Stay away from negative people: They are just going to bring you down and ruin your life.
As part of my series about “individuals and organizations making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Michael Hayles.
Michael Hayles is a serial entrepreneur and the founder of Business Startup Services, a growth consultancy. With over 20 years of experience running businesses and developing marketing strategies, his strengths are centered around website development, web design, SEO, digital marketing, and more. Being a passionate digital nomad, Michael is also coaching others on how to earn a living online while traveling the world. While currently residing in Medellin, Colombia, he is looking to bring together communities worldwide to advance meaningful change.
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 a bit how you grew up?
Thank you for having me! I grew up in Europe’s largest council state in Portsmouth, England. At that time, it was one of the roughest places in the whole country. No matter what, you would end up in fights, so that definitely toughened me up — after you go through a lot, nothing scares you anymore. The environment shaped me into a strong personality, but I also saw that it wasn’t the life for me.
We are products of our circumstances, but we also have the power to overcome them — and that’s the path I decided to take. My goal was to survive and get into the army. There, I later learned that being told what to do wasn’t for me either, so I embarked on the exciting journey of entrepreneurship…
You are currently leading a social impact organization that is making a difference for our planet. Can you tell us a bit about what you and your organization are trying to change in our world today?
WeWorkInMedellin is an informal initiative leveraging a network of nomads, local businesses, and entrepreneurs to find long-term solutions for charitable causes here in Colombia in order to change the foreign narrative of the country.
Colombia is a land of immense opportunities, but even after three decades of hard work, it still hasn’t fully shaken off the whole crime/drug story, and often it takes only a few rotten apples to stop any progress. Even today, when I speak to someone back from the UK, they ask me: “What are you doing down there? Are you involved in a drug business?” Sadly, many don’t bother to look beyond the Netflix narco stories to see massive innovation, friendly and hard-working people, vibrant culture, and beautiful landscapes.
Our initiative aims to connect with local charities and impact causes to support their activities and help them find sustainable business models. Building on that, I want to treat Medellin, the second-largest city as an incubator, where we can bring talent, startups, and small companies and help them both develop themselves and give back.
Can you tell us the backstory about what inspired you to originally feel passionate about this cause?
A few years ago, I was running a top-down demolition company in London. Even though my dream was to connect it to causes such as soup kitchens for the homeless, I was so caught up in work that this goal was sliding through my fingers. I knew if I changed my expensive life in London for a less stressful environment that gave me the freedom to dedicate my time to things I truly cared about, I’d thrive.
When you are responsible for 40 blokes working under you, hustling to make 70 thousand pounds a week can easily turn into working 14 hours a day. Business was competitive and margins were small. Even though we were putting our asses on the market, it felt like we were going nowhere. One day, I met up with my two partners and told them I was depressed and couldn’t do it anymore.
I naively thought that stepping away and starting a business consultancy startup would be the solution. Still, I ended up working too many hours and was having difficulties in my personal life as well. When my girlfriend broke up with me and my dog died, I knew I hit rock bottom. I left, traveled around Europe, and then got on a plane to Colombia. I never looked back and only went back to rent out my house and pop my stuff into storage.
Many of us have ideas, dreams, and passions, but never manifest them. They don’t get up and just do it. But you did. Was there an “Aha Moment” that made you decide that you were actually going to step up and do it? What was that final trigger?
I always dreamed of a life that was different from what I knew, but at first, I didn’t know how to get there. In my first business, I didn’t treat my employees well: Having seen my family members that were businesspeople not respect the people under them, I lacked a positive role model. So, I realized I had to do things differently…
But even as I developed as an entrepreneur, I couldn’t relate to how materialistic my world was. With time, I cared less and less about things that didn’t matter, but it wasn’t enough. There was something wrong with my life, and I needed a radical change — something that can’t happen in London unless you have tons of money to make a difference. Business, networking, and social causes were always my passions, and finding how to connect these together in Colombia, a place with great potential, was the way.
Many people don’t know the steps to take to start a new organization. But you did. What are some of the things or steps you took to get your project started?
It was all an evolution. Virtually every project I worked on in the past was a lesson that I apply in my everyday work on our WeWorkInMedellin initiative. For example, when I started my first company at the age of 21, I took a look at a very traditional industry — boiler and gas — and racked my brain until I figured out how to scale it properly. Back then, eBay was just getting started, and I know that my business was one of the first to incorporate this platform into its business model. The mindset of innovation and curiosity is something that has been with me since.
When I got to Medellin, there was already a digital nomad community. However, it wasn’t well structured, and there was no overarching purpose. I started tagging along for a few weeks, but the events had little retention. With my friend Enrique, we brought new people to the group, took weeks to rebrand and restructured, and put networking and doing good at the heart of the initiative. From a little private group, we have developed a thriving community of around 1000 active members that have amazing skill sets and are eager to get involved with local causes in Colombia.
In this process, I’ve leveraged my marketing and social media management skills first and foremost. From everything I know about KPIs, setting 1000 members as a goal was fundamental, as that’s the milestone you need to reach to grow organically. This takes a lot of content — and engagement — so I have been working nonstop, but it’s incredibly rewarding. Especially in the beginning, you simply need to direct all your time to your project, but knowing when and how to delegate is the next important step. I must admit that I am very old-school, always carrying a notebook around for endless to-do lists. It’s hard for me to connect with a screen on such a level, but I know that without project management tools like Asana, it’s impossible to track your team’s progress.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?
One of the causes we have had the chance to highlight was a natural conservation initiative in the beautiful Colombian town of Doradal. It’s a popular ecotourism spot, mainly thanks to one attraction: hippos. These animals aren’t native to the Americas but were brought in by the infamous drug lord Pablo Escobar back in the 1970s. After his death, they were left roaming around, and their offspring are still around today. While there are concerns that the hippos could have a negative effect on the environment, some organizations are looking to protect these animals until more research is done to determine the best approach.
I had the chance to visit Doradal myself and I had a blast. We went on the river Magdalena to see the hippos ourselves and it was magnificent! However, the idyll was over when our boat’s engine broke. Our guide couldn’t get it started, so we paddled to a mud bank. Everyone got off, but we couldn’t stay there as it was a hippo territory and the defensive animals could be dangerous. Still, we waited around until another boat came. Our rescuers took their engine and attached it to our boat but then continued to put their smaller boat into ours. I must say that I found it hilarious: It was certainly a creative solution, but probably something I wouldn’t have ever thought of. It was a nice moment that helped us connect with both the cause and the local people further.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson or take away you learned from that?
One of WeWorkInMedellin’s events was a networking evening in a local co-working space. We expected around 20 people, but over 70 ended up showing up. We were so happy about it — but the security certainly wasn’t! Luckily, we still managed to comply with social distancing by splitting the people across three flours. The takeaway for me? Live events win over digital, haha. But seriously, it was a great lesson for planning and more structure for the future.
None of us can be successful without some help along the way. Did you have mentors or cheerleaders who helped you to succeed? Can you tell us a story about their influence?
When I was 15, I was dating a girl whose father and uncle worked in a company called Ralls Group. I once accompanied the uncle to a meeting at the town’s council and was astonished by the many business deals he managed to secure himself. He then told me something that I will never forget: “If someone asks you if you can do something, always say yes because you can find someone else to do it and put an additional 20% on it.” In business, everything is possible if you have a can-do attitude!
Are there three things the community, society, or politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?
When looking to empower local causes and bring more business to Colombia, there are a few things that can help us along the way, including:
- Greater transparency: We can’t change the narrative without tackling the root cause: corruption. Colombian authorities need to set and enforce fair and transparent business practices.
- Emphasis on education: By educating society from an early age, it is possible to break the same cycles many people have been stuck in. However, this is not an issue only in Colombia but worldwide: Our systems are antiquated and crush the life and soul of future generations.
- More awareness: There need to be active conversations about the two points above to cultivate awareness and advance problem-solving. Talking about current problems, especially on social media, is key.
How would you articulate how a business can become more profitable by being more sustainable and more environmentally conscious? Can you share a story or example?
The rule of thumb is always to assess the impact of your operations critically. For example, when I was leading the demolition company, we produced a dusting mechanism for dust suppression that helped us reduce sludge waste and runaway chemicals massively. Apart from that, across my projects, I put a lot of emphasis on going paperless. From billing to reports, there’s no excuse not to use the cloud anymore.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
- Always keep learning: New skills will push you forward in life.
- Get a mentor: I am sure that I would have come so much further if I knew where I was potentially making mistakes without actually having to make them.
- Stay away from negative people: They are just going to bring you down and ruin your life.
- Travel: It opens your eyes. Without it, you are never really experiencing life in its full colors.
- Love with an open heart: Even though you will get burned, you can’t hold it against your partner or the next person to come.
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?
The lifestyle we are living is unsustainable. We need to unify towards the common goal of making our planet better for future generations. Being involved within your community and being conscious about the impact of your actions is a great start, but personal habits aren’t enough to save us. If you want to make a real impact and you have the talent and the drive, build an organization that advances long-term solutions. It’s hard to trigger change within established systems, so we need to learn, unify, and innovate constantly.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
I have a simple one: “Life’s short.” And we don’t really realize that until shit happens. Enjoy it and take action — change won’t happen without you getting off your ass to do something. Today, everyone has good intentions, but not everyone is willing to put them into action.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
Ideally, I would travel in time to meet up with myself 20 years ago and tell him all the things I have just told you in this interview! But other than that, I must say I usually don’t look up to politicians, entrepreneurs, or actors, but if I had to choose, it would be Keanu Reeves. He is very humble and real, gave all his money from Matrix away, and I simply wish there were more people like him.
How can our readers follow you online?
I love connecting with people, so find me as Michael Hayles both on Facebook and LinkedIn, or follow me on Instagram: @nomadmanmike.
This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!