Table of contents
Steve, what's your backstory?
I grew up in Surrey, England, a very privileged upbringing really, a beautiful part of the UK, private schools, one of three kids. Dad was a Harley St Dentist (as was his dad). My dad is a super positive person. He had me reading books like How to Win Friends and Influence People at a very young age.
This was mainly because my dad found out when I was about 12 that he had a rare neck condition that was going to prevent him from working. Quite simply, it was to be a dentist and be in a wheelchair at 40 or stop.
He had no other skills or means of income, a big mortgage and three private school fees. You might say, big problem. I watched my dad morph into an entrepreneur overnight.
He wrote five books on computer programming - this was just starting back then, he was using a VIC-20 home computer for anyone who remembers them. He started a training company in dentistry - we spent weekends folding flyers into envelops so he could send out direct mail. He started a music company being one of the first to import rap music into the UK - trust me my dad has 3 degrees, like Jazz and hates rap music.
He became a financial planner, he sold Amway, and he sold water filters, all back when multi-level marketing was a thing. In essence, he showed unbelievable resilience, although I did not understand at the time, and we didn’t lose the house, and we continued at school.
So I guess I was always going to be different. I am a massive dyslexic so school was not my friend. I loved it, but the results were mixed. I tried to play professional tennis for a few years (had to try), then became a waiter, and then went to work in finance as a lot of my friends did. It was easy to get a job when you had been at my school through the “network”. Turns out I was not great at numbers either, so I was kind of stuck.
Not good with words, not good with numbers. It was then in Piccadilly Circus in 1995 I walked into a recruitment firm, and they said, why don't you come work here? So I thought, yeah, why don't I?
Tell us what your company does?
We exist for one sole purpose: to help founders from the very beginning start their journey and take them all the way to an exit. We only charge for a very small portion of what we do (recruitment services are all you will pay for), but the more success they have, the more they use that service, hence we help them every way we can and everyone benefits.
How did you come up with the idea?
In recruitment, people used to advertise, and people would apply for roles. That still happens, but these days the applications are pretty much useless. If you want good talent, you need to go find it, tell them your story and your mission, and see if they want to join your tribe. In essence, you give them a NUDGE.
How did you go about building and launching the business?
I knew that recruiters did not do a good job for start-ups and scale-ups because I was one of them, and I knew it was due to ignorance and education. So I met a lot of founders and a lot of recruiters and asked each group what they did not like about the other. The list was long, but that was the blueprint for the first iteration of Nudge.
How have you grown the business?
Our business has grown off the back of doing a good job, I like to think, but really it is content marketing combined with this. We produce huge amounts of content, and this was one of the reasons we bought Balance the Grind back in 2021. We are now a global company office in Sydney, Singapore, London and the Philippines.
We have our own publication, Balance the Grind, our YouTube show Give it a Nudge and a bunch of products that help founders at all parts of their journey, including - Nudge Experience, Nudge-as-a-Service, Nudge Remote, Nudge Culture, Nudge Connect and a few more to come.
What's your biggest selling product/service?
Right now, it is Nudge Experience, which is designed for early-stage businesses to Series A, but if you ask me in 12 months, it will be Nudge-as-a-Service which is our new subscription recruitment service designed for Series A and above (Scale-ups)
What have been some of your biggest failures along the way?
It has only been 3 years, and I made so many mistakes in the 2 previous companies I managed to avoid a few this time. I think with Nudge it was trying to be everything to everyone and launch too many products and new countries before the current ones were bedded in. It has been a frantic time in the startup space, and you can get carried away and lose track of ensuring you are delivering quality. Growth for growth's sake, as they talk about, is one of the worst mistakes, and in reality, if I am honest, it is driven by ego. With the early success, we had, I let my ego get the better of me
What's next for you and your business?
We are currently a service business. What we are trying to do now is to use the profits of this business to build two product businesses. The aim is to make the transition from a service business to a product-led business with a small service offering.
What digital tools do you use regularly?
So many. The recruitment ones: JobAdder, Linkedin, all the job boards in different countries, and reference/qualification checking software such as Referoo and Veremark. We currently create our newsletters with Mailchimp and ConvertKit. We use Teams, Slack, Instagram, and a lot of YouTube. We have just started a TikTok account for Balance the Grind. We have our internal company pages running on Notion We also do a lot of internal training using the online Harvard Business School, which is very impressive and well priced
What books have been a great inspiration to you as a founder?
I am reading a really amazing one right now called From Start-Up to Grown-Up. It’s a great one to read when your ego gets out of control. I love Atomic Habits. Right now, I am also reading both of Kevin Hart's books Monsters and How to Tame Them and The Decision. I have probably read over 200 books in this space, and I really enjoy biographies.
Give It A Nudge. Can I say that? I genuinely believe everyone reading this – whether you work in the startup world or not – would enjoy learning from all the different founders who come on our show. I listen to the Catching Up With CUB podcast, I love this one. I know the host Daniel Hakim well, and I like his style. I also like The Mentor with Mark Bouris. I tend to appreciate people I can relate to these days. I have had my time listening to Gary Vee, Tony Robbins, Tim Ferris, etc.
Any quotes you live by?
I have to say I am not a fan of quotes. I tend to say things to my kids like, “if you don't give up, you can't fail”, but I always feel like a hypocrite as I have given up many times in my life. I try not to anymore. So not really. I put a lot of focus in my life on trying to make sure I frame things in a way that gives hope and seems positive.
What do you love and hate about being a founder?
I am bad with authority, office politics, having to fit into what someone else thinks is right, and doing something the way it has always been done. Hence I am a founder as I have no chance of getting a job. What I find the hardest, I think, is the constant doubt that creeps in almost daily, and I know people say you never stop learning, but when you are a founder, you get reminded of this every day!
What do you do to look after your mental health as a founder?
Three things are key for me. Number one is exercise. This could be gym, swimming, tennis, mountain biking, or water sports (I am currently learning wing foiling, look it up it is awesome). Number two is my kids (time with them does wonders for your soul) and my wife. Number three is nature. I have worked out (only recently) that I need time outside every day, even if just go for a walk.
In a few words, sum up what it means to be the founder of a business
When people ask me this, I always think of two things. The first is freedom, but that depends on your definition of this. For me, freedom in decision, direction, effort levels, etc.
The second one always makes me smile as it makes me think of that Spiderman quote "With great power comes great responsibility". Responsibility, understanding that your decision affects not just you but your family, your staff, your staff's family, your clients, your client's staff, your client's staff’s family, etc. Sometimes I think we forget the impact you can have on the world as a founder.
What are the biggest pieces of advice you’d give to other founders?
"Don't give up (you will never fail, haha), and keep believing, gosh these are all so cliche. Maybe the better advice would be, it is going to be really hard a lot of the time, but trust me, it is 100% worth it. Think of it like doing the longest run you have ever done. When you finally finish that run, you feel amazing, so much, so you want to go run further the next time. That’s what it’s like, a natural high."