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5 on 5: Five Business Survival Skills That Stood Up For Five Years

Roughly 80% of small businesses survive their first year. Only 1/2 survive the 5-year mark and 1/3 push through the 10-year mark and live to tell the tale. [Forbes]

In July 2015 I resigned from a full-time role and from our respective kitchen tables, Damian Hecker and I co-founded Leaders of Evolution (LoE). 

I admit the ‘survival’ data appears discouraging, however this was the best career and life decision I could ever make. 

I say life decision, because I literally invested everything I had – I sold my apartment, didn’t travel for 3 years, worked my arse ff on weekends and public holidays, relocated interstate and spent good chunks of my time living off my credit card. 

It wasn’t pretty, far from it. It was survival. 

The proverbial ‘Don’t put all your eggs in one basket’ was thrown out the window. There was no side hustle, it was 100% all in and I honestly don’t think we would have survived any other way.  

One of the biggest survival plays was living at the office for 8 months. It was a storage room, no window and a convenient 2 metre commute from bed to desk. I told you it wasn’t pretty. 

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Jon Shepherd’s Office & Homestead 2015/2016

Reflection is a powerful learning tool. I’ve always revelled in the review process; I’m pretty sure it a bi-product from my athlete days. Athletes are forever searching for ways to improve and find the smallest of margins to beat our competitors. 

That said, here’s my reflection on why LoE has survived the 5-year mark and is set to thrive into 2021 and beyond. 

Maybe, it’s going to be luck?! No chance. 

1. Teamwork Makes the Dreamwork:

Damian and my skills complement each other, emotionally we pick each other up and continue to bring out the best in one another. We’re prepared to have the challenging conversations and act upon an agreed set of behaviours.

In one word, Mateship.  

Our families & friends are very much a part of the LoE team, their unwavering love and support has been our rock, a stable vessel in high seas. We simply would not be here without their belief. 

Our business coach, David Ryan has astutely guided, challenged and supported our journey from day one. Last year, we assembled a pro bono Advisory Team who bought into our Vision and further enhanced our learning and development – 100+ years of combined business experience makes for a formidable team. 

We have also hired a team of global consultants who embody our LoE Values and Behaviours. Unique skills are utilised from North America, Croatia, Philippines and up and down the Australian Eastern seaboard. Our team cohesion is strong and together we work on projects 24 hours per day.

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Leaders of Evolution Co-founders and Advisory Team
(Left) Cameron Baker, Rick Burton, David Ryan, Damian Hecker, Jon Shepherd and Dean Gordon (Right)

2: Timing to market

A passion for education enabled us to launch a company in a market that will always be seeking for ways to innovate and enhance the learning experience. 

We know children entering school would end up in jobs that don’t yet exist, and we know educators and coaches are time poor and under-resourced, it was our role to provide a solution. 

E-learning is the future. Market research firm Global Industry Analysts projects ‘E-learning’ would reach $107 Billion in 2015 and it did. Now, Research and Market forecasts show triple the revenue of 2015 – e-learning will grow to $325 Billion by 2025. 

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Damian Hecker & Jon Shepherd filming e-learning content in Melbourne, Australia (2016)

3. Our Why

Early in the LoE journey, I read ‘Start With Why’ by Simon Sinek. I later shared the book with Damian. This inspirational message came into my life at just the right time – myself and the business needed direction. 

We had this unwavering passion and raw enthusiasm to make a difference, but we lacked a road map to lay the path forward. 

In late 2015, the LoE ‘Why’ was born: 

To Sustain An Environment For Our Team That Is Positive, Safe And Inspiring And Sharing The Same Mantra With The People We Work With

Leaders of Evolution ‘Why’

Our ‘Why’ is the foundation of the business, this is what we continuously come back to, especially in difficult and challenging times.  

Our ‘Why’ provides the stability for our company Values and Behaviours – Focussed, Mateship, Relentless and Committed. 

These important company pillars drive the execution of our strategy, this is where we deliver the ‘How’ and ‘What’. 

The same ‘Why’ will inspire our team to reach 100,000 global learners by 2025. 

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4. Resourcefulness 

Could you take an 80% pay cut for three years? We did. 

I admit my naivety led to me to think it wouldn’t take that long, I was wrong – very wrong. We boot strapped and reinvested back into the business at every opportunity. 

The living in the office scenario echoes this mantra. 

The hard-yakka meant we were frugal and made the best possible use of each and every resource readily available. 

We spent $28.00 on our work uniform – x4 $7.00 on Kmart shirts. 

Okay, I might be exaggerating slightly. We also spent $16.00 per shirt for embroidery. The theory was we needed the logo to ‘pop’ on our e-learning videos, therefore the fabric and comfort level wasn’t the priority. Those shirts lasted four years. 

This is one example of how we managed ROI. From marketing budgets and product design to seeking our own professional development we researched high and low for the best value for our investment. 

This remains true today. 

evolution of e learning
Damian Hecker purchases $7.00 company shirts from Kmart (2015)

5.  Learning Agility

Being in survival mode meant we stayed hungry. 

Our hunger to learn on the job was a necessity. We worked incredibly hard to close the gap on our areas of development and double down on our strengths. Google was a friend near and dear, as well as learning quickly from our mistakes. Peer-to-peer learning was also important, as too our ability to self-critique and swiftly get on with the task at hand. 

David Ryan and Rick Burton continue to play an important role in my learning agility. It’s difficult to constitute years on earth – both David and Rick are brilliant mentors, role models and educators who part ways with invaluable years of global business experience. This I am thankful for. 

I often come back to this Bruce Lee quote as I’m firm believer that learning, and subsequently growth, is about application and doing. 

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 So, what’s the future hold for LoE? 

We are working towards a 10-year exit strategy, statistically Forbes suggests we’re 1/3 of a chance of surviving this milestone. 

When I look at these statistics on face value, they absolutely feel discouraging.

This isn’t a game of statistics for me, persisting forward with courage, with optimism, with a group of people prepared to work-hard and make sacrifices to help one another achieve a shared goal is the ultimate survival toolkit. 

Bring on the next 5 years I say. 

Some of our proudest LoE achievements include:

  • Irymple South Primary School: A pilot school from 2015 that continues to engage on our online course curricular. I’d love to see some of those early students re-engage in our Year 11 & 12 courses over the next 12 months. 
  • Currently 300+ schools across Australia, U.K and U.S are connected with our online courses and learning resources. 
  • Free Micro Courses: Following the announcement of COVID-19 and the closure of schools, our team developed and deployed five free online courses to assist schools navigate the shift to remote learning. Over 130 Australian schools enrolled. 
  • Global Business Development & Learning: Over the past two-years, I’ve spent 80+ days overseas. I’ve worked  with U.S colleges, sourced professional learning visits at Google and YouTube HQ , along with market research in the U.K and Ireland. 
  • Export Development Marketing Grant: 8-year Federal Government Grant to support the growth of Australian businesses globally. Administered by Austrade, LoE is one of 3,125 SEM’s approved for the scheme. 
  • NCAA facilitation: As a former U.S student-athlete the opportunity to work with Syracuse University, San Francisco State, James Madison, East Carolina and more U.S colleges is very rewarding. 
  • Greenwich Free School: Our first U.K school continues to engage in our online courses, last year several students sent us testimonial videos talking about their newly improved leadership skills – this had a lasting impact. 
  • Cloud-based: Establishing an at-scale working environment has proved incredibly valuable. Operating online enabled me to relocate to the Gold Coast, Queensland without impacting the business. This life-style shift delivered a much-needed sea-change and now is very much a place I call home. 
  • NCAS Athlete Development: The North Coast Academy of Sport is a regional NSW Regional Sport Academy, ironically in 1995 I was a scholarship holder with this opportunity playing a critical role in my athlete development pathway. The opportunity to deliver holistic athlete leadership programming 20+ years later was cathartic and rewarding. 
  • Our Special Olympics Australia E-learning Partnership is nearing 3 years, having engaged 2,000+ new coaches and athletes on e-learning courses.
  • Essendon Football Club E-learning Partnership: We’re weeks away from launching our first athlete development course. 
  • The LoE brand: Form website, E-learning Hub, social media handles and supporting collateral the company footprint has come a long way from a blank piece of paper 5 years ago. Our lead generation website converts at 3% with campaign landing pages converting at 18%
  • Snow Australia: Our first E-learning Hub Partner dating back to 2016, we’ve grown alongside Snow Australia and are set to release of suite of online courses this month. 
  • Master of Sport Coaching: LoE being able to financial support and prioritise Damian to complete his Master’s from the University of Queensland put our Values into action. 
  • Business structure: Dean Gordon, Partner VMG Accounting and LoE Advisory Team member has been instrumental in sustaining sound financial practise that sits on a robust company structure.  
  • Annual leave: It might seem like a luxury, well it is. Over the past 12 months Damian and I have both taken annual leave whilst receiving a salary. We’ve tipped the work/life balance back in our favour. 
  • Mateship: We introduce mateship into our company Values in 2019, this draws a deep connection with what we stand for, especially as we grow the business internationally. 
  • Our team: 5 full-time staff, 5 consultants and 4 Advisory Team members are critical to our ability to provide full-stack e-learning solution for schools, enterprises and sporting organisations. 
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Leaders of Evolution are passionate about education. We expertly design and deliver technology enhanced e-learning courses focused on leadership, social and emotional learning, career readiness and sports coaching for students, teachers, athletes, coaches and the wider community.

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Jon Shepherd

Away from his ongoing quest of learning to surf, Jon's busy overseeing marketing, sales and business development at Leaders of Evolution. His love for all sports, especially NBA & NCAA basketball ensures he is never far off a live ESPN score up-date.

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