Conversations on creating wealth, entrepreneurship and (hard) lessons learnt with Paul Shaw
My darling friend Paul Shaw is a former investment banker / corporate hot-shot who held senior executive positions at Ernst & Young and Bank of Scotland. Driven by the desire to create and the vision to do something more meaningful he has since founded and invested in a number of start-ups across healthcare, adventure and social enterprise. I’m so pumped to share his wisdom on wealth, passion projects and the reality of turning your vision into a viable business. Paul has an extraordinary amount of knowledge and experience so let’s dive in.
What does wealth mean to you?
Nothing inspires clichés and borrowed philosophies, like the conversation on wealth. So, let me answer this without a hint of either, by first providing some context.
After I finished my Economics (Finance Major) Degree in 1991, I spent close to a decade assiduously avoiding the corporate world. I worked in real-estate; had a successful personal training business; and several other, less than successful entrepreneurial ventures. I profitably bought and sold several properties. I was doing ok financially, but felt far from wealthy.
At 32 I decided to join the corporate world, driven by the desire for more mental and social stimulation and financial opportunity. And after 15 years of hard work, I went from a $50k graduate role to earning close to half a million dollars a year. I lived in a beautiful apartment I owned, drove a BMW, travelled the world regularly and partied like a rock star. I was doing very well financially, but still felt far from wealthy.
At the end of 2013 I left the corporate world, driven by a desire to do something more meaningful and entrepreneurial. Three years later, after several failed startups, a few troubled investments and an expensive journey of personal discovery: I now live in a rented apartment, drive a Holden Captiva and live more like a monk than a rock star. I am doing it tough financially, yet I have this deep seeded belief that I am closer to being wealthy than I have been at any stage in my life.
So, in answering the question; wealth to me is having the self-awareness to know what kind of life truly makes you itch; then finding or developing an opportunity, which is value-aligned with that life and can ultimately provide sufficient compensation to support and sustain it.
What drives you to create?
I believe every person is born with an innate desire to create, but for most people (me included during extended periods of my life), something happens between being a child and an adult.
Children have the benefit of not knowing what is not possible. For them everything is feasible. Children get praise and encouragement from their parents and teachers for almost any work they do – particularly for imaginative stories or weird pieces of art. They have heard tales of magic and they see around them technology doing all sorts of amazing things.
As far as they are concerned every problem can be solved.
Adults on the other hand are only too well versed in what they cannot achieve and what cannot be done. They are surrounded by rules, regulations, laws and compliance. They have experienced rejections, failures and humiliations.
So, my drive to create (photography; writing; stories; podcasts; videos; travels; businesses; opportunities), is the understanding, it brings me deep satisfaction and happiness.
And I have also come to understand, all satisfaction and happiness is ephemeral. So if I stop creating I feel dissatisfied and unhappy.
Why did you decide to pursue entrepreneurship instead of corporate life?
The opportunity to create and build something, was the primary driver for pursuing various entrepreneurial opportunities, following a successful corporate career.
But I have learned, through blood, sweat, tears and cash, startups are not all beanbags, ping pong tables and think-tanks. The odds are overwhelmingly stacked against all start-ups.
It takes a very special type of person to build a profitable and sustainable business from scratch, and invariably more time and money than even the most sensitised business case will forecast.
Can you give me an overview of the businesses you’ve been involved with since starting your entrepreneurial journey?
Shaw Results (shawresults.com) is a centre for human optimisation; providing education, inspiration and motivation to agitate people to make positive and sustainable changes to their career, health and life.
This project is the culmination of the three discontinued businesses I summarise below. It is a pure passion project, without conflict and with a clear vision to positively impact millions of people over the coming decades.
Nevhouse (nevhouse.com) is a sustainable social enterprise, which manufactures prefabricated homes, out of recycle materials, for disadvantaged communities globally.
I am a seed investor and have previously consulted to Nevhouse, which has been derailed several times by misplaced and inappropriate CEOs.
I am currently discussing an executive role, considering its belated but imminent commercialisation.
A corporate healthcare business, with a team of doctors, nutritionists and psychologists.
I discontinued this business after 18 months, when several pilot programs failed to generate sufficient buy-in from potential clients.
The Extreme Leadership Co
A series of leadership programs in some of the most beautiful and exciting places on the planet.
We discontinued this business after the first program failed to generate sufficient interest to justify further injection of time and capital.
A network marketing business, which manufactures a leading range of nutritional supplements, essential oils and personal care products.
While passively still involved with this business, was never able to get myself fully comfortable or confident with the business model or industry.
What have you learnt, what would you do differently?
The list of lessons learned and things I would do differently, could fill a text book, but here’s the top 6:
Don’t get romantic about your business idea. Create a minimal viable product (MVP) as quickly and inexpensively as possible and take it to market for validation.
Don’t invest in a startup where you don’t have control.
Trust your intuition, if something doesn’t feel right, it most likely isn’t. Ignoring this has cost me hundreds of thousands of dollars.
If you are boot strapping your venture, keep some other form of income generation to mitigate cash burn (cash is oxygen).
Before entering a business partnership, use careful and critical examination: The best way to prepare for a new business partnership is to do just that – prepare. Examine the relationship from every possible angle and be very technical from the beginning about what you aim to achieve.
Have an accountability mechanism, whether that is a business coach, mentor or partner.
How has your business/career affected your health and relationships?
Perversely, the stress and strain of the last three years has brought about positive changes to my lifestyle and health. The inability to hide behind the infrastructure of a large corporate, has forced me to take absolute ownership and responsibility.
Similarly, through the serendipity of one of my businesses, I met the most beautiful woman, who stole my heart, and we are now engaged to be married. The person I was before this journey, would never have attracted and won the love of someone so evolved and enlightened.
Any tips for other entrepreneurs?
Don’t mistake having entrepreneurial spirit with being a pure start-up entrepreneur.
Unless you are prepared for 5-10 years of ruthlessly hard work and hustle, with little to no income or security, you are probably not a startup entrepreneur.
As an alternative, find an established, funded, entrepreneurial organisation in an industry you have passion for, with a culture and executive team you resonate with.
Be wary of network marketing opportunities, success takes a unique personality and skill-set. Further, you have no control over executive decisions or the behaviour of individuals within an organisation, which presents a very real business and repetitional risk.
Find and invest in a business mentor or coach.
Immerse yourself in learning (podcasts and books). But, focus on education over motivations, if you need the latter, go back to 1 above.