Running is a great way to take stock of things. To take time out, gain perspective.
Matt Connolly set up his first company in his early 20s, a digital innovation agency that quickly grew to become the UK’s number one digital agencies.
He subsequently set up Because It’s Good, a community to enable digital folk in the charity sector to share and develop ideas. Soon after he attended Royal Jelly, an exclusive invite-only event for some of the biggest names in fashion ecommerce. This led to him co-founding Pollen House, a specialist retail and ecommerce digital agency.
With a number of successful business and entrepreneurial awards under his belt, Connolly now runs We Are Matt Ltd, a company that develops, invests in and curates new ideas, products and properties.
His latest venture is myLovelyParent, a site where adult children encourage their “older” single mothers and fathers to meet new people online. The site launches across seven countries towards the end of October 2012 and already has over 1,000 people signed up to its beta version.
When Connolly isn’t taking a “sabbatical” in the mountains, he can be found either at his desk, in the pool or running the streets of Bristol, England. With two Ironman finishes to his name, he’s gearing up for the Norseman 2013, the world’s toughest long-distance triathlon.
What are you working on right now?
A new startup called myLovelyParent. It’s a website where adult children can encourage their parents (the 50+ years crowd) to meet new people online.
Where did the idea for myLovelyParent come from?
The inspiration came from my mum, a gorgeous single lady in her 60s.
Earlier this year, we were chatting about different business models that I was thinking through for my next business. One was online dating, but I couldn’t get my head around how to build a business that could put integrity before profit, yet still survive in such a saturated market.
She suggested I help “find her knight in shining armor.” A stroke of genius.
In an industry that is now worth £2,000 billion per year, the 50+ years space is now seeing the fastest growth. It was too good to ignore, and so I started exploring how it might work. The more I worked on it, the better it felt.
What does your typical day look like?
I love the mornings. I always have.
When I’m not in London, I work from my home office and tend to be at my desk somewhere between 7:00 a.m. and 8:00 a.m.
We’re now a couple of weeks til launch, so I’d say about half my day is responding to press inquiries or doing media interviews. There’s been an incredible interest from around the world, and being based in the UK, there are plenty of early starts to chat with Australia and late evenings interviewing with the States.
As for lunchtime, I’m a big believer in taking time out. Not in the strict an “hour for lunch” sense. Rather, doing something different to give a sense of change.
Even though we’ve had a miserable summer in the UK (worse that normal, if you can believe that, I’ve gotten into the whole “growing vegetables” thing. (I know, I know, I’m only 35!) Most lunchtimes, I take 20 minutes or so and look after my plants. I find it incredibly grounding and rewarding.
And the rest of the day is spent planning the launch, growth and exit of the business. By this stage, all the concepting, UX (user experience), design and development has been done.
I’ll try to sign off about 7:oo p.m.-ish, although that’s somewhat dependent on whether anything’s scheduled with the US.
How do you bring ideas to life?
A while back, I enjoyed getting into the Eric Ries “Lean Startup” thinking. There’s some good stuff in it. I guess I mix some of that with my own experience of building businesses.
I’m obsessive about validating a business idea early. Failing fast, learning quickly and iterating until you’re confident you have a model you can scale.
Controversially, I also believe as a founder, you need to be totally immersed in this part of an idea’s development. This is when you truly learn about your business and start to understand your customers.
And, once proven, to make sure you shift to working “on” the business as opposed to “in” the business.
What’s one trend that really excites you?
The role social influence plays within online purchases.
I recently booked a couple of weeks in Greece using Airbnb. The property I wanted to stay at had no reviews. I decided to check out the same property on TripAdvisor. Again, there were no reviews. I suddenly lost all confidence in what was a beautiful place.
I finally did stay at the villa, but only after I’d found the owner on Twitter and saw she had a few hundred followers. That was enough for me.
What was the worst job you ever had, and what did you learn from it?
Ah, I’ve done so many.
Most of the really bad jobs were from ages 15-21. Every school and university holiday, I’d work in a variety of factories—from making pork pies (do you have them in the States?) to working in a frozen chip (fries) factory.
It was an incredible experience. I’ll never forget the people I worked with. People who’d endured such hardship all their lives. Some of whom had been working 12-hour shifts for the last 40 or 50 years.
I gained a new perspective and appreciation for people, for money and for hard work. I hadn’t realized how easy it had been for me until then.
If you were to start again, what would you do differently?
I’m not sure I would. If anything, it’d be to have worked less in my 20s and given more focus to living life. But maybe that’s a perspective that only comes when you’re a little older.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
Run. Not in a figurative sense.
Running is a great way to take stock of things. To take time out, gain perspective.
Over the past few years, I’ve been doing longer and longer races and so started to try and bring in my training to the working day. On occasion, I’ve persuaded my colleagues and clients to join me on a “running meeting.” They’re pretty difficult if you need to take notes, but they’re a good way to bond. Plus I’m rubbish at golf, so it’s a good alternative.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
After eight years of building value, my first business imploded in a two-week period. Whilst in New York looking for new office space, a number of unforeseen and unpreventable things happened, costing us the better part of £1 million in savings.
To this day, I still don’t believe we could have prevented any of these things. They were genuinely bad luck.
Even though it was a punishing time, my co-founder and I met with a stack of local companies (which at that point were our competitors) and lined up jobs for all our staff. We did the same finding new homes for our clients. We then broke the news.
As for overcoming it, that took much longer. It was massively difficult not to consider closing the business as a failure. But over time, I was able to take stock of the achievements and impact we’d made and to realize the value of all I’d learned over the years, especially during that two weeks. That’s made me a much more competent person that I ever was.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
“Pud in the Hood.”
I’m not sure this one will translate, but essentially, it’s a local marketplace for people who love to cook puddings and for people who love to eat puddings.
Those who love to bake, cook up a couple of extra puddings. They make those available to collect or deliver (for an extra fee). Simple.
The community is built on trust and peer review. The pud price is fixed. How could it not work?
If you could change one thing in the world, what would it be and how would you go about it?
It’d be to stop the exploitation of human rights—in particular, human trafficking.
How to go about it? That’s not so easy. One day soon, I’d like to step back from the day-to-day and try to set something up. Or maybe help bring together some kind of consortium of organizations to lend their weight to it.
In the meantime, I’ll continue treating people how they want to be treated.
Tell us a secret.
I used to be a seriously fat man.
What are your three favorite online tools or resources, and what do you love about them?
1. I love a good Tumblr. I’m fascinated by how social connections develop around the curation and creation of content.
2. Dropbox plays a role in my everyday work and personal life. It does something very simple, very well.
3. Airbnb. Can you call Airbnb a tool or resource? I reckon you can. Wherever I travel, I try and book my stay through Airbnb. The places are much more interesting than the local hotel, you meet incredible people and using the site is a stunning experience. They’ve got it so right.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
Alright, a bit of a cliché, but definitely worth reading The Lean Startup by Eric Ries. But remember to apply it to your industry, and don’t allow yourself to get brainwashed!
Three people we should follow on Twitter and why?
1. @davidhieatt – Great thinker, writer and businessman.
2. @adventurevida – To remind yourself there’s more to life than sitting at your desk.
3. @myLovelyParent – What, you didn’t think this was going to be one of them?
When was the last time you laughed out loud? What caused it?
Realizing only yesterday that the launch of myLovelyParent is the same weekend as my girlfriend’s birthday. (The weekend I promised to take her away!)
Who is your hero?
Nelson Mandela is way up there. He’s an incredible man who had made an incredible impact on the world.
What should you do if you’re not enjoying something?
Stop working on it.
What should you do if you don’t feel like going for a run?
Go for a run. You’ll enjoy it.
Matt Connolly on LinkedIn: http://www.linkedin.com/pub/matt-connolly/1/ba5/7aa
Matt Connolly on Twitter: @wearematt
Matt Connolly on Tumblr: @wearematt
Matt Connolly’s Email: firstname.lastname@example.org