Daniel Priestley started out as an entrepreneur aged just 21, going on to build a multi-million dollar event marketing and management business before the age of 25. He has since built several successful businesses across the world. The Worldly’s Oliver Gaziano speaks exclusively to Daniel to uncover the secrets to his success…
OG: Daniel, you chose an entrepreneurial direction for your career rather than a ‘traditional’ professional path, do you think your early mentor had a large impact on this?
DP: I was very lucky to have a great mentor when I was 19 years old and he taught me about sales and marketing, products and distribution. I worked for him for 2 years and it was very impactful and powerful way to start my career.
OG: How did you find a mentor and what attributes do you believe a mentor should have?
DP: I think a mentor is someone who you should be inspired by. You should be inspired by the results they have and the life they live. Regardless of whether you’re in a corporate career or entrepreneurial career, you can find a mentor. In a corporate career, you can find someone who is a little bit further up in the organisation than you. In an entrepreneur career, you can find someone who is a little bit further along the journey than you are. I don’t necessarily think that they have to be miles ahead of you, in many cases they only have to be a little bit further along in the journey to help you progress faster.
I think that if you’re a start-up, there’s no point trying to get Richard Branson as a mentor because he’s too far removed from the journey that you’re on. You may want to find someone who’s been through a start-up and is perhaps turning over £1 million a year and they still remember clearly what the entrepreneur journey of start-up felt like.
OG: For an entrepreneur in the business world, how crucial is a personal brand when becoming a key person of influence?
DP: It doesn’t matter whether you’re in entrepreneurship or in any other field such as charity or government, the world works in the same way, such that there are ‘newbies’ in any industry, who are excited and enthusiastic and willing to work for nothing. Then there is ‘workabees’ which is the vast majority of employees; 95% of all people are somewhere along that working path.
The ‘workabees’ are easily replaceable regardless of how hardworking they are; essentially they can be replaced relatively easily. Then there are a small percentage of key people of influence and they’re the ones who know how to make things happen, get things done. They can make connections, they can get an idea across the table and it’s those people who’ll make all the money, have all the opportunities and also have all the fun.
If you’re not a key person of influence in your industry, your full time job is to really try to become one. When you look at income distribution for every single industry, it’s the top 1% who earn around 30% of the income; it’s the top 10% who are earning around 70% of the income and then the bottom 89% share the remaining 30%.
OG: What keeps you awake at night as a CEO, as an author and as an entrepreneur?
DP: At the moment, my five month old baby! I also have a company that is global in Australia, Singapore, USA and the UK. For me personally, what keeps me awake is keeping on top of time zones. I have important meetings that happen at various times throughout the day and I have to try and juggle this with spending time with my family.
The benefits of entrepreneurship is that if you get it right, you have a lot of fun, you get a lot of accolades, you’re sufficiently rewarded and you create an enterprise the way that you want it to be.
OG: Our readers are predominantly students, many looking forward to their future careers. As a lifelong entrepreneur who has never had a conventional job, what would you say the benefits are of entrepreneurship are over a conventional job?
DP: I can’t really comment on a conventional job because I’ve never had one. There are certainly benefits to both. With regards to being an entrepreneur, there can be various drawbacks. Lots of entrepreneurs fail and it can be a very difficult path. Like myself, being an entrepreneur means I can’t actually get a conventional job even if I really wanted one because of the fact that I have been an entrepreneur for the whole of my life. The benefits of entrepreneurship is that if you get it right, you have a lot of fun, you get a lot of accolades, you’re sufficiently rewarded and you create an enterprise the way that you want it to be.
You also get to see something you’ve brought into the world, which has a positive impact on people’s lives. You get to create jobs and you get to see customers you’ve solved problems for because of what you’ve created and if you get it really right, at some point you can sell the business and have a life-changing amount of money. Conversely, there are many people that work for large companies who make millions of pounds, they get stock options, employment benefits, they rise to the top and get very healthy salaries and they can invest these salaries into investments such as property to make money as well. I’m not someone who says there is really one way to be, I chose an entrepreneurial path and I’ve been very fortunate in that I’ve done well but I also know a lot of people who have lost a lot of money and time as a result of taking this path.
The innate quality of an entrepreneur is in everyone.
OG: Do you think anyone can be an entrepreneur or is there something innate within individuals?
DP: The innate quality of an entrepreneur is in everyone. The human spirit by nature is curious, it wants to help others and be generous, cheeky and playful, but also a little bit rebellious. If you take most people, deep down inside they have these qualities in them, which are what you need as an entrepreneur. I think every single person has to become entrepreneurial even if you’re working in a big company. If you’re working in a big company and they won’t let you bring ideas to the table or prevent you from being passionate or won’t let you come up with an innovation, then that’s going to stifle you regardless of whether you’re an entrepreneur or whether you’re an employee.
Entrepreneurial energy needs to be in every single company including government and charities. My encouragement for most people is to tap into a place where they feel there expression of who they are can come out to play and that they can do what they love and get passionate about it and that there is an outlet for their creativity. The natural place that this occurs without any barriers is your own business because there’s no one policing you but the downside is you’ve got no resources to work with until you get more successful. Whereas with working in a company, resources can be plentiful but there are all sorts of people policing them so you’ve got to find a balance. You can go to one extreme and start your own business or maybe not go to any extreme and join a business that’s turning over a reasonable amount of revenue where there’s room for creativity.
OG: In your book Entrepreneur Revolution, you set ten challenges such as carry cash, keep a journal, make three calls, ask two people to lunch every week etc… When in someone’s career should they start to implement these challenges?
DP: I think those are things you can do from sixteen or seventeen years. I’ve recommended those kind of challenges to students in their first year of university and they get huge breakthroughs and by the time they’re in their third year of university, they’ve got a network of people and they’ve got really healthy attitudes to money. I’m a big fan of get started ASAP.
OG: If there was anything you could change about your career, what would it be?
DP: If there was anything, I probably would have liked to have worked a year in a corporate such as Google just to see what it’s like. There’s not really much I would change, I am actually really happy with my career and I always try and incorporate fun into everything I do. There’s been a few times where it hasn’t been fun but the majority of the time it’s been a pretty good ride.
One of the downsides of someone who is a leader is that they believe they’re the best person to do everything or that somehow they’re more superior to others
OG: If you could change or improve one thing about the world as a whole, what would it be and how would you do it?
DP: I would do more education and empowerment for women in developing countries. I’ve been in developing countries and seen what happens when women get education and micro loans to start businesses and as a result, they build their communities up. It is one of the most inspiring things to see.
OG: What is your greatest strength?
DP: I would say my greatest strength is knowing that I’m not terribly good at anything. I think one of the downsides of someone who is a leader is that they believe they’re the best person to do everything or that somehow they’re more superior to others. Whereas, I’m fairly confident that I’m actually not all that good at much and that I work with really skilful and talented people and I help and empower them to do well. I then connect them with the right people and I let them stand out and be the exceptional person and I really do try and take a bit of a backseat. I think if you become too obsessed with your strengths, you believe that you can do everything or you try and do everything and then you repel highly talented people who don’t want to work for you anymore.
OG: Other than your two existing books, Key Person of Influence and Entrepreneur Revolution and your forthcoming book, Oversubscribed, what other books would you suggest for our readers?
DP: I would strongly suggest reading biographies. Biographies are amazing in the sense that you get an opportunity to go through and live someone’s life in a matter of hours or days. Richard Branson’s biography, Steve Jobs biography and also some of the historical biographies of John D. Rockefeller or Howard Hughes are all really inspiring and I personally love reading a few each year.
OG: How do you spend your time away from business?
DP: I snowboard quite frequently, especially in the winter. In the summer, I love travelling and may go down to Majorca, Ibiza, the south of France or potentially Asia. I typically go to about 10 places every year so I would say I have travelled all around the world. I love to write. I try and release a book every eighteen months or two years. I also now have a young family, which takes up a lot of my time but also I try and involve myself in some charitable work too.
OG: Finally, what single piece of advice would you give to a student or young entreprenur on the verge of launching their first business?
DP: If you’re on the verge of launching your own business, I would say sell first, then build. What most people do is they build a product which they spend months and months trying to build and then they take it to market to see whether it will sell. That’s the wrong way round. What you should do is build the brochure, build the landing page, put some very basic designs together, hit the streets with a clipboard and go and talk to the market and see whether you can try and sign people up and actually make a sale. What I always see which is pretty heart-breaking is people who spend nine, twelve months or even two years trying to build something and then they discover later on that no one wants to buy it.
Questions written by Xavier Parkhouse-Parker.