“If you have a business partner and/or team, don't blame people when things fail, as it will happen regularly (particularly in a small and agile company)” – Thomas Smale, re: failure
Thomas Smale didn’t grow up in a family with a history of entrepreneurship. He didn’t have the advantage of being connected with high profile mentors. But there’s one thing he knew; he wasn’t going to spend his life working a 9 to 5 job that would tie him down.
There was a long road ahead to get to where he wanted to be, but he wasn’t afraid to put in the time it would take to get there. At 16, he worked in the restaurant business, sometimes 12 hours a day. He developed a strong work ethic.
Even as a child, Thomas loved selling things, and did so every chance he got. Moving forward to 2010, and we see Thomas founding FE International. Their aim is provide brokerage services for mid-market online businesses such as SaaS, e-commerce, affiliate, content and more. Today, FEI is the pre-eminent advisor within the industry, and have worked hard to develop a reputation for commitment, integrity and delivering results.
But this isn’t Thomas’ first rodeo. He has overseen the sale of over $60M in online businesses and has bought and sold a number of businesses as well. One his strengths is in exit strategy, valuations and marketing. We got the change to interview him, and we’re excited to bring it to you. Read more below…
Company Name: FE International
Hometown: Boston, MA (originally from London, UK)
What early experiences in life, cultivated your entrepreneurial spirit?
My family did not have a history of entrepreneurship, however, I never liked the idea of having to get a regular job. I always liked creating things so building a business was an obvious choice.
Much earlier on in life, I was always trying (and often failing) to sell things and make money! Learning to cope with failure was an important part of my journey and definitely helped cultivate my entrepreneurial spirit. My first job at 16 was working in a restaurant, and regularly worked 12 hour days. Whilst it's not something I ended up doing long term, it certainly helped build a strong work ethic, which is essential if you're planning to launch a business.
Why did you start your business(es)?
Firstly, I loved the idea of being able to help people buy or sell businesses. I found the whole process of buying and selling very fascinating. So I love being able to share that knowledge with people whilst turning that into a real business.
I also wanted to create something that would mean I would never have to go back to a regular 9-5 job, and build something that would help create jobs for others and help people make more money online.
What entrepreneur has most inspired you?
Elon Musk inspires me. He has genuinely created a number of businesses that help change the world for the better, both now and in the long run. Taking the risk on reinvesting everything he made after exiting PayPal and putting it into relatively risky new ventures, puts a lot of our day to day investment decisions into perspective.
What is the biggest obstacle you have overcome thus far in business?
Lacking cash, contacts and experience starting out was difficult. Despite having a strong formal educational background I had no access to people who had successfully built businesses before, so was starting from scratch with everything. It takes a long time to accumulate cash, build a reputation (and therefore make contacts) and build experience. There's no bigger obstacle than starting with nothing and reaching your first million in revenue. Once you've made the first million, it certainly doesn't get easy, but it's a completely different challenge than starting out with no idea what you're doing!
What have you learned from failure?
Failure will happen regularly. Learn to bounce back quickly, and not take it personally. Ensure you don’t make the same mistake again! There's nothing to be ashamed of, so there's no benefit dwelling on it. If you have a business partner and/or team, don't blame people when things fail, as it will happen regularly; particularly in a small and agile company.
How does your leadership style foster your company’s culture?
My business partner, Ismael Wrixen https://www.linkedin.com/in/ismaelwrixen is our CEO and largely drives things from the leadership perspective. Our company culture is a combination of our values and beliefs. We hire people that align with our values, and the culture has grown from there. As our team has grown past 30 people across 3 offices (Boston, London and S.E. Asia), culture has become a larger focus. And this will be key to our ongoing success.
What are your top 3 responsibilities as a leader?
- Bringing in big clients and managing the relationships
- Helping solve problems whether they are external or internal
- Ensuring team are empowered to make decisions and have the knowledge to do their jobs.
What internal process do you use to guide your decision-making?
We have a 10 year goal that is broken down into annual and then quarterly targets. Over the course of the year, each team leader/manager will work with their team towards the goals that were agreed on a quarter by quarter basis.
Generally, we try to avoid making decisions that involve working on anything outside of the core goals. If something does need to be discussed and a decision is required, it gets brought up in our weekly management meeting. If we can't all agree on something, the CEO has the deciding vote.
How do you define success?
For us, success is building a business that is industry leading, has a great reputation, and creates financial freedom for our clients and for our team.
Which book has inspired you?
The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference by Malcolm Gladwell.
It teaches the value of continuing to push, even when you think it is very difficult. Eventually you will reach the top and move onto the next level – whether that's in your business or personal life.
What do you think is the coolest technology out there, and why?
It may sound like an out-dated and simple answer, but it means busy entrepreneurs can run their business from anywhere in the world. You can keep up with emails, social media and other work without needing to be at a desk. I no longer have to carry a bulky laptop around with me when traveling to events.