Great interview with Linzi Wilson, Brand and Marketing Strategist for Startups at Hello Glow and cofounder of FairSurf
Your background? What led you into what you do now – both surf + advising startups on how to have online presence?
I’ve had a pretty interesting entrepreneurial journey – I spent many happy years running a surf school here in Jersey. During that time I started running live events (FMX,BMX, Skate & Surf) that evolved into a pretty serious side hustle. I worked for the government for a couple of years, developing an environmental accreditation program for businesses, and then shifted back into working for myself, setting up a boutique eco surf music festival. Four years in, with a great track record & a sell out crowd each year, we decided to grow. But we grew too big too soon (a mistake many entrepreneurs make), and started down a road that would ultimately lead to the collapse of that business.
After that failure (and a stint of surf coaching – because it was good for the soul !) I re-trained as a coach and blended my marketing & branding experience with my coaching to develop a program that guides entrepreneurs, start ups & non-profits through the branding process.
How did you find Web / Surf Summit?
We’re a team of 4 at Fair Surf, and Easkey was asked to speak at Surf Summit this year. I already had both events on my wish list so it was the perfect opportunity to spend some time in Ireland and connect with an incredible bunch of people. For me, Web Summit was fascinating on a few levels, one from my background in live events, any event that has 42,000 attendees was always going to be worth checking out ! We’re in the process of building our next event in Portugal for 2016, so it’s always interesting to get to as many events as we can, you’ll always leave with new ideas & new contacts. Also, from a business perspective, the marketing & content summits were jam packed with great speakers.
Surf Summit was the perfect way to decompress after the craziness of Web Summit. To really have the time & space to connect with people at a deeper level, and to do it whilst surfing, SUP’ing & hanging out in Sligo was pretty much the best combination I can think of !
What useful encounters came out of it?
Some great connections within the tech industry. We’ve built an incredible offline experience with Fair Surf, and now the challenge is to reflect that in an online platform that enables us to facilitate connection and collaboration for impact. So for us, the discussions we had around how best to build that platform were really useful. We were really grateful for the support & advice we received, and we’re excited to build on those relationships.
What does your Fair Surf aim to do?
At Fair Surf, we’re re-imagining surfing for social good. There are many organisations and individuals working to make a difference in the world but they often have one thing in common: they work in isolation as a single entity or part of an organisation which may not share information or collaborate. Fair Surf works to dispel disparity and provide the tools to make collaboration easy thus creating mutual knowledge.
How was last 12 months?
Busy ! As I said, there are four of us on the team, and on top of Fair Surf, we’re all running our own businesses &/or non-profits. Lizzie is based in Indonesia, Carolina in Portugal, Easkey in Ireland and myself in Jersey.. so the last 12 months have been all about time management, skype meetings & strategy ! The development of Fair Surf, and the process in which it evolves is something we care deeply about, so it has been fascinating for us to work together as a team and bring our very different & diverse skill sets together.
Anything you’d do differently?
We’re big fans of the Lean Start Up concept, and so we try and stick to those principles wherever possible. But we’re also big idea people, so it can be tricky to rein those ideas in ! So I guess that would be something we’d do differently.
I’m also learning the value of saying no. This last 12 months have been a really big one for me in terms of business growth & new opportunities. But it’s all to easy to keep saying yes, and end up burning out.
— FairSurf (@FairSurf1) September 18, 2014
Tips for new startups?
I guess I might sound a little biased here, but focus on getting super clear on your brand identity. I don’t mean your logo, I mean spending time understanding your why, learning how best to tell your story and how to build a solid brand experience. Also, my biggest failures have always come from not listening to my gut instincts. It’s easy to assume that others know best, or to put people on a pedestal when you’re in start up mode, but it can lead to dangerous mistakes. Lastly, go read The Lean Start Up & Rework – both epic books for anyone in business !
What sort of companies do you help and why?
I tend to work with small start ups & entrepreneurs. My work is all online so it means I end up working with a really diverse group of clients around the world. There’s no one industry or sector that I specialise in. I’ve just started running my branding program within the corporate sector as well, leaning into company culture & implementing the brand identity within the team internally as well as externally for clients/customers. Working with Fair Surf has also connected me to a lot of folk in the non-profit or for-purpose world, which has been really interesting. So many businesses fail, not because what they do isn’t worth buying or investing in, but because they don’t communicate it well.
Your biggest successes?
On a personal level, I think starting again from (minus) scratch after the failure of the events business has been my biggest challenge, but also my biggest success. These days my definition of success looks very different to how it used to ! This year I developed an environmental education & water safety program for kids on SUP’s, called SUPKids, which is now rolling out in 15 countries.. so that definitely goes on the list ! For my branding work, my client’s success is really what matters, whether that’s increased sales, raised awareness of their brand or new opportunities for them as a business – I get pretty stoked on that stuff.
Without naming names, what have been the common reasons for the failure of some of the companies you worked with?
Not understanding the value of niching products or services and wanting to be everything for everyone. It comes from a scarcity mindset, where entrepreneurs believe that if they narrow their market they have less chance of success, but the reality is actually the opposite.
Future trends you’re excited about?
I’m intrigued to learn how best we can continue to lean into technology without losing the ability to be present and to connect on a very human level.
What’s next for you?
Thankfully staying in one place for at least the next 8 weeks ! This year has been a hectic one in terms of working on the road. It looks like we’ll all be working from Portugal for a good chunk of the year, especially in the run up to Surf for Social Good Summit in October. I’ll be on the road a lot with SUPKids, setting up delivery centres. And in terms of my branding work, I’m building an online version of my program, so that I can shift out of the £ for hours business model. I’m excited to continue 1:1 branding work, but this will enable me to reach a wider audience without having work every single hour of the day !
I just uploaded "Travel London Bali" to Vimeo: https://t.co/I6ErHlGMz9
— Hello Glow (@hello_glow) May 22, 2015
How do you manage life / work /online / offline?
I think being a surfer helps. There’s an intrinsic pull to spend more time in the ocean. Having said that, as any entrepreneur who loves what they do will tell you, it’s very hard to stop working. I work super hard but in a flexible way, meaning, if the surfs pumping, I’ll plan my day around the tide and then do whatever it takes to get the work done. I’m at my best (most productive & most creative) when I’m happy & healthy, so it’s pretty vital for me to get plenty of time outdoors in the fresh air.
How can people contact you?