The UnNoticed Entrepreneur - how to overcome being overlooked.

How to break the glass ceiling as an entrepreneur by swapping equity with a listed company.

September 09, 2021 Jim James
The UnNoticed Entrepreneur - how to overcome being overlooked.
How to break the glass ceiling as an entrepreneur by swapping equity with a listed company.
Show Notes Transcript

Even when you're a successful small business, you tend to face a glass ceiling. Uh, you can't, as a small business, you can't win the big contracts because you can't win the big contracts you remain a small business. This is a problem Callum Laing is solving with his company MBH, the UK listed Plc in which privately held companies switch equity for shares in the public company. 

Callum talked to me from Singapore not only about the business model but how he built an entrepreneur portal EnterpriseZone.cc with over 2000 entries and his micro podcast strategy for brand building and finding potential investee companies. 



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Jim_James:

Are we ready?

Callum Laing:

Ready born. Ready?

Jim_James:

A Born, born, Ready? I have the absolute pleasure to have Callum Laing with me today. Callum is joining us all the way from Singapore. Callum, Hi thanks for joining us again.

Callum Laing:

Great to catch up again.

Jim_James:

He says again, because Callum and I knew each other back in the mid nineties, back in Singapore, I think wasn't it when we're all running internet. Yeah, where we were spring chickens, running internet businesses. And, Callum has been an entrepreneur, for many years and very successfully. And he's going to talk to us today about the group that he's built, which is listed UK company. and he's built an amazing listed vehicle out of a number of other companies can tell us about MBH corporation and how you've got that business notice and listed.

Callum Laing:

Yeah, so very simply, MBH was a solution to a problem that I had had as a small business owner. I think you have come across in your realm as a small business owner, that even when you're successful small business, you tend to face a glass ceiling. you can't, as a small business, you can't win the big contracts because you can't win the big contracts. You remain a small business. It's difficult to attract good senior staff. When you're a small business, you don't have the resources of a big company. and then what tends to happen. Successful small businesses get sold to bigger players in their industry. And the problem with that is that invariably, you have to go along as part of that deal. So they're normally like a three year or a five year earn out. and the problem with us entrepreneurs is we just don't make very good employees. and, we, so we were just not very good at being told what to do. Especially when it comes to our own baby. And, you've been in this industry long enough that you've seen scores I'm sure of, entrepreneurs that have been acquired by WPP and publicists and Omnicom and others, and have been spat out. Yeah. Quit in disgust six months later or fired from their own company. And it just seemed like a, that's not a very good solution. you'll have spent the last 10, 20 years of your life creating value for others. And so the idea of agglomeration this particular company MBH is that we find good well-run profitable, small businesses. They swap their private equity for public equity. But the founder keeps full control over their business. So it's their brand, it's their hiring and firing it's their culture. They don't need to run anything past anyone. They just carry on running the business as they always have. But they're part of this amazing collaborative of other entrepreneurs that now have a vested interest in their success. And they have a vested interest in other people's success. and they've got this stock so they can go out and they can give stock incentives to staff and they can go and do their own acquisitions. yeah, it's just a, it's a very, I was saying to you earlier, I'm incredibly lucky. I just get to hang out with cool successful business owners from, around the world and then try and share their stories with investors. So it's a lot of fun.

Jim_James:

and you are a successful entrepreneur because in Singapore you've built a business really out of an idea. And yeah. Having been in those conversations with big companies and you're on a five-year earn-out and, more than one of my friends who sold a company, didn't get the final years, earn out payments. So a great solution, but from communications perspective, Callum, you've also built a listed company without all of the sort of investment bankers and all the entourage that hang on to those vehicles. Can you just tell us then how have you been building really amongst those three audiences because you've got the potential companies to buy into, you've got your investors and you've got the ones you've bought into. Do you want to just share what have you been doing to build the brand and get noticed?

Callum Laing:

Yeah. So I think, yeah, some something that, that you're delving deeply into is this idea of personal branding and it's something that I've been working. Harder. And I think I I had that, reticence that a lot of people have about not wanting to put themselves out front and all of that sort of stuff. And then, I realized a number of years ago. How much time it saves you if you're well known. and I realized that if somebody, if you've written a book, for example, or even just written an article or you've been on a, podcast or somebody has read your blog posts, if you have a meeting with someone and they've already heard about you and read about you. Half the sales is done. They already know what you're capable of. They already know your values. and so you can get straight down to talking about logistics, which is a much more interesting conversation than, when I was a younger entrepreneur, the amount of coffee meetings I used to go to and then spend the first half hour trying to convince them that I was worthy of their time. And of course the worst person to sell yourself is is yourself. yeah, once I embraced that idea, then I did invest in things like putting together a book. but my first book out called progressive partnerships, about five or six years ago. and I've done numerous, attempts. And one of the ones that we've been talking about previously is I realized that one of the best ways to build my brand was to help other people build their brand and support other people. And so I put together a platform to showcase entrepreneurs that are doing cool things, but are not currently featured by the media because one of the other things I discovered about the media. Is, they all say they want to break new stories and, find hidden talent. But actually what they want to do is just wait until somebody else has done it and then copy what somebody else has done. what I discovered is that if I can, give somebody their first published interview, put that on our platform, then very often it's much, much easier for them to then go and get other media interviews. and yeah, it just gets progressively easier kind of snowballs. so yeah, we've got a platform called enterprisezone.cc, and we've published more than 2000 interviews with great entrepreneurs from around the world. and those kind of built up.

Jim_James:

Yeah, that's a really smart idea as well. And now you're telling me as well, tell that you've built a very nice sort of model in terms of who does the work to get noticed, recognizing that for those entrepreneurs, the value you're bringing is the platform and the distribution. So for many people, including me, I'm interviewing people and going down that, that path of content creation. done it a bit differently and quite smart. I think I'm going to learn some lessons from you. Just share with us your sort of workflow as well.

Callum Laing:

It's mainly cause I'm lazy.

Jim_James:

Smart. Just very smart.

Callum Laing:

I think so actually the original one came about when I was, I had this idea of, I had some really cool, business owners in my network that I wanted to show. and I reached out to a platform and I offered to interview these entrepreneurs for this platform and this particular platform, their biggest challenge was they didn't have enough content. And so I had proposed to them that I would publish an interview once a month and they came back and they said, would you be open to once a week? And I jokingly said, what about once a day? And they said, yeah, that'd be great. And I went

Jim_James:

oh, yeah. Oh,

Callum Laing:

okay. Yeah. but what. Realized was that okay. if you're gonna do that, I didn't have time to do that. I was running companies and doing other things. I had a day job, but, say if I was going to do that, I had to get smart about how I systemized it. And, originally I used a lot of virtual assistants, so I would have. Automated email sets ups and virtual assistants and people, it was the same questions and people would go into a Google doc and just fill in the answers, upload their photos and virtual assistants would do everything. So again, I wouldn't actually be involved until the interview was published and then I'd get to read it. And those people would also recommend other entrepreneurs that they thought deserved the content. now actually with the no code movement, there's a lot of great systems out there. and I actually ended up getting, automated an awful lot of it. so we have these, interviews that get published every day. and then last summer during sort of a lockdown boredom, I launched a little mini podcast, or my micro podcast, and it's just entrepreneurs answering one question. And the one question is, tell me about a time that you overcame a challenge in your entrepreneurial journey and what you learned from it. but again, I send them to a webpage. They fill in their details, they upload their web. And then photos, and then there's a button that they press and it's, just a records up to four minutes of their content. and as soon as they can rerecord, if they don't like it. And then when they hit submit, that just goes to my audio editor who topped and tails it and, publishes it and then it gets broadcast out through a whole network. it, again, it's a very, lazy man's. Doing.

Jim_James:

absolutely Callum, I think that's absolutely brilliant. Would you care to share what's the platform that enables people to just log on and then record and share? Is that like a loom style or?

Callum Laing:

Yeah, I am the one that I found really good that I'm using at the moment is JotForm. which is a little bit like a sort of Google form. but on steroids, it's it's just a lot more options to it. but yeah, there's so many. Cool platforms now. And till I note that part of the danger is that you can get lost in the technology and spend days exploring it. so I tend to find something basic that works and then build it from there. But, yeah, just jot forms what I'm using at the moment. And it's very effective. There's a bunch of different options on it, but I haven't exlored loads but it does, it also allows, automated email sequences and fires off so I can recommend three other people and that fires off an email sequence and all of that. Good stuff, which is great while that's working. And then a year later something goes wrong and you have to go back into it and you can't remember what you've done or how it all ties.

Jim_James:

But, now we started to do is, my VA records with loom all the different processes that we've got, because as you say, you create a process do it once set it, and then you have to go back six months later. And we can't remember how we configure the auto sequencing, tool. Kind of what about the investor relations? Because the sort of profiling the entrepreneur. I love that idea. Brilliant. But you've got IR work to do and having managed an IPO Singapore before it's a very different kind of business IR isn't it? How are you managing the share price communications? Because if you've got multiple companies, in the portfolio for the investors, that's a harder beast to understand isn't it.

Callum Laing:

It's. Yes, it is. and. And I won't pretend I'm being anywhere near as effective with investors as I am with entrepreneurs. I found it's a very different mindset, very different mindset. so for example, I I thought, look, a really easy way to build a network of investors is just to replicate what I've done with entrepreneurs. I'll create a platform for investors, profiling investors on that would be interesting. you ask an entrepreneur to recommend three entrepreneurs that deserve more limelight. They will give you a list 10 long. you ask an investor. To recommend someone else. I don't know. I'm not going to do that. it's a very different, mindset. and, so I think that's, I've had to change my approach a bit. but the flip of it is that. One of the advantages that we've got at MBH is I don't run any of these companies. so I don't have to worry about clients and staff in the individual companies. I've got the time to focus on the investor relations and on the media. and so we can put together a lot of content. And I think that really does give us a huge advantage. I genuinely, my, my heart goes out to CEOs of small companies that go public, because it's really, it's a full-time job just dealing with investors. and these people already have full-time jobs.

Jim_James:

Investors and the analyst community advise the investor community, That's another,

Callum Laing:

Yeah.

Jim_James:

or

Callum Laing:

Yes, it is. And I think, one of the other things we've been doing this now for six years, there's a lot of, there's a lot of nonsense. there's an awful lot of it's like any industry, I guess when you come into it, Most people don't have any experience of the public market. So they tend to get fleeced by advisors that will tell you that you have to engage these very expensive IR people. And, a lot of it is just nonsense and that they do a really poor job. I give you an example. We, one of the, I won't name them, but they are one of the most high profile. investor relation companies in the world and they gave us a proposal. And just one part of their proposal was to build our social media. for three, that this particular part of the proposal was 3000 euros a month. And for 3000 euros a month, they would publish three articles on LinkedIn for us. Now we had to write the articles, but they would publish them on LinkedIn for. And that was 3000 euros a month.

Jim_James:

What's crazy is that someone somewhere must have paid that for them to feel that's a price they can get away with. But I guess if you're a CEO and you're spending shareholder money,

Callum Laing:

Yeah. And probably more not aware of it. yeah. You and I probably spend a lot of time on LinkedIn connecting with people and we know the platform and how to use it. If you've never used the platform before, and someone tells you I was critical that you post. Yeah, no, you don't know how to publish it and then maybe right. But it's but yeah, the point is you can get very easily fleeced by, a lot of the professionals out there. So we've had to unlearn quite a lot as well.

Jim_James:

Yeah, I can see that. with your partner companies or investee companies, Callum, what do you do for them? Do they mark themselves under the umbrella brand of the group? Or do they really maintain their independence? Because that's a potentially interesting marketing point for those companies. Isn't it?

Callum Laing:

Yeah, it is. So basically we leave it up to them. these are not startups that we're playing with. These are the average age of the companies of the group is about 23 years. So they're well-established companies. Um, always puzzled us that, that a. Acquiring company would buy a company because it had such a great entrepreneurial spirit and great brand and then rebrand it and the entrepreneurial spirit. so basically, yeah, sometimes, say basically what we say. When a company comes in, it is completely autonomous. It is completely independent. if they want to collaborate with other companies in the group, they're more than welcome to if, when they're pitching for business, they want to emphasize the part, the fact that part of this hundred million dollar global PLC, they're more than free to do that, but if they also want to. Play the card of look, we're a little boutique, construction company that will, yeah, the founder will be here and available to talk to you. They can play that card as well. And it's actually, it's a really nice one because it means that at the market level, I can go out and talk to the market about, Hey, we've got record profits and we're growing and it's fantastic. And it's a great company to invest in. If we were all the same brand that makes it very difficult when they're out pitching to clients, trying to, or trying to squeeze suppliers for price. whereas now, because it's completely independent. Yeah. That they've got that. And they're also kind of protected if another company in the group has a problem. Yeah. PR scandal collapses. they're not going to be tarnished by that cause there's, you've got that difference.

Jim_James:

Yeah. So that's a really nice, it gives them a lot of flexibility. Doesn't it? What about the sort of communication from company to company? Do you facilitate investee company events? Because I can imagine there's a lot of synergy, that can be extracted from all these companies within the group.

Callum Laing:

So I'm always skeptical of the word synergy. So synergy is one of those

Jim_James:

I'm sorry. I shouldn't have used the word synergy. Maybe that's showing my age. Oh, my PR roots probably.

Callum Laing:

It's one of those things that looks fantastic in textbooks, but very rarely works in real life. but yeah, you're right. There's a lot of opportunities and I think it's more about best practice. if you put a bunch of smart, successful entrepreneurs in a room together, there's yeah, just as we sharing best practice here, it's, you learn stuff and you apply things. Yeah. so yeah, we have, we use a slack platform everyone's on that. We do monthly, zoom calls that everyone jumps on when there was, when COVID hits hard in the UK last year, we moved that to a weekly call because things were changing so rapidly and people were sharing and look for a lot of us, yourself included. I'm sure that the global financial crisis. Didn't seem that long ago. so it's still quite fresh. there was a lot of sharing of what did I wish I'd done sooner, in that. and, yeah, this is what, we've, how we've just communicated with our staff and this worked and this, we completely screwed up. Don't do it like that. And so there's a lot of that, yeah. Communication and sharing. And now we've got. companies seconding their staff to go and work in other companies now and learn, which is great. Cause it's very difficult to do career development in a small business for your employees. It's nice to be able to

Jim_James:

No, I absolutely hear you. And Callum, I having run a small, a number of businesses now, in different countries over the last 25 years. I've always thought what you're offering is a fantastic opportunity for business owners. And if people want to find out more about you, how, where can they go and even do one of your five minute online JotForm podcasts.

Callum Laing:

Yeah. Look, if you're an entrepreneur, a business owner, I'd love to speak to you. probably the easiest thing is just reach out to me on LinkedIn. I'm somebody pretty active there. I'm sure my email and stuff will be in the show notes as they always say, but [email protected] usually gets to me. but yeah, LinkedIn's a good place. Reach out. You mentioned Jim James and I'll send you a free copy of my book as well.

Jim_James:

Oh, you make that sound so special, but I have spied that there's a free copy. Download on enterprise zone does busted,

Callum Laing:

Yup.

Jim_James:

but still say that you heard about on the unnoticed entrepreneur.

Callum Laing:

that's the progressive partnerships book, which is all about scaling your business. But I will share with them the, the Agglomerate book, which is all about, small businesses joining together and PLC's.

Jim_James:

Callum thanks for joining together with me. Thank you. It's a real pleasure to think of you in Singapore. My other home. Thank you so much for joining me in the UK where I believe it's hotter today than it is in Singapore.

Callum Laing:

That's been great to catch up

Jim_James:

Yeah, lovely to chat. Thanks so much. You've been listening to Callum Laing. Who's the founder and CEO of the MBH corporation PLC. And I will, of course include his details all in the show notes. And until we are together again, I wish you the very best of health, the best of business, and that you keep on communicating. My name is Jim James. Thanks for listening to this episode of the UnNoticed show.