Michael Turner : The Myth of The Balanced Life

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An entrepreneur, fast thinker, and self-confessed ‘ideas man', Michael shows us the set of attitudes and opinions it takes to create real value online for users and investors. He explodes the myth of the balanced life, but credits his partner Michelle for helping keep him focused on what counts, and he takes pains to spread the credit around his senior management team for the creation of New Zealand's biggest and best events and entertainment website, The Hive. He looks forward to the day when someone in his team steps up and takes his job.

I went back to university in Queensland at 28 to do a Bachelor of International Business and become a trade negotiator. Around late 1993, a friend of mine introduced me to this thing called the internet. The light just went off. I could have made more money getting into the internet early, but the self-discipline of finishing the degree paid off in the end.

I was born in Coromandel, and went to Australia for a three-week holiday at 18 and ended up staying for 20 years.

I'm an only child, and the guilt hit me all of a sudden and I wanted to come home.

I was determined to take six months off when I came back three years ago.

And even though it looked like I was doing that, I was doing a lot of research. I was sitting on the beach at Whangapoua over summer with Michelle. She was reading a book and I was going through the paper, and I said, ‘Damn it, the Feelers were on last night at the Coroglen - if I'd have known, we would have gone.' I started developing the idea for a comprehensive entertainment website.

On 1 July 2005 my six months were up and I started work by saying to Michelle, "I've got these five ideas." The first one I explained was the concept of Eventfinder, and she said, "That's fantastic, go." I tried to tell her the others so we could work through them together and pick one, but she wouldn't let me. I'm not allowed to tell her what they are until I've finished this one. She's really smart.
I wrote myself a cheque for the amount that I was going to sell part of my business for. I wrote that about two months before I launched the site on 23 January 2006. The date and the money were spot on.

We have a six-year plan, and we're two years in. We had planned to partner with a major media company, and we're now a joint venture with APN. They really get our vision. We meet every milestone. Putting those milestones down on paper, and verbalising them to people - it puts your personal reputation on the line.

When we first launched, I wrote an email to friends and family and said this is the business, jump online and tell me what you think. By the end of the first month we did 5,000 unique visitors, and from that point it's been a hell of a ride.

I am absolutely unshakable in my confidence in what we are doing. I have a product that is well-liked and a strong team. The only time when we ever came up against the wall is when the Ministry for Culture launched a competing site with a $3.9 million budget nine months after we launched our own site. We went to Wellington to talk to them and they laughed us out of the room.

I thought I was cooked. But when I woke up the next morning I was okay. If you give up at a hurdle, it's a complete waste of all your vision and effort. Just work smarter, harder and with more heart - I reckon you can't beat that.

Quite often I turn up at the office at 10am. When there's a big problem to be solved, I go for an 8km walk along the waterfront. I analyse the problem on the way out and ask all the hard questions, and on the way back in, that sucker gets solved. So when I arrive at work, the guys see me sprinting from the front door to my office because "I've got it!"

One of the personal philosophies that I bring into the workplace is that is that if we are faced with a challenge, we see it simply as a problem to solve. There's never finger-pointing. It's just a problem, and there is always a solution.

There are occasions that you push the life rafts out from the shore and burn them. I've done that a bit - it means when you're on the other side, you don't have any choice but to succeed.

When you're entrepreneurial and you don't have the resources, you have to work harder. I'd be sitting in the office at 10pm and I‘d get a thrill from knowing that my competition went home six hours ago. If there are five of them, I just took one of them out of play. And if you work smarter, you take another one out of play.

I set goals and I leave visual cues for myself. It might be a cheque I write for myself or a piece of paper with a quote that inspires me.

There's not a manual for life. In business, on the other hand, our goals are completely transparent. It looks spontaneous and unstructured, but in fact we use very specific methodologies. People expect us to be the mavericks - they think we're making it up as we go along. We're not, we just make it look that way.

Very recently, I had to fly back to Australia to bury my best mate. Four months ago, before the joint venture, I wouldn't have been able to hop on a plane at short notice, but the great thing was that I could, because there's a team of people here that knows what to do. I could just say, "Guys, could you hold the fort?"

I always try to plan for the worst and expect the best. If you make contingency plans around things hitting the fan, when you're in emotional turmoil because something has happened, you can just pull that set of ideas out and get back to focusing on the catastrophe.

One of my mentors was a great one for never being frightened of two things: one, asking for help, and two, showing people who you are, because if you pretend to be something else you're attracting the wrong kind of people.

The whole work-life balance thing? It's an absolute freakin' myth. Seriously, when you do stuff like this, you sacrifice everything. For me, it's been Eventfinder and my family, and there isn't anything left.
There's a well-known CEO in Sydney, who was head of a large dotcom that was taken over by a media company. He used to present at seminars and say he was proud of going home at 4pm everyday. I always thought it was interesting for somebody to say that they've got work-life balance when they've been paid $160 million. He was out there preaching that everybody can do that. He didn't last long in his job - he was working for Kerry Packer, and I don't think big Kezza felt that was a great message for his whole organisation to get from the boss.

The sacrifices that you have to be prepared to make are total, except for one thing you can carve off that's yours, and in my case I chose my family. And they have suffered a lot. But we've decided that we're in the journey together. If we weren't, I couldn't do it.

After the first six months of this journey, it was winter and I was in the office at 11pm and I thought, this is so not fair on Michelle and Virginia, I'll work 9-5 and treat it like a normal job. Other people do that.

That lasted about a week - I was sitting at home at 7pm feeling stressed and anxious about the work I wanted to be doing. Michelle set me free. We have an agreement that I can still dig in the big hours, but only when I want to, and if I don't want to work I won't. Being completely present when I'm with the family is the key thing.

If long hours are just a grind, you can't do it. Sir Ed didn't climb Everest because it was a chore.

One of the things that will make me intensely proud is when Bob Carlton, our Marketing Director, says I don't have the skills to manage an organisation of this size and I need to step aside. When it gets to the point when it's too big for my personal and professional skills - I'll be absolutely stoked. Some people build a baby and they can't let go of it, but I'll be proud when Eventfinder is so big it takes someone better than me to run it.

There's a lot of stuff people do that doesn't mean anything. In a lot of organisations there will be one thing that is absolutely critical to get right, and nobody does it.

I have the reverse policy. We figure out the one critical thing that must happen next to make this project work, and we don't give a hoot about anything else. We call that NMIT theory - Next Most Important Thing.

There's always one, and if you just keep doing that every day, great things happen.

Michael Turner At A Glance

* Chief Executive of Eventfinder Ltd, which runs the Eventfinder Network.
* This network has two websites, the latest of which launched this month called www.thehive.co.nz -as the biggest and best events calendar in New Zealand.
* The Hive grew out of eventfinder.co.nz, which has more than 110,000 unique users a month and has consistently out-rated its nearest competitor, the Ministry for Culture.
* A New Zealander, he lived for 20 years in Australia and now lives in Auckland
* Sold his Consulting business In Australia.
* Studied at Griffith University in Queensland (Bachelor of International Business)

Goalgetting Tips for Today

* Develop your own form of NMIT theory - prioritise - what is your Next Most Important Thing to create positive action in your life or in your business.
* Ask yourself: how badly do I want to do this? Then commit yourself to it by telling others that you have it as a goal.
* Leave yourself visual cues that inspire you - write yourself a cheque that values your ideas, cut out articles, paragraphs or words that inspire you. Look at them regularly as a reminder of why you are doing this.
* Develop a ritual that helps you solve problems in a creative way - go for a walk in a special place, and look at the problem in a new light. Tell yourself that you will find the answer by the end of that walk.
* Know how to negotiate with your family (or significant others) on important life- changing events, and get their support when you know work-life balance is about to go out the window. Having their support will be the difference between achieving your goal or not.

Dwayne Alexander, our goal guru, is founder of LiveMyGoals the social network for goalgetters.

 

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