It's a wonderful delight to share with you, John Stapleton.
Over the course of his career, John has founded three businesses.
The first was the New Covent Garden Soup Company in the UK, which John sold in 1998, which was followed by a similar business in the US that focused on making fresh soup in a carton for the US market.
His third business, Little Dish, was also based in the UK and John sold this in 2017. John is a seasoned entrepreneur with over 35 years of experience in the food industry and now, he’s focussing on public speaking, helping reach others with his word and supporting small businesses either as an advisor, mentor or as an investor.
And don’t worry, he’s got a lot of other ideas too, and it all as you’ll soon read, is very exciting.
We began our conversation by discussing and outlining his business beginnings and mine, while I’m still in them. I explained to John that I, being 24, still feel like a baby, and wondered how he was able to change his opinion of himself as the years have gone by.
“I love your description when you say that …” you're like a baby”. I mean, I think I actually think we're all babies in this regard…I think we're all still learning.”
Despite his years of experience, he still believes that there are always new things to learn and new opportunities to explore. For him, one of the keys to success is being open to new ideas and approaches.
Throughout his career, John has been asked to speak to groups of people and share his story. At first, he told me he was surprised by this, as he never thought his story would be of interest to anyone else. However, as he was asked to more and speaking engagements, he realized that he had a wealth of knowledge and experience that others could benefit from.
He just needed to package it together in a format which was informative, entertaining and motivational.
His approach to business is informed by his belief that failure can be a powerful teacher. In particular, he cites his experience with Glencoe Foods, a business he founded in the USA in the middle of his career, which ultimately failed. For him, failure is not something to be ashamed of or avoided at all costs. Rather, it is an opportunity to learn and grow.
Success and What It Brings
According to John, success can be a lousy teacher, as it is often difficult to pinpoint exactly what led to the success.
In contrast, failure forces you to take a long hard look at what went wrong, at yourself and what you could have done differently.
I feel the same myself and have realised that just cause everything's going right, doesn't mean it's always going to be. And that shift and the discord that it creates is what allows you to fall back on track.
“I think with failure, you learn a lot more from it - so long as you allow yourself to do so.
I learned a lot about myself, how I deal with adversity and how I deal with failure. And I've had plenty of time to reflect on all of that.”
Failure and Its Catalyst Qualities
“I had to prove to everybody but mostly to myself, I suppose that I could do it again. Ultimately, that's what you know, motivated me to do it again - that’s what led me to my third business. That’s what motivated me to start Little Dish.
So that's all part of the experience that I've built up. People tend to resonate with the ups and downs of an entrepreneurial career. The little anecdotes and stories along the way bring it to life and people can relate to this. I've come to recognise that now.”
As an entrepreneur, it is essential to embrace uncertainty and try to use it to your advantage.
There has never been so much uncertainty. This is a time to be agile, break the rules, and challenge the status quo.
Large businesses have an advantage in stability, but small businesses can be more flexible, and deliver more rewards with bigger risks. Setting up a business during uncertain times can, in many cases, lead to competitive advantages in the long run.
“I emphasise this approach in my talks, speeches and my keynotes. This translates also to my mentoring and advisory roles. I find that entrepreneurs and business leaders get some value from this.”
I was interested in knowing if John was someone who always wanted to venture out this way. I asked him, were you always restless to start a business or was it something that kind of just was the money the initial incentive just out of interest?
“It's a good question. I never really quite reconcile what the answer is, I mean, I grew up in a farm in the west of Ireland.
So you know, some people would say, well, nothing terribly entrepreneurial about that, but actually, in hindsight, I think it prepared me quite well for start-up life. My dad was a farmer and my mom was a teacher.
So I grew up in an environment where both parents worked and everyone just got on with stuff without over-thinking it.”
The world is constantly changing and there are always uncertainties to deal with.
However, what we know, is during uncertain times, that is when opportunities arise. In fact, many successful businesses today were born out of previous recessions or economic downturns, such as Airbnb and Uber.
Having the courage of your convictions is key. It is easy to say that you believe in something, but it takes courage to act upon it, especially when others are telling you that you're wrong and your idea won’t work. However, it is precise during these times that we need to trust ourselves and take the leap of faith.
Learning from failure and embracing adversity is also important.
One Big Setback
In life, failure is inevitable. It can come in different forms such as losing a competition, being injured, or experiencing setbacks in business.
However, it is how one deals with failure that can make all the difference. John, who was a track & field athlete when younger, had aspirations of going to the Olympics in 1984. He shares his experience of failing to achieve this target and how it taught him valuable lessons that he carries with him to this day.
John believed that he had an outside chance of making it. He trained hard, got a good coach, and everything was great except for the fact that he got injured early on in the 1984 season.
He felt he let himself down. He saw his friends competing on TV instead of him being there. He began to feel like a victim of the circumstance and ultimately felt like the world was out to get him.
“But failure hurts like hell.
It's not a great place to be, but it's a wonderful place to have been.”
I love this from John, and it was a quote from him, I knew from the moment he said it, I would be carrying it with me, for a long time.
What would you tell your younger self?
I was intrigued to know this from John, having such a broad career, he must have been able to utilise so much. I wanted to write this is full, as it was too well said to take apart and piece together.
“I think experience is great. But newness is what I'm attracted to…
I used to think you have a very broad experience when you set up and run your own business because you have to do everything, especially as a start-up.
You get to do everything yourself, right? So it really is a pretty broad experience.
However, this experience is only with one business - so actually, it is a really narrow set of experiences. It is, of course, a very deep experience as you are dedicating all your time to that one business.
But the breath of experience comes from getting involved in lots of different businesses. In my case, that's as an advisor or as an investor…
That variety is wonderful, and so, pretty much to answer your question…
Is experience everything no it's not, and is enthusiasm or entrepreneurship everything, no, it's not. What really is a very potent combination, is bringing them all together and I guess I'm in a stage of my career right now where I can do that most of the time, and I get a kick out of it.”
Failure is not something to fear, and neither is uncertainty. They are opportunities to learn and grow.
Authenticity is also essential. People listen to you when you are authentic. People follow you when you are authentic. Being authentic encourages others to also become more authentic.
When you are true to yourself and your beliefs, you attract the right people and create a strong foundation for your business.
So, if you have a business idea, don't wait for things to settle down. Don’t wait for “a better time” This is the perfect time to take action and turn your vision into reality.
Thank you, John, for a wonderful conversation.
If you'd like to visit John's website simply click here