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Ep38: Oliver Yonchev and The Art of Possible: Creating a Culture of Success at Flight Story

We are very excited to feature Oliver Yonchev from Flight Story (a company he co-founded with Steven Bartlett) as this month’s Founder Story.

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We are very excited to welcome Oliver Yonchev to the podcast.

He’s an entrepreneur, a speaker, and the CEO of Flight Story, a 100~ strong marketing agency keeping brands at the forefront of what’s possible, a company he co-founded with Steven Bartlett.

Prior to this, Oliver was Managing Director of Social Chain AG, a role he secured at just 26. Under his leadership, Oliver built Social Chain into one of the world’s leading social media and e-commerce companies, with more than 1,000 employees, $750M in revenue and operations in 21 locations.

Today, we’re talking to Oliver about his journey to success, his greatest learnings along the way and his love for the ‘Art of Possible’ – a key philosophy that underpins his current business, Flight Story.

This is a conversation you do not want to miss!

Resources

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The Transcript

⚠️ NOTE: This is an automated transcript, so it might not always be 100% accurate!

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Oliver Yonchev
I believe in the art of possible

Leanne Elliott
Hello, and welcome to the truth lives and workplace culture podcast, brought to you by the HubSpot Podcast Network, which is if you weren’t sure the audio destination for business professionals

Al Elliott
with such losers,

Leanne Elliott
my name is Leanne. I am a loser and I’m also a business psychologist.

Al Elliott
My name is Al I am also a loser and my business owner, and we are

Leanne Elliott
here to help you simplify the size of people and create amazing workplace cultures.

Al Elliott
So today we are talking to, um, just just before we introduce his guests, I want to say that I was fanboying like, like a bastard. And I was trying to be so cool. If you listen back to the to the raw interview, which we will publish with, with the guests permission shortly. Listen back to the full interview, you’ll hear me trying to play it down and trying to be cool, but I think it kind of came across that I was super ly starstruck.

Leanne Elliott
I know you sounded fairly cool. I could tell you excited. But I think you think you played a quiet cool.

Al Elliott
So we are welcoming Oliver Yan czev onto the podcast. He’s an entrepreneur, a speaker, they CEO of flight story, which is a company he co founded with Steven Bartlett. Prior to this Oliver was a managing director of social chain a G, which was Stephen bought this first agency and he built the company up from startup to one of the world’s leading social media and E commerce companies and more than 1000 employees $750 million in revenue and operations in 21 locations. Today we’re talking about his journey to success, his greatest learnings along the way, and his love for the art of possible, which is a key philosophy that underpins his current business flight story. But before we meet Oliver, it’s the news roundup time,

Unknown Speaker
yay, in the jungle.

Al Elliott
So this, I think, if you remember from last week, a couple of weeks ago, we decided to change it from Word of the Week, because we’re running out words to find we’ll come back to it when a new word appears. Yeah. And so we went to the truth or lie. And so I had a question which actually was echoed by somewhere we start a podcast with

Leanne Elliott
we were we were on a podcast called certain sales are also part of the HubSpot Podcast Network, a new member. So we thought we’d go say hi. So go check it out. But there are some good questions and

Al Elliott
some great questions. And one of the things that Richard asked was, how do you know when you do an engagement survey? So just I’m sure you all know what engagement surveys are basically anonymous survey of your of your employees to find out what how they feel about certain things. So how do you know that they’re actually going to tell the truth on that? And if people don’t tell the truth, let’s say one or two disgruntled employees, don’t tell the truth, then is that not just going to mess it up? Mess up results for everyone? So I think that my co host, my wife, the person sitting next to me right now, he’s got a grant to do that. So Leah, what do you say to that?

Leanne Elliott
It is true. Data is only as good as what it shows you is necessary, it’s probably gonna be very reliable, it’s not gonna be very valid. So it is it is tricky is. So is there a solution that you don’t bother? No, there are lots of things that one can do. And we do with our, our clients here, oblong. And I think the first one is to make sure you have that conversation with the leadership team. And that kind of educational point of are we invest in this? Do we really want to open this can of worms? Are we ready with humility, and, you know, responsibility to take these answers on board and do something about them? Because if not, there’s not really any point in doing it either. So I think you need to get the buy in and the highest level, as we said before the board, the senior leadership team, everyone needs to be on board. The second thing, I think, again, it starts with the leadership team is promising that confidentiality, so any employee insights that we collect, we will always protect employees in terms of providing confidentiality and an anonymity and anonymity on them and having them do their thing. Anyway, as I say, committee, linearity. Thank you. So yeah, so we’ll We’ll promise this to two employees and we’ll explain to them how that will happen. We are a third party we don’t ask for any identifying information, if any information is given majority of our surveys that are quantitative just gathering data and the areas we do gather comments then we will redact them to remove any identifying details that can be from anything to my boss is a bit too you know, I like finishing work early because I can look at my two kids. Secondly, we can follow the science through so if people are dishonest or not as as candidates as we need them to be. We will see that in the results we use a predictive model of employee engagement and culture. So if it’s people answering in one way, in the culture foundations, we should see that reflected in the employee behaviours and attitudes Are certain correlations with certain behaviour. So if we don’t see that pattern follow through, then it may well suggest that we’ve got some, some inaccurate data there. And then we also follow that up all of our surveys with one to one interviews with slightly staff to dive deep into the context. Again, we don’t share any of the transcripts at the individual said, we just share the high level points of the collective group of employees that we need to spoke to. And I guess finally, you know, the argument could be, you know, people are cultures that broken and people are disengaged to the point where they don’t believe any of this. The last thing that we’ll try and do is make the point that, that this is it, this is the chance to make a change and make a difference, it’s now or never. And if they still choose never, the chances are they’re probably not gonna be in the organisation very long. Anyway, I think they’re probably on their way to a new job. So that’s what we do to try and try and reassure employees trying to make sure we collect as, as as honest data as possible. And in so far, in our experience that seems to have provided the safeguards we need to make sure we’ve got data that is accurate, and that we can do something with.

Al Elliott
So a couple of quick thoughts. So first of all, talking about is our proprietary Well, I say our this Leann has come up with

Leanne Elliott
stuffing some modest you did some design work on that to

Al Elliott
either Briatore engagement survey that we use which is called the RX seven. If you’re interested in that, by the way, just go go into the show notes and you’ll see there’s an email it is currently only open to private clients, but we’re opening it publicly very very shortly. So if you’re interested in that and get on the waitlist then you can see the email on them or you can just email Leanne at oblong hq.com What else you got LEAH I came

Leanne Elliott
across a bit of a quirky interesting story today my thought you’d like this one out. There is some research on my skills, hope and the types of different online courses you can do how that then translates to jobs that are being advertised and found that there are a lot of high paying jobs that you probably never knew existed. You can be a professional mermaid professional mermaid at some touristy seaside locations, you learn how to swim with a tail your your your you perform, you do waterbay stage shows your passions 10 of kids and of course, also depend on the job. But the estimate is that you could earn around 50,600 pounds a year.

Al Elliott
Fantastic. What about if you leave lower fishing boats onto the rocks? Can you also then just take the take the associated debris that comes off the ship? As your bonus, flotsam and jetsam was the word I was looking for.

Leanne Elliott
Yeah, so there you go. If you’re if that sounds a bit bubblegum for you. How about becoming a professional exorcist? Relax. This is someone who can drive out evil spirits, demons, Devils from possess people play some things. I would love to do an episode on paranormal psychology one day because it is just funny. But if you do want to be a professional Exorcist, then you can earn around about 40,000 per year. Nice not bad. It’s not bad at all. No, no fair job. It’s complete bullshit. That’s not bad.

Al Elliott
I’m sure there’s a joke that I’ve chosen. What if someone clever listening can driving out something I don’t think

Leanne Elliott
he goes to his client.

Al Elliott
Oh, very good. Very good.

Leanne Elliott
Well, yeah, I mean, is that is that if you if you think don’t really fancy, fancy conning people out of their hard earned cash. Then how about the taxi germiest? You could? You know stuffed animals keep people’s pets with them for all eternity

Al Elliott
and hello to all you vegetarians or vegans listening? Do you know what we used to have some of these from my I think was my granddad or my my dad’s uncle or something in our house. And when I was a kid and they scared the living shit out of me.

Leanne Elliott
So you go vaguer? You know, it’s who knows what jobs will exist only

Al Elliott
Wailea Shall we go and meet our wonderful guest? Yes.

Leanne Elliott
Today we are very excited to welcome to the podcast Oliver Yan czev. For a decade, Oliver has been at the forefront of digital marketing and transformation, helping to guide the management teams of many of the world’s most successful companies out name call you ready for this? Amazon, Apple, Coca Cola tick tock Twitch, Disney Uber just name a few of the calls himself. I’ve seen as another interview the byproduct of a holiday romance. His dad is Bulgarian his mom is from the UK. So they spent a lot of time in Eastern European culture when they were a kid and being taught about this innate mental strength and toughness tools all of a sudden that he has taken into the world of business. Interestingly, I thought he grew up wanted to be a footballer and played at a really high level in youth football. But in operation at the start the season in his school leaving year saw him take a different path into music.

Al Elliott
Now we’ve spent a bit of time I’m in Bulgaria. And part from the crazy people we met. They are some of the nicest and most genuine people, but you can see that they are determined

Leanne Elliott
lately. I’m very entrepreneurial as well, from the people we met. Fun fact,

Al Elliott
when we stayed in Bulgaria, we stayed in a place near Plovdiv, the guy who owned the house, his mate came to pick him up to go to the pub, and he came in a helicopter. Yeah, and landed in the field next to him. Victim went out, had a few beers came back, dropped him off and off. He went back home. Yeah, crazy story. Crazy Bulgaria we’ve probably genuinely have about five Bulgarian stories that are a bit crazy. What including chicken hearts.

Leanne Elliott
Hi Nico. By the way, if you’re listening, can’t imagine

Al Elliott
maybes on helicopter anyway.

Leanne Elliott
Yeah, so all of that decided to take a very different path into music. So let’s hear a little bit more about that.

Oliver Yonchev
I’m gonna start my career as a failed indie rocker. So straight out of school, I joined the music production course on the band with my brother and friends. And we went and proceeded for a few years. We got a record deal, we did a few pure cool things. And then apparently artists and creatives have ego and fallout with my brother in the guitarists fellow. We had our album, and then as I lost orientation and what I need to do something so I went to university, and you music, and inadvertedly I did, I stumbled on marketing. So half of my course was related to comms marketing, half of it was everything from music, love to music production and the eclectic mix of things I learned. And I found myself really liking marketing as in understanding how people think shale, how to influence how business works.

Al Elliott
It’s funny that that Oliver seems to be both creative and disciplined in that, you know, you have to be disciplined to play football at that kind of level to learn music. But then also the creativity comes out when he was you know, he’s talking about starting a band about being a musician, about marketing. I think there’s lots of crossover between creative people who have got the discipline and people who are successful. He’s also admits that he’s always had this sort of entrepreneurial itch. And we have something in common in that I have about 300 domains that I renew every year, and have done for about 10 years on definitely beats me on that one,

Oliver Yonchev
I wasn’t the type of person that would buy domains, you know, I have a list. And I’m not even exaggerating here. I probably spent 1000s, a year on renewing domain names of businesses that do not exist, and probably never will. Name, they’ve just been a graveyard on my reg 123. But yeah, I kind of made the decision at some point to kind of start something. And the first business that I launched was a light bulb business. And that was purely on the basis, it was called Go lights. And the idea was that I would, the idea was that I would find something I could import, I could create a margin from it. And I’ve learned how to build the website and just learn the process. And I still to this day in my storage have 1000s of labels that I checked from China, and just haven’t been boxed up. So if you ever need a local

Al Elliott
guy who seems to be a trend, if anyone who’s followed any kind of entrepreneur, entrepreneurs story, then there’s always a story like this where you start off my company, give me some beer was delivering beer in Leeds to Late Night drinkers, like from 11 till 6am. Great idea. No, it was a shit idea because I went bankrupt at the end of that. But that that then taught me how you start a business, how you do sort of marketing around that. Then I became a marketing consultant. And then I started the property business, we did well, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. But by turning off and doing something every single day, still going out there and trying to find a new opportunity often leads to these weird little meetings where you meet someone that kind of changed your life,

Oliver Yonchev
I stumbled upon a startup that was founded by Steven Bartlett called Social chain. He was doing a TED talk about building a business yet knowing nothing about business. I felt like it spoke to me. I went and met the team there and started on a new journey of helping grow and build that company. That was a bit of a rocket ship in marketing and advertising. We went through a series of a series of significant milestones as a company, we took International, I spent about almost five years in the US building the US Agency for that business. And then Stephen left, I left not long after and we decided to do something new. And that thing that was new, it was slight story. And that story was a byproduct of a lot of hindsight, what do we do? Well, what we did, what did we do not so well? What would we do differently? And what’s changed in the world? What opportunities exist right now that maybe didn’t exist a few years ago, and that’s why flagstone was born.

Al Elliott
What’s interesting about flight story is that from what Oliver says, And when we looked on the website, they seem to be going for kind have a different type of business, they’re not saying we’re going to do your social media, because you’re a drop shipping company, they’re going for like strategic consulting, the content for media for companies, disruptive brands like web three, or biotech, or maybe big financial institutions. They also seem to do have this kind of like this data and text have built in, they do cool things like something called flight deck, which is like this revolutionary attribution tool they’ve built in house, I’m pretty sure that it’s not open to the public yet, I think there’s still a waitlist. But let’s hear what flight deck actually does. slide deck

Oliver Yonchev
is our attribution model. And it looks at financial data and online factors, and looking for leading and also lagging indicators of how online factors are affecting assets being shares, crypto tokens. And it’s all started from a thesis that we had over a year ago, around attribute in our work, we were having to prove that our marketing initiatives, were doing what they said they did. And it sends us on a path of creating a product and a service that we call flight deck. And flight deck. In essence, the biggest challenge we’ve had in building flight deck was when you plug the Internet into anything, you know, you can imagine making sense of these huge data models is is a real problem to try and create clarity and make sense of the noise. So we spend a lot of time on sort of data integrity and stripping, stripping back our data sets. Absolutely. But we’re in a place now where we’re pretty comfortable. We’ve rolled it out with our first v2 set of clients. And beyond that, then we’re going to expand that further. A good example would be take added us the public company, right? Online factors, if you look at their share price and the campaign incident, if you were monitoring and using, you know, the sentiment around the conversation that surrounded us, that would inform your corporate strategy and decision making around how it’s impacting your stock. So that’s just one example where you take a, you know, a big online moment. And that’s the industry right? And figure out how is this affecting our company’s value? There’s much more tangible examples. When you do a trading announcement. You know, you want to understand what online retail investor community is saying about you. You know, and you can think of if extrapolate now, in investor relations, investor relations, AI is going to come like a wave for investor relations, like Bloomberg recently integrated, open AI into their financial data set, right. So you can start to see how, with these new language models, all you need to understand is what you’re looking for. That’s all you need to know, like, what is it I’m looking for? And they’ll figure it out.

Leanne Elliott
I’ll be honest, when I first heard about what the product was, I was I was struggling to keep up. I’m not coming down with the lingo. But that example makes perfect sense to me. And I’m quite familiar because it’s kind of a lots of people and culture type scandals, with with Adidas, so abs that makes all the sense to me. It sounds really, really cool. Really cool. But you know, of course, again, either people and culture, I know you’re loving this alcohol, there’s a marketing attribution side of it. But I want to know more about the people and culture. Oliver has been renowned for starting companies that disruptive, youthful, innovative game changing, we don’t even have time to talk about the slide Bulpitt fully stocked bar and puppy park that are in their Manchester office. But what about flight story? There is one word that I think can sum up Oliver’s approach to workplace culture. And it’s one you’ve heard us use a lot before. Intention.

Oliver Yonchev
Foundation is just being really intentional. My fundamental belief is the culture or the decisions we make now how we treat people, how we behave that will affect the legacy in 10 years. And if I’ve looked back on previous business endeavours, when we’ve been either less intentional or less thoughtful about what the collective some of all these decisions would mean, you end up with problems later down the line. So for me personally, it was really important that when we started float story, we were very intentional about our culture. And our culture stems from our mission. And we our mission is we want to achieve great things in marketing and communication. That’s our foundation. And that then guides our decision making, you know, as anyone in business, if you’re part of a team or you’re an entrepreneur, you have real decision fatigue. And particularly when you gain traction or some success, it’s actually the hardest thing to do is focus. So for us having that real clear view and intention over what we want to be in the world the ambition distilling that down into a set of principles and values, and then building a culture around those values. It’s like an objective standard. That means, you know, I don’t have to think too much we have characteristics that I think will lend themselves to people who get a lot of fulfilment and working with us. And that guides us. So I don’t think it’s an easy task. And you just started being really intentional around culture and cultures, this probably for gazer thing we all talk about. And it’s kind of a combination of top down mission leadership, how you behave at what your intent, and then also grassroots. So that team is the collective so much team and how people behave. So our job was just being really intentional about our culture.

Speaker 2
I have a feeling, Oliver that when I make this book recommendation, you’re gonna go Yeah, yeah, Leah, read that. Come on. Now keep up. On the off chance you haven’t, what you’re saying there reminds me so much of John amici. And I talk about John all the time on the podcast. But he has the most incredible book on leadership called the promises of giants. And everything you’ve talked about there. And specifically, you know, the decisions that we make today is going to affect the legacy in 10 years. And the whole concept is around like, as a leader, you are this giant, and every decision you make is going to have impact, every move you make is going to have impact. So yeah, if you haven’t, if you haven’t read it, I’d recommend I’ll leave a link in the show notes for you all of that. But

Al Elliott
also, I think this is possibly more of a second time founder thing, I think when you’ve already built something big, then you start to see the problems that you didn’t, I’m not saying this was the same this was the case with with all of his first business, but you start to see cracks. And when you start to build something from ground up, and suddenly look around and go shit, there’s 1000 of us. So when you do start something a second time round, you sort of have that benefit of hindsight, little bit, and you go, yeah, intentionality, we are intentionally going to build this thing. And it’s going to look like this.

Leanne Elliott
And listening back to Oliver. I think my favourite thing about his approach is that, you know, people and culture is firmly part of long term strategy. You know, it’s not a case of, well, we’ll deal with that when we get to and we hit 15 people, and we hit 25 billion, we hit 70 people, he’s planning for the future. And he has an aspiration for the culture flight story. From a

Oliver Yonchev
culture standpoint, I would love us to be known for a place that gives everyone a very fulfilling experience and fulfilment is very subjective. But I do think as people we all have similar wants and needs. Generally speaking, we want a sense of security employment, we want a sense of forward motion, opportunity. And we want rewards and remuneration. And we probably want to have good experiences, whether that’s learning, developments, hedonistic experiences, camaraderie, however you want to describe it. So I would say, we will win if 80% of the people that exist here, say they had this really fulfilling experience, flights,

Al Elliott
that will be a win for me. It was interesting about what I was doing. I don’t know whether you did it was social chain, but what he’s doing this time with flight flight story, he seems to be expanding through acquisition. Recently, I think he bought a another company. And so I asked him, Is this actually your Is this the strategy you’re following part of our

Oliver Yonchev
corporate strategy for flight stories. And so our view is most companies that go through have m&a as part of their business strategy for growth. They don’t spend enough time on integration. So what we’ve been over the last year being really thoughtful about defining that one set of values, we put a lot of thought in how to company how the different teams with different legacy with a different history integrate? And how do we then have a one company narrative, we’re very early on in that journey. So we haven’t actually executed that as well as we can. But we’re going through a phase right now where we’re acquiring two businesses. So in April, we had another 100 team members across three different countries to flight store. So what that means is, over the last three, four months, we’ve been really thoughtful about integration. We’ve been really thoughtful about, you know, how can we make these new teams feel re energised? How can we ensure that their lives get better on day one, the day one that they become part of life story, their lives improve? So we’ve made some commitments to those teams based on what we’ve heard and listened to. Because one of the things that really compelled me having done being part of m&a transactions in the past is it’s very much a one sided dialogue. The acquiring party never really spent the time to understand the business and think about what happens thereafter. So we in fly story, this time around, we’re very thoughtful about where we need to make the right decision. We need to take the right steps. And we need to be very intentional with how we bring teams in simple example. In a practical way, month one, we learn about each other, we make sure teams are communicating, we operate under the same communication channels, we start to over communicate updates across the business. month two, we start to get a single view on things that are important, whether that’s marketing metrics, whether that’s new business metrics, whether that’s starting to get an understanding of client bases, and where cross collaboration across services can happen. And then month three, we start to standardise some of those aspects. So what can we achieve, and then we set out another mandate for the next three months. And we try not to take on too much and achieve sort of two to three major things every month, distil it down into kind of these micro goals. And my vision, and we’ve spent a lot of time is, you know, within six months, you should be able to speak to anyone in our LA office and get basically the same answer. What is five? Sorry, what do you do? Why do you exist, who you work with. And that’s going to require a hell of a lot of work from every party involved, the companies that we’re investing in the people, the teams, and the only way we can achieve that is if we if we inspire, whenever going to dictate, you’ve got to inspire people along this journey. So it start for me, it starts with transparency, it starts with clarity, a lot of internal communication, and then a big commitment to making this stuff happen.

Leanne Elliott
This is just best practice in action. And you know, what I think was bringing, if you’re a regular listener, there’s probably not much new information there in terms of how Oliver approaches, culture and culture integration and culture change. But it’s really showing that that this is what is required at the highest level, to really make sure that that culture, works for your business, and works your people and works for your customer and works for you as a leader. It is about intention, it is about transparency, it is about over communication, it is about a big commitment to making this stuff happen. I love it. Love it. Love it love. I mean, I’m not surprised. It’s all of a young champ. But you know, it’s still it’s cool.

Al Elliott
Yeah, and I think what else is great is that he’s quite, he’s kind of open about things not necessarily being perfect straight away. Like he said that he’s acquiring these businesses. And he said, there’s, you know, there’s gonna be some struggles with that. I think that’s just really good to be realistic. But what also is cool is that he kind of says that nothing is ever wasted. So his lessons in putting the band together and dealing with egos in his band. Well, I bet that helps when you’re dealing with m&a. And you’re dealing with a new senior leader who’s coming in to, to potentially work on to you the idea of just being optimistic. And also this idea of the butterfly mind, I think, where you sort of flick from idea to idea, lightbulbs, to bands, to marketing to football, and people on the outside might go, Oh, you just can’t You can’t settle for one thing. But actually, that’s not the case. It’s just you’ve got lots of different interests. And every single thing you learn something from

Oliver Yonchev
what I’ve probably come to reflect and learn is that when I started my journey, I was very fulfilled and happy. I’ve always been an optimistic person, always been a curious person like to learn, like to try new things. And each of those experiences of life stages taught me something new. And I genuinely believe you still a piece of all those experiences, and they helped form your identity and who you are. So my foundations in creative, and music really gave me I believe some advantages when I went into a commercial environment. And then the exposure and experience I got in a large media owner, then gave me advantages when I joined and started business. And then when I went into an agency, so for me the dots as disconnected as they may seem, when you zoom out, they’ve all been sort of progressive steps of me learning some new things learned about myself. And subsequently, it’s starting a new start in a new chapter, it’s probably that they feel like chapters whenever

Speaker 2
nothing, nothing is wasted, even the most bizarre thing and nothing is wasted. And I think what I love about what Oliver is saying here, there’s there’s a psychological phenomenon called psychological capital. And it’s a key part of maintaining our own personal well being and the kind of the elements of that are optimism and self efficacy, which is like confidence in where you’re, you’re kind of what you’re doing and what you’re learning hope for the future. And then all of this kind of helps build our resilience and that kind of underpins our, our well being. So I think it’s no mistake. I mean, Oliver kind of talked about this kind of tough thinking from his Bulgarian heritage, but I actually think it is this, these kind of constructs of psychological capital that he’s working on. You have to work to be optimistic. It’s not a natural, innate thing for any of us. And I think what’s great as well is that, you know, Oliver explains it doesn’t always have to be necessarily a direct applic Haitian have that thing that you’ve learned, you know, each one turn, or each idea that’s abandoned or failed execution lessons can be learned along the way, and applied in the future.

Oliver Yonchev
These are all learnings from being part of a large organisation and doing some things right, but maybe doing some things wrong, and saying, Well, how would we do it differently this time? It’s one of the reasons why second time third time founders are much more attractive propositions to investors, because they’ve failed many times over and over again, what about hugs, actually, without failing the competition, we’ve got this philosophy that we’re quite comfortable about failing everyone. So we’re always launching new initiatives. But that comes at a cost. Sometimes we lose a little bit of focus. Sometimes we, you know, lose some, you know, we get a little distracted. But we’re working on that working on putting some guardrails around what we’re, what our common language is what we’re going to the three main

Al Elliott
lessons here, from Oliver story all around people. And the first lesson here is, is finding great people. I asked him, he said, You got some really smart people in your company, and you’ve obviously recruited people before who are really smart, how are you recruiting these amazing people,

Oliver Yonchev
I think foundation line. Our thesis on the world is that we can have a very clear mission. And when we started, it wasn’t clear. We actually for the longest time resisted calling ourselves a marketing communication company. You know, for a good six, seven months, we were trying to discover, you know, what opportunities we would take advantage. So we didn’t have all the answers. But we certainly understood the culture, we wanted to create a high performing team that was highly rewarded and wants to achieve great things. But when I think about our role is to amplify that and tell compelling stories. So whether that’s about our work, we do a lot of content marketing, through various members of the team. And I don’t think there’s any better advocacy tool than having your people, smart people represent your ideas, your philosophies, your values, and do that scale for attracting other smart people. Right. So yeah, I can’t say we have all the answers when it’s when we talk about being great people, but we do put a lot of focus in being quite transparent as an organisation, we self promote a lot. And in turn, those two things help, I suppose garnered the attention of people that either shows ambitions, those values and, and wanting to be part of that journey. What an incredible

Leanne Elliott
soundbite just what Oliver said, I don’t think there’s any better advocacy tool than having your people smart people represent your ideas, your philosophies, your values, and do that at scale, for attracting other smart people.

Al Elliott
Standing and applauding, kind of relates to the idea of, if you create a great product, then you’re going to get naturally people are going to gravitate towards it. So Netflix, for example, were really, really clear on they wanted fantastic products. So they created a manifesto, which was to attract the best engineers. Now you might not be making, you might not be making a new video streaming platform, but but just by being really product centric, that also then says we want to have this kind of product be the best, therefore one of the best people, and that just attracts amazing people.

Oliver Yonchev
You know, I don’t know, if you’ve read the Netflix culture document. It’s kind of folklore, effectively. Netflix, I think it’s almost a decade ago now released their culture manifesto. And their foundational principle was that they hire the best people. And bearing in mind, Netflix was a tech and entertainment company. And they felt for them to gain advantage. They needed the best engineers. And in engineering, you know, most disciplines, there’s a variable between one and five fold between like average to good, or average to great, right. So in say, marketing, a really good videographer, the difference between like good, and the world’s best might be a variable of fudge. In engineering, the difference between like average, and the best might be 50. Yet we want to achieve great things. We will hire engineers that can give us potentially those 50x returns, but instead of hiring, we will pay them 50x return so Amazon were known for being a really high reward high paying company, but in turn they expected so much like average was not accepted. They actually set in their manifesto that they would happily pay people to quit. This was like, you know quite capitalistic and Again, you might say it’s not a great culture. But what they derive their value from is their company mission. Their company mission was to transform the way we consume entertainment. That’s a big lofty mission. When you think of media, how we had existed for so long for decades, media has kind of existed in one form, they wanted to they wanted it had a vision for it to exist in another form, which meant they had to take quite radical views on their culture, and their people. And they wrote this, like 150 Page manifesto. That was quite controversial. But again, a really good example of letting the company mission dictate how the culture falls into that

Leanne Elliott
is the first the first lesson of people and culture, how to find great people. The second lesson is keeping great people. So Oliver believes that the key to keeping great people is to be intentional in how you build your workplace culture. He also thinks that even if it’s not the best coach in the world, intention can still play a vital role in engaging some of the best talent in the market. He uses the example of Amazon to explain further, he’s not

Oliver Yonchev
known for having a good culture, necessarily, right. Because there are ethical considerations. There are there are many factors that go in. But what I do like that Amazon, I do fundamentally, really like their values. So they have a lot of sort of quite unique folklore that exists within their culture, which is things like day one mentality, one of the world’s largest, and most successful companies, tries to retain a day one mentality. And if you think of that as like a value, it’s Treme shapes the way you behave, and what you reward. And as a philosophy, that simply the powerful, it means that you create a culture of experimentation, you try new things, all the things that typically as a company gets, gets more challenging as you get larger, they try and retain some of that. So that’s like one example. The other is they fundamentally believe that teams work better in smaller cohorts, where you have influence today have the piece of box roll, where teams shouldn’t, should be able to share two pieces, right? Once the team gets bigger than that becomes ineffective. So structurally, that changes how we think about hiring and depth of team and how companies interoperate and how teams work together. When you have that kind of philosophy. The other is they ban PowerPoints? So they reverse engineer a report. So what do we want the outcome to be? Let’s reverse engineer what the post project report and that’s the business case you submit to get funding. So there’s like philosophies that exist in an organisation like Amazon that started very early, were very intentional. And that’s now shaped how, and undoubtedly fueled a lot of their success. So I won’t say they’re a shining example of what we a typical example of great culture, but they’re certainly very intentional, and set systems around what they believe to be a high performing culture. Oliver also

Leanne Elliott
shared the cautionary tale of Nasty Gal found at Sophia Amoruso. What started as an eBay store, the fashion brand grew from 250,000 pounds to 100 million in sales in just six years. But four years on, Sophia was gone, Nasty Gal filed for bankruptcy, and was subsequently bought by boohoo.com for only $20 million dollars. Some say the demise was down to liquidity issues caused by the rapid growth. Well, there’s the opening physical stores was a mistake. Oliver also cites culture, as one of the reasons underpinning is path to bankruptcy, you’re gonna

Oliver Yonchev
have a podcast relatively recently, and I don’t know if it’s released yet, but I think it will be soon with one of the founders of a online fashion brand called Nasty Gal. And the founder of that company was championed, and she coined a book or a phrase called Girlboss. And it was a bit of a movement in the US and it transcended the globe. And it was really about empowering young women. And she’s very transparent about the challenges she faced as a young woman and how that fueled her and some of the steps she took to building a business. What happens that business became tremendously successful quite quickly. And when we say Quicken entrepreneurship, we’re talking like five to 10 years, we say quick, but like, she became successful over you know, a short period of time. And what she said is off the back of this, her culture was demonised in the public when the company started to fail, the company was like demonised really demonise finding this toxic culture you have this, this celebrated entrepreneur that was demonised for how she treated her employees and she will acknowledge She talks about the thing that she wasn’t wasn’t intentional. She doesn’t believe that all the criticism was fair. She just said, we just didn’t know what we were doing. We weren’t thoughtful. The decisions we made were intentional. And as a consequence, the culture that formed particularly when there are strains and tensions in a business aren’t always perfect. So I think, I think to go back to like, the common thread, it’s purely the word intention. They’re very thoughtful about where they want to be, and then they enforce it. They’re actually the idea and stick towards whatever those guiding principles are for that organisation,

Leanne Elliott
tension, commitment, follow through, and forcement people and culture takes work, you have a culture, whether you know it or not, that that is not intentional, that just exists. But in terms of shaping a culture that’s going to work for your business, enable its groves better support your customers, and help your employees thrive. That takes careful consideration, a really clear plan. And, and this, it is enforcement and the only way to enforce is to measure it to know what’s going on. Yeah, love it. Oliver love you.

Al Elliott
got such a great way of summarising ideas very eloquently, but also easy to understand. So lesson number three is called inspiring great people. Now inspiring great people comes back to great leadership, because leaders set examples either for collaboration or innovation or ways of working. They know that success is kind of like a team sport, so everyone’s going to cooperate. We also know from research that creativity and innovation are always going to thrive in environments when there is diversity of both experience thought and every single type of diversity. This has been a key point of reflection for Oliver. And his advice is to embrace and champion diversity, I

Oliver Yonchev
reflect a lot on probably the difference of the makeup of the team here. I’ve got a renewed appreciation for bringing together teams of very different backgrounds, and backgrounds in the sense of career experiences. When we first launched lifestory, we were very geared towards servicing the finance industry. And in doing so we brought together a lot of consultants and people that had deep rooted experience in those arenas. And we brought together people from from our traditional background that were creative strategists. And what I inadvertently found is that people steal from each other, you know, the great qualities everyone needs, generally will lean into their strengths. But when you bring together different worlds, this sort of Clash of experiences, you end up with something that’s quite unique. And I started to realise that when we formed the teams and how we’re thinking about who should join the business, I have this real conviction around bringing together different experiences. And actually, it means it’s quite difficult to pull up a job spec. For certain roles that don’t exist. I’ll give you a good example. We believe culture matters and community matters. So we’re thinking about who’s going to be our chief who’s going to be accountable for enforcing culture, and it sounds those two words don’t sound you know, they send juxtaposed to each other and false and culture, but someone who’s going to be accountable and responsible for ensuring that we fundamentally as a team behave, how we say we should. And we thought you know, as part of that process, we probably need someone who has a sports psychology background, who’s used to understanding how people think to use the shaping teams for optimal performance. So that’s like one tangible example where we think when we think about all design and who we need in the organisation, we’re trying to think outside the box of who’s going to complement the set of stakeholders and add value to who we have in the business. Um, we think a lot about these things we make some good decisions, we make some bad decisions like anyone else. But what we fundamentally are is we’re very intentional with these types of things

Leanne Elliott
or somebody with a business psychology background, just saying your sports psychology is all well and good but I can maybe look at organisations psychologist as well you know, that kind of kind of their world. And if it is hard to pull up a jobs back that’s called a job analysis, which also organisation psychologists such as myself are trained to do. Just a thought Oliver, we’ll leave that with you leave that with you. But ya know, it is cool, isn’t it? And I think what’s interesting about when we when we prep these episodes are some episodes where we have a very clear question to answer it for day work we sit very clear questions we need to answer so we kind of go on with a structure and you know, we kind of fit fit everything around it so we can answer these these important questions. When we have founders on or individuals we prep these in a way that just kind of seed where the episode takes us what the thing enums are what we’re pulling out, then look at how we can structure it in a way that that perhaps provides a bit of a narrative with some lessons learned as well. And what was really interesting about this, we did exactly this with, with Oliver. And when accounting came to the end, and we were kind of putting the lessons together, or even just ordering kind of what was left into lessons, we had these three things, finding great people, keeping great people, inspiring great people. And completely coincidentally, that just happened to mirror our own culture framework here at oblong. And I think it really just goes to show that culture is a science people is a science, it has methodology, it has structure, it has intent. So yeah, it’s even if you’re sceptical go yet early on, whatever you totally just engineered that in, I didn’t, because that’s actually just the science of people

Al Elliott
want, the quickest way to innovate and create something really cool or to grow is to not look at what your competitors are doing. But look at what someone in a totally different, like sphere is doing. So if you have if you if you are, I don’t know a plumber, then maybe look and see what dry cleaners are doing. And it’s interesting, when you get business owners together from different walks of life, you tend to find some really interesting ideas. That’s one guy, I never would have thought of that in a million years to come from somewhere else. Quick aside, the structure of this format of this podcast right now the format is kind of more like one of those murder sort of podcasts or more like serial, the podcast than if we were just looked at all of our competitors, or they’ll wind up using competitors. But everyone else in the in the sphere, they tend to do a linear interview questions, and we do more of the serial thing where we’ll get some tape, we’ll play it and then we’ll respond to it. Anyway, so should we finish up with a couple of Hot Topic views?

Leanne Elliott
Yeah. Do

Al Elliott
you kids call them

Leanne Elliott
hot topic? I don’t know. I’m sure that’s not what the kids call. It’s what I call it. That’s the word Jake. Is it

Al Elliott
hot tech? I think supposed to when you when you say something, which is supposed to be like quite controversial, I think.

Leanne Elliott
Okay, okay. Wherever these are hot take. There’s no Gen Gen Z’s let us know if they are hot takes without would have been a word of the week. Anyway. So yeah, we couldn’t have one of the most forward thinking business and tech leaders on the show without getting his view on some of the hot topics at the moment. So first of all, our friends, Gen Zed. We heard a couple of episodes ago in our Gen panel about what Gen Xers want from the world of work and how millennials are also keen to see the disruption of remote hybrid and flexible work stick. We also heard about how Gen X led the charge in tech and Boomers are now pioneering what it means to be a modern elder. So you know, we have to ask Oliver, do you see major differences in Gen Zed? Compared to millennials or older generations?

Oliver Yonchev
There’s there’s two trains of thought if you ask a young person today, they will. It’s probably this is not a new phenomenon. This is past generations, they would say the people before them or our touch. And then if you ask any generation of who came after them, you probably say they’re entitled, precious. I don’t think these are new stories. We just have social media to amplify these narratives on both ends, right. But I don’t think fundamentally the differences have changed. Basler what I would say younger generations have made different choices. And I don’t demonise those choices. I think when you start your career, usually optimistic you haven’t been beaten by the life stick. You’ve not made the as faced as much adversity as you do as you progress through your life. And so if so, I’d say there’s a certain naivety to young teams, that changes as you evolve and grow. That said, I think naivety, when applied correctly can be a wonderful energising business. So for me, the perfect team dynamic is when you have a experienced head sat next to that young, ambitious at the heart of kind of culture next to each other, communicating, absorbing learning from one another. They’re wonderful team dynamics, I think there’s a place for both. Not easy to do. And when you think about organisational design, and you know the things you care about, I care about to maybe a 19 year old, maybe wildly different, right? So maybe it’s an impossible task to serve everyone, and you don’t have to. But I do think there’s a sweet spot if you can serve create environments and workplaces that people can start their careers in ambition, incredibly fulfilled and learn and develop, but also provide, you know, fulfilment for people that are more experienced that are later on in the later stages of their career. But yeah, I think young people have as maybe an evolved value set. I think they’re a little more optimistic, a little more ideologically driven. I think you’ve certainly it’s the old adage you get a little more conservative with age, because you maybe wisdom and experiences you’ve garnered over time. So there are undeniable differences. So I don’t think these are new films at all. I think it’s always existed.

Leanne Elliott
Very sad, rounded view there, I think calling on the aspects of the modern elder that carry so beautifully explained to us a few episodes ago. My favourite bit there. Yeah, these people haven’t been beaten by the life stick. Yeah, it’s so true there isn’t I remember, you know, being being younger and going into environments where, you know, I want to change things like, Oh, we could do this. And we could do this. And somebody’s going, Yeah, we tried that didn’t work here. We tried that didn’t work. And it’s really frustrating. But equally, you know, six years on, you’re like, yeah, no, that didn’t work. But yeah, love it. Love it. Love it. Love it.

Al Elliott
So talking revolutionary, I couldn’t end a conversation with a company that deals with web three and emerging technologies without mentioning AI. As you know, I’m big fan of AI chat. GPT is cool. But auto GPT. I don’t know whether this this comment is going to age well, but I think it’s going to really change things an awful lot. Let’s find out and he is here first. Well, maybe not here first. But we wanted to ask what all of his take was on AI and the future.

Oliver Yonchev
I think AI is going to revolutionise every aspect of every profession over the next 20 years. I don’t think it’s going to be a media. But I think it’s comparable to the changes in society that happened because of the internet. If you think of the big meteoric sort of legacy of digitization, it started with the internet, we became interconnected, then the emergence of commerce was born, right? So we’re able to transact and sell things and exchange goods. underpinning that, then we got, you know, better immersive experiences as hardware, improve bandwidth, improve internet and speeds improve, we can have pictures and videos, which paved the way for social media. In parallel, you have mobile, that sort of underpinning and created apps. So you have these old ecosystems that create new business models. And then you kind of end up where we are today, where there’s all this emerging technology. And this the way I view web three, or the next evolution of the Internet is the completion of a number of things. I think it’s the completion of technologies built on the blockchain. And purists of web three would say our future is, you know, permissionless, decentralised, autonomous, is quite utopia, Ik, it cuts out the middleman. It’s fairer. That’s a good thing, right. But that narrative is no different to the people that evangelise for the internet. This idea of the internet was built on, we get access to information, there’s no middleman, the media is less relevant. But they have the same sort of moral, evangelical sort of narrative that exists. So that you have these these factors, technologies that I believe are built from the blockchain, you then have immersive digital experiences. So this is all the innovation that goes in AR VR gaming, just talking about, you know, this idea of the metaverse, and people have this complete view that the metaverse is Mark Zuckerberg version this, like clunky, you know, false phonearena, where we spend time together? Probably not that my version of the metaverse is when our digital lives equal, have equal merit to our physical lives. And you know, that’s not such a leap to say, how much time do we spend online? How much time do we spend consuming digital things? Is it a stretch to say that we will value things in our digital worlds equally as much of the real world possible right, to start to see that bridge of immersive digital experiences. The third reiteration adjacent to that is weapons talked about right now, AI and AI is not new, right. But what is new is people the rate of exponential change, and the rate of application of these large language models. And I have bias because we work in the creative arts. So seeing how transformative these technologies are to marketing is phenomenon. And like, even if you’re a sceptic, this idea that you can be twice as efficient now in what you do, maybe you could spend half your time on things that matter more than administrating the executional tasks. That’s quite compelling, right? That changes in industry. go a step further and say can machines do it better than us? That can blow your mind you might not even want to go that far. But Chuck GPT for now, and take like a professional they’ll go abstract law, right? chatted up for 90% of the time will pass the bar exam. That’s today. And bear in mind, these models are the worst they’ll ever be. So when you see something that AI is created on data you’ve got Wow, it’s mind blowing. Just remember, that’s the worst it’s ever going to be never going to be worse than that. And it’s very impressive. Now whether that So, you know generative art, whether that’s generative video, whether that’s these large language models that can make sense of the wildly vast datasets? And then you think of how do all these things come together? Well, actually, we don’t know, you know, my favourite topic is the future because like, you can’t prove me wrong today, and maybe a year or two, but interesting and fun to speculate. And you can start to see how these emerging technologies can start to complement one another, to create new possibilities, new futures, new opportunities to get as a business, we are very much putting our stake in the future hat of saying, how can we leverage what’s available to us today to help companies be better, faster, cheaper, more effective, but also having a view on what’s coming next? How can we help companies prepare for this wave of innovation that will undoubtedly have winners and losers? So yeah, that’s kind of the space that starts from our standpoint of knowledge, we have to try and understand these things, we have to learn about them. And it’s a fun space to be in because wild right now,

Al Elliott
I love the idea that things can This is the worst they’re going to be I started using mid journey, which does AI creation of images, probably about four months ago. And now I’m using it. In fact, if you go to our new website, then you’ll see that all of the images there a creative image journey, and they are like 1020 30 times better than when I first started using it. So yep, I love all that I’m 100% on board. And if we get it wrong, then

Leanne Elliott
we’ll learn from it. And it will inform our present and our future. And we’ll look back and go, nothing’s ever wasted.

Al Elliott
So I think that there was a couple of parting words of wisdom.

Leanne Elliott
There are I mean, we could have spoke to all of it all day, but he is a very, very busy person, his insights, his energy, they’re so inspiring. So before we go, let’s have some parting words of wisdom from Oliver, to you. First, to our younger listeners. Well, I would

Oliver Yonchev
like to say to young people, there are some undeniable truths that I think need to we don’t need to be ashamed of, like hard work actually sets you up for success. What you work harder, is probably more consequential than hard work on its own. What you choose to spend your time doing, or pay dividends. So I think that matters equally as much. But yeah, I think young people have as maybe an evolved value set. I think they’re a little more optimistic, a little more ideologically driven. I think you certainly it’s the old adage, you get a little more conservative with age, because you maybe have wisdom and experiences you’ve garnered over time. So there are undeniable differences, but I don’t think these are new found runs at all, I think it’s always existed. So that’s

Al Elliott
the advice to young people. Anyone who’s looking to go into entrepreneurialism, then Oliver also has some advice. I mean, if you’re doing anything that is creative, or new, then you’re always gonna be lonely. You know, you look at anyone who’s got 1000 2000 followers on YouTube is guarantee is gonna be someone who’s in the comments, telling them how awful their videos are, there’s going to be risk, it’s going to be tough, but you just got to love it. Because ultimately, you’re getting up every morning and you’re doing what you love, and you’re creating something new.

Oliver Yonchev
I consider myself very privileged and blessed to have the autonomy I do to work with people that I like that I learned from. I never get a even in the hardest of times, I never get the Oh, no, Monday’s here. So So for me, as much as I can I say entrepreneurship can be lonely when you’re building a business. I think it’s so important that you have that’s why I think co founder and having a founding team people that you can trust that can empathise, either an entrepreneurial networks and support systems where you can have objective voices. I think that’s really important. But ultimately, we’re in a business when when things go, Well, you get more credit than you deserve. When things go wrong, you know, you you’re accountable. Both those two things exist. And that can be a lonely place and businesses difficult, right? 90% of businesses fail. If you know the odds, you probably wouldn’t do it. But for me motivation comes from a few things it comes from, I enjoy what I do. I like the people I’m around and it’s something I’ve come to learn. I like building things with people that I admire and learn from. And then the last thing is, yeah, I don’t get those those knee jerk reactions to Monday. So whatever I still have that drive. I’ll continue doing what I’m doing.

Al Elliott
We just talked about AI. And so AI is potentially going to take Yes, it’s going to take some of the lower level jobs, like perhaps a web design, just a basic web design or that kind of thing. But instead of being scared, be fascinated. Think about the opportunities that are available to you.

Oliver Yonchev
I will be a world in the not too distant future where I just know what I want. I want a website that looks like ours. website in the colour green that does this, this and this. Can you write me the code for that? How do I then use that code? Can you recommend what I do next? But you just need to know what to ask. And if you do that, the generation that generative art code, you know, images, pictures, videos, these worlds are going to be created for us. So I think it’s fascinating. I’ve kind of segwayed across like a million different things there. As you can tell, I’m passionate about the artist possible,

Leanne Elliott
passionate about the art of possible I think that is the perfect way to end this episode.

Al Elliott
I’m getting that no t shirt. I’m gonna go. Yeah, I want that on a t shirt. Yeah, we will get that in T shirt with a little light bulb just to just as as a nod to the very first business that Oliver started.

Leanne Elliott
Oh, oh, I just can’t warm and fuzzy. So sweet.

Al Elliott
will get one set, we’ll get one printed up and send it to Oliver. I wish I hadn’t recorded this now because now I’m gonna have to do it.

Leanne Elliott
Yeah, you are.

Al Elliott
Okay, so, hopefully Oliver has listened this far and I don’t have to go and get a t shirt designed. So next week, we’re diving more into the employer brand and specifically about building an inclusive brand, the respects and celebrates diversity. We’re gonna be joined by the absolutely incredible Sonia Thompson from inclusion marketing. Go and have a look at our podcasts search for inclusion and marketing wherever you get your podcasts. She’s not only amazing, but she’s also really knowledgeable and just has a way of we’re able to take that knowledge and just help you understand it really easily.

Leanne Elliott
Yeah, and she’s also just an all around awesome, nice, lovely person. So yeah, definitely check that out if you can’t wait checkouts on your Thompson’s podcast, inclusion and marketing. Thank you so much to our incredible guest, Oliver Yan chef, it has been such such a privilege and pleasure to have you on the show. If you’d like to hear more from Oliver or find out more about flight story, we will leave you all the links that you need in the show notes.

Al Elliott
So we’ll see you next time. Thanks for listening. Bye bye

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