Don't Be A Control Freak
The Inventive Journey Podcast for Entrepreneurs
Don't Be A Control Freak
The Inventive Journey
Starting and growing a business is a journey. On The Inventive Journey, your host, Devin Miller walks with startups along their different journeys startups take to success (or failure). You also get to hear from featured guests, such as venture firms and angel investors, that provide insight on the paths to a successful inventive journey.
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not be a control freak and give up control earlier not give up control as in i've seen people who go oh i'm going to employ somebody who's an expert and then just let them do it no that's not what i mean i mean as an entrepreneur with the first time we start a business we do everything right we we stand at the photocopier we make the copies we make the coffee etc we tend to go ahead you know we tend to do all that the key to being successful is doing what you do best which generally is entrepreneurs generating business everyone this is devin miller here with another episode of the inventive journey i'm your host devin miller the serial entrepreneur has grown several startups in the seven and eight figure businesses as well as the founder and ceo of miller ip law where we help startups and small businesses with their patents and trademarks if you ever need help with yours just go to strategymeeting.com and we're always here to help now today we have another great uh guest on the podcast rail bricker and uh rail is uh graduated with an engineering degree didn't know what an engineer did then but the graduated degree went to work for a mine underground for a couple years and left there and went back to business school or went to business school also joined a small marketing firm started his own business as a management consultant that business evolved into more of an educational services for south africans got listed on the stock exchange um then went into uh venture capitalism um within south africa in australia worked for a um venture fund for uh someone for else in australia for a period of time that went back on his own did some loan or mortgage loans then we did presentations and teaching to people about the mortgage industry wrote a book did certified public speaking spent and then spends his time kind of between the mortgage business as well as public speaking so with that much is an introduction and a quick walkthrough of your journey welcome on the podcast rail yeah thank you devon and good morning from perth western australia all right a good evening or good afternoon slash almost evening from uh salt lake city utah so well automotive we're excited to have you on so i gave kind of the quick introduction to a much longer journey so let's dive in a bit and tell us a little bit about your journey so the journey itself was probably at the age of 14 i knew i was going to be an entrepreneur i didn't know why or what and what business i would be in but i always my first job started when i was 14 working electronic shop and people came in and asked they were buying car radios so in the days before all the radios were beautifully fitted into the dashes of all the cars when we fitted radios into cars and i in that typical entrepreneur in me went okay no problem come over to my house this afternoon and i'll fit it in your car for you and so that was the start of my entrepreneurial journey at 14 the key lesson out of that one was that i have to do things that use my brain not my hands i love you know fiddling in my shed at home and doing woodwork but i wouldn't call myself a tradesman and so i learned very early on that whatever business i go into needs to use my brain so yeah it's been it's been a fantastic journey it's been it's been driven by a quote from my late father who said to me one day when he retires and unfortunately he never got to retire he died on us 59 he said one day when he retires he wants 40 years experience not one year 40 times over and so i took that to heart at a young age and i went just grab life life is too short life is too fragile i mean the pandemic of 20 20 and 21 has shown us that so basically he's got to grab life and do things and that's what i've always done and so so yeah you know started the education business in south africa i'll put that into a context of that time nelson mandela was released in february 1990. so i'd been on the mines i'd worked on the mines underground 6 000 foot and i was too young and probably arrogant to understand what i was learning and that's probably the best advice i give young entrepreneurs is grab every experience and try and work out what you're learning because i was there i was put into a management role at age 21 on the mind 5 000 staff but only when i was 30 did i actually appreciate the lessons i learned at 21 and so that that was part of the challenge so i put a start of putting all that together in 1990 we started management consultancy now there's a flaw in that we were young mba graduates we thought that it was the new south africa nelson mandela was released there was this hunger for stuff we had just never run a business and so we were sitting there going okay great we'll go and tell businesses how to run their businesses but we'd never run a business and so the little problem with that um and yeah and so that part of that emerged or evolved into this education business now was it planned no did we overthink it no the book my book is called dive in and that's exactly what it was we just dived in and said what have we got to lose by doing it so maybe just diving in or diving in but one question that comes up so you you personally you graduated you went and worked for a mine under for a mine for a couple of years and then after that was that when you went back to nba i went to business school so yeah i i left the mind went to business school and um did i go to business school because i wanted to learn to be a manager no i wanted to learn about all the things i never learned in engineering so i always knew that i was never going to be rising up the corporate ladder waiting for the next person to die so i could get a promotion i always knew that i but so i went to the nba and i and i think mbas today have evolved that today you can do mbas that are entrepreneurially focused you know go to business school and do that but in in in 32 years ago when i did my mba that's dating me a bit the gray hair i guess shows a little bit for that um the mba then was designed to make corporate managers it wasn't designed for entrepreneurs but yes i went off and interestingly i found an old farewell card when i left the mine i found this farewell card the other day and it's interesting because i'd forgotten about it and the farewell card said on it when you come back to buy anglo-american please remember us we'll still be here and and that was exactly why i didn't want to be in the corporates because these guys had no ambition except to be in their job and get a promotion and come to work every day 20 years later now anglo-american that i worked for was the largest listed company in south africa at the time largest one of the largest mining houses in the world so for the team members to say when you come back and buy the company they obviously knew that i was going out to be an entrepreneur um so you started the business so now you did so you went you know said okay i'm going to go back to business school you learn things i didn't learn in engineering school you come out of business school and then how did you know what made you decide to go into marketing because i think he said that he joined a small marketing i joined i joined the software company which was a transition so it was a software company but i was the marketing manager so it was the first time that ever employed a marketing person but and even today and i have to skip you know 30 years almost ahead i speak at a lot of technology conferences today so software conferences you know agile scrums etc but i talk about management not about technology and exactly then you know even 30 years ago i joined this company because i had a tech background and i could understand the technology but i went into a marketing role in the business so um basically they had never marketed that kind of a typical by the way rt startup great technology zero marketing like like no idea we'll just build a great product and the world will come running to us and and they'd suddenly realize that they had a great product but the world wasn't running to them they needed to actually do something about telling the world about it and that was my role there so i was there for almost two years and then decided to to go out on my own into my management consultancy that became an education business about a year later so that's that's part of that journey and then we grew rapidly right place at the right time i cannot stress that as much thinking as you do about any business the the real growth for us was being in the right place at the right time it was the year nelson mandela was released um in south africa it was there was this major upsurge in the need for young black students who had been previously disadvantaged to get an education they were coming out of school i don't know the american gpa equivalent but they were coming out of school clutching a certificate to their chest and that said that finished school but that certificate had an aggregate mark of 35 across six subjects now that's not exactly you know high academic standard and we were taking these students through a three-year diploma like a junior college over a four-year period so we knew that they needed a lot of catch-up time and we built a program that took four years to give them a three-year diploma equivalent um and that grew rapidly but again right place right time and pretty aggressive young guys with nothing to lose that's the worst competitor you can ever have somebody has nothing but one question i know and i definitely agree you know somebody that's ambitious has time and has nothing to lose is definitely a good place to be if you're the person doing it about a difficult competitor to compete with but what made you guys you know kind of you say you know the business involved in the educational services how did that evolve for the intentional was that hey hey we want to get into education there will be a great business or you fell into it or kind of what push you in that direction to involve there no so so at the time so so a few things happened in the management consultancy so we went to our friends who we did our mbas with so my business partner did his mba at another university and we went to 10 friends and said look we want to add credibility and i use the words credibility because it's just when you laugh at it today it was the reverse of credibility but we want to add credibility to our business can we add your names to the bottom of our letterhead as consultants so when we went out and pitched our management consultancy it was myself and my partner 25 or 26 year old mba grads but with 10 other mba graduates with all different backgrounds on our letterhead so he looked like this massive organization we won we actually won a contract with the water corporation at the time and the electricity corporations are big government bodies and it wasn't big contracts but nevertheless it gave us a bit of momentum but those two contracts finished and we had no idea what we were going to do and we were talking to a body a certification body that gave out this diploma in marketing called the institute of marketing management and they looked at our letterhead and saw all these people that we supposedly had and said you guys are so well qualified why don't you start a school why don't you teach our diploma and we went okay nothing to lose let's try that and so that's exactly you know but we understood that the political climate was there that there was this need for education and then we went we have no money so let's find clever ways of marketing and that's how we grew um and so we started in 1990 where 20 students in the late 1990 and by 1996 we had six campuses and four thousand students that's awesome that's a pretty uh great growth and definitely a lot of success so now i think that at one point you guys took that business and that's the one you put on the stock exchange yeah so we we decided that the next phase of growth for us was to get access to capital and we didn't have access to capital so either equity or script you know shares or capital and we didn't have access to that we were earning good money out of the business ourselves we were having a good life having lots of holidays but and we put in management we had 160 staff academic staff at that point but we just knew that we needed to go to the next level and so i had met a a guy who owned a computer training business that was listed on the stock exchange i'd met him about five years before and or no more than that probably seven years before that and i literally picked up the phone to him and said let's have a conversation because i had heard that his business computer-based training his technology was a little bit dated a little bit old and the business was floundering a bit so we literally went to them and said we have this education face-to-face business it's a hot entity right now you know let's reverse into your business give us a big chunk of the equity and then we'll go out and acquire other education businesses to do a group to build a group and that's exactly what we did so knowing nothing about mergers and acquisitions we went in we did this deal my partner and i then with the board of this new entity which we were on did nine acquisitions over the next 18 months and the share price went from 90 cents to 14 rent so 90 cents to 14 in terms of growth you know massive growth um i only had a year's contract so i left them a year later my partner had a three year they didn't want both of us so he stayed on for three years i stayed on for a year um and then i left and went out on my own and found my niche in venture capital for the next five years okay no definitely uh sounds cool now you went to venture capital for a period of time and did that um you know south africa and australia and other places now winter then you uh when you came back after doing that for a period of time you went into mortgage loans is that right so yeah so again that was so i came to australia and i'm a networker so just just to put that into a context what that means when i pick up my mobile phone and and a friend of mine teaches networking skills and i've never really thought about this until i was in one of his seminars and i i he said take out your phone and and see how many people you have in your phone and so even if you've ever done that exercise it's an interesting exercise to do so most people in the room said i've got 700 people in my phone a thousand people in my phone at that point i had eleven and a half thousand people in my phone and i went okay i actually am a networker that's what i do and so i had network before coming to australia i had met a guy met a girl met a guy um came to australia went to these people didn't know who they were just said look help me get a job i need to get a job learn about australia for a little bit and one of them came a great guy named david schwartz and i recognized him in the book in my book and and i said to him you know i went to visit david it was a friday morning i'd been in perth about two weeks and i went to his factory i didn't even know who he was what his business was and i said david please help help me introduce me to some people this is my background and he and i'd been to a few of the employment agencies who went you don't have a career you've like done all these things like how can we find you a job what can you do in a corporate and i went well i've done all these things i can do anything you know typical i was in my mid thirties you know still still suffering from you know the the hangover of doing well in south africa and so david fetch that was friday morning sunday afternoon and i have to admit today 20 years later in perth i still do that for people arriving in the city so what he taught me 20 years ago has followed on to what i do today and so he fetched me on a sunday afternoon took me he said i've got a friend who might be able to help you fetch me took me to this friend's house in this very very lonely suburb very upmarket suburb and we sat there for five hours on a sunday afternoon talking about venture capital and i left there and they said by tomorrow morning they'll make me an offer to be investment manager of their fund and so you know it was an amazing opportunity i literally started working there three weeks after i got to a new country um a year and a half later we took that fund we raised 22 million and listed it on the australian stock exchange so we did a front door listing this time we wrote a prospectus we raised capital and we went to a front door listing and i'm still a shareholder in that fund today the big thing is they wanted me to move to sydney and i went nah that's like moving you know you know in the u.s context that's moving from la to new york you know it's that distance that you're moving and i went no i actually enjoy the life in fact it's probably more like comparing moving from san diego as a city to new york you know small town reasonably good facilities but no didn't want to move to sydney i said i'm going out on my own and i started going out and finding small clients who needed investors needed venture capital and i was helping them structure their businesses for venture capital and then they said oh you know we actually need some debt as well we need some loans and i mean okay i'll find out how to get you a loan you know typical approach to life and and so i found out that in our state in western australia you had to get a license okay you need license for everything and i had to get a license as a finance broker so i went in and got a license as a finance broker and i started doing their commercial loans and then they said oh you did such a good job with our business can you help us with our home loan and i mean sure i'll help you with your home loan and that was 2001 20 years later 2021 um i still own that business it's done three just over three billion dollars of mortgages both mostly residential but mostly mostly residential a little bit of commercial in that space so that's how that mortgage business totally evolved exactly like my education business it was a conversation that led to thinking about doing something else and so in in none of those cases did i overthink it i i i make that point about everything in life it just sometimes you have to look the opportunity not it's not shiny object syndrome you know i did think about it but i didn't over analyze it now one question because i think the the last part of your journey also talked about you've got into you written a book and get into um certified speaking as a profession as well so and then you kind of uh balance both the kind of the mortgage um investing and those type of things in the loans and then also doing public speaking so how did you get into deciding you're going to write a book and doing a speaking video so well i mean there are a couple so everyone has this momentary event in their lives so typical of somebody who's very driven in 2012 i decided to do start doing triathlons now i was a state hockey player in my 20s broke my kneecaps had operations on my legs i've always been fit and healthy but decided to do something competitive so i started doing triathlons in 2012. i finished a season of triathlons decided to run a marathon before i turned 50. i had a year to go before i turned 50 thought it's a good ambition let's go and run a marathon but every 10 or 12 kilometers so seven or eight miles in the in my training i would just go and feel that i had incredible pain in my neck back of my neck and i thought look i'm a big unit i'm a big boy i'm broad and and strong i'm not really built like a marathon runner um and i went okay something you know go to physiotherapy get my neck clicked out whatever it's all good and my mother-in-law and my my local doctor said there's something not right you're very pale you're just not looking good you've got a friend who's already a radiologist go and have a scan of your heart and just see that there's nothing wrong so i went and had a scan and didn't even think anything further jumped on a plane with my wife to singapore with three other couples and we went away for a few days on a on a holiday with two three other couples and while we were there the doctor phoned me and had a conversation and said don't panic that's the last thing you ever want to hear okay when the doctor phones and says don't panic okay he said don't panic but the first thing you do is obviously you're paying panic right don't panic go down to the pharmacy and buy a big box of aspirin and start taking three aspirin a day um don't go for any long runs uh and then the joke of it all i'm assuming this is a pg is is is an is not a pg-rated show he said um don't take any viagra okay so um there's a reason behind that actually because it lowers your blood pressure and then if you have a heart attack and then they try to lower your blood pressure again that's when people die so it was interesting but it was funny at the time he um yeah so that life-changing moment i ended up having two cardiac stents um and today i'm fitter and stronger than i was seven years ago so but that made me focus on what was important in life like really i'd been running like a like a madman doing lots of stuff my mortgage business was flying high i was number three in the country at the time and and three in the country in a city where our property prices were half of the other cities so you had to do double the work just write the same number of mortgages so you know it we're working damn hard long hours anyway i i had the stance i decided to do a different things and then in 2015 the mortgage industry asked me to speak at their conference on how to build a mortgage business because i topped over 2 billion in mortgages at that point and i went to the conference i did two breakout sessions at the conference packed they were bringing in extra chairs while i was speaking for people to hear what i had to say and i went that was a lot of fun i've always loved speaking so just my mortgage business was built by me being on stage so i worked with a number of property developers i went around the country around southeast asia talking to people about buying properties and retiring on those properties and so i sold a billion dollars of mortgages from stage so i love being on stage i love being the speaker i got on the plane after that conference and i went there's a book in that so i wrote the book i mean i didn't write it on the plane i wrote 2 000 words on my ipad on the plane which is pretty hard when you don't have a tactile keyboard i have to say i spent nine months then writing the book and i made a decision almost at that point that i wanted to become a professional speaker and in 2016 i got my my first international opportunity to speak in in whistler and outside vancouver at a mortgage conference and that was when i knew that that was what i wanted to pursue i still kept the mortgage business i still worked there i still i still helped the team there i still see clients i have four and a half thousand clients you you're in that you know you're you're in in a business that has clients those individuals want to see you they don't want to see your team and so i still see clients but my team handle all the paperwork and stuff behind me now and in 2019 i became a certified speaking professional of which they're about fifteen hundred worldwide so about two hundred and twelve groups so yeah so well that that's a great walk through of your journey and it kind of brings us up to where you're at today which is you know definitely it's kind of been one where kind of you know in one sense it's been you know you weaving in and out and yet there's a kind of that common thread throughout so that was definitely a fun walk-through um through your journey so now as we wrap up or wrap towards the end of the podcast there's always a great transition cause i always love we after we hear the journey to ask a couple questions so why don't we jump to those now so the first question i always ask is along your journey what was the worst business decision you ever made and what did you learn from it so the worst business decision was actually when i left the venture fund and i was at my own doing a bit of venture capital work and and started the mortgage business a friend phoned me from south africa and said i found this amazing product it comes out of germany it's a storage system for cds and dvds and i said great and i and he sent me a sample of it and i investigated it and it was very clever at the time if you think about 20 years ago we didn't have hard drives portable hard drives as backups all your backups on your computers were dvd driven or cd driven and so you needed somewhere to store these things in a logical way that you could find them and this was like a binder system that had special cd covers that slotted in and you could fit 20 and have them on your shelf and it's a really cool clever system i flew to germany um i flew to germany i bought with me i bought it like a thousand or two thousand dollars worth of stock while i was in germany brought it back in in a suitcase to australia spoke to five people you know typical did a lot of extensive market research spoke to five people and they thought wow what a product i then ordered eighty thousand dollars worth of stock in a container load um but i had no idea i hadn't sold it yet and and then i went out to try and sell it and i realized that none of the big chains so the office chains you know the office supply chains which was really the target audience wanted to deal with a single operator they wanted to deal with somebody who has multiple product lines can deliver to store on a national basis all the other things that i had never considered i eventually gave that eighty thousand dollars worth of stock to a friend who was down and out and he sold them to a two dollar store for five thousand dollars and i told him to keep the five thousand dollars because he needed the money and that was like six years later so the big lesson out of that was two things one is do sub don't over analyze but do some more market research than asking five friends but more importantly the clever product is not necessarily the best product in other words it was almost too clever for itself and the third one was that i knew from my own self i needed to sell services and not products the same way i knew i couldn't do a job that needed me to use my hands all the time i learned from that that i needed to sell services my mortgage business was services education business in south africa the venture capital business were all service based and so that's that was the key lesson i learned but it took me eighty thousand dollars to learn that well it's uh that is an expensive education that's probably more than the the degrees you got but it was a good education that a lesson some of the times though those there's those mistakes that the sting the most are also the ones you're learning so now as we jump to the second question and dovetails right into what uh what you just touched on but if you're now talking to somebody that's just getting into a startup or a small business what would be the one piece of advice you give them um is to is to not be a control freak and give up control earlier not give up control as in i've seen people who go oh i'm going to employ somebody who's an expert and then just let them do it no that's not what i mean i mean as an entrepreneur we're the first time we start a business we do everything right we we stand at the photocopier we make the copies we make the coffee etc we tend to go ahead you know we tend to do all that the key to being successful is doing what you do best which generally is entrepreneurs generating business being the front person out there getting the business through the door and leave the back office stuff which is what i call the 10 dot leave the 10 hour tasks to your staff and you do the 500 an hour revenue and if you focus your whole life around that your decision of when to employ staff um becomes a lot easier and a lot quicker to make no and i and i have definitely agreed to i mean there's there's a as an entrepreneur you have a tendency first of all to think you're the smartest one in the room and you also want to have a probably a type a personality and always want to get things done the way you want to get them done and and yet you know that oftentimes can hold the business back because you're doing past that while yes you can do them you probably do very well aren't the ones that utilize your specific skill set the things that you can grow the business the best and make them the biggest impact on the business so i like in the sense of you know it's not that you know you just simply turn over the reins and don't do run your business anymore but focusing on the things that you can drive the most value to your business and then those other things are giving here handing the reins over or giving people those tasks and then just managing them as opposed to trying to do it all yourself as it's certainly a great piece of advice well as we wrap up if people want to reach out to they want to connect up with you they want to be a customer they want to be an employee of you you know they want to hire you for a speaking gig they want to hire you to help with their loans they want to be an investor in any of your ventures they want to be your next best friend any or all of the above what's the best way to reach out contact you and find out more well the easiest way is rail at railbreaker.com very very simple and there's a lot of information on the railbreaker.com website there's the excellence podcast website which is also linked of the railbreaker.com um but i'm on linkedin mostly linkedin and instagram facebook any of the social media not twitter i'm not a twitter fan but i am there but i don't check it as often but linkedin is probably the best way to reach out to me or at rail at railbreaker.com and if anyone wants a copy of the book dive in listen to lenses business school um i'll send you the link it's railbreaker.com freebook and they can download a free pdf copy of my book awesome definitely generous to um offer the book and definitely encourage people to take a look or to take a look and i get the pdf version as well as the pulver or the the hardback version as well depending on how you like to read it but uh thank you again rail for coming on the podcast it's been a fun it's been a pleasure now for all of you the listeners if you have your own journey to tell you and you want to be a guest on the podcast feel free to go to inventiveguest.com i will be on a podcast um two more things as a listener one make sure to click subscribe to your podcast players you know all of our awesome episodes come out and to leave us a review so other people can find out about all of our awesome episodes and last but not least if you ever need help with patents trademarks or anything else feel free to reach out to us go to strategymeeting.com and uh grab some time with us a chat thank you again rail and wish the next leg of your journey even better than the last thank you very much and i look forward to the next journey or two or three or four all right you