Trust — You will make mistakes and so will your teammates. Have the wisdom to hire people who are better than you and the confidence to trust them and let them do their thing.
Think bigger — Products will break, people will complain, things will get lost, you will get taken for a ride but know that if you focus on what you are doing and commit yourself the big picture will work itself out. Think about how many things went wrong for Steve Jobs — did he get stuck on the little things? No, he thought differently, and bigger. It’s important to respond instead of react in these situations.
Being a founder, entrepreneur, or business owner can have many exciting and thrilling moments. But it is also punctuated with periods of doubt, slump, and anxiety. So how does one successfully and healthily ride the highs and lows of Entrepreneurship? In this series, called “How To Successfully Ride The Emotional Highs & Lows Of Being An Entrepreneur” we are talking to successful entrepreneurs who can share stories from their experience. I had the pleasure of interviewing Will McCallum .
George & Willy is a small design studio that specializes in unique signage, letter boards, and “life tools”. George Wilkins and Will McCallum (Co-Founders) were disappointed with the market’s offerings for display solutions and decided to take over the industry with minimalistic, sleek, and bespoke products. The design team focuses on environmental considerations and utilizes quality materials and craftsmanship, to promise timeless products. George & Willy create display systems that will make your business stand out from the crowd.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
George & I were at college together and started making things in the university workshop towards the end of our degrees. We were having so much fun that we forgot to apply for grad roles. We then found ourselves jobless and started painting houses for money so we could continue doing what we loved, making things.
What was the “Aha Moment” that led to the idea for your current company? Can you share that story with us?
We made lots of things; swings, lamps, desks, toy helicopters. We made a bracket that goes on the wall which holds a roll of brown kraft paper to plan our jobs in the workshop and it ended up being pretty cool. People liked it and wanted to buy it, so we made more. This product started to take off and over time, we started painting less and designing more. Our products are niche and we were in New Zealand — a small place. We had no option but to go global. Our next project was to learn about digital marketing and e-commerce. Turned out people in other countries also liked this paper roll holder, which is now called the Studio Roller. That product was a turning point and we started to get an idea of how big the world really is!
In your opinion, were you a natural born entrepreneur or did you develop that aptitude later on? Can you explain what you mean?
During college holidays I had always had regular jobs but as the years went on I was naturally drawn to working for myself. I started a business with a mate called ‘Don’t Get Mad — Call the Lads’ and we would do anything. Digging holes, painting fences, washing cars. There was a certain thrill about securing new jobs and having flexibility.
When I was younger I used to go into the forest and dig up little native New Zealand seedlings and sell them on the side on the road. That’s pretty funny to look back on. Didn’t sell many haha. But I guess the thought was there. I quite often see something and think ‘I could sell those’.
Neither of my parents are entrepreneurs so it was not pushed on me, but just naturally came out.
Was there somebody in your life who inspired or helped you to start your journey with your business? Can you share a story with us?
My uncle David has always been a big fan. In the early days, he would buy about four of each product — he was, and probably still is, our biggest fan. His efforts to support and encourage those around him, including George & Willy, have been inspiring. I guess it has caused a ripple effect to motivate me to continue creating new products.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
We make products that no one else makes, that’s always a good start to standing out. If you successfully limit your competition, create new products, and care about your customers, then you’re instantly ahead of the game. People will love you.
Our company culture is something we treasure and it’s something that transitions into the customers’ experience. On Fridays everyone has to wear a Hawaiian shirt to work — you can’t have a bad day when you are wearing a Hawaiian shirt!
You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?
Passion is a cliche but it’s accurate. I simply love what I do. If I won the lotto I would still spend all my time making fun products for people to enjoy.
Naturally, I am not a leader or a manager — I have wanted to improve this and it’s something I’ve been working on over the past few years. If you want to have a big impact as a business, you need to recognize your strengths and weaknesses, and get help. I love working with people and consider myself an extrovert, so that has made it a bit easier. We are lucky to have an awesome team who make it all happen.
George — my business partner & I have an epic relationship. We never argue and have remained good mates through eight years. His strengths negate my weaknesses and vice versa. I am equally proud of the way that we have maintained a strong relationship as I am of the business. The key to this has been communication, one of the many things George has taught me.
Often leaders are asked to share the best advice they received. But let’s reverse the question. Can you share a story about advice you’ve received that you now wish you never followed?
We have often been told — ‘you should make this and get into a new category’. Starting out, we thought this was great. However, if you look at successful D2C businesses these days, the underlying trend is focus. Find your niche, nail your niche. If you try to be everything you spread yourself too thin. Focus has been important for George & Willy. This consideration and understanding lead us to be the best in the world at hospitality displays.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them create a work culture in which employees thrive and do not “burn out” or get overwhelmed?
I think having time to think is vital for not getting overwhelmed. I encourage people to have at least 30 minutes a day to sit back and think about how they are doing things, as opposed to just ‘operating’ all day. I think this is crucial. Continuous improvement is pivotal for satisfaction and having time to think is imperative for this.
What would you advise other business leaders to do in order to build trust, credibility, and Authority in their industry?
There are lots of people that see a business and copy and paste it slightly differently to create their own company. This is a great example of what not to do. To be respected, you need to create your own vision and make something new and exciting. You need to be able to confidently say, we made this, we made something original.
Can you help articulate why doing that is essential today?
The world is a big place and while there is sometimes room for multiple businesses creating the same goods, it comes back to passion. Your passion cannot be copying other people’s products. If you are not original, your business is not authentic, and this will breathe through to your brand and customers’ experience.
What are the most common mistakes you have seen CEOs & founders make when they start a business? What can be done to avoid those errors?
Lots of people start a business with the idea of selling it from day one. If people go in with this mindset they will not build a business with heart. Shortcuts will be taken. Go in and solve a problem you care about. I have seen a few businesses lately selling products that do not solve a problem or address an issue. The problem we are solving is that it takes time and money to make your space cool — we make it easy and fun.
Ok fantastic. Thank you for those excellent insights, Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview about How to Successfully Ride The Emotional Highs & Lows Of Being An Entrepreneur. The journey of an entrepreneur is never easy, and is filled with challenges, failures, setbacks, as well as joys, thrills and celebrations. This might be intuitive, but I think it will be very useful to specifically articulate it. Can you describe to our readers why no matter how successful you are as an entrepreneur, you will always have fairly dramatic highs and lows? Particularly, can you help explain why this is different from someone with a “regular job”?
I was told early on that business is a journey, not a destination — you never arrive and are completely satisfied. That observation led on to the realization that every win must be celebrated, often. Celebrate the small things.
Do you feel comfortable sharing a story from your own experience about how you felt unusually high and excited as a result of your business? We would love to hear it.
Whenever we release a new product I get nervous — are people actually going to buy this? But it’s always a massive thrill when they do. Not for the revenue but for confirmation that people around the world like our stuff. This happens a couple times a month and it never gets old.
Do you feel comfortable sharing a story from your own experience about how you felt unusually low, and vulnerable as a result of your business? We would love to hear it.
There is an opportunity cost to everything, including committing to your business. I often think about what could have been. I would have loved to be an architect or sail around the world. The options are endless and the age we live in — everything is possible, the doors are open. If you think too much about your other options you can become disgruntled.
Based on your experience can you tell us what you did to bounce back?
Knowing that everyone has made sacrifices. George & Willy gives me great satisfaction and makes me happy. I feel like I’ve never worked a day in my life. I am grateful for having the confidence to commit to one thing and ignore some of the other paths my life could have taken. The good times always outweigh the bad.
Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “Five Things You Need To Successfully Ride The Emotional Highs & Lows Of Being An Entrepreneur”? Please share a story or an example for each.
- Patience & Impatience — Patience is something I have become better at lately and is crucial to staying sane is a world where things always take longer than anticipated but you don’t want to be too patient — that can be lethal. If an entrepreneur is too patient nothing will get done or they probably wouldn’t haven’t started the business in the first place.
- An ‘oh well’ attitude — Things will go wrong everyday but you just have to say to yourself ‘oh well’ and know that in the long run everything will be sweet and take action to fix the thing which went wrong.
- Fun — Make work fun, you spend most so much time working and if you make it fun the lows aren’t trenches, just small speed bumps. On Fridays we all wear Hawaiian shirts. You can’t have a bad day wearing a Hawaiian shirt!
- Trust — You will make mistakes and so will your teammates. Have the wisdom to hire people who are better than you and the confidence to trust them and let them do their thing.
- Think bigger — Products will break, people will complain, things will get lost, you will get taken for a ride but know that if you focus on what you are doing and commit yourself the big picture will work itself out. Think about how many things went wrong for Steve Jobs — did he get stuck on the little things? No, he thought differently, and bigger. It’s important to respond instead of react in these situations.
We are living during challenging times and resilience is critical during times like these. How would you define resilience? What do you believe are the characteristics or traits of resilient people?
Resilience is knowing that everyone has a bit going on, no one’s journey is perfect. The worst thing you can do is tell yourself you are unlucky. The harder you work the luckier you become. Hard work is the one thing all successful people have in common.
Did you have any experiences growing up that have contributed to building your resiliency? Would you mind sharing a story?
I was never good at sports growing up and in New Zealand that is the key factor to being successful or ‘cool’ at school. Which led me to find my own passion in design. I think the culture of sports being a measure of success in young people can be dangerous, but the ability to ignore the crowds and find your passion has formed who I am today.
In your opinion, do you tend to keep a positive attitude during difficult situations? What helps you to do so?
I highly admire people who can lead a business on their own, I am not sure I am capable of this. I am in a partnership with my mate George and in any difficult situation, we have to laugh and turn it into a joke — as hard as it can be sometimes. I’d be lost on my own but as a team, I feel like we create humor to get us through difficult or frustrating times.
Can you help articulate why a leader’s positive attitude can have a positive impact both on their clients and their team? Please share a story or example if you can.
You simply need a positive work environment — one bad egg can spoil the vibe. Our company slogan is ‘Have Fun’ — we picked this saying up from one of our friends at college. We hang out all day and are all working hard towards the same goal. What’s the point in not being positive?
Ok. Super. We are nearly done. What is your favorite inspirational quote that motivates you to pursue greatness? Can you share a story about how it was relevant to you in your own life?
I have always liked the quote ‘Ready Fire Aim’ which basically translates to don’t do too much research just start and adjust course along the way. There are so many amazing entrepreneurs out there who are holding themselves back by simply not starting. Thinking too much will hold you back. I think if we had thought too much about making a global creative display solution company we probably would never have started it.
How can our readers further follow you online?
Check out our Website and sign up to our mailing list!
Also follow us on Instagram @georgeandwilly
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success and good health!