Today I had the pleasure of interviewing Nick Hoare, COO of etc. venues. Nick has known etc.venues for over 15 years in a number of guises; in fact his first-ever day of work was at an etc.venues in London, whilst working for Accenture. In 2007 he joined the etc.venues Board, representing Dunedin (Private Equity backers of the first MBO), before joining the etc.venues’ Management Team in June 2018 as Chief Operating Officer. This coincided with etc.venues’ partnership with Gencom and Benchmark, and the company’s expansion into the US with the first venue to open in NYC in Q1 2020. Following 11 years in private equity, Nick has a proven track record of growing businesses (organically and through acquisition), fundraising and new investments with a focus on Business Services and Technology.
Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Iwas always fascinated by business from an early age and the idea of solving problems. No doubt, this stems from my father who was a ‘company turnaround’ specialist. We used to talk about the challenges he was facing at work in the car, we still do today… but the conversation is now two way!
My path was not straight. I went to Southampton University and studied Oceanography which, despite giving me very limited job prospects, I loved. I was fortunate enough to get a 1st class degree, which helped me convince Accenture that hiring their first oceanographer was a good decision!
I enjoyed the work and the training was first rate. In fact, my first day of training was at etc.venues Hatton Gardens. However I was always interested more in the businesses, than the consulting. So with no money, private equity seemed like a good next step, to get as close to being an ‘owner/principle’ of a business using someone else’s money.
I had eleven wonderful years with Dunedin (a mid-market Private Equity firm) five of which I worked with etc.venues on the board. The next natural step was to become an operator running a business.
I left Dunedin looking for a business to acquire and run. It was at this time that Alastair (MD of etc.venues) and I reconnected. We worked together on the tertiary buyout supported by Gencom and Benchmark. The vision was simple: continue to grow the UK business and propel etc.venues into New York to take advantage of the market opportunity. Etc.venues presented a fantastic opportunity to invest in a business I knew well and join a team I knew and trusted. I saw a very exciting opportunity to take a tried and tested, highly successful, focused business model into a new market.
Can you share your story of Grit and Success? First can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey?
When I worked in private equity, I sat on the board of healthcare company, which had really struggled to perform for many, many, years. We had nurtured the business, seeking to extend banking facility covenants, investing more money — particularly in a high tech prosthetic product (bionic hand) — and changed members of the team.
Finally, to everyone’s relief, we received an offer for the business. However, during the sale process, the local river burst its banks, wiping out all three factories. The sale was off. The business was destroyed and jobs and livelihoods were put at risk.
Thankfully, we managed to negotiate with the insurance company to get compensation which allowed us to rebuild a far better business. We then sold the technology product that we had invested in to an international buyer and enabled the management team to do a buy out of the improved business.
This split sale delivered significant, unexpected, returns to our investors. The management team also acquired a business that has gone from strength to strength.
Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?
When I was 19, I was seriously ill in hospital for six months as I underwent treatment. It was a long and painful road to recovery but this instilled within me the attitude to keep going. It is having the sense and perspective that, even when things are difficult, deep down if you persevere, it will improve. You will succeed and look back at the challenge as an obstacle overcome.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
Whilst working at Accenture, as a relatively junior consultant, I arrived at the client site (a large chemicals company) and was met by a very official looking man who was very sure of himself. He was quick to criticize a fellow colleague’s informal dress code. I assumed by his tone that he was my new Senior Manager — no doubt a boss from hell. He paraded me around the office making introductions to everyone on the project… including an introduction to the Senior Manager. It turned out that the ‘official looking man’ was, in fact, the most junior member of the team. Even more amusing, he was working for me (now a great friend of mine). The moral of the story is, watch out, looks can be deceiving!
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
etc.venues’ focus is a key strength. This allows all our efforts to be channelled in the same direction, which leads to excellence. We are unapologetically simple in our model, which has helped us to build a repeatable and scalable business. We are rigorous and challenge ourselves — and the market — to think about how we can make marginal gains. Almost a sense of positive dissatisfaction in pursuit of being the best.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
Stay fit and healthy or find time to do your hobby. Mine is exercise and kitesurfing. It helps clear the mind and gives you energy.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
I had a mentor who always encouraged me to think about where I wanted to be in 5–10 years’ time — even if that was looking outside of the company that we were then working for. It gave me perspective and confidence to make bold career decisions.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me before I started leading my company” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
1. Accountability and responsibility are omnipresent — whilst you can leave the office, you are always thinking about the business in a number of ways. What else should we do? What should we stop doing? How can we develop our people? How can we best tackle issues? What are the competition doing? How great could the vision be for etc.venues? My wife often finds me distracted and less attentive than I should be as I am often thinking about work…
2. It’s very rewarding — being in a position of leadership is a real privilege. It gives me great pride to see the business thrive and individuals within the business succeed– etc.venues has some great development stories. It is hugely exciting to be part of a Management Team that has the opportunity to take etc.venues to a new market and disrupt the status quo. I am so looking forward to opening our first venue in NYC and seeing the clients’ reaction to what we are creating.
3. Make time to reflect — have two ‘to-do’ lists: a ‘macro’ and a ‘micro’ and spend significantly more time on the macro list. That is what will ultimately make the difference. I often feel as though I have achieved more when the micro to-do list is being whittled down. However, if the micro list (which is often short term) gets in the way of the macro list (which takes longer and requires more thought), it will slow down your ability to make a difference.
4. I have a lot more empathy for management teams now that I am a ‘game keeper turned poacher’ (or vice versa). It is only when you have been inside a company, as an operator, that you understand the opportunities and challenges of running a business. It was not until I had spent considerable time in the business that I really understood the potential of the business. I always knew it was a good business but I did not fully appreciated how good it was.
5. Don’t let your Operations Director choose the opening sound track to any company update meeting. So far ours has chosen ‘Greatest Showman’ and ‘Giant!’ I fear what is next on the playlist….
How can our readers follow you on social media?
I have a LinkedIn and Twitter account — but mainly to receive rather than transmit.