As part of my series about the “How Business Leaders Plan To Rebuild In The Post COVID Economy,” I had the pleasure of interviewing Richard Mulholland.
Rock and Roll roadie turned entrepreneur Richard Mulholland is the founder of presentation powerhouse Missing Link, as well as the co-founder of 21Tanks, HumanWrit.es and The Sales Department. He has written three books, Legacide, Boredom Slayer, and Story Seller, and is a global public speaker that in 2019 alone spoke in 26 countries on 6 continents. Mostly though, he’s a husband, dad, brother, son, and uncle.
Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
Hey, great to “chat!” When I left school I started out as a lighting technician and designer, due to a happy accident involving a floppy disk and an airport security scanner I got to program the moving lights for an Iron Maiden world tour when I was 21. However, in spite of working at one of the largest suppliers of staging gear on the planet, our business was seasonal, so during winter, we had very little work. I suggested to my boss that we start a small corporate division which I did and started turning company conferences into “rock shows,” I quickly realized that it didn’t matter how good the staging was, if the presentations were sh*t, the gig was sh*t — we were a cure for the wrong disease. So just before my 23rd birthday I left and started Missing Link (I had soft started it for 6-months and had a team of five) a presentation company. I had no idea what I was doing but realized I couldn’t make presentations any worse 😊
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
Hahaha, that’s an easy one. One of the products we added to our arsenal was video. At the time people were making long drawn out 7-minute corporate snooze-fests. (We felt that a video should never be longer than 3-minutes). I remember once we were working on a job for a big bank and my team came in and said, “Rich, they insist that the video be 10-minutes long!” I climbed straight onto my high-horse and went out to them to convince them they were making a mistake. I remember actually saying the words, “You’re buying a dog and barking yourself.” I tried everything, they insisted. Eventually (because I’m an idiot) I said “Fine, have it your way, but we’re not charging you for it — rubbish like this doesn’t come out of our shop!” and stormed off — hey, I was young and on a mission.
The next day I went to their gig so that I could see the video bomb — but it didn’t, the audience loved it. You see it wasn’t a standard corporate video, it was a culture video all about them. Nobody gets tired of looking at themselves. Like Homer Simpson backing into the hedge I sheepishly sneaked off.
When I got back to the office I immediately called an all-hands meeting and introduced a new law “the 10% rule” which basically says that even in things we feel are carved in stone rules, there is always a 10% margin for error and the team could invoke-the-ten if they felt there was a cause for it. The funny thing is that all our new ideas happened in the 10%, nothing interesting can happen when you’re certain.
Is there a particular book that you read, or podcast you listened to, that really helped you in your career? Can you explain?
Too many to mention. Probably the two business books that influenced me the most were: Your Business Brickyard by Howard Mann and Selling the Invisible by Harry Beckwith.
However, without a doubt my superpower is that I love reading fiction. I learn so much about so many things without trying, and it also programs my brain into believing that the protagonist (usually) prevails, I believe that was a big part of my mindset throughout this crisis.
Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven business” are more successful in many areas. When you started your company what was your vision, your purpose?
To save the world, one bored audience at a time, by helping leaders find their voice.
Do you have a “number one principle” that guides you through the ups and downs of running a business?
Always focus on the accident and not the ambulance. Businesses get far too hung up on their solutions, I’m only interested in solving the current problem. My “ambulance” is irrelevant without the accident.
Thank you for all that. The Covid-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today. For the benefit of empowering our readers, can you share with our readers a few of the personal and family related challenges you faced during this crisis? Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
Actually, outside of the fact that I’ve been seeing my extended family less (and sensitive to the fact that everyone’s situation is different), 2020 has been a forced upgrade to almost ever facet of my life. Last year I spoke in 26 countries on six continents. This sounds great in a speaker bio, but the truth is that it meant that I was at home for seven days in a row only twice in 2019. Now I have dinner with my wife and kids daily.
It turns out 20 years of 60-miinute meetings really could have been done in 30-minute time slots — Zoom taught us that. The 60-minute meeting is dead to me. Now, I live in meetings, so I’ve just been given the gift of time.
My business was attacked to the point of complete annihilation (we’re essentially in the live events space), and yet it attacked the parts of my business that needed to be attacked. We are a leaner, better, faster business than we have been in years. We were forced to go on a crash-diet of sorts and the business is in great shape. A big realization I had that I found empowering was that for the first time in my career I was off the hook. If I failed, oh well, it was Covid’s fault. That gave me permission to try stuff.
Can you share a few of the biggest work related challenges you are facing during this pandemic? Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
I could list the usual, but the truth is the biggest challenges were also the biggest opportunities for us to grow. We simply had to figure out what problems our customers had that were in our Area-of-Authority to fix. We then built those. For us it was three things.
- Helping people to present better online
- Helping people throw online events that were captivating
- Helping the next generation of public speakers take advantage of all the stages out there.
(It turns out there are more events happening now online than have ever happened in human history — that’s an opportunity — not a threat, at least it was for us).
Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the coronavirus pandemic have understandably heightened a sense of uncertainty, fear, and loneliness. What are a few ideas that you have used to offer support to your family and loved ones who were feeling anxious? Can you explain?
To me the solution is outlined in the question above; STOP WATCHING THE NEWS. The first thing we did is decided that we were not going to get caught up in news that we really couldn’t impact. I have avoided as much as possible any Covid related content as it’s a distraction. Even to a degree the problems in the US, while I was sympathetic, it wasn’t my primary concern — I had a business to save. I focused all my time and attention on that and have vocally suggested my friends and family do the same.
Obviously we can’t know for certain what the Post-Covid economy will look like. But we can of course try our best to be prepared. We can reasonably assume that the Post-Covid economy will be a trying time for many people across the globe. Yet at the same time the Post-Covid growth can be a time of opportunity. Can you share a few of the opportunities that you anticipate in the Post-Covid economy?
Yeah, I think you’re spot on, and as I’ve mentioned before, that’s really all we are looking at.
In our space there will be a huge growth in the field of hybrid events that will dramatically increase the attendance and potential revenue for anyone in the conference space.
As I said, the smart people will see that going back to where we were would be a massive downgrade with regards to time management. Driving to a customer, sitting for an hour, and driving back is a two-hour affair, I’m now doing four meetings in that time. How could this not be an opportunity?
I also believe that as soon as the economic shackles are broken, people will do what they have done for years and there will be s spending spree. I’m not suggesting that this is advisable, but I do believe that we should be prepared for it so that we can hit the ground running.
Lastly, and most importantly for us the next generation of thought leaders are getting forged out of this crisis. It’s why we ended up accelerating the launch of our StoryToStage.co program. If you wanted to get into public speaking there has literally never been a better time. Heck, even if you don’t want to be a paid speaker, now is absolutely the time to find your voice. You may not want to get paid for your talk, but you should absolutely be trying to get paid from it!
How do you think the COVID pandemic might permanently change the way we behave, act or live?
Outside the loss-of-life (however many people are still with us that may have died in other ways), I think we will be better off as a society in almost every way. We will build smarter more reactive businesses. We now know that we can change significantly in a matter of weeks when we have to, so we should be more agile going forward. Oh, and we will spend a whole lot less time in rush hour traffic!
Considering the potential challenges and opportunities in the Post-Covid economy, what do you personally plan to do to rebuild and grow your business or organization in the Post-Covid Economy?
If you’re waiting to rebuild post-Covid, you’re too later. Yesterday would have been easier and tomorrow will be harder. If you wait to start when the economy is stable, you’ll be ten steps behind the people that went into motion now. We came out the gates fast, and we have no intention of slowing down.
One of the other great side-effects of this year is that the geographical- anchor has been lifted. We are no longer a South African business, we are a global presentation powerhouse that serves anyone with the Internet that wants to “Lead Loud”’. That’s our biggest plan right now, to grow globally.
Similarly, what would you encourage others to do?
MOVE. You may already be two steps behind some people, but you will be 10 steps ahead of everyone else when it matters. That, and make decisions that future you will be proud of, for the most part future you is not going to be impressed in the time you spent learning the steps to the Jerusalema dance, et al.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Spend less than you earn, eat less than you burn 😊
How can our readers further follow your work?
We’d love your readers to check out storytostage.co, we’re doing our best work ever there. For more info on Missing Link, check out msnglnk.com and I’d love to connect on the socials and on my YouTube channel. The links to pretty much everything can be found here: http://getrich.af