Episode 248: Becoming a Serial Entrepreneur with Richard Upshall
If you like your self-made British millionaires safe, steady, and predictable, stop reading now. With Richard Upshall, you can never tell where the conversation will lead. He’ll be talking about one of the multi-million-pound businesses, then somehow finish his story with “I’ve owned three sheep farms in Australia.” Attempt to second-guess this unfiltered entrepreneurial powerhouse at your own peril: he’s never less than one step ahead.
Richard Upshall is a serial entrepreneur and investor. He is the Founder of OES Oilfield Services Group, Executive Chairman of Askaris Information Technology, Chairman of Record labels of RU Listening, and a management business creating monster. Richard traveled the world doing business and always had an itch to start new businesses and support his own.
In this episode, Richard Upshall talks with Adam Stott about his journey to becoming a successful entrepreneur. Richard shares his humble beginnings, varied business interests, and his failures and learning experiences.
- Keeping business simple and easy enough to run
- The importance of re-evaluation in making a decision
- Richard’s risk tolerance in business
- A serial entrepreneur’s mindset in terms of investing; and
- Richard’s plans for future business and investments
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Please note this is a verbatim transcription from the original audio and therefore may include some minor grammatical errors.
Hello, everybody, and welcome to this very special episode of Business Grow Secret show with your host Adam Stott. I’ve got a fantastic guest with me today who is about to introduce Richard. Richard is a serial entrepreneur investor. He’s traveled the world doing business. He’s got some amazing philosophies. I asked him previously, how do you want to be introduced? And he said, a fun loving fat guy is very nice to people, and made me giggle and laugh. And I think this is going to be a fantastic, fun interview. So welcome on, Richard, great to have you on. Really looking forward to hearing a bit more about your story. Everything going? Well, are you good?
Very good. Very good tuning in from the middle of North Yorkshire somewhere. And yeah, there’s nothing better than the British countryside on a sunny day.
Absolutely. So look, really looking forward to getting to know you. And some of the philosophies around business and the things that you’ve done. There’s so much to talk about here. Because you’ve invested in businesses, you’ve grown businesses, you’ve done lots of different things in your life and it’s really interesting to hear a little bit more about that. What I like to do is really understand this the starting journey of the entrepreneurs that we talked to Richard and wanting to get to understand where did things kind of start for you? Do you think you have a general entrepreneur makeup? Is it something you learn? When did you first start getting interested in business? And what was your first foray?
So my first foray was way back when I was about 13 years old. And I don’t really know exactly the moment that it kicked off, but I was gardening, cutting people’s lawns, trimming the edges, learning about how to prune standard roses and stuff like that. And the first place I worked at was actually a high court judge, somewhere in the home counties where I lived.
From there, I started doing that on a Saturday morning, it turned into all day, Saturday and Sunday, then I needed more people so a couple of my mates came to work for me. And I guess I just kind of learned that by the time I had four or five of them, working for me, paying them to pen and charging four pounds an hour actually didn’t actually need to really do very much myself and still have an income. And that has been the basis of some of the most successful businesses that I’ve had.
Over the years, the one of them, which has been a stalwart of my business collection, still works on that basis. Today, I paid people 40 grand a year and charged them out of 80 grand a year, and just have lots of them. And it’s been a good basis and a good basis for business. And it’s simple. It’s uncomplicated, it’s easy enough to run, you just have to run it.
It’s interesting that you say it’s simple. But why do so many entrepreneurs not get that? Because a lot is done right. And I think that when you look at entrepreneurs in business, they try to do all the work themselves a lot of the time and they don’t learn that basic lesson. But I think it’s actually a really good basic lesson to start with. How does an entrepreneur maybe change their mindset in that way? Because a lot of the time the biggest challenge for startups is actually making that first hire, getting that first person in to experience that. It’s great that you experienced it a third time. But would you agree? Have you seen that a lot in your travels? You know, a lot of fear stops people from actually making that move, right?
It is and to not be afraid to get on with it is one thing. You’ve also got to have an element of trust in there. You have to trust people to do the job to the same level you are or you would expect to do it yourself. And you’ve got to trust people’s judgment as well. A lot of the businesses I’ve invested in and started and taking the time I’m no expert.
I don’t hold a degree. Three months at university and decided it wasn’t for me and left the UK aged 20 and went overseas. I started my first business at 25 and it was working on oil rigs and I don’t know Anything about oil rigs, or anything about oil, don’t know anything about mechanics, don’t know anything about cranes. And there I am, to this day, a co-owner now of one of the biggest independently owned inspection companies in the upstream industry.
And I’ve managed that by getting involved with employing liaising with working with people who are experts in that field. But there’s an awful lot of people out there who are quite happy to have a job.
So pay them to do the job, pay them fairly, pay them, well pay them on time. The world really can be your oyster because they won’t particularly have a desire to go and set up for themselves, because it’s not for everybody. One of the probably communist things I used to hear in my younger days was I don’t know how you sleep at night, you know, when you’ve got 100 people to pay at the end of every month, you got customers not paying you on time, you got to run your cash flow. And all the other things that go along with a lot of it, I’ve just muddled through and learned as I’ve gone, obviously, I’m older now.
So I’m wiser. And I’ve made the mistake probably for certainly service companies is treating people well. Treat your people well. And you’ll get a lot more latitude if they understand where you’re at, and also let them feel your strength and support all the time.
Okay, no, I love that. So you say you learned that was that not something in the beginning that you was natural to that saying that you had to sort of learn to develop? Would you say?
There are definitely some people that have a natural ability to lead and exude natural confidence, and I have no problem with that. And indeed, if you ask my parents, my father openly says no idea where he came from and there is no sign of anything in that son of mine anywhere on either side of our family. But natural leadership comes from not being afraid to make a decision, which is a double edged sword.
The same as not being afraid to give your opinion is a double edged sword. And that helps massively. The other thing that I have, I mean, a lot of people have referred to me over the years is Mr. floaty because I’ll make a decision. And then I’ll go away, reflect on it and think about it, chat to a couple of people. And literally an hour later, come back. He said, ”No, we were going up the stairs”. Now we’re going down the stairs.
It’s nice that you can, you know, admit, admit that right and actually say that it was very, very interesting. So a lot of people do it. You know, a lot of people certainly do. But as long as you then stay on the design of the decision, that’s the most strategic is obviously key, isn’t it? Right?
Of course, it’s key to stay on it until it’s wrong. And then you got to get off it. There’s so many there’s very famous already in a book somewhere about a Korean airline pilot who was flying towards a mountain and the copilot said, “Sir, you’re flying towards a mountain”. He said, No, I’m not. And the copilot didn’t say anything else because it wasn’t in their culture, to be able to question the guys to the boss. So they flew straight into the mountain.
And I think a lot of entrepreneurs go wrong, because they have that attitude as I’ve made that decision. I’m going to follow it through why it was the wrong one. And you got enough people are in it’s the wrong one. Maybe you should have a reevaluation or somebody very recently has told Elon Musk, don’t buy Twitter. But just look at how he turned you on that.
Yeah, absolutely. And, you know, without a doubt. So I think there’s some really important lessons there that you mentioned straightaway. And a lot of that comes down to risk. Fear. And you talked to me a little bit prior to coming on about that, and about having the courage to make to actually go out and do things right. And that sounds to me, you know, from your story in your journey. You’ve been to multiple different countries, you’ve tried multiple different things. What’s that been like then? So it’s a little bit about how some of the the opportunities that come up and what your mentality is towards opportunity.
Wow. Okay, so I’m, I like to have varied interests. And I have literally tried everything from sheep farming in Australia, through to building warehouses in the UK, through to inspecting oil rigs in Saudi Arabia, to selling sports apparel in America. So I’ve had a varied and the opportunities come because I sit where I sit in the marketplace, which is I’m fairly well known as an investor and entrepreneur. People come to me with ideas. Some of them are not very good. Some of them seemed brilliant, and turned out not to be very good. And some of them have been amazing. And I didn’t do it and occasionally one or two of them have been the right decision and I have done it and I’ve done very well out of it. Some of them have been asleep.
So I went into sheep farming thinking I was gonna make money out of wool and meat. And the only money I made out of it was selling the land when I got rid of everything when I decided that my life as a sheep farmer, done for the moment. That opportunity came very simply out of backpacking in Australia, I went to Australia for nine months after my initial foray into the oil and gas industry, because I wanted to have a year out, I’ve kind of worked pretty hard from the age of 13.
By the time I got to my early 20s, I was kind of 10 years in. And that’s where that opportunity came from. And interestingly, when I started my initial oil and gas inspection company, the first international offices we opened, were south, because that’s where I was going, Singapore, and Australia. Because of my lifestyle, I wanted to spend time down under, I loved being outside, I loved the weather, I loved all the experiences, even the bugs and the snakes and all the rest of it.
And I really enjoyed that time in my life, which is why I continued to do it. I had a beachfront Cafe down there, I had a bus, tour group entertainment business down there, I had some permanent glamping tents before glamping was really a thing in Australia, in my mind anywhere else.
So they all came as natural progression from being in an environment where there were things going on and opportunities presented themselves. We talked earlier about fear, I have no fear of investing in anything happy to give it a go. Make sure you have the right partner, if it’s not your thing. And that’s very important. And make sure that partner is motivated to make it as successful as you do.
Absolutely. And I love actually what you said to me earlier on one of the things you said to me, that was really interesting. And we’ll get into the psychology that a little bit was you said that, hey, I’ve lost many, many deals, I’ve lost many opportunities, I’ve lost a lot of money. But I’ve made a hell of a lot of money, because I’ve lost a lot of money. And I think that mentality is is really interesting, because it means that you don’t have the fear of risk.
So that can really paralyze entrepreneurs from taking opportunities and making things happen. You know, so when it comes to failure, and it sounds like along the way, you’ve had a couple along the way, how do you think around that? You know, what, how does that does that influence you, I just really be interested to hear what you feel on that.
So failure is part of the learning experience, it is part of the experience, obviously, that you try and mitigate against that as much as possible. And I don’t put my entire net worth into building spaceships to think I can get tourists in space. But I’ll put a percentage of into that. You know, it’s, it’s, it’s kind of a it’s kind of like that don’t don’t it’s like any investment that you would make don’t put everything into one thing. So my various investments, and some of them have been catastrophically bad, have never wiped me out.
And I owe that to the people who work for the other businesses that I own as well. Because they rely on me to make sure every month they can pay their mortgages and their heating bills and their fill up cars with massively overpriced petrol. And they rely on me to make sure that I have the money to be able to do that. I say that to people, you know, I think it might peak, I probably had five or 600 families relying on me to make sure the money was there to get them paid at the end of every month. And that’s every month. It’s not like, Oh, I’ve got a peak in expenditure every month that money goes out.
So whatever I take out of the pot to do something else with, I’ve got to always make sure there’s enough there to balance everything else out. And I’ve done pretty well never miss payroll in 25 years for any of the businesses. I’m pleased to report. But as I said, we’ve had some catastrophic failures along the way. And experience is what you get when you don’t get what you want.
Absolutely. And in terms of how do you then use that and bounce back from that experience, then? I think that’s something that a lot of entrepreneurs listen to a lot of people and what I’ve seen is people. Obviously I train a lot of business owners, help a lot of business owners and help them grow their companies and their businesses. And one of the reasons that people don’t grow a one of the big reasons people don’t grow is basically risk tolerance, is they’re not prepared to risk anything.
They want everything to be perfect before they do anything. But of course, that’s never good before you do anything, which is why they don’t get going, why don’t they get moving? And I think it is that that literally the progression is stopped through overthinking and failure and I love you know, having clearly spoken to you it seems like that’s not something that fazes you. So just trying to get that message across the audience.
How can somebody that Does fives work on it a little bit? Would you give it? Would there be a tip? or would there be something that you would say to somebody that’s not tight Making Moves? You know, that’s a bit stuck. Because they can’t make a move. What would you say to them? Just in the words of like.
Yeah, I mean, really, it is. There’s a reason why that that catchphrase, just, it’s so hard. It is, think about the risk. What’s the worst that can happen? Mitigate against the worst that can happen? And then get on with it, you know?
You said there’s a rumor that catchphrase hits home so hard. That’s where we were at.
Right? The reason that catchphrase hits home so hard is because it is you’ve got to mitigate against the worst that can happen. So what’s the worst that can happen? Okay, so if it’s taking on an extra member of staff, that extra member of staff, you’re gonna put 20,000 pounds down to employ them for six months, give them six months, see what happens. If it’s hiring an office, then higher the office. And again, there’s a lot of people I’m hearing, are struggling with this work from home thing at the moment, because it does work, sometimes, in some ways for some things, but equally, it doesn’t.
For a lot of things people need to be together, we’re a communal animal. And we need to be together to bounce ideas, we need to be together to motivate, and so on. So a lot of people are struggling at the moment with I need to rent an office, it’s a 12 month commitment. It’s a 12 month commitment, put the money aside, get on with it, do it if you’ve lose it, you lose it. But imagine the imagine the results that could come if you make the right decision and do it well. And that’s what I mean about mitigating.
So you take that amount of money, stick it in a pot, put it in the corner and forget it because you’re gonna lose it, it’s gone. So in that case, it’s a bit like going into a casino isn’t it, you take the 500 pounds, take the 500 pounds, leave your credit cards at home, but the 500 pounds on chips. If the chips come good, you walk out you cash out soon as you got winnings, cash out and get out. That’s the difference. With business, you cash out and then invest in something else or you expand you reinvest to grow.
Take some of the profits, always take some for yourself. But continue to reinvest and don’t lose sight of reinvesting and growing and trust. You do have to trust. It’s one of those things, and you can never let trust leave you. In business. You have to believe in yourself, you have to believe in your team. You have to trust in others as well. But again, mitigate trust them, but keep an eye.
Yeah, absolutely. And I love the use and a worst case scenario, I always say to people, what’s the worst case? What’s the best case? What’s the most likely case, because that can help us to understand, you know, the upside, because a lot of people what I do is just focus on the downside, right.
So they actually have an understanding of the upside as well. And then also look at what’s most likely to happen and make a more informed decision. That’s awesome. So in terms of investment, obviously, it’s a lot of investments over the years to summit you’ve been very involved in as an entrepreneur, and somebody that saw listening to the podcast, and they’re listening by and they’re trying to understand, a lot of people feel that sometimes they need an investment in order to go and grow their business.
But a lot of the time, they might not be ready for that investment, or they haven’t proved their concepts enough. What do you look at? For a business owner? When you’re going to make an investment? Do you look at the business? If you look at the idea, what was your kind of mindset for investing? And what can an entrepreneur to do to get themselves more prepared for investment, if that’s what they want.
So yeah, you need to look at the business plan, the person who’s proposing this investment to you has put together and how much time and effort has been put into it. Then my first instinct would be to have a look. And then book a call, or a meeting for a coffee. And just quiz a bit about it just to make sure that they do they did do the business plan themselves. They do understand their market sector, they do have a bit of experience in what it is, and not be afraid to pull it apart and put them under some stress.
Because if you’re going to invest in a business, you want to know that your business partner is going to be able to cope with a bit of stress and some uncomfortable questions, particularly when you’re at month four. And they still haven’t got it off the market.
You know, they’ve got to be prepared for the fact that as an investor, you’re gonna go where’s my return? Why haven’t these milestones been hit and so on. So you can learn an awful lot about a person all the way back before you even invest just by putting some pressure on and seeing what happens. Do obviously your own research about ask about it. Ask friends or family ask other business associates.
Always take up a couple of references. He says, “it’s always a good idea”. And probably just make sure you have a solid understanding of where your money’s gonna go. And where their appetite for success and risk is, if part of the business plan and this is something I’ve learned the hard way, if part of the business plan is to pay themselves 100,000 pounds a year, two as a salary, where’s their risk? At your money? It’s a bit of their time that they’re getting paid for, where’s their risk?
I would say, so what do you need? I need 1500 pounds a month just to, you know, pay the pay the energy bills, put fuel in the car and make sure my kids have sandwiches? And it’s okay, that’s, that seems that seems about right, then they’re automatically after chasing the same success on the same timeline that they’re proposing. So those are probably a few of the key front end things I would look at.
What can an entrepreneur do to go and get more investment? What should they do? And what are some of the things you say, would make someone stand out from the crowd when talking to an investor?
So be prepared for all that? I’ve just said? No, no, your topic, show your passion and enthusiasm. And be prepared to talk about what you have done? And what could go wrong. Because, again, mitigation of risk, what’s the worst case scenario to talk about that, particularly with an investor? Because the investor will go.
I mean, it’s a great, great, great point, because so many people just want to then again, come in and tell you the upside. If you tell the investor that hey, look, this is the upside. This is the worst case scenario. So that’s actually that helps them to make informed decisions, isn’t it? All right.
Be prepared for that. Because if you’re going to meet a fairly, are those experienced investors like myself, they’re going to ask those questions.
Yeah, absolutely. Yeah, absolutely. Fantastic stuff. And you’ve had multiple business interests. Do you want to mention summarize what have been some of the ones that you’ve enjoyed the different businesses you started environment has been some of your most you would you say successful? For us? We know about the oil and gas you mentioned to me before we came on the call about cybersecurity. You know, and you mentioned actually how important that is? How important is that for a business owner right now, for example, cybersecurity, you know, you have a business in this area as well.
Yes, cybersecurity is probably one of the most under-resourced sectors of business, as in each business, that’s out there don’t really pay an awful lot of time, effort or money. On it, nothing like what they should and and my company scares is time and again, providing feedback to businesses about what they need to do, just to shore up the basics to make sure that firewalls in place, and they have a good cybersecurity policy, they trained their staff and understanding what what to do and what not to do. And the trouble is that if you don’t spend relatively small amounts of money, and by the central can 10s of 1000s, you can quite literally cost yourselves millions, when hackers come in, and the ransomware stuff starts or whatever it is the particular problem that you’re hit with.
And there’s not an awful lot of money that needs to be spent. There’s not a lot of an awful lot of time that needs to be taken to understand these risks. And it’s definitely excuse me, a marketplace that is under resourced at the moment. And there’s a there’s a real shortage of understanding about what can happen. People think that BT Home Hub is a firewall, it’s just not to the people working from home. And so it’s a growth area for us.
It is if you every day, you can read something in the in the news about another one of the big firms getting hit with hackers stealing users information, credit card details, or whatever. What doesn’t hit the news is all the small companies that can literally be brought down. And when I say small companies, I’m talking about companies that turn over 20,30,50 million can literally be brought down by a fairly simple hacking attack. So it’s very important. around that, yes. There you go. There’s some waffle about that for you.
You know, it just goes to show obviously, the varied interests that you have. And which leads me to sort of my next question, which was, I’d be really interested to know from your perspective have been haven’t been in business for a long, long time, and lots of different things where we are right now in 2020. So what do you see as opportunities in the marketplace?
You know, do you see any particular sectors you see opportunities or any particular things you think people should be doing? People should be aware of, you know, things in your mind that you’re thinking right now how you know, that looks like with respect, or even is there some sectors that you’re worried about? Maybe the property market has different things that are gonna be just interesting to hear your perspective as an investor on those.
Well, crypto is a big opportunity, particularly at the moment, because it’s having the absolute aspect out of it by the market. So there’s definitely an opportunity there crypto is here to stay, it’s not disappearing, I’m not going to punt any particular, I would say probably, if you’re going to be a chance investor, again, mitigate your risk, take a very small amount of your portfolio and chuck it into something known. Bitcoin, Ethereum, one of those better known coins, rather than the Dodge coins, and so on. I definitely think that’s a buy and hold.
At the moment, anything you’ve got kicking around, that you’re not spending on something else, check it into unknown crypto and hold it the property market, I think it’s going to struggle, I mean, there’s going to be problems, interest rates, people are talking about these half one, one and a half percent rises, interest rates are gonna go up an awful lot.
They have to get this current inflation under control. So saving money, I would stay off the markets for now, as in the general stock markets, I think they’ve got room to go lower. Again, as a buy and hold strategy, put some money in to the better known names. Energy sector has a bit of growth in it for the next few years, probably anything to do with travel and tourism will have some sort of growth in it. And then anything to do with the staples that are talked about all the time of Fang companies and so on probably stay away from Mehta, Facebook, but the rest of them, I think, have plenty of growth potential in them.
Add a little now, wait and see what happens in the next few weeks, add a little more. If it carries on down, you can like chase it down like hedging and then buy and as I said, Buy and hold, I wouldn’t bother trying to trade these markets on a day basis. If you don’t really know what you’re doing. For investment in sectors, I do think that the hospitality sector is going to make a big comeback at some point, everybody’s gonna get over the COVID situation. I think the hospital what I what I was I’m a very pro Brexit person, what hasn’t happened yet. And partly because Brexit is the reinvestment in the actual solid British economy.
I’m talking about British people, picking British fruit and veg and selling it in British packaging on British shelves hasn’t really happened yet. I foresaw a return to seasonal growth, you get brussel sprouts for Christmas, raspberries in spring and strawberries in summer. We haven’t seen that as much as I thought we would we made this inflation, who may see it happen. What I have seen is when I’m in London now a lot of restaurants and hotels have predominantly British staff in which is refreshing and interesting. What needs to happen is the the wage levels need to now catch up with what people expect to be paid work.
Of course, that’s going to lead to inflation. So it’s a bit of a cycle in that but I do think there’s an opportunity there as well. And if you’re an entrepreneur, looking to go into something like that, just make yourself a little bit different. And, anything around the service sector people are going to start going out they’re gonna start spending money. Of course, working from home, I think has a future. But I think there’s a lot less future than a lot of people think it does. Because again, as humans, we like to work together, we like to group together, we like to bounce ideas.
New multiple businesses to our mentality of recruitment. I think there’s a lot of people saying that people aren’t necessarily taking the jobs, you know, it’s far harder to find that some of you had that at all cost your businesses, you’re not really finding that.
Not really. We’ve done okay, and this is across all of the businesses we’ve not really had. What we have found is we have to pay more. Yeah, if you have to pay more, we have to charge more. We have to charge more people have to pay more.
Yeah, that’s it. The days of getting people in this country always go back to basics. The days getting people to pick fruit for seven pound 50 An hour are gone. And one of the things I find really difficult to swallow in a country that is supposed to have wage, minimum wage protections and so on, is how big companies like Amazon are continuing to operate with people on zero hours contracts and not paying them a fair wage for a fair day’s work.
I again and again, come across Amazon drivers who are working for peanuts because they Amazon will work it they pay them for a shedule they don’t pay them by the hour, and that’s how they get around it and there are some people that are prepared to do that. And I just think that means looking at I mean go into politics or benefit system Rishi Sunak has no business being Chancellor he has an absolutely no appreciation of what people are going through a government that doesn’t mean to test hands out is irresponsible giving away money because they can as a prime voters what what are they doing with that? So there’s lots of other stuff I can go off on that one.
Well now I think it’s been a really really interesting chat. Richard, if people want to connect with you, get to know you a bit more. Where’s the best sort of place to have social media that you prefer? Or a certain place on a website that you use particularly for contact?
So if you want to see the fun side of me go to Instagram? My handle is @ru_living? And then if you want to do the business stuff, LinkedIn, Richard Upshall.
It’s been a real pleasure having you on. I love straight talking. And the simplicity. You know, I think that’s really, really important. And a lot of people can learn from that right? In a big, big way. Keep it simple, because at the end of the day, business doesn’t need to be complicated. It can be overcomplicated a lot. So really enjoyed the chat. Thank you for coming on. And yeah, I’ll certainly go over to what’s the Instagram handle again. So everybody can you say this?
You are? Are you underscore living?
Okay, brilliant, man, check out. So thanks again. Richard has been brilliant. And having you on. Really enjoyed that. Thank you very much.
All right. Thank you. Great to be here.
Hi, everybody, Adam here. And I hope you love today’s episode. Hope you thought it was fabulous. And if you did, I’d like to ask you a small favor. Could you jump over and go and give the podcast a review. Of course, I’ll be super grateful that that is a five star review with putting our all into this podcast for you, delivering you the content, giving you the secrets.
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