Lockdown is a bizarre way to celebrate, but we could not let our 10th birthday pass without looking back over our highlights! Jenny sat down with founder Roger (at a distance, of course), who started the company off on his own a whole decade ago, to reflect on how far we have come, and explore the world of Volition and There Be Giants. Roger has now built a solid team of talent, who are passionate about helping businesses achieve a relentless focus on growth and innovation – and they’re doing pretty damn well. As we like to say, all businesses have their ups and downs and we’re not special – but we’re so proud of our growth and accomplishments and look forward to seeing what the future holds.
J: This month we celebrate the 10-year anniversary of the creation of Volition . How does that make you feel?
R: Well, I’d like to say I never doubted it and that I always knew we’d make it to 10 years, but that would be waffle and those who know me, know me not to be a fan of waffle! There have been many storms along the way, but I guess the real measure is how well you come through them and well, we’re still here and doing pretty well!
Of course, I’m genuinely chuffed with where team There Be Giants are at, the kind of work we are doing and the impact that clients tell us we have for them. Personally, I love seeing how the team has grown in confidence and capability – especially over the past 18 months.
J: How has the team got to where it is today?
R: For so long, it was just me – but then I got a bit of help in here and there, and that freed up more of my time to work on what would shift the business up a gear. The team is really strong which I think has made a big difference as we have all worked our way through lockdown.
Also, at the risk of it sounding like an awards speech, there are so many folks, without whom, There Be Giants wouldn’t be where it is today. Clients, investors, an incredibly generous mentor (AKA Brett Knowles) and not to mention the amazing team who continue to believe in TBG and the transformational work we do.
J: When you set out in 2010, what were your visions for the business?
R: I’m going to be really contentious here and say that I didn’t have a clear vision. I know that sounds like blasphemy – but all I wanted was to earn enough to pay the bills and be comfortable, so that was the first hill I wanted to climb. When I got to the top of that, I could see the next peak, which looked really interesting so I went for that, and then the next, and the next. See the pattern?
Maybe I could have scaled the business up faster if I had set myself a vision? At the time, my priority was to escape from corporate life and enjoy the freedom and flexibility of self-employment. I like to think that I’ve built the business iteratively through TLA (Test Learn Adapt) which is a big part of our OKR methodology. I did some tests, some worked, some didn’t and either way, there was learning to be had and further adaptations to be made.
So, I guess you could say it was a lifestyle business at first. Is it now? I don’t know, and I’m not bothered about putting a label on it, to be honest. I know it’s more than just me and it’s important for me that the team benefit from our growth as much as I might do.
J: What do you see as the biggest accomplishment over the last 10 years?
R: Crumbs, it’s tough to choose just one! In fact, I’m going to cheat and choose two, a business one and a social one.
First, the business one; I would say it was winning our first “large” client. It was a software business in the North East who were about 10 times bigger than our average clients up to that point. I knew deep down that we could do it and that we’d have a big impact for them – and they took that leap of faith and put their trust in us. That shifted the whole teams’ confidence up and challenged us to mature as a business. I’ll forever appreciate that client for choosing There Be Giants.
Now the social one; I’ve always wanted There Be Giants to have a social impact and this has shown through in the pro bono coaching and mentoring done over the years. But in 2019, we were able to set up our Scholarship programme with Hyndburn Academy and The Outward Bound Trust which has been lifechanging for the young people who have joined so far. The Outward Bound’s ethos is all about using the power and the wonder of the wilderness to help young people prepare for the challenges of adult life. It’s about learning the things they just don’t teach at school. You hear employers say all the time that young people lack life skills and social skills, and that’s what The Outward Bound can help develop. We have an intake of 5 young people at year 9 each year and they can then stay on the programme through to after their GCSE’s in year 11. This means by 2021 we will have 15 young people within the programme. I know how life-changing The Outward Bound was for my Father when he attended in the 1950s – and I just hope that it has the same impact for our scholarship students.
J: What has been your most enjoyable moment over the last 10 years?
R: It didn’t feel like it at the time, but probably having to jump into the icy cold waters of Ullswater last year when the Outward Bound invited me up to experience some of the activities our scholarship students would be “enjoying.” As they say, character building!
Oh, and every day I’m in the office and can bring the dogs in as they always provide much fun and chaos.
J: What are the standout changes you’ve seen and made in business over the last 10 years?
R: There have been a few step changes I can look back and see that we’ve made.
First is finding my “soapbox.” My business partner at-the-time asked me “What really pisses you off about organisations Rog?” He was trying to tap into a bit of passion and after 10 minutes of how the annual performance appraisal process was a complete waste of time; bingo, there it was, my soapbox! That then led to some research, which then led to increased profile, a specialist focus on OKRs and meeting my Mentor Brett who then challenged me to work with bigger clients; it’s all connected…
The next I think is starting up the world’s first OKR podcast – Giant Talk. It has opened up so many great conversations and shared learning across an ever-growing community. Due to its international reach, it’s helped us build profile overseas and even new client relationships too – Auckland being an example.
I’d like to also give a shout out for partnerships. I’ve always tried to work collaboratively where I can and the relationship we’ve built up with the guys at KOAN has been both fruitful and a real joy. It’s nice to find people that you just click with and I’m super pleased with how we’ve been able to be of benefit to each other.
J: Perhaps a tough one – looking back over the last 10 years, is there anything you would have done differently?
R: Oh yes! Some dodgy marketing investments back when SEO was all smoke & mirrors for a start!
Reflecting back though, I’ll be honest and admit that I allowed my need not to be the only one in the business cloud my judgement about who I should bring in, and on what terms. I’m a naturally generous person but that ended up working against me and cost the business dearly. So now, it’s what is right for the business which comes first. Most of the time, that aligns with what is right for the individual, but on occasions where it doesn’t, I’ve learned to square up to that and look it in the face.
J: Okay, now you’re ten years down the line, do you have any advice you would share for anyone just starting out with a new business?
R: Well, as There Be Giants is living proof that you don’t need a big grand vision or a big audacious goal to get going and many can feel intimidated by bullish talk and so end up never taking that first step. I’m a big believer in just having a go, try working out what the state is you want to move to – how you want things to be – and take small steps each day towards it. Oh, and learn from others, definitely learn from others, but be selective about who those “others” are as some folk have their own agendas and, with the best intentions, their advice might not be what you need.
J: Speaking of grand visions, where do you see yourself and the business in the next 10 years?
R: OK, so I definitely do have a vision now! In 10 years, I’d like the business to be the hub for an international OKR community of practitioners. We want to make businesses awesome – but we can’t do it alone. I’ve always been very community minded and I’d like to be leading this community.
Myself? I’ll be approaching 60 in 10 years (scary) and I suspect the next decade will bring a lot of personal shifts for me, some of which won’t be easy. So, my personal goal is to be leading There Be Giants while splitting my time between Cumbria and Manchester, or possibly even have moved up there. Cumbria means so much to me, I have so many happy memories from there and it’s where I feel at my most complete. Oh, and dogs, there will always be dogs.
J: Finally can you describe what the last 10 years have meant to you in 15 words or less?
R: I’ll just take two: the world.
We’re proud of how far we’ve come and looking forward to seeing how far we can go. We can’t wait to make a difference to even more businesses down the line so if you’d like us to help your business, book a call with our team to discuss your organisation’s goal for the future.