Adrian Harvey – Founder of Elephants Don’t Forget

Dedication, commitment, resilience and focus are the four character traits that will stand any budding entrepreneur in good stead.”

Adrian started his career working for the UK Business Lease Plan, the leasing arm of Dutch cleaning bank ABN AMRO. The next decade saw him in sales and marketing roles for financial services heavyweights including GE Capital and BNP Paribas. The latter saw him in his first board directorship at the age of 30.

He joined the Energy Sector in the UK as Commercial Director for British Gas Business, the market leader in the UK business energy market. Six years later he was Managing Director of British Gas – the largest residential energy business in the UK. Adrian spent four years as Managing Director of the engineering and property services arm of German power giant Eon before he and the then Financial Director, Dan Gray, left to form their own firm Green Giraffe.

After an abortive MBI attempt at an early stage gamification business, the pair went on to found Elephants Don’t Forget, home to Clever Nelly, the world’s leading knowledge retention application. Here they utilise Artificial Intelligence to optimize employee productivity and capability in a wide variety of industries and sectors, using less than 1 minute of their working day.

The business is six years old and doubling annual revenues each year. It is headquartered in Dublin, Ireland and its sales operation offices are based in the City of London. Anybody interested in connecting with Adrian can contact him at [email protected].

What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?

My typical day … involves me getting up early, usually around 05:00. Perhaps three times a week I will swim or cycle. If the weather isn’t too bad I like to get 30-40 miles under my belt early in the week and repeat this later in the week. It keeps my weight in check and gives me great time to think. I have a home office at the end of my garden (my man cave) and if I am not accompanying members of the herd (that is what we call ourselves at Elephants don’t forget) to sales or client meetings I will drop my kids to school and spend the day in my ‘cave.’

Most of my time is spent on sales and marketing activities as right now the business is in a super-high growth stage and we are recruiting salespeople, training and supporting them and “industrialising” the business model. It is fun and enjoyable and perhaps three days a week I will work throughout the day until the kids are in bed at 20:30 and then switch off.

What makes me productive is hard to say, however I do think it boils down to work ethic—you either have one or you do not. I have found that people with a really good work ethnic tend to create their own luck and get what they want and that is the primary reason that you rarely hear them complaining about their situations.

How do I bring ideas to life?

I think it was Walt Disney who said “stop talking about it and get on and do it”. It’s not rocket science.

What’s one trend that really excites you?

One trend that excites me is obviously Artificial Intelligence. I say obviously because we run a business that successfully deploys AI. What really interests me about this trend is that it is like Y2K in so much as there is so much hype and conjecture about the ills of AI and very little substance to substantiate these claims. My view is that provided AI works for the corporation AND improves the customer journey then it is good AI. If, on the other hand, it works only for the corporation (because it lowers costs) and actually has a negative impact on customer experience then it will fail and fail badly. Watch this space because sure as eggs are eggs there will be greedy corporations out there that go for the quick buck and their customers will rebel.

I also do not subscribe to the hysterical beliefs that AI will make everybody redundant in the next two decades. One should take note that what is currently being said about AI is in the same vein as the rhetoric used during the Industrial Revolution in the UK in the late 1800s. As we know from history, industrialization had the opposite effect to that predicted by the naysayers. Instead of creating mass employment of the working class, it spurned huge growth in employment and ultimately did away with the class system that had ruled our country for centuries. AI is a force for good because consumers will ensure that it is.

What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?

One habit that makes me more productive as an entrepreneur is probably that I pay little, if any, attention to the corporate culture in which I operated for years. In my past life I had no choice but to spend my days in meetings, sending emails and, in reality, having only a limited amount of time in a working day to devote to things that changed the business. For sure, this is a function of scale and big firms have formidable flows of information as well as a substantial number of employees. Running a smaller business makes this so much more manageable.

In summary, I choose when I work. At present, I am writing this from my balcony on vacation and I have worked every day during it. Not all day every day but when I wanted to and when it was essential. I don’t resent it and neither does my family who understand that it is necessary and something that I actually enjoy. I would never have given my time so freely to a corporation and no corporation I ever worked for would have allowed me the freedom to choose when I work. Fact is they should have done so because I work more diligently now than I ever did in the corporate world.

What advice would I give my younger self?

Worry less about what other people think of you. Reevaluate school and its purpose, it is not a chore that needs to be overcome before your real life starts. Thus, pay more attention at school because learning is actually really enjoyable and transforms your life. Finally, pause for one minute each day to celebrate a success.

Tell us something you think is true that no one agrees with you on.

Something that is true that nobody agrees with me on is bald is beautiful.

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

Never ever give up. This is not the same, however, as dying in a ditch for a bad idea. If the idea has merit then you need to keep pursuing it. I have often wondered if in these modern times we are breeding a future generation that is just too soft to deal with the trials, tribulations and failures that are an inevitable part of building a successful business. I have had so many set-backs in running and growing Elephants don’t forget and if I had been in the wrong frame of mind I could have all too easily thrown in the towel when two steps forwards resulted in three steps back. In reality, it has probably been three steps forward and two back. It’s just the way it is and you have to remain positive and stay realistic.

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?

Stick to the knitting. It would have been far too easy for us to get distracted by the next new and shiny market opportunity that came our way. Instead we kept it simple and relentlessly focused on the market we originally set out to dominate. In fact, when I considered this question it struck me just how many firms now are recognising what their core competencies are and outsourcing the rest. Recently I met a large debt management business who is providing specialist debt management services to large corporates who have worked out that the specialists trumps generalists in modern day business. So in a nutshell – specialise and be the best you can be at that specialism and you will succeed.

What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?How do we overcome this?

(Oh how I wish we only failed just once!) That has to be staff. We have made some bad hires and it has cost me money personally and professionally. It is probably the single hardest thing for our business to deal with. We don’t tend to lose great employees but we have hired some folk that have fallen short of our required work ethic. Anybody out there who has a test for “hard working,” please contact me!

You roll-up your sleeves, repair the damage the individual in question has inevitably caused and move on. One lesson we learned is that we now credit vet every single new recruit as well as deep dive security vet them. I strongly recommend you do both, its enlightening. This has recently helped us avoid a costly mistake – so I guess we are learning!

What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

Bit random maybe but America (Florida anyway) doesn’t appear to have any good old-fashioned butchers. I was there a few days ago and was trying to buy to locate a butcher to buy a piece of steak for the BBQ. The only solution was to go to a massive supermarket. I find this really strange for a country that naturally specializes in various products and has an assortment of niche industries. The butcher business model would be about returning to those long lost values, traditions and quality. It works in the UK and local butchers are flourishing. I would also like to add that America seems to be big into food traceability, farm-to-fork being the most obvious example, which I think just adds more weight to the argument.

What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?

Well it’s not $100, it’s actually less, and I spent it recently on our vacation to Florida where I bought a rod and reel combination for one of my twin sons William. His brother, Logan, and I love fishing and are happy to spend the day messing about on the river at the end of our road. William, however (aged 12), has to date hated fishing which makes it really difficult to go fishing with Logan when we are back at home because that leaves William with ‘nothing to do’ for the day.

William was presented with ‘his’ road and reel and caught so many fish he is completely hooked (forgive the pun). $55 spent and a lifetime of fun to come with both the twins competing over who caught the biggest and most fish. You can’t beat that.

What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive? How do you use it?

Well, apart from our own multi-award winning, Artificially Intelligent knowledge retention application, Clever Nelly, which ensures all employees learn and retain what they are trained in so that they are competent, productivity and knowledgable, it has to be LinkedIn. Yes, it is still clunky and there is no spell check which for a dyslexic is a problem, but it tops my list.

We use it for brand awareness building and direct sales prospecting and for researching possible Channel partners. It’s an extremely powerful and useful tool however it can definitely be improved upon. I would wager a bet that if you asked 1,000 LinkedIn users how they could improve LinkedIn they would have ten great ideas each. What irritates me is that a firm with that many resources puts out a finished product that is below the standard expected of them. How hard would it be to integrate a spellchecker into their software? Still, for all its flaws, it is the best tool for the job.

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

The abridged English language version of Sun Tsu’s The Art of War. It is a very old book about military strategy but it has stood the test of time. It is easy to draw parallels between the battlefield lessons in the book and the world of business. I love it and I return to it time and time again especially when I feel I have had one of those three steps backwards and two steps forward weeks!

What is your favorite quote?

“Watch him, he will have some f+++++s eye out, he will”. Harold Godwinson (King of England) at the Battle of Hastings in 1066. You can probably tell that I am not a huge fan of quotations!

Key learnings:

• Dedication, commitment, resilience and focus are the four character traits that will stand any budding entrepreneur in good stead
• Bald is definitely beautiful
• Failure is not a crime or a dirty word; it is a reality of life for every business owner. It is how you deal with failures that determines the level of your success


Adrian Harvey on LinkedIn:
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