Don’t be afraid to fail — I lost time, and money with the campaign but the lessons were invaluable. It made me work harder and smarter. Now, I’ve taken those failures, distilled the knowledge and don’t think twice about making those same mistakes. Maybe it wasn’t the best idea, maybe it wasn’t the best execution but I moved on and now we’re going to make more difference than we ever could before. “It’s only a failure if you don’t learn from it.”
As part of our series about young people who are making an important social impact, I had the pleasure of interviewing Tom Leach.
Tom is the co-founder and director of HIKE Agency ( www.hikeagency.co.uk ) which has been listed as Social Media Startup To Watch 2021 by Startupill. Tom has had several businesses, some successes, and many failures, from acting to playing poker to being one of the youngest nationwide operations manager for a UK based security firm. Now, he not only wants to help build up businesses but build houses for underdeveloped villages around the world.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit. Can you tell us about how you grew up?
I grew up on the outskirts of Manchester, England, with my mum. My mum always worked an extra job as we weren’t exactly in an affluent area, I remember one day we were speaking with our neighbour, I was probably around 5 or 6 at the time, and the neighbour was so happy because she’d found 20p and bought a chocolate bar from the corner shop. It’s such a clear memory for me, and I think it consciously and subconsciously powers my drive, I promised myself I’d never be in a situation like that. Now I’m older, I realise the problem is a little bigger, and I want to be able to help other people either in that situation or ensuring they never end up in that situation either.
After that, I received a scholarship for a grammar school, which was a massive privilege because it taught me how to learn and a passion for knowledge. I think that’s absolutely key for personal growth, you have to love growing and learning.
Is there a particular book or organization that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
Bookwise, I loved Scar Tissue by Antony Kiedis, lead singer of the RHCP — that book was powerful because there was a guy who on the surface had everything, but he had an awful drug habit he just couldn’t kick and even with his family and friends’ help he’d relapse. I think a lot of people think RHCP were an overnight success, but you read all the ups and downs of his story, and his turbulent childhood and see all that work beneath the surface. I’d advise any younger readers to give it a go, I hope it’ll make you value the right things.
Recently, I also loved Shoe Dog by Phil Knight, for similar reasons. He had a goal, he took huge risks and was just bullish in his determination but in the end, money wasn’t the answer — the last few chapters were incredibly powerful for me.
You are currently leading an organization that is helping to make a positive social impact. Can you tell us a little about what you and your organization are trying to create in our world today?
Absolutely, we have a couple of things! Our organization is currently giving away £5,000 worth of services for free, to businesses that have either been hit by COVID or are founded based on social change (we’re currently reviewing submissions and we may actually end up announcing several extra winners over the next few months as we’ve had some great submissions). We’re a multifaceted marketing agency, so we’re hoping that we can right the ship on some businesses who have lost a lot of revenue due to the pandemic, and/or shine a light on some initiatives that are looking to do good in the world.
My co-founder (Elliott) and I, are also working with some great people to work on the One More Song Campaign, in the UK especially, live music and theatre venues have been really hit hard. We started this campaign to help raise funds for those live venues, because when all of this is over I think we’re all going to have a lot of steam that we need to blow off, and friends to catch up with and where better than a place with some live music and a few drinks. Hopefully, by the time this article is live we’re well underway, and we have some fantastic influencers on board already to help make it a success!
The final, and most ambitious project would be that one of our team lives in Sri Lanka. We’re currently looking into how we could build an office and some housing out there to help their local community, creating jobs and affordable living arrangements. It’s a beautiful country that I’m hoping to visit once the pandemic is over — building infrastructure thousands of miles away is something I’ve never really done before, so I’m sure we’ll face a lot of challenges and mistakes but we’re hopeful we can help some of the undeveloped villages — watch this space!
Can you tell us the backstory about what originally inspired you to feel passionate about this cause and to do something about it?
The One More Song Campaign is especially close to my heart, when I turned 18 I moved to London to try my hand at acting, so a lot of my close friends (and partner) are all actors or performers. The live venues are the blood of the industry, and it’s where a lot of my network make most of their living, and where the other half spend most of their living! So for our happiness, our state of mind and probably our economy, we have to ensure that these places stay open and keep employing people.
The Sri Lanka project hits something I’ve always felt passionate about. I spent some time in South Africa a few years ago and I just couldn’t get my head around the difference in quality of life, I have a picture on my phone of 4 African men in the back of a pickup truck in tattered work clothes, no seat belts, no helmets etc, just driving on the motorway. When a bright red Ferrari comes up on the outside lane trying to overtake them (there were only two lanes) — these guys pull out, blocking the Ferrari and starting dancing, waving and laughing. Not only were they the happiest people I think I’ve ever seen, which leads to my earlier point about money meaning very little. It also makes me think of all the people who were born less fortunate than me, I try to remember happiness is relative to what you expect and what you learn to be grateful for.
There’s a quote I read recently “though I am sure that there was no man born marked by God above another; for none comes into this world with a saddle on his back, neither any booted and spurred to ride him.”
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?
Honestly, everything so far with HIKE has been pretty straight forward and we’ve just taken everything one day at a time. It’s the things that happen on the fringes, and the people we meet that are the most interesting. For example, we were in a ClubHouse room talking about some social media strategies and Esther McVey (a British MP) came in and joined the conversation, it was a little surreal.
Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?
During the first lockdown in the UK (around March last year) I was browsing Reddit and I saw a post from this guy who said, ‘Hey, I’ve lost my job as a VA, I’m looking for any work anyone can give me right now.” — So I dropped him a message and said send me over an email and let’s talk. We started and gave him a few data entry tasks, and every time he’d go above and beyond — so we started working a little closer and chatting. I asked him about his ambitions and goals, and he wanted to be an Entrepreneur, and to have some extra money. So we helped train him up to make simple WordPress websites, which we were paying him for and helped get his skills to the next level.
He now works on some of our social media accounts, occasionally builds websites and we hope that Thilina and his brothers (who are currently studying Computer Science) will be with HIKE Agency for a long time and we hope to build our Sri Lanka operation around them!
How do you define “Making A Difference”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?
I think it’s leaving the world a better place than you found it, or anything for that matter, even the micro side of that — whether it’s teenagers picking up litter in a park or Bill Gates donating billions. We have over 7 billion people on this planet, imagine if everyone just did the simplest of things, it’d be phenomenal. Of course, I’m not naive enough to think that could happen overnight, or that everybody would want the same changes!
Many young people would not know what steps to take to start to create the change they want to see. But you did. What are some of the steps you took to get your project started? Can you share the top 5 things you need to know to become a changemaker? Please tell us a story or example for each.
- Believe you can make a difference — I promise you, if you are sat reading this, on a computer, you already have enough to make a difference. Maybe you’re not going to be the next Greta Thunberg and have millions of followers in your revolution, but you can make a difference. You might change two lives, ten lives or a hundred — and that’s fantastic.
- Just start, the worst case is you only help one person — Back in 2016, I had an idea that I’d start a fitness clothing company, and for every outfit we sold we’d donate one, or the equivalent value to a homeless shelter (where I was volunteering at the time) — I think we sold about 20 items total. Not the change we were hoping to make, but maybe that small donation we made helped 1 person get back on their feet
- Talk to people and ask for help — When that campaign didn’t go well, I was embarrassed. I had a great network of people but I didn’t want to look like a failure, so I never asked for help. Now, my mindset is different (I’ve learnt from my many mistakes!), and I’d be on the phone to people and marketing the campaign properly.
- Take pride in any success you have — I managed to get a meeting with a pretty big homeless charity in the UK, they loved the idea but I needed to pledge at least £30,000 to their charity. I was kind of annoyed because we couldn’t be their partner whereas I should’ve been happy that we had some initial traction and they loved what we were doing. Instead of seeing a stepping stone, I saw an obstacle. The wall looked too big to climb.
- Don’t be afraid to fail — I lost time, and money with the campaign but the lessons were invaluable. It made me work harder and smarter. Now, I’ve taken those failures, distilled the knowledge and don’t think twice about making those same mistakes. Maybe it wasn’t the best idea, maybe it wasn’t the best execution but I moved on and now we’re going to make more difference than we ever could before. “It’s only a failure if you don’t learn from it.”
What are the values that drive your work?
I just love seeing things grow. I always say, we try to run our agency like a VC — maybe like a backwards Andreesen Horowitz — we only want to work with clients that are exciting. Whether they’re disruptive, or socially impacting or have the ability to scale, we want something we can help to reach new heights.
Overall, I don’t think I have standout values, I admire ‘hustle’, people thinking outside of the box and people that have that fight, but they also need to be on the same page as us, focused on equality, fairness and overall good business practices — nothing turns us off more than if someone looks shady or acts inappropriately.
Many people struggle to find what their purpose is and how to stay true to what they believe in. What are some tools or daily practices that have helped you to stay grounded and centred in who you are, your purpose, and focused on achieving your vision?
I’m a big fan of cold showers. Well, to be honest, I have half a warm shower then do some meditation in a cold shower. The focus on the breathing helps mitigate the cold water that shocks your system, and when you step out you have this indescribable feeling, almost like walking out of a nightclub when your ears are ringing because everything seems so quiet.
When I meditate I will let my mind wander and that’s usually a pretty good place to get in touch with your purpose and staying true. It just allows you to centre back to who you are and why you’re doing what you’re doing. I also can’t recommend getting regular exercise, and good nutrition enough — I take supplements for a tonne of different vitamins including B12, Vitamin D, Iron and Zinc — you would be shocked to see what a lack of vitamins can do to your mental wellbeing.
In my work, I aim to challenge us all right now to take back our human story and co-create a vision for a world that works for all. I believe youth should have agency over their own future. Can you please share your vision for a world you want to see? I’d love to have you describe what it looks like and feels like. As you know, the more we can imagine it, the better we can manifest it!
I have a lot of conflicting views. I struggle with whether we need a body to tell us what we can and can’t do, or whether we should be more free to do as we please, and make our own mistakes. I’d love to see a lot of drugs legalized, taxed and regulated (like Portugal decriminalizing drugs in 2001 or even further) — I think this would help cure a problem, or at least go some way to doing so, instead of pushing that industry underground. Imagine if you could have a centre where people could get help instead of being sold a plethora of unknown substances on street corners, maybe that’s a step too far for a lot of people, but I think it would take a massive strain from the law enforcement and health workers of the world.
I’d love to see more people adopt a plant based diet, I’m Tech Lead at PlantBasedNews where we have millions of followers, but I want that to be billions. It would not only save billions of lives but also reduce the environmental impact of animal agriculture.
There could also be some type of Universal Basic Income that Andrew Yang championed in the US Election, I think the concept needs work, but there’s definitely some merit in it. The studies they’ve done have shown fantastic results for people’s health and happiness, and they still work roughly the same amount of hours, they’re just more fulfilled.
Finally, everyone would love to learn and be open to new knowledge. There would be zero stigma attached to not knowing something!
We are powerful co-creators and our minds and intentions create our reality. If you had limitless resources at your disposal, what specific steps would take to bring your vision to fruition?
I think first of all, I’d set about getting a group of people who are a lot smarter than me. I’ve got no background in economics or managing entire countries! I think I’d probably start by introducing some taxes onto particularly bad eco offending foods, vegan or not and passing those on as subsidies for good foods (local, sustainable foods).
Education would get a lot of investment from me, I think that’s the best way to influence our future — there needs to be a fundamental shift in how we educate our children.
I see a world driven by the power of love, not fear. Where human beings treat each other with humanity. Where compassion, kindness and generosity of spirit are characteristics we teach in schools and strive to embody in all we do. What changes would you like to see in the educational system? Can you explain or give an example?
I completely agree. As I said in the previous answer we need a fundamental change in our education system. Currently you’re a kid, you’re in a class of 40+ and the class moves at the pace of the average student, or even quicker. So what happens is you learn Lesson 1, and you get half the class scoring 60–70% or less, then they learn Lesson 2, and they don’t know the fundamentals fully, so they’re capped on what they can fully understand. You get to Lesson 10 and most of the class are lost.
There’s a concept called learning to mastery, which means you don’t advance until you’re at 100% — I think it was trialed in the US in the 50s and they said it was great but it put too much stress on the teacher (which you can imagine) but now we have so much technology that can help, the curriculum could be loaded up and tests administered on iPads and an AI says, you can’t go to Lesson 3 yet, you need to work on XYZ. Teachers could then accurately highlight which students need help on what, and how best to help then.
Other things I think I need improving are a) better help for kids with ADHD b) More practical lessons, starting a business, filing taxes, cooking a healthy meal?! And c) I think the technology I mentioned above could help make school more personal to people. Once the basics are covered, why can’t the curriculum be more tailored to their interests? Not even just lessons, you could put in your favourite hobbies/interests and instead of a Math’s question like “John has 16 apples, Clare takes 3, how many does John have now?”, if you loved sports, it could automatically change to “The Jets won the game by 4 points, the Pats scored 14, how many points did the Jets score?”.
Jason Calacanis also has some really interesting ideas about microschools, which are a compromise of private school and home schooling, with class sizes between 5–10 people but instead of paying 50,000 dollars for private school, you’re paying 5,000 dollars. There’s obviously some big draw backs and social exclusion with this idea but I believe it’s indicative of the change that the education system is crying out for.
If you could tell other young people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them?
This is your home. It’s the only one we have, until Elon gets us to Mars. We’re facing a reality of having fishless oceans, habitable areas turning into deserts, and massive deforestation. Make any change you can to make the world better for you, your children and everyone else. The thing that sucks is that some people don’t care, or think it’s a joke/hoax and go out of their way to prove a point — that means you’ve got to do double the amount to offset them but together we can make a difference.
Is there a person in the world with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
This is a tough one, I thought of Elon, Arianna Huffington, Bill Gates and countless others. I think it’s got to be Ashton Kutcher — hear me out. Not only is he a successful actor, investor and entrepreneur, he co-founded Thorn which is a fantastic charity against anti-human trafficking and protecting children from sexual exploitation.
There’s also an episode of Shark Tank where he stood up for a contestant who was receiving some verbal abuse from Kevin O’Leary — and just cemented by view that he seems like a fantastic human.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
I’m on ClubHouse a lot, I also post to Instagram, and once or twice a year I might tweet something, all of my handles are @tommleach
This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!