“I’ve technically never had a job, but I am addicted to work.” So says Stephen Meade at the top of our conversation. The penny regarding the work addiction only dropped when he learnt about his real but separated dad. He only discovered a few years ago that this unknown parent had died of alcoholism – and he twigged to his own inherited addictive nature.
This drive meant Stephen has a long list of successful business hits beginning at a young age. In college he sold watches, wrote three books, and presented the fourth ever infomercial on TV. At 22 he went to work for an insurance company but at night was selling mortgages.
“In fact, I read 357 books in six and a half years and set up this training system called the BullsEyeGuy system. It’s a ten-step programme that really focuses on what you want – hence the name.”
He has often been ahead of the pose – creating the world’s first ecommerce platform on the internet, even before websites had been invented. He created digital shopping carts before they became a thing. And he took his first company public at the tender age of 31.
In all, he’s built 11 companies, three of which went public. He has many other business ideas, but he has a formula that says any idea must match a matric of 10 things he wants to do. Later we talk about the concept of a flat pen that would double up as a bookmark but while he loves the idea and thinks it would fly, he did not want to pursue it.
“I didn’t want to hang around office tradeshows – not my thing.”
And so he passed on that, and perhaps other potential money winners as they did not really interest them. He is also an ideas man – he likes to develop companies but also is quite happy to hand over the operations to another person.
He uses car ownership as an analogy.
“I don’t need to have loads of cars in my garage – I like to build new cars and then hand them over to someone else to drive. I’m quite single minded in that regard.” He also adds that he tends to blow up technology – at which point in our conversation the wifi on my end freezes which is not my fault but his. Just saying.
His Bullseyeguy training is online for free – he doesn’t want to profit from it. He also believes that key to his successful training is to look at the outcomes at the start. Where do you want to be, what financial returns do you want, what are your key strengths etc.
“While on the job experience is great, it is also slow. That’s why I read all those training books and distilled the learning in a simple ten-point programme. People who don’t have time to learn on the job can benefit from condensed learning.”
His consumption of books allows him to learn from other people’s mistakes in different industries. “Failure is a huge learning lesson – look at Steve Jobs who he was fired from the company he founded. I often ask my students – what would Steve Jobs do next?”
Part of his skill set is also to look at companies and see how they can scale – he thinks big. But he doesn’t underestimate detail.
“Sometimes I speak with big execs that don’t know how the to tie their shoelaces. They need staff to do their expenses, book their travel. They are so far upstream they have forgotten how to manage the every day. In my book a good CEO can do both – make the big deals but they are also potty trained.”
This level of granularity is important to Stephen.
“People often ask me if I know any investors. I’m like, sure, I know thousands. But that’s not the question – the question should be do I know any investors particular to their project. It’s the detail thing.
“It’s also tied into emotion – people make decisions based on emotion and then back it up with logic. The trick is to speak to the stakeholders – whether its investors or customers – and make your product emotionally valuable to them. We all need a target.”
Hence the BullsEyeGuy system.
Stephen also works in trinities or the power of three as he likes to term it. He argues that people’s brains can only hold three ideas, or three things at the same time. Even the main tech companies follow that process with three syllables in their names such as Amazon, Microsoft and Oracle. Oh, and Blockleaders too.
I ask at this point if entrepreneurship can be learned.
“Fair question. I like to use a sports analogy. Say tennis – most people can play tennis but how far could you get with specialised training? Well, if you worked hard and had a good coach you can get good – but elite level? Well, it’s not guaranteed.
“To be a truly successful entrepreneur you need to go that extra mile. How much are you willing to risk, how much time and energy are you able to commit to this, and what will you do when you hit that brick wall? What would Steve Jobs do?”
Simplicity is also a theme that runs through Stephen’s thinking. He compares MySpace with Facebook. To him the ability to customize MySpace was ultimately the cause of its demise. Facebook came along and said we not allowing that, everyone’s page will look the same.
“Same with the early search engines offering cluttered results. Google wiped the floor with AltaVista and other contenders by offering three results in a clean, white screen. This is learning from other people’s mistakes and successes. As an entrepreneur you don’t need to go through this process yourself, with training you can leapfrog those early mistakes whatever your industry.”
I make the mistake of confusing innovation with entrepreneurship and seeing the tech industry as being one of the more fertile spaces for entrepreneurs. Stephen disagrees.
“I have friends in the food industry that are coming up with new foods. Sometimes it’s innovation but sometimes it’s just better packaging. Not everything has to be revolutionary – sometimes it can be evolutionary.”
Stephen quotes the late actor Paul Newman’s salad dressing as a prime example of success based on marketing alone. It is a good product but it was unique in that 100% of post-tax profits goes to charity. After his death it is still going strong.
We touch on the differences between men and women as entrepreneurs and Stephen has an interesting slant on this issue.
“This is not about abilities but desired outcomes. Women entrepreneurs often have other considerations that are important to them. They will often choose a lifestyle business which allows them to spend time with children, family and other pursuits. Men will more often sacrifice this work life balance in favour of business.”
This is the main reason Stephen believes that women entrepreneurs do not present so often to VCs. Their businesses, if tempered with a lifestyle balance, renders the end product not so capable for scaling or providing the exit metrics so beloved by VCs.
This is an interesting observation which begs the question should we, as a society, be focusing on growing big ass tech billion dollar companies or SMEs that give owners and staff a more desirable work balance result. Maybe success should not be measured in the dollar bottom line but in the happiness of staff, customers and the community. After all, no one, least of billionaires, ever said on their deathbed that they wished they’d spent more time at work.
It is about outcomes after all.
So, regardless of industry, innovation or product, for Stephen it still goes back to the matrix of ten outcomes. He returns to the flat pen.
“I think this is a goer. I certainly have wanted one for the last fifteen years but I’m not going to make it as it doesn’t give me enough outcomes. Office supplies is not the field I want to be in. Period.”