Simon Leslie: There is no final step

As Richard Branson once said at an Apprentice style competition: “Overcoming fear is the first step to success for entrepreneurs. The winners [here] all exemplify that, and the hard work and commitment they have shown underlines what is needed to set up a business.”

Wise words indeed…

Having 28 years as a businessman under my belt, I have learned that the most important thing is, in fact, the realisation that there is no final step. And, if you are daunted by that statement, I recommend that you read no further and go off and do something a whole lot safer with your life.

Still with me?

My love affair with business started as a schoolboy. As a 15-year-old I was selling gadgets to my friends, I was even trading stocks before leaving formal education at 17 because I just wanted to make money. Unable to stay still, I worked as a fresh-faced door-to-door insurance salesman earning about £15,000 a year.

I started my own estate agency in London because no one would give me a job. It was a stupid move, it was the heart of the recession of the 1980’s. Let’s just say, I ignored everyone’s advice. It was an expensive lesson learned. A few years ago, I heard someone say: “If you are going to fail – fail fast” – and I have kept that with me to this day.

But these bumps in the road lead me to launch Ink in 1994 with my business partner Michael Keating who I still run the business with to this day. We started by producing a single inflight magazine, Impressions, for British Mediterranean Airways, which was distributed on a route between London and the newly-liberated Beirut in the aftermath of the Lebanese Civil War.

The success of Impressions magazine showed us that we were good at selling advertising and there were huge numbers of affluent international travellers who were, at that time, untouched by advertising messages. And that very same insight is the backbone of our business today. Lots of people in a metal tubes in the sky looking for inspiration.

Twenty-three years on, we employ 300 staff across six global offices and publish inflight magazines for 28 airlines and travel companies including American Airlines, Etihad, Qatar, United Airlines and Virgin Atlantic – reaching a grand total of more than 800million passengers annually.

In the last 18 months alone, we have also started to produce bespoke video content for American Airlines, United Airlines, easyJet & Norwegian that both enhances the passenger experience and offers our more than 10,000 advertisers an additional digital platform through which to deliver their marketing and brand messages.

How have we driven the growth of the business in the last 23 years? Constant innovation, an utter dissatisfaction with ‘okay’ and securing the best possible colleagues around the world has been the key. Our people have made us special, because they care about our joint success. We invest in them, and they reward us with exceptional performance every day.

While many traditional media businesses are feeling the steady decline of the print and advertising, INK has nimbly bucked that trend as passenger and traveller numbers are currently growing 3 – 5 % year on year.

We learned very early on that airline passengers are one of the last remaining captive audiences, spending an average of 20 minutes per journey reading our materials. Ink also works with airlines and advertisers to maximise the potential of every step of the passenger journey, from online check-in, to boarding pass to inflight content.

Studies have shown that passengers recall messages in the sky far greater than they do on the ground. One study last year showed a 50% uptick. This may be because they are insulated from many of the world’s normal distractions and they tend to be in a positive mood.

Our medium works. We have helped many challenger brands grow in a very crowded market place.

For example, recent data estimates that the 60 million passengers who have access to easyJet’s Traveller magazine each year spend around £12billion pounds on cosmetics and £28.3billion on hotel stays. So, the size of the market offers huge potential advertising opportunities for brands and products.

I should have said – “Award Winning” Traveller magazine easyJet – as a major part of our role with our airline and travel partners is to enhance and communicate their brands as well. We have one of the finest creative teams in the world, the work they produce just keeps on getting better too.

We can now get to passengers at every step of their journey with the most inspiring and relevant storytelling, rousing and positive content with the simple aim of encouraging them to repeat book and build brand loyalty.

To achieve all of these objectives, you need to employ great people – though you should not feel limited to hiring from your own field. If someone demonstrates passion, intelligence and an unshakeable will to succeed, they are the type of people that we want in the business. For instance, our eclectic staff members include a former rower and Olympic winner, a professional fire-breather, airline cabin crew and even a pilot. But they all share the same vision: they always want to get better and to soar to greater heights.

Instead of focusing on ability or industry experience, you need to keep learning how to hire. If you put the time and energy into that, you’ll save yourself a ton of time as well as hundreds of thousands of whatever currency down the road. Stop trying to spot a superstar, and create a great process.

I strongly believe that our role as an employer is to help every individual to reach their personal best – whatever that may be and to always give back to the communities that we work in.  With that in mind, we employ full-time trainers, coaches and now a sports psychologist to ensure they reach – then exceed – their current potential. It’s about never-ending improvement, which for some is tiresome and they want to get off the plane. The good news, new people bring new ideas, new enthusiasm and that’s important to help your business grow. The same workforce will not bring you the change every business needs.

There is so much more to learn from a setback than success. You are the sum of your experiences, sit back and spend time reflecting and thinking.

Get out the office, get away and think, mix with people better than you, they are always more than happy to help. Don’t worry about your competitors, focus on what you can do better. The feedback you get from your employees, customers and the market is the thing that is most important. Under promise, over deliver and always look for ways to grow, nobody likes to be in a stale environment.

A little secret, you will always have problems, just make sure the quality and size of your problems are getting better.

Ink is entering 2018 full of enthusiasm, we are so excited about delivering the new ideas and we will never stop looking for the next opportunity, the next great employee, the next client and the next award… And neither should you.

Simon Leslie, Ink Joint CEO & Co-Founder


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