From living on the streets to inspiring businesses across the UK, Mike shares his journey to small business success as part of the AXA Business Insurance AXA Inspired series.
Mike Stevenson has led an interesting life, to say the least. Leaving school at 15, he found himself on the streets of London before hauling himself through several hard-working jobs and, ultimately, reinventing himself at his own marketing agency.
After the financial crisis, Mike was again faced with a choice: retire or reinvent once more, and that’s when Thinktastic was born. Mike set about inspiring organisations across the UK, and changing the way they think and work for the better.
If you could give some advice to yourself five years ago, what would it be?
Trust your instincts. So many people will be ready to thwart your business idea because it doesn’t fit any known model. Yet real business success is built on powerful passion, purpose and, yes, intuition – respect and listen to it, it's your wisest counsel.
What’s been your biggest learning curve?
Writing a book about how I came to the Thinktastic philosophy. Writing a book was challenge enough but to draw inspiring lessons others can learn from meant looking at myself through a forensic lens and being willing to reveal all – that was a truly monumental challenge.
What was your most unexpected moment?
After speaking to a group of young people in Edinburgh I was handed a yellow sticky note by the talk's organiser. It had been written and handed to her by a 15 year old girl and said simply: “That man Mike has just changed my life.”
What plans do you have for your business?
To take the Thinktastic approach to other parts of the world. To do that I want to maximise the enormous opportunities provided by digital connectivity, create micro learning opportunities around ‘persuasive speaking’, ‘customer centricity’ and ‘creative leadership’, and build a network of inspiring influencers from all corners of the globe.
Who gave you the best piece of business advice, and what was it?
Years ago, when I was a labourer, I arrived on a building site in Earls Court, London. A Welsh foreman with a broken nose and soft hat took me aside, showed me the plans for the building and then said, “this is the dream and you are building it.” It was the first time I had ever felt responsibility for the big picture. I walked tall on that site and worked harder than ever before. I learned then that tasks don’t energise us, a sense of ownership does. I have tried to apply that ever since.
When did you realise your business was going to work?
Strangely, the first indication came from clients using the word ‘thinktastic’ in their own communications. My long-term plan was always that Thinktastic would be such a strong and compelling brand it entered business vernacular. So to see it increasingly used across all sectors is proof positive of growing recognition of the power of the message.
How would you like to be remembered as a businessperson?
As someone who swam against the tide, made conventionally questionable financial decisions but, in doing so, proved that honesty, a sense of fun, a passion to make the world a better place and unswerving purpose are more powerful business success drivers than an obsession with balance sheet projections.
What tips do you have for anyone thinking of starting a business?
Be utterly distinctive – do something new or something differently. Think how Ryanair disrupted the airline industry.
Be clear and simple in your offer. Can a five year old understand what you describe?
Aim to make each customer a friend for life.
Never, ever lose the passion and purpose you had on day one.
Remember, persistence pays off.