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Luke Sartain: “Be authentic”

Be authentic. Don’t make stuff up and don’t try to be someone you’re not. It’s better to be authentic and succeed even if it means being safe, rather than faking character or behavior that is inauthentic — people will see through it. Being a thought leader is hard and I can promise you will only ever satisfy […]

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Be authentic. Don’t make stuff up and don’t try to be someone you’re not. It’s better to be authentic and succeed even if it means being safe, rather than faking character or behavior that is inauthentic — people will see through it. Being a thought leader is hard and I can promise you will only ever satisfy 50% of the population. Controversy is at the heart of being a thought leader and not everyone will agree with your actions. Look at me for example, by using a personal electric vehicle I get on a lot of peoples’ nerves!


As part of our series about how to become known as a thought leader in your industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Luke Sartain, CEO and Founder of upUgo, the UK’s largest company. Luke is a self-taught entrepreneur who originally learned his craft out of a financial need in 2014. From there, he made a range of useful connections that led to a business with a winner of the BBC’s The Apprentice, allowing him to scale his company and eventually build an international agency, employing over 100 staff and working with over 1500 businesses. Luke is originally from Wiltshire and is a self-taught expert on all things digital.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share your “backstory” with us?

Hi, I’m Luke. I’m a tenacious entrepreneur who originally learned my digital craft out of a financial need in 2014. I’ve got a real drive to work hard and succeed which has served me well so far — I’m now the CEO and founder of three businesses. When I was first starting out, I made a range of useful connections out of doing some free work that led to business with a winner of the BBC’s The Apprentice. This work allowed me to scale my first company and eventually build it into an international agency, employing over 100 staff and working with over 1500 businesses. I’m originally from Wiltshire but now live in Bristol.

Can you briefly share with our readers why you are an authority about the topic of thought leadership?

The reason why I’m an authority on the topic of thought leadership is that I have a unique outlook on life. Some people view the world from a completely different perspective and I believe myself to be one of those people. The result? Things get done differently. As a self-taught entrepreneur and digital expert, I have a proven track record of success and I think it’s down to my innovation and disruption to the standard business model.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

There was one defining moment in my career that provided an incredible opportunity and is a thoroughly interesting story. Back in the early days, I donated a website for free to the Bath rugby foundation. In return, I was given a seat in a box at one of their matches where I met the Director of a financial advisory firm. He asked me to build him a website and optimize it for his business, and I said yes (even though I didn’t know how to do it at that point). So, I hit the internet and taught myself how through YouTube videos and community forums. Once I built the website, I sold it for enough money to give me the head start I desperately needed. I believe this fortunate opportunity was a mix of pure chance, luck, and good karma for giving away my service for free.

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?

Not to go into too much detail, but one of my first big breaks was with a well-known star from a popular reality TV show and because I was so star-struck, I signed a contract without reading it properly. This ended up backfiring and one day I found myself with the carpet pulled from beneath me and no revenue coming in. From then on, I’ve read all my contracts very closely.

Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the main focus of our interview. In a nutshell, how would you define what a ‘Thought Leader’ is. How is a thought leader different than a typical leader? How is a thought leader different than an influencer?

To put it in perspective, my mum came over to my house recently and asked me if I thought I might have Aspergers. On reflection, it could well be the case. If you’re on the autism spectrum, you tend to see things differently, and I certainly look at the world differently to other people. This is the primary criteria for a thought leader. Being a thought leader is about leading differently and not following the masses, doing new things and offering flexibility. As a thought leader, I’m not afraid to push boundaries and put words into action. And yet, I would never ask my team to do something I couldn’t do myself — this is what separates a thought leader from a typical leader or influencer.

Can you talk to our readers a bit about the benefits of becoming a thought leader. Why do you think it is worthwhile to invest resources and energy into this?

Well honestly, I don’t think a thought leader is something you can just become; it’s not something you can just learn. In the past, I’ve tried passing on my thought leadership style and it hasn’t worked, as the tutees just go back to the prescribed paths. To be a thought leader, you need an outlook that you either have or don’t have. That said, if you believe yourself to be a thought leader, it’s worthwhile sharing your thoughts because this will hopefully stimulate positive changes that other people wouldn’t have the vision to imagine.

Let’s talk about business opportunities specifically. Can you share a few examples of how thought leadership can help a business grow or create lucrative opportunities?

Naturally, by doing things differently, it makes you stand out from the crowd and this will attract clients to your business over others. One of my new businesses is a great example of this. We don’t think the idea has ever been done before and it is predicted to generate huge revenue and success. Remember, most of the biggest companies in the world broke the mold and came out on top: Apple, Amazon, Google etc.

Ok. Now that we have that behind us, we’d love to hear your thoughts about how to eventually become a thought leader. Can you share 5 strategies that a person should implement to become known as a thought leader in their industry. Please tell us a story or example (ideally from your own experience) for each.

Well as I mentioned before, I personally believe you are either a thought leader or you are not. However, if you’d like to give it a go:

  1. Take the thoughts inside your head that people want to silence, and put it out there and talk about it. An example is the 4-day working week I’m implementing at upUgo. To many employers this is sacrilegious, but it makes sense!
  2. Keep an open mind and learn. Watch YouTube videos or TEDx videos and seek out other thought leaders to surround yourself with. I’ve watched countless TEDx videos and am friends with a number of thought leaders.
  3. Following on from number two, surround yourself with people who think differently and systems to encourage your creative thoughts. With my kids, I always remove the instructions whenever I give them lego to play with. This encourages creative thinking as opposed to prescriptive copying.
  4. Approach situations with a childlike mindset. Often kids have unbiased perspectives that see things simply. This is how we, as adults, should try to look at things too.
  5. Be authentic. Don’t make stuff up and don’t try to be someone you’re not. It’s better to be authentic and succeed even if it means being safe, rather than faking character or behavior that is inauthentic — people will see through it. Being a thought leader is hard and I can promise you will only ever satisfy 50% of the population. Controversy is at the heart of being a thought leader and not everyone will agree with your actions. Look at me for example, by using a personal electric vehicle I get on a lot of peoples’ nerves!

In your opinion, who is an example of someone who has that has done a fantastic job as a thought leader? Which specific things have impressed you about that person? What lessons can we learn from this person’s approach.

It would have to be Elon Musk. He’s able to generate hype like no one else and imagine things in new and exciting ways. This means he hardly needs to spend anything on marketing because so many people are turning to him on social media ready to hear what he has to say. I believe that the world is filled with too many carbon copies of other people’s ideas, if you can build something new, that is how you will succeed.

I have seen some discussion that the term “thought leader” is trite, overused, and should be avoided. What is your feeling about this?

You can’t train yourself to become a thought leader. In that sense, it is overused as people use it to refer to aspiration, but it’s not something everyone can reach. Sadly, this can cause frustration. It’s important to say that just because you aren’t naturally a thought leader, doesn’t mean you can’t succeed. The world is made up of many different types of people and some are ball catchers and some are thought leaders, you need both for a business to truly work.

What advice would you give to other leaders to thrive and avoid burnout?

It’s definitely tricky to avoid burnout and my method certainly isn’t for everyone. I would say overall, it’s about finding a mix between a passion outside of work and being as regimented as possible in work. That said, as the Director of three businesses, I’ve accepted that my job will be tiring and exhausting. We all have two resources available: time and money. During the hard times where funding is scarce, business owners will need to invest time for their businesses to succeed. For me, it’s about being able to see an end to the madness. I’ve realized that if I do long hard hours now, I will be able to retire at 35 and spend more time with my kids while they are still young. Of course, this isn’t an option for everyone, but looking towards that drives me to work hard now.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

It might sound cliché, but probably veganism! I’ve recently stopped eating meat and have also cut out junk food and alcohol. Alcohol culture is extremely bad in the UK and is linked to everything we do; when we celebrate we drink, when we fail, we drink. I also find hangovers an incredibly inefficient use of my time. So yes, reduce our carbon footprint by cutting meat and change alcohol culture. If we did those two things, the world would be a very different place.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

My favorite life lesson quote is something my grandma and aunt always have said: “sleep when you’re dead”. As a startup founder, truer words have never been spoken!

We are blessed that very prominent leaders in business and entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world with whom you would like to have a lunch or breakfast with? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

I’ve never really been a fan of working lunches so perhaps I would keep it to a remote hangout! If it were possible, I would love to speak to myself in 20 years time. Just out of curiosity, I would love to see if I’ve stayed truthful to my ambition.

How can our readers follow you online?

You can follow me on Twitter: @LukeSartain, or follow me on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/lukesartain/

Thank you so much for your insights. This was very insightful and meaningful.

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