Chloe ShearmanContent, Social & PR ManagerHuckletree15/06/2022
Norman is what you can safely call a serial entrepreneur. Since the age of sixteen, Norman has built a phenomenal track record for turning ideas into multi-million dollar companies - from the world’s largest mining company to a gaming company. In his fireside, Norman imparts key insights into what he’s learned about becoming a successful venture builder.
With his venture, AVA classics, Norman has been working with world-renowned car designer, Peter Brock, on a sustainable Land Rover design. This model was voted by GQ as one of the greatest e-cars on the planet, The Croxford Defender.
“When we build these cars, it’s not to make money, they’re built to inspire people. We encountered a man called Stuart Croxford, who lost his leg age 28 driving over an IED in Afghanistan, which sadly, is a common occurrence. The thing that blew us away about Stuart was that within a year of losing his leg, he completed an Ironman. Not one for injured veterans, a full Ironman! And he almost beat the record for an able-bodied man cycling from Land’s End to John O’Groats…
… it really made me understand that there are no brave people in this world - bravery is made. It comes from experience. This is why we collaborated with Stuart on the Croxford Defender.”
So that project was never to make money, it was to inspire, Norman reiterates. But off the back of this (and those who understand the importance of investing in brilliant storytelling will be unsurprised by this), Norman was approached by one of the biggest mining companies in the world.
“They came to me and said “Hey, you know a lot about energy and cars, right? We want to convert all 100,000 + of our vehicles to electric.” And just like that, I’d landed a £450mil opportunity.”
For the first ten years of CoolPlanet, only rules number one and three existed. Since, Norman has baked rule number two: mind your people, into the mix. Why? They want to develop their people at a deeper level.
They now have three levels of development: technical knowledge, interaction and communication, and finally - spiritual training.
Technical training simply covers things like how to be good at excel or coding. Interaction and communication training is a deep training that teaches people not to be a****** (Norman’s words, not ours), and to be braver in the way that they communicate in the company. They want new joiners to feel as open to speaking up about something as people who have been with the company for ten years to get that spectrum of voices and opinions.
“Alan, one of our Chief Execs and I will have a full-blown barmy on an all-hands in front of 400 people. Not because it’s personal, but because it’s honest. We’re getting to the truth. That’s an important part of communication for us. This way, other people can see that it’s okay to challenge.”
The third level of training is the most out there, but perhaps the most crucial to sustainable personal development, and one that’s emerging in the workplace - spiritual training. Yes, we’re talking yoga, pilates, and meditation - but CoolPlanet takes this further.
They’ve done everything from Psilocybin trips (in countries where that’s legal) to Solos. Wondering what a solo is? It’s the first we’d heard of it too. A solo is where you go out into the wilderness with a trained ex-army guy who makes sure you don’t die (yep) - and he gives you a tent and 10 litres of water and says “see you in four days”, and off you go into the hills without any food or company, just water.
“… you learn a lot about yourself on these Solos. The biggest thing I learned, is that the voice in your head, the one that tells you it’s stupid to be so ambitious, isn’t actually yours. It’s actually stuff that was said to you when you were much, much younger. After a couple of days of being hungry and wandering 200 acres of forest in the cold, you finally hear who said that to you. You hear them saying it to you. And once I heard that I laughed my ass off.”
Norman has a theory - that all the most successful entrepreneurs are fuelled by pain. That at some point, whether they were four, ten or twenty, they were told that they’d never amount to anything. Everyone who’s ever been successful has had their ass kicked at some point.
“In order to work seven days a week and put up with all the s**. You need fuel, right? And the fuel is pain. I’ve never met an entrepreneur who does it because they were cuddled as a child.”*
Sometimes, this works, but sometimes it leads to entrepreneurs never stepping away. It will ruin marriages, families, and mental health. It’s a key reason why CoolPlanet integrates spiritual practice into their team development, to empower people to understand their pain, and fundamentally, how to use it for a positive outcome.
To make it as an entrepreneur, or in any of your endeavours, you have to overcome fear. Medical rationale backs this, it’s pretty clear. To do a big pitch, you have to get over the fear of walking into the room, you have to get over the fear of failing.
“To quote Matt Damon in the Martian, you can science the s** out of anything, including fear. If you visualise yourself rocking back and forth in the corner at a party, you’re not going to be much fun. If you visualise yourself as the life and soul, however, you’ll have a very different time.”*
It’s the same with walking into a pitch. You’ve got to visualise yourself landing that partnership, that client, that fundraise.
Norman is self-proclaimed to be “riddled with anxiety”. How does he deal with this? With anchors. A big one for him is a spiritual practice.
“For me, meditation is a superpower, it’s a focus tool, a confidence builder. If you go deep with meditation that imposter syndrome shrinks. There are thousands of peer-reviewed studies on it - your frontal lobe gets bigger.”
But at the end of the day, we’re all human. We need a good diet, the right amount of sleep, exercise, and water - those are your foundations before you can thrive. Then, find your anchor. Find a yoga practice, meditation, running, or writing. What is that extra layer you need to flourish?
Norman’s fireside was an incredibly enriching and honest account of his journey. We may not be signing up to a Solo any time soon, but here’s to finding the foundations you need to thrive.
Chloe has both a way with words and an appetite for knowledge. She joins Huckletree from a background in the innovation ecosystem with brands such as Plus X and Central Research Laboratory. Previously a self-confessed craft beer nerd, she worked in experiential marketing with drinks industry domineers BrewDog. At the weekend, you’ll find her exploring London with her dog Lillie and getting cosy with a email@example.comLinkedIn