in Spain, Berlin, St Tropez, the beautiful Greek islands, the gorgeous old town of Nafplio in Greece, skied in the Trois Vallees where my year began in 2016 and ended. The symmetry itself rounded up the year perfectly.

 

On the business front, with the exception of a short-lived hit triggered by Brexit, PeoplePerHour has continued to grow strong and unabated. We’ve made drastic improvements to the product and the customer experience and that’s thanks to the hard work and dedication of our team. Team PPH – you rock!

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Contentment

I consider myself really lucky to be surrounded by some amazing people. Truly blessed. Friends, family, colleagues and even just acquaintances. I’m lucky to have a wide network of brilliant people from different walks of life but also different cities and cultures. I can count friends in New York, London, Athens, Cyprus, Dubai, Miami, L.A, San Francisco, Austin, all the way to India (If I’ve left any out I apologise:))

 

Yet I don’t know that many people who – despite their successes- are truly truly content. I find that most people are always on a never ending quest. Quest for more of whatever it is they crave. One of life’s paradoxes is in fact that the more we get the more we want, and the more we want the more discontented we become. There’s a fine line between ambition and greed, and an equally fine line between complacency and contentment.

 

I don’t believe in complacency. I believe that no matter how much anyone has achieved they cannot rest their laurels. There’s always more to do, more to learn and more to give. No success should be taken for granted – we can all lose what we have much faster than it took us to acquire it.

 

I do however believe in contentment. One needs to be truly at peace with what they have in order to be happy. We need to remind ourselves of the good in our life and live in the moment in order to really take it all in and appreciate it.  Cliche as it may sound most people I know do not live in the moment. They are always in anticipation of what comes next. They are too busy planning, worrying or sharing the moment with others on social media instead of BEING in it.

 

2016 has been the first year for me when I’ve really achieved contentment (or at least more so than previously). For me it comes with a number of things. Appreciating the ‘now’ is a crucial starting point. But it’s also about having a purpose and doing good things for you and those around you. It’s about being selfless, giving, being generous and altruistic and just seeing the bigger picture. Its about showing heart!

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Endurance

We’ve all heard this phrase before: ‘life is a marathon not a race’. Yet how many of us put it in practice?

 

Ironically we’ve been nurtured to worship and admire  endurance. From the preachings of Jesus Christ who endured so much in his life for the good of Mankind, culminating in  enduring the weight of the very cross he was crucified on; to persecuted mythical heroes we grew up in awe of, from Hercules to Tarzan, to more modern characters like Rocky Balboa who beat the odds by never giving up. We revere not their success but their endurance… we envy not the result but the courage they show  in  ‘going the distance’ as the soundtrack of Rocky – by that very name and not coincidentally – reminds us, climaxing our emotions seeing a guy refusing to give up despite the beating he was taking, enduring till the end even if he lost. Or did he? As the expression goes ‘he may have lost the battle but won the war’.

 

Tenacity, grit, persistence are the things that make one endure through tough situations. Time and time again we see those being more instrumental to the long term success in any given situation that the mighty powers of whatever one deploys in the short term: talent, wit, intelligence… I call those ‘situational masteries’. You can master a situation with traits like charm… the ability to outwit someone, talk the talk; you may even hit some home runs with situational mastery. People do after all become overnight hits- sometimes. They do in casinos too! But that’s neither a strategy for success not a safe haven for ones’ hopes or ambitions. It’s dependent as much on luck as on anything else; or in there being just the right mix and fit between the ‘situation’ and the tricks possessed to master it in this notion of ‘situational mastery’.

 

Building endurance is, on the other hand, a strategy. It’s a sustainable, dependable and more predictable – or a more backable – route to success. I’d much rather train for a marathon than the 100m sprint (although admittedly I have done neither). By the nature of having a longer path from the start point to the end you have just much better odds of finding a way to win; to muster the energy and stamina needed to keep going. I’d much rather bet on a team committed to building something – anything – for the longer term. Be it a business, climbing a mountain, building a family.

 

Warren Buffet put it perfectly when asked how is it possible that he beat every other investor with the least sophisticated of strategies, purely by sticking to fundamentals. He said:  “because no one wants to get rich slowly”

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How Athens helped us build a successful global startup

I started PeoplePerHour.com in a basement in London back in 2007. I had no idea – even in our wildest dreams – that a few years later we would be serving 1.5 million people across 150 countries and be the source of inspiration, financial freedom and independence for so many people the world over. To date we’ve matched close to a million freelance projects with Small & Medium sized companies all over the world, across disciplines such as design, software development, web building, but also translations, data entry and administrative services. Freelancers on our platform, or ‘GiGsters’ as some call them today, have earned over 100 Million Euros to date from us, and growing

 

It’s been a journey blessed by good fortune, a roller-coaster of emotion, a tonne of mistakes from which we learnt from, a lot of laughter, some tears, intense pain at times and great fun at others; all mixed in with a good pinch of faith and luck. Somehow, nine years on, we are still here!

athens_team_small

Least of all we never expected to have – by 2016 – the vast majority of our team based out of Athens, Greece. Without that admittedly the company could not have survived. So how did we end up in that situation?

 

It all started in 2010. Just after we raised our Series A funding round and the first amount from Venture Capitalists (Index Venture) to a tune of c.a. 8m Euros, we needed to expand rapidly. Which in our line of business means hiring more engineers to develop and improve the PeoplePerHour platform. UK at the time was deep in recession, as was Europe, and the startup culture hadn’t yet caught up to the levels it is today. We simply struggled to convince risk-averse people to leave secure jobs to come work for a startup of 4-5 people in a basement.

 

One cold yet sunny Saturday morning in early December, just after we closed the funding round, I was having my usual Sumatran roast coffee pot walking around my flat pondering how to buck this trend when I got on the phone to a good old friend of mine, Spyros in Athens. Spyros at the time was running a small web shop in Athens and coincidentally was also my first outside investor in my previous company (which pivoted into PPH in 2007). Within minutes he told me he could find me 10 -15 engineers by March. Incredulous as I may have been back then, he delivered on the promise.

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Celebrating our 9th bday @ PPH !

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The Vanity Sandwich

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