Starting his first business at age eight, James Pardoe has been building, marketing, and growing businesses ever since. He’s the co-founder of Grow; a strategic marketing agency that goes beyond the conventional to help businesses realize their full growth potential. Through Grow, James and his team have helped hundreds of businesses, whose growth strategies regularly double annual revenue within a few short years.
James holds a unique combination of skills spanning business, psychology, design, development, and data science. He has shaped Grow’s approach to encompass all of these disciplines, to build an ecosystem that plugs into businesses and builds sustainable long-term growth. James is also a father of three, a consultant for Google, and has recently acquired a branding agency.
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Table of Contents
Thank you for joining us today. Please introduce yourself to our readers. They want to know you, some of the background story to bring some context to your interview.
James Pardoe: Hi! I am a father of three young boys, currently traveling the world with my family. I’m on the beach in Sri Lanka as I write this. I’m an entrepreneur at heart, I just can’t help it. But what drives me to build businesses and work hard? Laziness. I work hard so that I don’t have to work.
My focus is on enjoying life and shaping my work around my lifestyle rather than the other way around. It’s not always been like this though, it’s taken a lot of hard work and stress to squeeze through the hard times and come out the other side. And despite the rosy picture, life continues to be filled with challenges, yet those challenges also present opportunities!
I love spending time with my family, exploring nature, and discovering new places.
You are a successful entrepreneur, so we’d like your view point, do you believe entrepreneurs are born or made? Explain.
James Pardoe: I think entrepreneurs are both born and made. But there is a difference. The ones who are born are naturally drawn to it. They just can’t help it. As it’s in their blood, it is easier to take risks and do what needs to be done. Regardless of whether they know what the word means, they will have dreams and not let anything stop them from realizing those dreams.
Entrepreneurs who are made find it much harder. They are sometimes acting against their instinct, and possibly only become entrepreneurs through necessity. Some are drawn to it due to the positive image portrayed around entrepreneurialism, so they see the silver linings but not the hardships (until it’s too late!). Despite this, I still believe made entrepreneurs can succeed. There are certain traits that can be learned and don’t need to come naturally. They become natural over time. For example, I was always risk-averse, and was terrified of going bust, until I worked closely with a partner on a business that was essentially bankrupt but we refused to let it die. Seeing how my partner took on risk and handled debtors, made me realize that getting into debt and going bust is actually a challenge that is easily surmountable. My risk aversion is now reduced as a result.
If you were asked to describe yourself as an entrepreneur in a few words, what would you say?
James Pardoe: I have dreams that need to be realized and I don’t let dogma limit my beliefs. I don’t let my dreams stay as dreams. The regret of not doing it would be too great.
Tell us about what your company does and how did it change over the years?
James Pardoe: My company started out as a freelancing job doing web design and development. When I partnered with my wife, we brought marketing into the mix and created Grow. We started out trying to offer everything under the sun, but soon realized it was better to specialize, as that enabled us to deliver more value. We were always focused on helping our clients grow their business and always went back to first principles to identify the easiest, fastest, and most efficient way to achieve that growth.
Eventually, that focus turned into consultation and development of comprehensive growth strategies, combined with our ability to implement those strategies with our team of experts. Our model was eventually refined down into the Grow Trifecta. The concept is that by focusing on three key areas, you can achieve exponential growth. Those three areas are Marketing, Sales, and Retention.
Our recent acquisition of a branding agency has since enabled us to provide our clients with strong brands, so instead of swimming upstream trying to grow, they’re now gliding downstream. A strong brand makes it so much easier to grow. We’ve also expanded into the UK market (being headquartered in UAE), and our team is now across three continents.
Thank you for all that. Now for the main focus of this interview. With close to 11.000 new businesses registered daily in the US, what must an entrepreneur assume when starting a business?
James Pardoe: A new business will consume your life for the next 5 years. It will have extreme highs and extreme lows. You will remember the lows more than the highs (that’s just how our brains work). You will be tried and tested to such extremes that you will consider giving up more than once. It’s not the rosy picture painted in the magazines. It’s HARD. You need to have an unshakeable vision and goal, that is so strong you will do whatever it takes to achieve it. Stay focused on the future goal, never lose sight of it – it will be your guiding light that prevents you from giving up. Remember, it’s impossible to fail unless you give up.
Did you make any wrong assumptions before starting a business that you ended up paying dearly for?
James Pardoe: Yes, I was so naïve that I projected revenue without factoring in expenses. As you grow, expenses increase, and eat into your profit. Make sure your projections are realistic because otherwise, you’ll plan for things that you simply cannot achieve when the time comes (due to lack of cash flow or funds).
I was averse to getting investment as I didn’t want to give up a portion of the business, and was afraid of what might happen if we fell out with the investor. Whilst it means we now own 100% of the business, we could have been where we are a LOT faster had we had investment and an investor who came with experience. I realize now that getting an investor short-cuts years of learning and mistakes. I didn’t realize that revenue and profit were only a secondary part of the equation. Cash flow is far more important as a consideration and it needs to be watched on a daily basis when you first start. Lack of cash flow is the number 1 reason why start-ups fail.
I assumed that it would be MUCH easier and that we’d have more freedom and more money. The reality is that all your free time is dedicated to the business, and all your money goes back into the growth of the company. The fact that it relies entirely on you also means you can’t clock off at 5 pm and sleep easily. It consumes your mind 24/7. To get out of this situation requires hard work and strategic thinking, eventually getting to a point where you can employ other people to handle a lot of the work, and ultimately getting to the point where you are redundant. Only then can you start to enjoy the imagined benefits of running your own business. But at that point, you’ll be so addicted that you’ll be thinking of your next business, and repeat it all over again (hopefully with fewer mistakes this time).
If you could go back in time to when you first started your business, what advice would you give yourself and why? Explain
James Pardoe: Bring on that investor who is hungry for sales and will drive you to do more. You need that person to motivate you. It’s less about the money and more about the additional skillset and additional drive. Get a business coach as soon as possible. If you can’t afford one, do a partnership. They keep you focused on the end goal and are amazing sounding boards to help you shape your business in the way you want it.
Don’t take things so seriously. People will be difficult because it is advantageous for them to act that way. It’s not personal. Your business means everything to you, but nothing to other people. Try to get space between yourself and your business. If you can get a second stream of income (or investments) it reduces your reliance on that single entity to keep you alive. That distance gives you some mental space to make better decisions rather than always acting through desperation.
Take holidays. They are the times when you’ll get your best ideas. So think of them as fully justified and necessary for the success of the business.
What is the worst advice you received regarding running a business and what lesson would you like others to learn from your experience?
James Pardoe: To give up everything to start a business. It creates far too much pressure on you to make it work in a very short space of time. That creates an insane amount of stress and pressure on you and forces you to act through desperation rather than thinking strategically. It forces you to take on clients that are bad for you, and to agree to insane terms, just to win the work.
Instead, maintain your other income stream for as long as possible, so that you have the freedom to shape your business the way you want it. Learn to swim before you dive in at the deep end.
In your opinion, how has COVID-19 changed what entrepreneurs should assume before starting a business? What hasn’t changed?
James Pardoe: Due to remote working, you can now radically reduce your overheads by moving to a country where the cost of living is a fraction of the west. This means your funds will go a lot further, meaning that there’s less pressure and more time to make it work. As you grow your business, the world’s talent is now available to you, meaning that you can hire more experienced people and often for a lower price compared to back home. Even though you’re paying them less, they’re earning far more than their peers in their country. So it’s a win-win and you’ll have their loyalty and gratitude.
What hasn’t changed: The mechanics of how a business runs. The importance of cash flow. The rapid rate of change that forces you to reinvent your business frequently (although actually, this has probably increased since covid).
What is a common myth about entrepreneurship that aspiring entrepreneurs and would-be business owners believe in? What advice would you give them?
James Pardoe: That you’ll be able to live on a beach and work on your own terms. Whilst this isn’t a myth, the time taken and the amount of work required is never spoken about. I’m living proof that it’s achievable, but it took 10 years of hard work to achieve it.
My advice would be that there are faster and easier ways to achieve that than starting your own business. So make sure you really want to go the entrepreneur’s route. The financial and personal independence that comes from starting a business is certainly a big driver, but just know that it’s not going to happen overnight. Even with your own business, you’ll still have a boss – be it clients or investors, or the business itself.
Usually, it’s a bigger focus and guiding light that drives entrepreneurialism. Something you passionately want to create, or something about the world you want to change.
What traits, qualities, and assumptions do you believe are most important to have before starting a business?
James Pardoe: My answer would be:
- Traits: Lateral thinker. Leader. Rebel. Dreamer. Risk-taker.
- Qualities: Thick skin. Passionate. Intelligent. Problem solver.
- Assumptions: This will work.
How can aspiring leaders prepare themselves for the future challenges of entrepreneurship? Are there any books, websites, or even movies to learn from?
James Pardoe: Get a mentor.
Books: ‘A New Earth’, ‘Eckhart Tole’ (you’ll need this to handle the stress); ‘The Great Game of Business’, ‘Jack Stack; 48 Laws of Power’, Robert Greene
Podcasts: Built to Sell; The Tim Ferris Show
You have shared quite a bit of your wisdom and our readers thank you for your generosity but would also love to know: If you could choose any job other than being an entrepreneur, what would it be?
James Pardoe: Game developer. It’s the perfect combination of creativity (creating artwork), logic (hardcore programming), and building dreams (creating virtual worlds without limits).
Thank you so much for your time, I believe I speak for all of our readers when I say that this has been incredibly insightful. We do have one more question: If you could add anyone to Mount Rushmore, but not a politician, who would it be; why?
James Pardoe: Elon Musk – he’s a constant reminder that you can think and dream much bigger than you realize. He has the same 24 hours per day as everyone else in the world, he just thinks about and works on bigger goals than others.
Jed Morley, VIP Contributor to ValiantCEO and the host of this interview would like to thank James Pardoe for taking the time to do this interview and share his knowledge and experience with our readers.
Disclaimer: The ValiantCEO Community welcomes voices from many spheres on our open platform. We publish pieces as written by outside contributors with a wide range of opinions, which don’t necessarily reflect our own. Community stories are not commissioned by our editorial team and must meet our guidelines prior to being published.