Thursday 27 August 2009

Interview with Brian Mullaney

I've always thought of myself as an ideas man with something of an entrepreneurial mindset. However the more things I try which don't come to fruition only serve to weaken my motivation, undermine my resolve. That said, real entrepreneurs need failure.

In the States, a failed business is almost a prerequisite for future success. It's worn like a badge of honour, stripes earned in the hard battle of business. In the UK, people who start a business which fails are seen by some as fools, yet those who enjoy even a modicum of success are revered by the same people. Many of the wealthiest self-starters have been bust, dusted themselves down and succeeded at the next attempt, or third or fourth. The desire or need to succeed is the driving force and what sets them apart from those happy in employment and especially those unhappy in employment whilst wishing they had the gumption to break free.

The UK and especially the UK press, loves a failure; easier to mock having never tried than to try, fail and risk being mocked. It's pretty negative when you consider how many people think or believe they have a business in them. Americans get a bad wrap when it comes to their patriotism, jocks chanting 'U.S.A, U.S.A...' don't help, but the American Dream and all it stands for drives many regular Joes to become pretty special Joes. A lack of formal class system may help; every man is born equal. Of course all men are not born equal but the belief of a level playing field is a great motivator when the gun goes off.

It bothers me, having had a small business (which didn't necessarily fail insofar as I got a reasonable price for it) that didn't set the world alight, my motivation to do it all again is waning. I remember when setting up Studley's how pumped up I was that I was doing something I enjoyed and that I was in charge and that it was all my own work and what the future might hold. It ran for just under 18 months and I had the most stressful but fulfilling time. Not financially fulfilling I might add but I did get a lot of satisfaction. I sold because I lost my nerve and needed the money; a proper entrepreneur would have remortgaged and cracked on. Who knows where he'd have got - the guy I sold it to shut up shop 6 months after I assigned the lease and he was selling all the types of stuff my doubters were encouraging me to sell.

Anyway, I'm writing all this because of an interview I just read with Brian Mullaney, the founder of The Smile Train. The Smile Train posted the link on Twitter and, as he will be at the dinner we're invited to in October I thought it would be a good opportunity to find out about the man. To say he's been successful is an understatement. It seems like he's very persuasive and got a lot of very influential people on board. He started an ad agency, ran it for six years, made so much money he could do pretty much whatever he wanted. Instead of buying the boat and joining the golf club he decided to start a charity. He runs it just like a business though, hiring and firing, paying proper rates for good people and ultimately he raises $100m a year and has just 42 staff. To date his organisation has fixed over 500,000 smiles which makes him not just an entrepreneurial businessman, but also something of a philanthropist and inspiration. I'm sure he pays himself well but why the hell not, I think he probably deserves it!

Success isn't defined by starting the next Web 2.0 hit or making a million dollar bonus in the city, it's about believing in what you're doing, acheiving your goals - whatever they are - and then acheiving some more and never giving up.

The full article is here.

Tuesday 25 August 2009

Now I know

Growing up there were a few stories my folks told me about near death experiences my sister and I went through. There was one where my parents both felt something was wrong upstairs; a sixth sense, intuition, call it what you want but they got to my sister's room and she'd turned blue. My dad picked her up and gave the good old fashioned slap and blue turned back to pink. Horrible stuff.

Then there was the time, as a 3 year old I casually climbed onto the window sill of my first floor bedroom and was happily playing whilst looking out of the open window. Seeing me, my sister quickly went downstairs to fetch my parents, who rushed back upstairs and plucked me from my perch before I plopped out and changed history.

The most told story is one involving a boiled sweet. The kind of sweet you don't give to small children. Happily sucking away, I must have sucked a wee bit too hard just at the time the sweet had sufficiently reduced in size and at its slipperiest and it got stuck. I'm told I started choking and waving frantically. Blinded by panic, my mum screamed for Len, our ageing builder at the time, who promptly turned me upside down and administered an almighty whack which dislodged the sweet and allowed me to start breathing again.

Whilst interested, I guess I always dismissed the stories as moments in my life like the first day at a new school or removing the stabilisers. It wasn't until yesterday, I realised how my parents would have felt or the potential alternative route things may have taken, had the correct action not been taken or worked properly.

I mentioned that Jake had taken his first steps on yesterday's post and now we're encouraging him to try it on his own, get more confidence. I was home at lunchtime yesterday and he was standing next to his cot and holding on to the bars. As a test I got one of his favourite toys (moo cow) and sat on the bed opposite, beckoning. To my amazement, he let go of the bars and walked directly over to me and his bovine prize. I walked him straight away to go to tell mummy who was hovering our bathroom. I propped him up against our bed and was telling her all about this genius she bore when I heard a huge thud.

Jake had started walking along the side of the bed until he got to the bit which is covered with a sort of silk throw thing which covers the duvet. This tends to slide off our bed during the night as it is pretty lightweight, so it's not much surprise that Jake grabbing it would have the same result. Problem was that he was balancing off of it.

Ordinarily when he falls over, there's a split second and the crying and tears start. This time, nothing, I picked him and he made the face I never want to see again. It's the face he pulls when he's about to unleash hell. Mouth open, red face, wide eyes, lungs full and poised. As I held him up it was as if he'd been frozen in time. For what was about 5 seconds, but felt considerably longer, he held the pre-scream look. Didn't blink, breathe or move a muscle. We instantly knew this was a worse than usual bang to the head. I moved him into my arms and he went from bright red to milk white, his eyes rolling back in his head. His breathing was going from not at all to shallow half breaths. We were quickly onto 999 and trying to hold it together. Adrenalin kicked in and we were both shaking.

The operator told us to lie him down and as I put him on the sofa the scream came. To say I was relieved to hear it is a huge understatement. Crying equals breathing and breathing equals, among other things, not dying. The ambulance turned up a few minutes later and by the time the paramedics came in, he was even half smiling. We felt a bit fraudulent but they said we'd done the right thing and they took him to hospital for the relevant checks. After two rounds of eye, blood, oxygen and head massage checks, naturally separated by a three hour wait in a sweaty pediatric A & E unit, he was given the all clear and we went on our way.

Considering how much hospital time we've had, this was the first unplanned 'emergency' visit we've made. I know some people seem to live at A & E just for a bruised knee or a runny nose, but that's what it's there for and you only get to experience how good the system is when you need it most.

So there's the first story we'll be boring Jake with when he gets older. The first of many he won't really appreciate until his first born goes arse over tit and smashes his head on the floor.

Monday 24 August 2009

Jake's first steps

We had one of those moments on Saturday. One of the moments you'll remember forever and one you'll always remember where you were when it happened. The older generation always refer to the remembering where they were when they heard about JFK's assassination. We'll all remember where it was we heard about the twin towers. But more importantly for us, we'll remember the living room at 7 Artillery Terrace.

It was there that our beloved boy took his first solo steps. I reckon he could have done it any time over the last few weeks since he's been cruising and holding on to stuff since then. All I did was let go (I'm sure there's some deep metaphor here). He had two choices. Fall over or walk. And he walked!

O.K, he didn't exactly jump to his feet and start wandering around, but he did walk. On his own from A to B. A being next to the footstall and B being me. It was brilliant, Clare and I looked at each other in amazement. Almost as if we'd just had our Eureka moment, where we'd discovered gold or that our boy was the first human to ever walk upright. I know after a few weeks the novelty will fade but it's important to cherish these moments and remember how we felt.

Of course everyone is now telling us this is where the fun starts and life will get more difficult the more mobile he becomes but so what, our boy walked before his first birthday and I'm Proud Dad!

Here he is, the clever little thing...

Callum is 1!

It was over a year ago that I wrote this post, predicting what our fellow NCT'ers would be like. It seems crazy to me that the first of our crop is now entering his second year. Callum was born 6 weeks ahead of schedule and Jodi and Duncan won the 'first parents' cup. It was obviously a worrying time for them as he was in the special care unit for a few weeks. But before long he was home in time for his new friends to start popping into the world.

It's been brilliant to have the instant network the NCT group created. The girls see each other more than the boys do but we meet up regularlyish and I play squash with a few of them most weeks. When we moved to Guildford we had no pals on the doorstep, now we have 7 other couples, many of whom we see more than friends we've know our whole lives. So here I am, a converted cynic, happy to be proven wrong.

We spent yesterday afternoon in the sunshine at Jodi and Duncan's enjoying BBQ and a few beers. Jake's 1st birthday party will be a more sedate affair with just a few f&f as it's a Tuesday and our garden is tiny. The party is Tuesday 8th September. The day after I get back from a 3 day stag do on Ibiza....I'm glad my video camera has an anti shake feature.

Friday 21 August 2009

New dads are all the same aren't they?

It's always refreshing when you meet someone who thinks the same way as you. Regardless of what it is, the fact that they share your take on a given subject helps to remove any doubt as well as vindicating your original stance.

A few weeks back I was one of many recipients of an email sent by a former colleague. The subject was 'wah, wah'. The last time I met up with my old work friend was for a pint a few weeks after he'd broken his leg on a corporate paint balling day. I felt bad as he came along even though he'd already started his new job. He broke his leg 5 minutes into the first game and then spent 8 weeks at home whilst being paid by the new company. I felt sorry for them but also slightly glad it wasn't us footing the bill, even though it was kind of our fault. Anyway I digress. When we met up, he told me how much he wanted to start a family with his girlfriend of 10 years or so. Apparently she was having none of it. Happy with him but didn't fancy the whole wedding and baby thing.

I clicked the email right away predicting the news about a pregnancy and was thinking what to write back, along the lines of 'well done for persuading the missus, mate', only to discover a picture of his brand new baby girl! Blimey, I thought (blimey!), that was quick. But in reality it was probably 10 or 11 months since we'd met or even spoken so technically this was all very possible. It made me feel a bit guilty that I hadn't had the slightest contact with a guy who lives 4 roads away. I have been reasonably busy to be fair.

Cut to this morning, 5 weeks later and I bump into a guy I recognised but looking about as tired as man can get and significantly older.

"How you doing? How's baby?" I say.

"This parent thing. It's seriously overrated" he says.

Found it very funny that, after hearing so many other new dads cooing and resolutely refusing to see any sort of downside to new fatherhood, that there was someone willing to be honest about it all. It didn't seem to be an overreaction either, he genuinely looked like a beaten man. He went on, I have to say, to coo and say how wonderful it was, but for the most part he seemed to be held together by coffee and adrenalin.

Cleft and operations aside, our experience has been virtually the same as everyone else's. Just the little nuances which serve to make us all different separate us from them and them from us. Jake wasn't a good sleeper (I think I mentioned it once or twice) but other than that his first few months were straight from the text book. I found it difficult and wonderful in different measures depending on when you asked me. The overriding emotion was always positive but it's still hard work counting your chickens at 2, 3, 5 and 6 in the morning when you've got a pitch to present.

Anyway the point is, that I mentioned to him that Jake had started sleeping properly (and by properly I mean until 6am) from 8 or 9 months and he looked genuinely crest fallen. I remember being told the same thing by friends when the situation was reversed and 8 or 9 months seemed a long, long way away.

Already the memory of preparing 3 bottles every night, arguing about whose turn it was, the relentless lack of sleep, is starting to fade and I guess that's one of the reasons most people have 2 kids and stop there. Doing anything that hard for just one last time never seems too bad so as you'd not do it. Having just the one, I think, would always leave you thinking that you ought to have one more but I don't think that you'd feel the pressure to add a third, having had two. Those that have a big enough house, plenty of money or a few masochistic tendencies may want to crack on and have 3, 4 and 5 and good luck to them. I'd like to think that we'd pause after two and then go for the third but it'll definitely depend on how number two sleeps in the early days.

Reading this back make it look like Clare's pregnant or that we're 'trying' but I can assure you that isn't the case. The next major box which needs ticking is one regarding accommodation and logistics. Once that's dealt with we'll see. For now I'm just happy to be enjoying time with my boy, seeing him develop at a million miles an hour and getting enough kipat long, long last!

Wednesday 12 August 2009

Honoured and humbled

Back when I started this blog, I never imagined anything would come of it. I wasn't after anything in particular, other than getting thoughts and emotions out of my system. It was encouragement and feedback which kept me motivated to write it, but never did I think it would take me anywhere. And to be fair, it still hasn't. But it might.

This morning I received an email from one of the UK managers at the Smile Train inviting Clare and me to a dinner in October at the Berkeley, no less, being held;
'as a thank you for our supporters and also a chance to celebrate some of our recent achievements - Smile Pinki's Oscar, our 500,000th corrective cleft surgery, and 10 years providing children with free cleft care.'
My name was suggested to Smile Train when organising the event by Martin Moodie, who I first wrote about on this post. We never did do any business with Martin but we've emailed a time or two about Jake and how he's doing, but I never thought something like this would happen. You might think this sounds over the top - it's just a charity event - but actually it's not just a charity event, it's an event for a charity that I really believe in, and that is something I never thought I'd say. I used to give a fiver a month to a charity for the blind after being door stepped 10 or so years ago. I thought it made sense as I have crappy eye sight and felt I might one day need their help. I guess I felt an affinity with the charity and in fairness, it was only a fiver. That said it was a pretty one sided relationship; money out, statement, not much else. Maybe giving a monthly donation, albeit tiny, made me feel better about myself and justify any personal shortcomings. Beyond that, nothing.

When I started reading about the Smile Train, I was intrigued, obviously, but due to a combination of the coincidence with Martin, all of my research on clefts, our experiences with Jake and the proactive approach the Smile Train take (such as the letter from Brian, the tweeting etc), I found myself feeling more a part of the whole process rather than one of many important, yet essentially impotent contributors. And that's an affinity.

I keep thinking that one day I'd like to go and have a look at what they do in the places they do it and then I think I'm not that sort of person. Maybe I'm not that sort of person, or maybe I'm not that sort of person yet but might be one day! Who knows?

Anyway, I'm really looking forward to the evening to find out more (like who does the tweeting for one!) and help celebrate with them, maybe even brush shoulders with Brian and especially to say thanks to Martin.

It's on the 8th of October so I'll do a full report the day (or so) after.

Monday 10 August 2009

Not long now

Jake can now get round the living room on his own, going from sofa to footstool to radiator to TV unit to fireplace to chair. He's quite the little mover and has also learnt to go from prone to lying on his back to sitting up. He can obviously pull himself up but the last piece to jigsaw is standing up unaided from a seated position. Once he's mastered the stand, he'll be ready to learn the art of the toddle.

Amongst his NCT friends, I believe he was first out of the blocks in terms of forward momentum but always as army crawl. Over the last few weeks some of his litttle pals have all started proper grownup crawling, using knees and palms. Naturally my competitive Dad syndrome has reemerged and therefore it is vital that he starts to walk as soon as possible! And I'm only half joking!

I reckon he's a couple of months away but he's definitely getting stronger on his feet and we can walk him one-handed now for a while before he collapses. We're off to Spain with Sarah, Hamish and baby Sadie in September and for once, I'd welcome a dollop of sod's law which means he starts to walk on his own just as we try to relax next to the pool. Holidays will all be about keeping an eye on Jake, hard surfaces and deep water from now on.

Relax? Are you kidding?!

Tuesday 4 August 2009

A tribute to Walter Cronkite

I got an email from Brian Mullaney, founder of The Smile Train last week and thought I would post it here. Although most Brits will have heard the name, most don't know who he was or what he stood for in the states.

He was a journalist and broadcaster from the old school, not the modern day world of E! front men and women who just care for the latest celebrity gossip.

I think lots of people from outside the USA look down their noses at Americans as crass, overweight and loud individuals who do not realise that there is a world beyind their shores, but by all accounts Walter Cronkite was an intelligent, hardworking and thoughtful man as well as a consumate professional.

He was the classic network anchorman and broke some of the biggest stories of the 20th century. He was known as the 'most trusted man in America', a bit like our Trevor McDonald and then some.

When I was younger I wanted to be a journalist and writer and so I had come across his name and seen some of his work but I had no idea he'd done work for the Smile Train. He's gone even further up in my estimation. Here's the email.


The Smile Train lost a very good friend when Walter Cronkite passed away recently.

10 years ago when we started The Smile Train, Walter was one of the very first to get on board.

Many years ago I remember vividly meeting with him for the first time in his office and talking about what we were trying to do.

Always the reporter, he started quizzing me about what causes clefts, where are they most prevalent, why can’t a cure be found that would prevent them, etc. He was in his 80s at this point but he was sharp as a tack. I was kind of surprised at how interested he was in what we were doing and even more so at how much he wanted to help us.

When I explained to him how tragic it was that there were millions of children with unrepaired clefts in developing countries who were not being helped solely because they were too poor to afford surgery, he said it was a “Story that was almost too sad to tell.”

After watching videos of children with clefts that I had brought along, he shook his head and said it was “just heartbreaking.”

As I sat there speaking with him I looked around his office and saw photos, newspaper front pages and headlines of many of the biggest events that have happened in America and the world over the past 50 years. Walter was front and center at each and every one of them: JFK’s assassination, man on the moon, Vietnam, Watergate, The Berlin Wall, etc. I felt like I was in a museum and sitting across the desk from an American Institution.

When Walter agreed to appear in our very first Smile Train video, we were so honored and excited to have "the most trusted man in America" helping us. (If you want to see the video he did for us, Click Here)

And help us he did, in many ways, for more than 10 years.

Altogether, Walter Cronkite helped us provide free cleft surgery for more than 524,000 children who would otherwise never have received it.

And a few months ago when our documentary Smile Pinki won an Oscar, one of the first emails we received was from Walter congratulating us and saying how proud he was to have helped us launch The Smile Train.

He was a great man.

And we will miss him.

Brian Signature


P.S. We have posted a special tribute to Walter on our home page, to thank him for everything he did for us. Click here to view the tribute.