• Mark Monfort

Blessings in disguise

Often times you will hear about business success and there is certainly something impressive about listening to the stories of those who have had the opportunity to grow their ideas from nothing into something. I am lucky to be one of those people who appreciates all the hard work and struggle that sits behind and supports the fanfare and hype of many a flashy business that seems to be more into the insta-famous play than anything else. What you’re not taught though is the failure rate that startups have which is ridiculously high. Anecdotally, I remember being told it was in the 80–90% area and according to Fast Company, 75% of venture backed organisations fail (LINK). That’s got to be a strong disincentive for anyone thinking of getting into this game of non-guaranteed success/guaranteed struggle. Recently, I’ve tasted the failure side of the equation, having lost my job in April. The taste would not be as bittersweet as I thought though as it’s turned out to actually be a blessing in disguise. It’s fair to say that the old adage of ‘everything happens for a reason’ holds true here.

In terms of the events which led to where I am, we do need to head back a few years to 2014 and a point in my career where I was caught at a proverbial fork in the road. I had primarily focused and learnt skills in the area of data analytics and provided services to help companies become more adept in that space. The company I worked with, ABM Systems, used tools/resources from partner companies to achieve these goals. It was such an enjoyable time being able to learn, teach and solve work related problems across various industries. After a few years of doing that I had hungered for more and wanted to be involved in the product development/sales side where I thought I could influence even more. I found and joined an established Australian software company which had focused on statistical based software mainly used by government departments. Unfortunately, sales were slim and good ideas unrewarded. Moreover, I was missing something. That something was the yearn to get my hands dirty with data again and as a sales/business development person the opportunities were fewer. Not to mention that the software I was selling was not as user friendly as some other players in the industry (at least at the time). In any case, I had 2 holidays come up in late 2014. One was to Spain to watch the FIBA world basketball championships with my father (check out this video I took during one of the half-time shows).

The other was a holiday to Magnetic Island (off the coast of Cairns in Australia) I had won as part of a Lifehacker Australia competition. You can see the contest win here (LINK) and another article whilst I was there (LINK). Better yet, the competition was for the launch of a new VMWare product at the time and I had a film crew (Cartelux) follow me around the island for a week. The guys at Cartelux did an amazing job with what basically was a very unprepared subject (insert canned laughter here).

Over this period of 6 weeks off I got a chance to think about my next move. I had seen the other side of the tech space and being a pure sales focused person was not my thing. I had an urge to do something crazy and the idea to become my own consultancy sat in the back of my head as I roamed around an island off the coast of Australia and various countries in Europe.

Touching back down on planet earth, after my holiday high, I reached out to clients I knew would be friendly enough to chat with about the potential services I could offer. Lo and behold, one of the first ones I approached ended up countering my offer of providing services with an offer of their own. Come join us they said. This company was QMG and I’m fortunate enough to say that I’ve had an enjoyable 4 year run with them since I joined. What drew me most to them was that they were a team of former investment industry professionals trying to disrupt the industry and had a need for a data/technology guy like me.

The decision to go my own way or to join someone else’s ride was indeed something to think about. Fortunately I’d just watched a video from a pretty famous/infamous speaker named Gary Vaynerchuk. Love him or hate him, his message was powerful and free. Basically, you can either be the number 1 person at a tiny business or the 200th person to join Facebook back in the day. The latter will be doing a hell of a lot better than the former (in most cases). The message isn’t to say that you should always go to better/bigger established firms but to recognise a good thing, even when it isn’t your own. Many people are happy to take a chance either way and I applaud that. I had chosen my journey’s pathway and I was geared up for a fun ride.

Over those next few years I saw the QMG team get funded and grow to have a global presence (London and New York) and I also saw us feel the pain of near shut-down. Along the way we survived and ended up entering a joint-venture with a London based investment bank. It brought myself and the founder over here to what we had hoped would be success for all involved. Unfortunately, the joint venture would come to an end this year. There are various reasons why things had not worked out or been as successful as I’d wanted but they are lessons for another time and place. I’ll say this however, I’ve learnt a heck of a lot about the world of finance and banking and as the partnership comes to a close, it’s been a massively successful lesson in business for me.

I had to do a lot of soul-searching in April when it was announced the partnership would end as it saw me placed on garden leave (paid leave to stay away from work). I obviously wanted to stay on in London considering that I’d only been here 1.5 years (out of a 5 year visa) but without the work sponsorship, the potential order to get out of the UK would possibly come as early as September. I spent the first month on leave helping to build up a few new business cases for the QMG product and we looked at some interesting options and the last month and a half has been focused on looking for other roles for myself (both here and in other countries). I have to admit it was a difficult period made even harder by the ridiculously good weather that was on offer in London these last few weeks. Nothing screams ‘sit in the park and do nothing’ like London on a hot day. I say this because in the short time I have lived here I’d experienced colder winters and many cooler months than I had in all of my time in Australia (we even had multiple periods of snow).

The opportunity to go back to Australia was not even a consideration point for me at the time as I had remained adamant that I wanted to stay in the investments industry and I wanted that to also have that opportunity be in one of the main global financial hubs (London or New York). Unfortunately, I was seeing a lack of success on the job hunt in that space despite feeling well overqualified for some roles. Perhaps it was the visa requirement that put them off or perhaps the roles were looking for more specified experience as opposed to the jack-of-all-trades roles that I’d done recently. Either way, I found myself looking back at a company I’d left years ago as my potential saviour. Reaching out to my former boss at ABM Systems, the data/management consultants, turned out to proffer up an amazing work opportunity. The company I had left all those years ago has grown leaps and bounds. The business is much larger and the offer to join in and mentor new team members was part of an extremely compelling package. The other part was that I now had a chance to finally go home to Sydney, the city of my youth, but a place I have not lived in for nearly 7 years. Funnily enough, I had brainwashed myself into thinking that a move back home was a step-back when in fact it is a place where I now have an opportunity to step-up. Having a city like Sydney to fall back to is a first world problem I’m lucky to have… incredibly lucky to have. Losing my job turned out to be a blessing in disguise.

I don’t know what I would do or where I would be right now had I not taken the chance many years ago to question and search for my place in this world, I would definitely not be in the favourable position I’m in now. So as a I continue to pack, say goodbye to some incredible people and sort out my departure from London, I take an opportunity like this to look back and count my blessings.

On to the next chapter…

#AudienceEngagement #Blog #work #life #analytics #London #Sydney

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