As part of our series called “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Began Leading My Company,” we had the pleasure of interviewing Ryll Burgin-Doyle . She is a strategic advisor and entrepreneur that has spent the last 30 years growing businesses across Australia, New Zealand, the USA, Asia and the United Kingdom. She has worked with and grown almost every kind of business imaginable, from startups to SME’s to corporate enterprises (one of them being a $1B company). Furthermore, she founded and lead a non-profit called stepUP Foundation that helped 19,000 adolescents, many of whom were underprivileged or at-risk.
While she’s a quiet achiever — her list of accomplishments is quite long and colorful. From launching her first business at just 23 years old to being a franchisor with the 11th fastest growing franchise in Australia at the time, her resume is filled to the brim with diverse experiences and successes.
Not surprisingly, she’s been formally recognized for her excellence in business as a Telstra Business Woman of the Year Finalist (twice) and Smart Companies Top 50 Female Entrepreneurs.
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?
I grew up in business. To give you a sense of that, on occasion I used to catch cab after school at the age of 6, to my Mother’s business and wait for her to finish work. Eventually I went to University, graduated, won a great job, learned a heap about how to grow businesses of all varieties from some incredible masters, like Jay Abraham, Paul Dunn, Chris Newton, Michael Gerber and Robert Kiyosaki. At 23, with just $1,100 to my name I started my first business — a strategic planning and advisory firm working with small to medium size enterprises helping them grow successfully. We hit around $1M in revenues within 16 months and became the largest provider of our type in our State very quickly. I sold that business successfully just over 3 years into it and that was really the start of it all for me.
What were your early inspirations that set you off on your particular journey?
In 1973, my Mother started her first business with very little funds, a lot of tenacity and ingenuity. At that time, I was just 3 and her closest girlfriend, a Mother to two boys was her business partner. Of course, back then there simply weren’t the structures that exist now to support working families. To solve the challenges, one woman would stay at home and look after the 3 of us for 3 days a week, while the other would run the shop and then they’d swap for the other 2 and half days of the week. Looking back, I have always found that to be extraordinary and entrepreneurial so I would say my Mother was my greatest inspiration to get into business.
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?
At one point, during that first business, I was approached by investors who wanted to support me to expand the business nationally. I still can’t believe I turned them down! At that time, I really didn’t understand that a smaller piece of a bigger pie was a better deal. And, I wasn’t mature enough to manage other people having a say! My control freak nature back then wanted to control my destiny without others input. So that combination of thinking had me say no and eventually actually led me to sell that business. I look back now and literally give myself a forehead slap “what were you thinking!?” I’d done the hardest yards, reached success, had systemized the business so that it worked without me and I declined investors and then about 18 months later I sold it??! Why did I do that?? Looking back, it was madness! I have since learned the power of synergy and the leverage of capital — both so critical to expansion.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
The most important mentor I’ve had has been a gentleman named Paul Dunn. Paul is globally renowned for his work, particularly in transforming the accounting industry from traditional “bean counters” to proactive advisors. Paul is now the Chairman of an incredible initiative called B1G1.com. Paul and I have shared quite the journey. Paul was my first real boss and remains a friend and indeed still a mentor to me today, 29 years later. Paul and I had a unique experience … At one point, he nominated me for an award titled the Young Professional of the Year — I ended up a finalist which was great — but 15 months later Paul fired me! My first real firing — you know that one that is totally crushing! That was mine. But then something amazing happened … After setting up my first business not long after, and growing that business very quickly, I suddenly had 8 employees of my own to manage. At that point, I started to get a clue about what it was like leading people in a real business, with real deadlines, constraints, opportunities and demands, especially leading young people in a young business! When I next ran into Paul at an event, I flat out apologised. I let him know that I didn’t really “get it” before — i.e. what he was dealing with at that moment, at the time his business was going through major shifts in ownership, a partnership split, the culture changed, it all had gotten a bit challenging — but I explained that now having team of my own I understood. I took responsibility, apologised, told him how grateful I was to have worked for and with him and he was blown away. Of 54 people that had been through his business and exited, I was the only one to ever acknowledge his experience. Funnily enough, the minute I sold my first business, he was the first person to call and offer me a special project. That special project eventually turned into my becoming a published author at 28 and a global product and brand management role in the US. To this day, he means the world to me as someone who most definitely had the greatest impact on me.
Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey?
Starting any business is tough. Starting a business with no capital is even tougher, especially if that business grows quickly! In that first business, we were successful, growing constantly and very, very quickly but since I had started it with just $1,100, we were always strapped for cash. When that was happening, I remember my thinking was “okay well we just have to sell more” so off I’d go and do that and yet we’d still end up tight for cash! It was maddening. I remember once getting a loan for a car and instead of getting the car, I ended up tipping that cash into the business! I realised later that at that time, I simply didn’t understand the dynamics of the financials well enough. It was a roller coaster — we were so clearly succeeding but felt like I was failing a lot of the time. Of course, eventually, we had a proven track record and secured a line of credit that helped us continue to grow.
Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were hard?
As an entrepreneur, for me it feels impossible really to actually give up, there is only “find a way”. In those early days it was all purely about being goal driven. I had my eye on the prize and I was not going to let go of that! Later, at one stage, during a very difficult part of my life in business, I had a huge learning experience and lost everything — my business, our home — the lot — gone in what felt like an instant. That was an incredibly tough period of 2 to 3 very difficult years but there was no giving up, that was not an option. For me, my family, my goals and the difference I want to make are what drives me. I want a certain life and legacy for my son and my family as a whole. That has always kept me moving forward no matter the challenges. Back then I coined a phrase that we’ve been sharing with people during 2020 and looks like it will continue through 2021 which was this: “the only way out is through!”. For me, that means just take a step to the left, a step to the right — keep moving forward and you will come out the other side. Forward motion is critical. I feel that is absolutely true right now … “The only way out is through!”
So, how are things going today? How did grit and resilience lead to your eventual success?
Right now, one of my businesses runs live, experiential world-class events. Of course, during 2020 we were simply unable to operate, other than offering support services to our clients so speaking frankly, 2020 was a very tough year there. To go from growing and flourishing to STOP was tough. I surveyed hundreds of business owners and a staggering 68% said that Covid had negatively impacted their revenues — we were absolutely the same. And yet at the same time, it also created new opportunities, new ways of doing business, new clients, even new online programs and more. I don’t believe you can succeed in business without that grit and resilience — especially not in times like these — my determination and “bounce back” factor as my husband calls it, has meant we have done just that and will continue to thrive in 2021.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
I have several businesses from private advisory, to technology, to entrepreneurial education and personal transformation. What makes each of them stand out is 3-fold.
- First, we are exemplary at what we do (even market leading).
- Second, each has a very clear intention that is about being of service to others and making a transformative difference in their field for those we serve. This intention — personal to each business — is inspiring for everyone involved, it’s what drives us every day.
- And third, each has a culture of personal mastery — including compassion for self and others, commitment to excellence and more, alongside personal responsibility, results, celebration and team.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
In 2018 I discovered the long weekend! What I mean by that is, we worked very, very hard in 2017 and didn’t take time off to rest, recover or celebrate our wins. In 2018 we committed to having 4-day weekends every 10 weeks or so and the difference was astounding. We felt better, we performed better, the businesses were fun again. We’ve continued to do that regularly since so my message is simple — take some time off, regularly NOT once or twice a year.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
In 2002 I created a non-profit called stepUP Foundation to inspire young people about what was possible in business and in life. stepUP was designed have 14 to 18 year old teenagers, some from the toughest of backgrounds, grasp what was possible if they were willing to commit themselves and think entrepreneurially. Our larger intention was to precessionally shift the future of humanity in a single generation.
Some 19,000 teens graduated our 2-day program across three countries. 96% of participants said it was the “most empowering experience of my life.” The ripple effect has been massive. I still meet entrepreneurs today that say “I was at stepUP in such and such a city on this date as a 15 years old and now my business is thriving.” Beyond that, we partner and give through an incredible platform called www.b1g1.com — for every new LinkedIN Connection we give, for every new client we give, for every new lead we give and we love it!
Wonderful. Here is the main question of our discussion. What are your “5 things I wish someone told me before I started leading my company” and why? Please share a story or example for each.
- Your business and results will never outstrip you.
Very early in my career I noticed that the businesses I was working with were a reflection of the Founder. Without question all the Founder’s “stuff”, the good, the bad and the ugly would show up in the business, including mine stuff in my businesses! To that end, if you want incredible results, you HAVE to keep developing, keep learning, keep transforming yourself first as a leader, as an entrepreneur and as a human being.
2. It will all work out, even when it looks like it won’t, it always does eventually!
Whatever the calamity is that you may be facing today, it will be resolved. Fast forward 10 years and really think about whether you will remember this moment in time then? Will this moment of stress be something you remember as a landmark moment — if not, focus on finding a way through, a solution that works for all and move on to greater priorities quickly!
3. There is plenty of people and capital available for growth, you just need to know where to find it.
There is always money around! There are investors right now looking for great business opportunities even in the world we find ourselves in today. You can have everything you want, but you have to be willing to play a bigger game. If you are dreaming of more but struggling with your current circumstances in business, chances are you need to play a bigger game.
4. The first sale is always to yourself.
If you wouldn’t buy that idea, that story, that reasoning, that product or service or message, no-one else, team, supplier, partner or client, will either. If you would, then commit and add value to others and the sale — whether of an idea or actual sales — will come.
5. Love your team sick! They are the lifeblood of your business.
When I was coming up it was the era of “the customer is always right”. I discovered that’s not actually true all the time. Thinking from there, coming from there is a great idea from a service perspective, but backing your team is incredibly important as well. We now won’t work with people that our team don’t enjoy the company of — life is too short!
Now that you have gained this experience and knowledge, has it affected or changed your personal leadership philosophy and style? How have these changes affected your company?
All my businesses are a reflection of all of these learnings, while no way perfect, the lessons earned along the way are woven into why, what and how we do what we do throughout. For me, leadership is about empowering other leaders. For me, a great leader has leaders around them. In our businesses we have a philosophy that “everyone leads” — we each lead our roles, our lives, our contribution to the business itself, to our clients to our culture. Everyone leads.
This series is called “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me”. This has the implicit assumption that had you known something, you might have acted differently. But from your current vantage point, do you feel that knowing alone would have been enough, or do you feel that ultimately you can only learn from experience? I think that learning from mistakes is the best way, perhaps the only way, to truly absorb and integrate abstract information. What do you think about this idea? Can you explain?
I fully subscribe to the notion of experiential learning, in fact, it is a cornerstone of what differentiates our entrepreneurial programs. These programs are not stuffy seminars, instead we play games and learning activities such that people have an immersive and very real and tangible experience and from that experience, very personal transformations take place. Experience whether in that kind of setting or in business and life has absolutely been where I have gained the most traction and expansion of my personal capacity. For me, I see it like this:
You can read about riding a bike.
You can watch someone else ride a bike.
Someone can tell you how riding a bike works.
However, until you have actually ridden a bike and experienced balance, for yourself, you will never know riding a bike.
So yes, I subscribe to that, and I think you can build on that with actual study of subject matter to build technical expertise, you can learn from mentors who will drive your confidence up … all of that, with experience builds what’s possible for each of us in my view.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
We have just begun working on what we call “The Ripple Project”. This is a place where we share about incredible projects in the world that are doing great work to answer futurist and genius, Buckminster Fuller’s question: “how do we make the world work for 100% of humanity, in the shortest possible time, through spontaneous cooperation, without ecological offense or the disadvantage of anyone?”
How can our readers further follow your work online?