Can you imagine the scene? The year is the hot summer of 1976, a young 18 year old man has a severe haircut and enters the arresting atmosphere of the Metropolitan Police Training College at Hendon, London. This young man was fairly introverted and lacking any particular skill apart from the passion to succeed.
This young man was called Steve Gaskin. Little did he know he would advance to the rank of Detective Chief Inspector and in retirement lead one of the most successful team building companies in the UK.
All public services have their strengths and weaknesses. The strength of the Metropolitan Police Service (Met) is their world class training. Not only did Steve take advantage of the this, but he sees it as paramount to his current business success. The leadership and outdoor resilience training received in the Met and the police staff college were to be the catalyst to really making crime pay!
Steve completed 25 year’s service which made him just 43 years of age. Two University courses in the Met prepared him to enter the demanding world of mathematics teaching at a secondary school on the outskirts of London. Again, the discipline of curriculum and lesson preparation would add to Steve’s armoury of skills, all leading to the same destiny, business.
Steve later moved from London to Norfolk with his wife and three daughters. He successfully applied for Head of Education at HM Prison-Norwich. A weird move you may think! He always jokes he spent 25 years trying to send miscreants to prison and now was concerned with their education, rehabilitation and getting them out! After this, he had several other salaried posts including a brief return to teaching, college lecturing, consultancy for HM Chief Inspector of Constabulary.
In addition, Steve started a small enterprise called Right Angle tuition. This was a maths tutoring service, it would later evolve into the business it is today. Steve’s philosophy was to unlock the maths giant within. All of us are good at maths, it’s just a question of finding the right key. Unlocking people’s potential is a core passion of Steve and his company.
Eight years ago, Steve was teaching a young woman whom had narrowly failed a mathematics public examination. Her mother was an avid follower of crime programmes. Her immortal words were:- “You are a teacher, ex-police officer and there are some great crime programmes. Why don’t you put them together?”
Steve had no idea how these words would root, grow and blossom. The idea of team building through crime was born. Steve had had a small dose of working for himself through the maths tuition business. He had the idea of working for himself and not having the constraints and burdens of a “boss”. He also wanted to create something unique and employment which was well paid, good working conditions and that often forgotten ingredient – fun!
The CSI Pilot
This embryonic notion was mentioned to a great friend of Steve. The friend already had a successful, multi-million pound business around keeping children safe whilst on school journeys and visits etc. He sensibly suggested a Crime Scene Investigation (CSI) Experience “pilot”. Steve invited some people he knew and set up a crime scene with friends donning full CSI “uniform”.
One-piece bodysuits, masks and gloves. The scene was set. Friends were asked to take fingerprints, dust for fingerprints, investigate gunshots and blood spatters. All of this was set against a real-life case Steve had investigated.
The pilot was a raging success; completely unprecedented and unique. Steve started approaching local businesses in Norwich with very limited success. He even approached Centre Parcs and offered CSI Experiences whilst clients were enjoying their holidays.
Early business norms applied. He set up in a spare bedroom and made an appointment to see a High Street bank. The first banker he saw said “For God’s sake, don’t give up you day job for this”. This bank is now courting their company offering bank loans etc.
A Little Luck Goes A Long Way
All businesses need luck. Two things happened simultaneously. Firstly, the company secured their first job with an insurance company in Norwich (50 people). The client paid the venue and the venue went bust! That meant Right Angle nearly didn’t get paid. It was only the unscrupulous venue owner thought Steve was a currently serving police officer that he was paid!
Secondly, the young and raw company cheekily entered a competition called “Local Business of the Year” sponsored by none other than Theo Paphitis from BBC Dragon’s Den fame. They won the competition and the prize was £10000 worth of radio advertising. This resulted in the company being established and started the wheels of traction. Again, the company had no idea the early seeds would grow into an oak tree.
As a direct result of the advertising, Centre Parcs approached Right Angle and within one year they were offering CSI Experiences in all four resorts. Several contracts arrived in succession and it was clear Steve would not be able to cope on his own.
A Family Affair
At this point, Steve asked his wife Kate if she would go into partnership with him. Kate was also a former police officer with a passion for training. They formed a solid, formidable and indissoluble business bond which stands as the company’s greatest asset today. Kate is one of three directors all on an equal par.
The biggest weakness was marketing. Despite the weakness, the company continued to get a good flow of contracts throughout the UK. Crime Scene Investigation Team Building Experiences were beginning to become very popular. It wasn’t until the company mastered the art of digital “attraction” marketing that it really started paying off.
The biggest challenges for the company over the past eight years has been three fold:-
- Scalability & Predictability
- Controlling cash flow
- Keeping the product fresh and dynamically changing
Scalability and Predictability
Benjamin Franklin once said “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” Scaling the business needs lots of thought and planning. If you scale the business too quickly you could run out of cash. If you do it too slowly you will not grow at all and remain a cottage industry. Still, most businesses in this country are sole traders and some people are content with a small niche business.
In the early years, the company employed too many presenters with insufficient work. Whilst the business was doing well, it led to a paucity of ‘net’ work per presenter. Scalability also comes with plenty of training needs, staff, increased HR structures, real care with Health and Safety and all the associated costs. Many companies do not take into consideration legal and accountancy fees.
Unless a business finds a “super charged” product or service that grows exponentially; it needs to predict the cycles and rhythms. In the early days the company failed to properly grasp the cycles of the business and notice it was seasonal. Once this was recognised it designed a strategy to plug the gaps.
Controlling Cash Flow
There is a trite, but often true saying about the finances of a business “Turnover is vanity, profit is sanity but cash is reality” So often companies cease trading because they do not control their cash. Further, some companies go out of business even though they are viable; purely because they have insufficient cash to pay their outgoings at that moment in time.
After one year of success that nearly happened to Right Angle. In July they had amassed a huge amount of delivered work with a multi-national company and schools. The first company was 60 days payment, whilst the schools went on holiday for six weeks. Effectively, they had to wait 6 weeks for £50k. The bills were mounting up. Had it not been for our excellent and seasoned bank manager arranging a bridging loan we would have gone out of business.
The company has a wise saying “No cash-no bash”. In other words, the company has educated its clients into settling invoices 14 days before the event. This has paid huge dividends. Right Angle also employs a finance manager known as “The Enforcer” complete with a Clint Eastwood film poster over her head!
A dangerous time for the business was when they hit a £1m turnover. Psychologically, it “felt” as though the company had more cash than they did.
Keeping the Product Fresh and Dynamically Changing
Businesses that do not change and develop will “wither and die on the vine”. One of most iconic high street brands used to be Woolworth’s, with it’s “pick and mix”. The Oxford Street branch had a placard which said “Established in 1909”. Even with this longevity, it still went to the wall. Woolworths simply had not evolved with the times. By contrast look at how Boots The Chemist has designed new products and services.
Any good product or service will be copied. No matter how much it is protected, competitors will try and copy the commodity and in reality most businesses cannot prevent it, unless you have very deep pockets!
Crime team building was an excellent “cash cow”, but the company needed to evolve. Kate Gaskin gives an excellent tip: “Create an excellent product and then unfolded new and novel products to delight and thrill your customers”.
Right Angle Corporate found that four years into the business their products were being copied.
They branched out into other team building pursuits to keep their customers on board. Outdoor team building, cooking, themed parties and conferences really caught the eye of their customers and boosted sales. At this point, they had over 50 companies from the FTSE 100 index as clients.
The most profound example of this came by way of the film “Taken”. As a direct result, the company offered a product called “Taken- a live kidnap experience” which is currently their best seller. Teams are shown a short video of their CEO who has been kidnapped. They have to work together as a team to liberate the hostage.
Each team is given ransom money, taught surveillance tactics, meet a police informant and have to plan the whole experience For each ten new suggested products probably only one will work; when it does, the company feels the swell elation.
Creativity is King
The biggest factor contributing to the success of Right Angle Corporate is the staff they work with and their creativity. This is often an overused phrase about the staff. This is our reality!
Steve says that all his staff are better than him! That means sales, marketing, operations, customer retention and HR. Right Angle staff are hugely creative. This is to the point that new potential products are always openly discussed with all colleagues. Each week they have a short “sizzle” meeting to discuss innovation and deal with communication etc.
The sales staff have an amazing customer retention record. Large companies are relying on Right Angle to produce more and more different events. Right Angle have a “fun committee” to play hard when they are not working.
Recently, the company had the honour to be selected for the Goldman Sachs 10000 Business Growth Programme. The company spent four months attending Leeds and Oxford Universities and listened to two webinars per week.
The whole idea was to look at all aspects of business and identify three different areas of high growth. The education was world class and they received over 100 hours of expert tuition and guidance. All business owners should invest in their own education. Read the business press, go on courses and read motivational business books. Steve urges all qualified companies to apply for the Goldman Sachs programme; it is completely free. Steve comments “Not bad for a failed comprehensive boy setting up a stall at University of Oxford”
One of the growth areas has been very successful. The company has moved into team development. This is a longer-term relationship with clients. Right Angle offer leadership and management training. In addition, they have produced a hugely popular product called High Performing Team Individuals comment on 20 team/business variable from communication, leadership, team goals, creativity. A report is produced and Right Angle coach and help teams to develop into high performing entities. Several Government bodies have taken up this innovative offering.
“Learn from the past…”
There is a great saying adopted as a strapline by a local school. “Learn from the past to develop the future”. Right Angle has plenty of advice for budding entrepreneurs; especially the mistakes they have made and there have been plenty of those!
The most important question to ask yourselves is why are you going into business? Some people are unsure of the reason. There was a time when the Government were suggesting University for everybody. The reality is University is not for everyone.
The advent of popular TV programmes such as Dragon’s Den and The Apprentice make small business opportunities seem easy. The reality is starting a business from scratch is really hard work. Many businesses fail in the first year. BUT this is negative! If you have a good idea, drive, determination, guts and the ability to recover from hard knocks you WILL succeed!
Key Persons of Influence
Right Angle advises new starts to become “Key Persons of Influence”. What does this mean? Make sure you become the expert and “go to” person in your field. Everything you do should reflect this. Have a good elevator pitch, write blogs, post on social media. Write a book. Secure badges for your business such as:- associations you belong to, competitions won and relevant qualifications. Steve is a Fellow of the Institute of Leadership and Management, giving good creds and social proof.
Many new starts Right Angle speak to see their websites as lead generating machines. This is often not true. Websites need to be optimised to drive customers to it. This is a real skill as part of the “marketing revolution”. The company subcontract this work to a digital marketing agency.
One of the biggest lessons the company have learned is “relational” selling. You need the correct salespeople to develop a relationship with leads and nurture paying customers. Without this skill, sales will be difficult. There are no loyal customers! Right Angle sales staff are trained in “diagnostic” selling.
The sales staff can after a very short time understand the client’s personality and behaviour according to Carl Jung’s “colours”. Anyone who is desirous of starting a business should find a friend in business who can explain good sales techniques. Coupled with this is databases, “follow up” calls, business development. Right Angle are even considering offering these selling techniques as a paid course!
Start At The End
Finally, planning, your mission, goals are so, so important. Often starting from the end is a great idea. For example, “If I want to earn £10 000 per month. How many sales do I need? What is the cost of those sales? How much is the gross and net profit margins”. Particularly focus on – In this order – Health and Safety, Marketing, Sales, Finance, logistics and operations. Thrill and delight your customers. Many firms forget this.
There are some super free, business plan templates on the net. Take the plunge and fill it in. Don’t hold back! Find a critical friend or family member to robustly test your plan. The company are so passionate about human success they are more than happy to give advice to new starts (via their website) After all, it would be a crime not to!!
Steve’s favourite quote is from Mary Kay Ash a cosmetics giant:
“God didn’t have time to make a nobody, only a somebody. I believe that each of us has God-given talents within us waiting to be brought to fruition.”Mary Kay Ash
That is you!