So I'm delighted to welcome to the show today, Julie. She's the founder of wise minds, which supports early stage female founders. And before that she ran Specsavers across northern Europe. So lots lots of stories to tell.
Lots of stories to tell James and a massive thank you for having me today. I look forward to this conversation.
Yeah, me too. So. So we're gonna jump into my coaching time machine. And we're gonna go back into the past when when are we going back to?
Well, I have to go straight into the Great Recession of 2008, and nine for those juicy stories, for sure. I gotta go back there. And I think we were four or five years into growing the brand and the Netherlands. And I think it was that moment, which obviously, not only was there a session, but we were with a new brand in a new country. And of course, it had this incredible success in the UK. And the expectation, I think, was very similar in the Netherlands. And there I was three to four years into it. Hands in the air satisfy garden at 3am. As if I sort of put into the universe, what more can I do? And everything was white on paper. But it was really chugging. And you found yourself in a situation where you weren't growing. But actually, the business wasn't following and deep down. Like as we know, a recession is an opportunity, especially for an incredible value brand like Specsavers, so you could even blame the recession. So there was definitely blocks in there. And there was just that point of frustration where there's nothing more you can throw out it in yourself. You can't put your finger on it. The people there, they're amazing. You feel that you are working every hour that is sent to you and you actually are and everything is there. But yet, it's just not moving.
So okay, so So you're you've got a great brand of Specsavers. It's becoming a dominant force in the UK, you've been tasked with leading the growth out in the Netherlands. It's your first external market. If you're three to four years in and kind of these high expectations we do and you feel like you're throwing everything you are throwing everything at it, like you couldn't be working more hours, you couldn't have a team. It's just not happening. Is that right?
That's exactly it. And, you know, the pressure on yourself on people on the thought of this is where it was supposed to begin. It's incredible journey out of this incredible market leadership session of the UK. And they're you were sitting there holding something where you couldn't help but blame yourself and wondering what to do. And that's the point, I think, where I answered or asked, sorry, different questions. And I think, you know, that journey of learning and, and I shared it with the team about this sort of moment of 3am. And one of them. Were still friends to get today said to me, do you still love what you're doing? Do what you love. And I thought that when I've got the burden on my shoulders that I have, is this a moment for, you know, all Jews about hugging a tree? You know, thank you, but but really what he was saying was the most important question that I answered over those following months, which is it's not about doing what I love and love what I do. But it's have I let go? And is it time to make myself redundant from that position? And that's why I say it's easier than it. It really can't be you know, since it's easier to get yourself in that position. Because you are working, you are very blinkered, you are so determined. And you're you're running all the time trying to create this incredible success. And you are somehow ignoring some of the key songs. And that actually, if you see growth of a series of waves, which is what it is, especially in early stage startup it was doing the company was doing exactly what it should have been doing. It's just that rather than making myself redundant on each wave Getting on the next I literally was holding on to every single wave you could possibly think of, and actually losing the golden thread completely. But it was really the greatest learning of my life working with of
course. And just so listeners can come with you on the journey. So there was a kind of professional pressure in terms of why can't I achieve what I want to achieve. But you say you're holding on tight, but this was also like a family business as well. So there was a student that there's a lot of emotional attachment as well.
Without a doubt, I mean, not only was the first territory, it was a family business, although joint venture owns, so it's actually owned by the partners of the store, which I had 70 stores opened with people that have put their homes up into it. So every Specsavers stores run zone by the partner itself. So not only was the family pressure, but also the pressure from I've got you to commit to this incredible concept. How do I make it incredible for you? How do we do that for you. And so there was, you know, in terms of partnership, there's incredible power and strength to it in terms of a customer's perspective, of course, but the responsibility that I had towards not only family, but to myself to the team was to the 90 sets of partners that I said, this is going to change your life as well as your customers as well as your families. That's a big responsibility to have. So you want to make everything happen as well as you can. And to live it. I mean, you know, I'd grown up with the concept, I knew the concept, you know, and in fact that in itself, can be considered a big challenge, because by knowing it, so Well, had I become it and was there space for others.
So sounds like there's this constant, like you knew this concept really well, there was a game plan that had worked, like, under pressure you you reverted to instinctive responses of working harder, going faster self sacrifice, throwing yourself into it. And almost it became less and less easy to create space, just to even think to see, to feel.
Absolutely, I mean, it's like you're there, James. That's exactly what it was. And I think the more you get into it, the more that you get into measuring the moment, measuring the sales, measuring the performance, and really holding tight to those that are around you, they become your family very quickly. And in a way you become an island, because anybody who's not in the island, every anybody is not working that hard or driving that moment, they will never understand how hard we are working. But of course they do. But you say that they don't. So you become more of an isolated island. And but your needs are very strong, your learnings of what it's like to be in a new territory, you're trying to survive or by yourself. And you know that that drive to try and keep your team motivated, as well as the partners is literally taking 90% of your life. That's very key. And then you start to lose the space between you, company and everything. And ultimately, the have you become the purpose? Have you as a person become the purpose of the organization.
So it sounds like then it's kind of sense of more and more pressure, more and more speed, but also the sense of identity that your identity merging with the company. And it's kind of creating this sort of isolated bubble, which was she lived in, and it took your colleagues question, which is Do you still love what you do? To have this kind of moment of epiphany? It sounds like
yeah, definitely. I think it's a very, very important question to ask all of the time. I didn't know that at the time. Because you kid yourself you're still loving it. But what are you loving it success the hope of success the dream? The the sort of trophy that someone's gonna give you one day, I don't know. But you you do. You love something and you catch yourself. But it's only when somebody really asks the pinnacle question. Are you still doing what you love know what you do? And it's doesn't mean for the moment because we all know that entrepreneurial life is like a roller coaster. So if we gave up our companies every time we had a bad day or we just felt I really don't like our company and well, you know, we wouldn't Get past day six. But It's that continual flow, that reflective question. And the answer was, in fact, no. Do I still love the company? Do I still love the people? Yes. And war, we're still friends to this day. You know, of course, that was all getting mixed up. Because we were one sort of big sort of met, there's the ambush of everything. So of course, I love them, which we mistook for the fact I love the journey. But we were very loyal to each other. And that can be very mistaken for, you know, the love of what you do. The fact is that when I started to reflect on that question, I had to ask, obviously, why, what I did love what I didn't where I was, and it was the fact that I did actually have to make myself redundant. And that's exactly what I did. I mean, don't get me wrong. I'm no angel. I didn't go Oh, very good question. Thank you for asking. I'll get on to it at all, I think we've already established that would never have happened. There's there was this beautiful, sort of six months that we spent, where I really did establish where do I want to be? Where is best at this time for me? And how do we structure how do we bring everybody in up with that so that we all could grow with it. And that was the year we became in a market leadership position. And we didn't realize it was happening. But we just when we went back with it, oh, my goodness, that's great. And we closed our stores for a couple of days, each each one of them re looked at the purpose, how was it created? What was it for, et cetera, et cetera. And we educated everybody on the purpose and the difference we wanted to make. And all of these record sales weeks, what is it that was all out the window? Our united force was on one purpose. And that was the likelihood of somebody to return in two years time, no, record sales, don't nothing. And, you know, we had this beautiful team, everybody was people in the stores, the partners. And you know, we're having a party that year, which is quite unusual when you're sort of in a chugging recession position. It was questioned initial, it was about coming together 8000 people. And I remember looking over the balcony, and I said to Hani, who was the learning and development person who actually was the person who asked me the question with Peter. I said, Look, everyone just it feels right. You know, it's like, the stars are all aligned. And she turned around, she said, because we put them there. And she was absolutely it was actually right, and how you have to make yourself redundant, and which sounds so harsh, but when you look at it, you know, as a founder, you have to keep moving. And my, my parents were very good at it. And I look back on it now in hindsight ago, and what you did, and I just go, you were brilliant at it, you know. But that's a lesson learnt. And lesson learned. Because I ended it.
I was really strong like mental image of like founders. Moving fast, but taking up a lot of oxygen. Like just just we found it burn quite bright. And I think with that comes using live oxygen, I think sounds like almost staying in place. And working harder and harder. Austin's like spinning your wheels slightly, but just really taking out the oxygen that are allowing people to thrive. But as you then start moving forward, clarified your personal vision, help the company clarify, there's really focus on your strengths. You kind of just opened up the space and just released oxygen for everyone else. to breed while you moved on to the next phase, I'd added How does that feel?
I think it's a really good, you know, analogy. And, and I think that's what it is, I think you're you're sharing the oxygen. And you know, when you're first starting up a company, as we all know, it's pretty ugly. No one likes it. So as a founder, you're going around begging people to join, you know, ugly baby and all this stuff. And it requires a lot of oxygen because you're shouting loud, you're shouting clear, you're driving. And I think once you could reposition that voice, you're right. It's it gives people that chance to breathe, and very, very strong people that chance to be the best they could be because I think that founders fear is of letting go that they'll lose it. But it's not about delegating people as he used to say to be delegate, you need delegate. And it's not about delegating. It's about having a shared purpose that you trust those people that can be the best that They can be towards that shared purpose. And once you get that trust, it's not about delegating. It's about giving people the space to do the roles. That's very, very different.
What was Was there a moment in this where you went? Yes, this is, I have made this change was it on the balcony looking at down at this event that you're like, we've done it, I've done I've, I've, I've stepped back.
I really, really think it really was that moment. And that's why I always quoted, I mean, don't get me wrong, I still want the fancy dress competition at the party. But other than that, I take that as a kid. But it was that whole beautiful moment where everyone's at the party, everybody's free. So the fact that people took the time after the store shuts, and if you've ever worked a good 910 hour shift in a store on your feet to a bit that's tiring, you know, doesn't matter how used to you are, to actually make that effort to come as a team to choose their outfits to to be that or one n to be together. You can't ask more than 1000 people taking that time when it could have been with their families to come and celebrate that moment. And I think that was alignment for me. That was that was alignment and, and then you start to get space to make it matter.
So these are two quite powerful moments in terms of one 3am in the garden. But hidden submersion business, identities become one can't work hard, like couldn't be working any harder. And then there's moments of six months later, where you're sort of unspoken, any other than this realization? What personal support did you have on that journey? Because it sounds like this was long as over your journey, taking like taking yourself out of business.
I have had a coach in my life, for as long as I can remember, I think that's a very important part for a founder. I actually when people say, Oh, you've got coach, I said, Oh, okay. Well, you know, of a certain level. I did. Specsavers provides that as well. So I just think that you have to have that external check. You have to have that ability to be able to go this is the problem. Do you see how can I see this differently? Is it different? You have to have that second pair of eyes, especially in a fast moving place. And one of the the challenges is that when you go into survival mode, which, quite frankly, most founders are, you are in survival mode in those early stages, the stakeholders that sit around you, you forget how important they are. And you know what I try? And was I'm sure you guys do as well is make a list of all the stakeholders that you have. And I think that's something I did afterwards is what's the stakeholder? What's the role that they're playing? And how can they support you, because your survival has to come from many different levels. And when you're in survival mode, you literally are anyone who can't touch feel or be you know, how why you important one for giving you funds course investor, but also family friends, and knowing where it's that you have to renegotiate that position. And I couldn't because I was in it. But once I was free, I could say this is how it is this is what's expecting this is what we're going to do. Just how does that look? Whereas before, every time we went, how's it going? What are you asking, you know, it wasn't obviously that bad. But But that's that reaction. And actually, when you can have that space, you start opening up to the people that can support you.
I think that's a really, really nice thought like there's actually more support available to founders from our existing networks than we realize. We're just maybe not in the right headspace
to accept Absolutely, absolutely. And you have to have space in order to have space you have to stop protecting. And once you let go and then create that space, you're accessing people that have always been there. But I do it on a quarterly basis now. And everything just really outlined life. When I start a wealth go on. It's much healthier way of lifting than
it is because because as far as the response is to work hard as we talked about earlier, which as it gets drives you deeper and deeper and isolates you further and further. Sounds like a weird example. But one of the things I've noticed since having a young child so Arctic, my son is coming up to his old post gotten me into dachshund, walking around the streets with a miniature dachshund and a baby means I see a lot of smiles. But he will first see me and that is different let's say when I was 30 and we're going by myself. You tend to get more blank expressions because you are seen as more threatening or like thank you or you are not Right, you're just serious, like walking around the small dog and small baby, you are a source of joy. And therefore you see, your first thing you see is smiles now for you, I respond to your differently because if I see them smiling at me, or they're not responding to me, they're smiling, arty and Dexy. But I think that's quite how we as a founder, when we're in defensive mode, it's kind of we trigger reaction just by being how we are and therefore we start to again reinforces it, oh, they're, they're judging me, or they're, they don't think I'm right, or I'm actually that's, that's not going. So it's pure projection. Absolutely,
we get so caught up in capabilities level, that actually become fairly unapproachable in terms of values and who we are and the identity because we're sort of not approachable. And yeah, that's a good point, I should have carried a little puppy around with me and made it smile, you know, in terms of that, if that was your vite. But it is very true, because it's a warmer picture. And I think maybe when we have that network, it's our equivalent in the office, when you're sort of laughing when people buy a coffee machine, and you're approachable. It's a bit like going around the data and and the child, it's, you know, it's like, oh, it's the warmth, it's the connection, it's the bridge. And that's what everyone's looking for, especially in today's age where people are deciding where they work, whether they're linking in, yeah, they're looking towards the founder, you know, do do, do you think I could ask you a question, you know, are you that person?
I think the great thing about this story, thanks for sharing is that a lot of founders think that going faster is the answer. But really what what the story shows us this, this epiphany of when you couldn't have gone any faster, as taking that step back and creating a space for your team going slower, being very purposeful. Actually, that was what led to the breakthrough on performance. And so it's not a it's not a go faster to achieve more, it is actually like, go slower, and do less sometimes to achieve more.
And it's exactly that. And, and it was the time of it. You know, when you're at the beginning, as I said, you have to sometimes hold on tight because you are literally driving, but at this point, what time is it to let go in position and as you say, do less and to be once you start riding off your purpose and leading towards that, in a way you're doing less, especially speed wise, we have to stop stop. And literally, I should I don't know if anyone knew that we closed every single store for two days. Look at me still feeling guilty after 20 years. But, you know, it was that, that whole commitment and honesty with each other about what we've joined what it means. And and people are looking to put their values into something that they believe and I think that's what we did over that six month period. That made all that made that incredible difference.
Well truly, thank you so much for for sharing your story. It's very cathartic to find it find out when you've shut the doors for two days. But really appreciate your your honesty and authenticity
very, very much for having me James and hopefully we'll stay in touch.
As you heard today, coaching opens up a whole range of insights and areas to explore. If you have a potential moment to revisit the podcast, or just want to learn more about coaching, booked in for a 30 minute chat with me at Pier hyphen effects.com