SMBs take heed. There’s one take home message from COO of Dent Global, Glen Carlson – be brave. We chat with Carlson, the cofounder of Australia’s ninth fastest growing business advisory firm on why committing to your fullest self-expression is not only central to your identity, it’s the impetus to personal success.
Many a main street is littered with the carcasses of well-intentioned start-ups. A boarded-up shopfront is a poignant symbol of a failed dream, or an effort lost. According to a University of Technology Sydney study on small businesses in Australia in 2005, one in three new SMBs fail in its first year of operation, two out of four by the end of the second year and three out of four by the fifth year.
For those who survive the first tumultuous five years, the Australian Bureau of Statistics shows that the national small business proportion output of SMBs in 2015 accounted for around AUD379 billion worth of industry value added – an increase of AUD37.6 billion on 2014 levels. SMBs also account for 97 percent of all businesses in Australia – classified as those actively trading businesses with fewer than twenty employees.
Recognising SMBs contribution to our economy and the difficulty it takes to move from sole trader to a fully-fledged viable organisation, the 2015 Budget released by former Treasurer Joe Hockey, pivoted the national economy agenda away from cutting deficit to supporting new business. Describing the Government’s budget as a stimulus for start-ups to “get out and have a go”, an AUD 5.5 billion package to help over two million SMBS including a 1.5 percent tax cut and a 100 percent instant asset-write off of assets costing less than AUD20,000 until July 2017 is a clear indicator of how central SMBs are to the wealth and health of our economy.
The 2016 Budget by Treasurer Scott Morrison reaffirmed the Government’s position to reduce the tax rate to 27.5 per cent. The threshold for businesses eligible for this will rise from AUD2 million in annual turnover to AUD10 million. The lower rate will be introduced progressively until it is applied to all businesses by 2023-24. By 2026-27, the rate for all businesses will go down to 25 per cent, the aim being to increase Australia’s competitiveness internationally.
So with plenty of financial assistance, including small Government grants, the struggle can’t all be about the numbers. The Australian Securities and Investments Commission released a report into corporate insolvencies for 2011-2012 which found 44 percent of businesses suffered poor strategic management. According to COO of Dent Global Glen Carlson, 35, this scenario is an oft-repeated mistake and tragically, and avoidable one.
“The entrepreneur journey from start up to scale is totally predictable. The same problems show up at the same levels, every time, regardless of region. Eighty percent of Australian businesses generate less than AUD100,000 per annum and employ less than five people. This means all the money is going into the system, there’s no money left. The owner is the chief, cook and bottle washer. If they stop, the operation stops. They have no time and plenty of stress. I mean, just knowing you can’t stop is stressful. You’re trapped in a gilded cage. And if you do stop, it’s a significant amount of energy and momentum to build it up again. Overlay this problematic with hyper competition coming from global organisations leveraging technology to be able to deploy services anywhere – if you don’t know how to package and productise your offering in a way that delivers value to your customer, you’re stuffed,” says Carlson.
Understanding how to create value was a watershed moment for Carlson, after running a very successful events management company, Triumphant, with his high school mate from Maroochydore Qld, and now CEO of Dent, Daniel Priestley.
“We started Triumphant Events in 2001 because we thought we could. There was a lot of edutainment at the time, like breaking boards with karate chops as a personal development exercise and we thought that was lame. It was Junk. We wanted to provide a rigorous and legitimate product for people so we would source great talent that was not great at sales or marketing, and position them in the industry as experts. We became very good at that to the point that we were packing out triple levels at Andrew Lloyd’s Theatre in London. This created a lot of inbound people wanting us to promote them; they had amazing skills, talents, expertise, all the raw material, and yet there was no way we could promote them. When they asked why not, it begged an interesting question; ‘you’re great at what you do, but why are you not picked up by the media or as a keynote speaker, or collaborator?’ We realised that all the people we used to promote were achieving this, so we started to unpack our method,” says Carlson.
The method, is what culminated in Priestley’s first book, the Key Person of Influence, published in 2011. It posits a five-point criteria to achieving scale –
1. Lack of clarity – having a depth of understanding on why you’re different is key, which is why pitch is so important – so you can communicate clearly what you’re about. It’s the ticket to the game.
2. Credibility – you have a great pitch, and are a bit different, but if you don’t have a track record to back it up, people will go somewhere else. Credibility in the market wins business.
3. Capacity – if you’re just selling your time, you lack capacity as there’s only so many hours in a day.
4. Cut through – you need to amplify your product in the market, and get it in front of the right audience so building a profile is key; and
5. Collaboration, joint ventures and strategic partners – which comes from profile presence. This brings constant deal flow and channels to market.
For Carlson, these five steps are how all great businesses evolve; working out how to deploy to the market and adjusting your pitch or product based on feedback. Which means your story is never really finished, it’s a continual process of refinement. According to Carlson, the Key Person of Influence became the cornerstone of the Dent Global story. Dent is like a full-service agency meets a high-performance training advisory firm that provides strategic planning for business owners in the AUD100K-20 million range, as well as providing community, membership, camaraderie and community contribution. Within five years, Dent now achieves an annual AUD21 million turnover, with fifty small teams operating across 12 time zones.
“We realised that our value was in promoting people, helping them to convert a time service to a value -based product. The idea of Dent came from Steve Jobs. He challenged others to ‘make a dent in the universe’ and that resonated strongly with us because to create a meaningful impact, to make a dent, takes force and it might hurt too. Our competitors were running around saying how easy it was to make money, but it just wasn’t true. We understand that the five points is what allows your mountain of value to come to life. The mountain of value is what you already have. It’s your skills, your expertise, time, your story. We are all standing on a mountain of value, but it may not be recognised by the market, which equates to a frustrated ambition. People often underestimate their own story,” says Carlson.
As for Carlson’s story, he says that sailing around the world with his parents in his formative years is what inspired his outlook on life and trade. Born in Jarvis Bay, Carlson’s old man is a shipwright and Royal Australian Navy veteran and his mother a hairdresser. Carlson says that his father, feeling disillusioned by life when Carlson was 3, sought counsel with his mother, who challenged him to be brave.
“My dad went to my nanna. He said he has a great family and job but felt like something was missing. She said to him, ‘If you’re on your deathbed and there’s one big regret about not doing something, what would it be?’ He replied, ‘Sail around the world’. It was like a red flag to a bull to a navy boy. He asked mum, built our boat and when I was six we took off. Dad had the awareness that something was missing. He had the courage to reach out and ask, and had the courage to do it. I learnt a lot from that. To be brave. We visited 46 countries before I was 14 and it gave me a great perspective that the world is a big place, and it can be easy to get caught up on people’s bullshit,” says Carlson.
For Carlson, our means to earning our living is integral to how we are as a human being, in the sense that where we spend our time is how we deliver value to the world. For him, this is the purpose of life.
“I am my most energized at the intersection of entrepreneurship and full self-expression. My ability to find value in the world, and be fulfilled is when I can create within this space,” says Carlson”.
Adding value, according to Carlson, is not just a personal pursuit to fulfillment, but a moral imperative on businesses who have the means to give back to their community. Carlson says that Dent Global has a deep philosophy of contribution and giving, and argues that it is the role of the entrepreneur to not only create value but to give value.
“We have a mandate that if someone is going to work through our programs, they have to be accountable to building an organisation that is a force for good. Whether that’s pro-bono work, equity, however they want to give back is up to the them. We just dictate the why,” says Carlson.
Carlson says that when it comes to taking a macro view of the world, and creating value for others in a shared space, one needs to look no further than the United Nations 17 Millennial Goals. He argues that if people in the world worked towards the common goal of improving the quality of life for everyone globally, the world would be a sustainable, and far more hospitable place.
“I believe business should be a force for good. Sustainable development can pull us all in the same direction. If we look at global communications, distribution, organisations like Skype, Amazon, PayPal, Up Work, We Work…there aren’t any barriers other than the shit in our head that stops us. From ageing population, to technological unemployment, to millennial transformation, to shift in asset classes, to the globalisation of money to the point where nationalist Governments don’t know how to tax global corporations… I’m not a futurist or politician and I don’t pretend to be, but, you don’t have to be a rocket surgeon to look at what’s happening. The world is globalising, it’s going digital… look at Trump and his wall, and Elon Musk and the internet. Where do you put your money? Every macro trend is pulling towards globalisation. The Bransons and Musks are the heroes of the next generation. These guys are the ones that are solving the real problems in the world. Muslims aren’t the problem, carbon is the problem. We should be putting our money on humans who are doing something practical. There will be a right and wrong side of history and we have a choice today – do we follow the nationalist, isolationist, geographically localised construct that is not practical for business or humanity and separate ourselves from others with such malevolence? I’m always going to back open and free over closed and imprisoned,” says Carlson.
What is refreshing about Carlson, is his sincerity in using his business as a vehicle for self-determination – which not only helps the individual realise their purpose, but allows others to flourish.
“Rose Kennedy, in her memoirs, says that the purpose of her life was to create world leaders. This was her declaration before her first child. She didn’t have a paid job. She was a mum with a purpose. If you’re consciously going to work each day under the illusion that you don’t have a choice, you’re just full of shit. It takes courage to be congruent, and I think that’s part of the human journey is to have an awareness of that congruence,” says Carlson.
According to Carlson, the hardest part is knowing your purpose, but when you know it, there is no excuse to unleashing your value. With technology platforms, such as Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and Snapchat, Carlson argues that everything is geared towards helping people spread ideas and information.
“Amazon is bending over backwards to help you distribute your products. Ali baba is doing everything they can to help you build whatever you have in your head and we have people coming up with reasons why they can’t realise their potential? I say, be brave, have fun. Make a dent,” says Carlson.