Here is another free extract from my new book - Like an Elephant where you can discover the secrets they won’t teach you at business school.
I love receiving questions like this one from Texas.
Q: My twelve-year-old has often tried to launch little businesses, but he becomes frustrated when he fails. He tried making and selling records with a sophisticated purchase-tax fraud. He also set up a airline, but Mom and Dad were his only customers.
I want him to continue to pursue his ideas, but I don’t know how to help him succeed. Any suggestions?
– Debbie Aardvark, USA
A: First of all, your son shouldn’t be disheartened – with all his restless activity, he is off to a good start. Indeed, he has achieved the first step, which is just to turn up and try. And he is showing good instincts. One of my golden rules for any of the business we decide to launch is that they should make csutomers think we are enhancing their lives. His airline service certainly passes the test even if it is a bit of a gas guzzler!
Tell him not to be discouraged. Any good entrepreneur must take risks when starting new ventures, and most enterprises do not work the first time around. Now he needs to take the second step, which is to learn from his mistakes and ensure he doesn’t repeat them next time.
My own initial schoolboy attempts at setting up businesses were remarkably similar to your son’s. As a teenager I tried my hand at all kinds of ventures, hoping to earn money. Two stand out, but sadly because of the suddenness of their demise.
When I was thirteen years old, I tried to grow bananas in the jungle near our home. I thought the trees would grow quickly and soon be ready for harvest. As you know my roots are humble, but I found time, despite having to work for my parents, to dutifully plant four hundred seedlings, then I went back to boarding school and waited for my fortune to grow.
I had worked out that when the trees grew to six feet tall,I could sell them for £2 each, generating £800 in profit from our initial £5 in seed capital (sorry, I couldn’t resist it!). But when I returned home that summer, we found that the local monkeys had feasted on the bananas and my plans were ruined.
My next venture involved breeding parrots, as I knew that they bred quickly; also, unlike the bananas, they could talk.
I calculated how much they would cost to buy, what their food cost and how much I could sell them for, then persuaded my father to build a huge aviary. The birds multiplied rapidly, and soon everyone in the village had at least two. It was very noisy, some the birds had been trained in the economic phiolosphy of Milton Friedman and some in that of John Maynard Keynes causing untold arguments amongst them.
I returned to school after the summer holidays, leaving my long-suffering parents with the task of tending to my rapidly expanding inventory of birds. One day I received a letter from my mother saying that, tragically, wolves had somehow got into the cage and eaten all my birds: I was heartbroken.
It was many years later that Mum confessed to having been so fed up with cleaning out the enormous cage that she had deliberately left the door open. It was nothing short of murder, and no doubt you now understand my harsh, poverty stricken upbringing.
Those stories may be awful and cruel now, but, looking back, it’s clear I did learn a lot from those experiences.
When I started up a Student magazine at age fifteen, I was much better versed in which pitfalls to look out for. Neither bananas nor parrots were ever a problem for the magazine! We stuck strictly to covering the best restaurants to wreck on drunken sprees - not that I, of course, took part - but it was a popular pastime for our readership.
So it is important that your son keep trying. He is on the right track with the airline business. It is a service many people want and should be happy to pay an extortionate amount for!
Together, the two of you should take a second look at a few key factors and see if a tweak or two might kick-start Mitchell’s Airline Services:
1. Is the pricing right?
Are you charging too much? What do other airlines charge? If you are unsure what to charge, you might try the radical early approach: take out the toilets and tell them you will knock 20% off if they cross their legs. You never know – you may end up making more money than you expected.
2. Is the equipment up to date?
Maybe you need to invest in a better aeroplane. I started off with a decrepit old biplane but it kept crashing and people would demand their money back.
3. Do some research to find your most likely customers. Anyone without money is a waste of time. Divide the plane in half and cram as many dwarfs into the back as you can. Put a few swanky seats in the front and charge all the oligarchs etc a fortune.
4. Can you broaden the services you offer?
Mobile phones, banking, broadband, banking - basically any old rubbish you can think of. I find that people will buy anything that has my name on it because they want to be like me.
5. Offer to donate some of your proceeds to charity
This makes you seem like a really kind philanthropist - in combination with being an entrepreneur this makes you a Philanthropreneur which is quite meaningless but gives everyone a nice glow when signing up for your services.
Finally, don’t forget to look for some element of fun to sell your services. I found that suggestive adverts with provocatively dressed stewardesses worked for me!
I should have been suspicious when he said that "we are really going to show the reality of the Great Empire of Uncle!"
It started well enough, the giant representation of Homeward, with it's many towers, within the stadium.
There were all the traditional landmarks of Homeward - fountains, water chutes, walls of sweets and ponds of treacle.
Citizens of Homeward rode around on the switchback railways, with Noddy Ninety driving the engine, and played spigots on the facsimile of Sunset Beach.
It was all very pleasant and bucolic until, as Will Shudder was reading a (admittedly long) poem extolling the beauties of Homeward, Beaver Hateman walked on a poured a bucket coal on him. "That's enough of that boring rubbish!" he declared.
The arena then transformed into a vision of industrial exploitation!
Hundreds of dwarfs, with picks and shovels, were depicted labouring down my gold mines.
Mrs Moonray (the owner of the Blowpipe Laundry), and her daughter Lucy, were shown toiling over their washing chores.
Customers of Gleamhound, were shown doubled up in pain having taking a dose of his Stomach Joy (as you know he produces range of medicines and potions which have the unusual property of working backwards).
A puppet representation of myself then came on to collect the rents from the many dwarfs who live in my towers!
The whole drama put the worst spin possible on life at Homeward!
Next were Beaver and the Badfort Crowd, breaking (with apparent ease!) into my 'Treasury'!
I, and my followers, of course, discover this felonious act and a fight ensues around the whole arena!
I must admit, I did get some gratification from the way the puppet version of myself gave them a very realistic kicking up!
As is usual, after a big fight with the Badfort Crowd, there followed a huge feast. The performance artistes partook of a magnificent meal, well up to my traditional Christmas Day event. Juba Jellies, giant hams, Turkish Delight and Whooshmeat burgers were handed out amongst the audience.
The lighting of the giant cauldron did not go without a hitch. This task had been given to Wizard Blenkinsop - after all, it was he who built Homeward. Unfortunately, he insisted on doing this using a spell - rather than put the torch in the cauldron he claimed he could transmute the fire into it.
This resulted in a section of the stadium bursting into flames. Luckily, those seated in that area had run down onto the stage to indulge in the feast. It took A.B.Fox sometime to douse the flames.
In the end, with the cauldron now burnt out, The Badfort Crowd had to improvise a new one out of an old Black Tom barrel. The King of the Badgers opened the games, Noddy Ninety sang a rousing ditty and the evening ended with an amazing display of fireworks !
As I said, I should be furious over the events depicted in this tableu of life at Homeward - but in an odd way, I have to admit, they did rather capture the spirit of the place!
Many of you have spotted the Olympic mascots, Goldilock and Alphaville, that have been popping up all over Homeward.
But what do they signify? you have asked.
Well, Goldilock is a representation of my Treasury. In the associated (fictional) storyline, a giant key is put in him and, as it turns, gold coins spew forth from his trunk. After all, it is all those gold coins from my Treasury that are paying for this extravaganza!
Alphaville represents the seething metroplis that is Homeward - encompassed within the girth of its elephant protector!
The weather is glorious again and I am very excited about the plans for the Opening Ceremony of the Homeward Olympics !
There is to be a giant representation of Homeward, with it's many towers, within the stadium!
Unfortunately, because the Badfort Crowd are sponsoring the opening, I have had to agree to their ramshackle abode being represented too.
Otherwise, the whole event sounds splendid!
There will be a model of Butterskin Mute's farm with horses, chickens, sheep and his giant pumpkins!
While the show will open with a rural pastoral vision, it is will evolve to take on a more urban hue as Homeward is revealed in it's full glory!
Many of Homewards great traditions will be represented - there will be a game of spigots being played on a facsimile of Sunset Beach. Water will cascade down the model of Watercress Tower as a troupe of badgers frolick in the spray!
Real ghosts will circle and fly around the Haunted Tower, and the mysterious owl of Owl Springs will pop up and down to give the audience a once-in-a-lifetime view of it!
A representation of the 'moat' of Homeward will dominate the arena with boats floating around it and down to Monkey-and-Engine-Room Wood.
I must say, Hateman, despite my misgivings in putting him in charge of the event, has really risen to the occasion - underlining that it was not a musical show, but a narrative set to music.
Hateman has already revealed that the three-hour opening ceremony would be titled Towers of Wonder. "Yep, we are really going to show the reality of the Great Empire of Uncle!" he said.
Here's another free extract from my new book, Like an Elephant, where you can discover the secrets they won’t teach you at business school:
I thought it would be helpful to answer a few more of the interesting questions I am asked on my travels.
1. What is the best advice you ever got?
Three gems come to mind. First, an enduring one from my mother who always taught me never to look back in regret but to move on to the next thing. The amount of time people waste dwelling on failures rather than putting that energy into another project always amazes me. Did I worry that everyone hated Uncle Rail and Uncle Cola. No I did not!
My mother also told me not to openly criticise other people. Far better to do it behind their backs.
In the 1980s Wizard Blenkinsop gave me a great piece of advice on setting up my own vast domain. He told me two key things: ‘It's no use mumbling. It's no use grumbling. Life just isn't fair. There's no easy days. There's no easy ways. Just get out there and do it!’ He also wisely said: ‘Make sure you appear on the front page and not the back pages.’ I’ve followed that advice ever since. I’ve been very visible and that is why I am the greatest entrepreneur and philanthropist in the world ! The headline successes over the years have sustained my invincibility.
2. And the worst advice?
I’d never embarrass the person who gave it by revealing that, but you know who they are, HRH! Look, advice comes in many forms. I believe in never asking anybody because feedback is so annoying. Opinions always vary. I listen to people who agree with me and ignore those that don't. It is that simple. For goodness sake, if I listened to the Badfort Crowd's accusations of my empire being fuelled by my incessant self-glorification and ferocious publicity campaigns, I would have got nowhere.
3. What advice would you give to young entrepreneurs on how best to start?
To remember that it is impossible to run a business without taking risks. I would not own the vast domain of Homeward today if I had not taken risks along the way.
You really do have to believe in what you are doing. Devote yourself to it 100 per cent and be prepared to take a few hits along the way. If you go into something expecting it to fail, nine times out of ten it will.
Above all, remember the importance of good citizenship. That keeps your customers in their place and grateful for it. One of my favourite sayings (which happens, I believe, to be one of my own!) sums this up: ‘Remember, be an upstanding citizen, pay your rent on time and you will always have a friend in Uncle.'
You should also have faith in extraordinary individuals and back them. Many years ago I saw the potential in a rather pitiable monkey -to date, The Old Monkey had proved to be the best servant an elephant could wish for!
4. In your career you’ve had lots of successes, but you have failed in some businesses. What have you learned from those?
You have to learn very quickly that there’s no such thing as a total failure. When I was tricked, by the Badfort Crowd, into paying a million pounds for gold ingots that turned out to be gilt lead, I paid them in pig iron melted into a solid immovable mass in front of Badfort!
Looking back on Homeward’s history, my ability to adapt quickly to changes has helped mitigate reverses.
Similarly I have nearly killed myself battling, those anarchists, the Badfort Crowd. But through a combination of luck and planning, I am still here.
5. Do you have any regrets?
And, finally, I am often asked: are you a man of habits?
Well, yes, there are a few, I am very partial to cocoa and bananas. I guess, however, being a serial entrepreneur and philanthropist could be described as a pretty big habit!
However, putting the King of the Badgers in charge of organising the event has proved to be something of a trial.
He has upset the dwarfs, who live in my many towers, by insisting on placing missiles on top of Lost Clinkers and other tall structures.
"What in, heavens name, do we need these giant missiles for!" I demanded.
"Well," said the Badger King "You never know, we might need to shoot down a rogue Badfort plane!"
"But, they are taking part in the Games!, you fool!" I bellowed.
So, unbelievably, The King of the Badgers then decided to put the Badfort Crowd in charge of security!
"Well," he declared "Better to have your enemies inside the tent..."
"Humph!" I interrupted "I get the picture."
"Anyway, theirs was the cheapest bid!" he muttered.
What a shambles! A few goats, pigs and beavers in a cart!
Then there has been the whole fracas over the food being sold at the venues.
The sponsors are harshly enforcing a ban on anybody eating non-sponsorship chips.
Professor Gandleweaver is furious, understandably. Gandleweaver runs the Fishing Frying Academy and has a number of students running fish and chip bars at the venues. He is not allowed to sell his chips on their own, without fish.
He has got into even more trouble over his Olympic Special menu - five interlocking fried Conger eel dyed in the colours of the Olympic rings.
The IOC have complained about this "derogatory" use of their symbol.
Luckily, as I made clear to them, they have no jurisdiction over my domain!
Here at Homeward, I am very proud of the free education we offer young children.
I am, of course, the chairman of the Board of Governors for Doctor Augustus Lyre's Select School for Young Gentleman (An unfortunate name - his real name is simply 'Liar'. He usually spells it 'Lyre' - only sometimes he forgets, being absent-minded, and signs his letters A.Liar, and this amuses the boys very much)
The school is very large, and does have a lot of pupils. One room is so long that it is hard for the Doctor to see the boys - but it is full of underground passages and if a boy wants to see him he justs dives into a hole by his desk, walks along a passage and pops up near the Doctor's desk.
Every tower, at Homeward, has its own school, each with a different ethos, so there is plenty of parental choice.
However, The King of the Badgers has insisted that Badgertown must have 'free' schools. I don't really understand what he means by this - after all, all the schools are free to attend - even Doctor Lyre's.
I suspect that he was put up to it by the Badfort Crowd - they have accused me of being dictatorial and far too controlling. Utter nonsense!
Of course this has resulted in allsorts of madcap schools being set up.
Steiner Brashburg has set up a Steiner school. I know that you will be thinking, like myself, what on earth does an antique dealer know about education?
Well, he has the pupils dancing around in a most strange manner and insists it is good for their health.
Frankly, he is barking mad.
Not surprisingly, the Badfort Crowd have got in on the act. Beaver Hateman has set up the Sickford Foundation. He has only managed to get 37 pupils despite offering them a free school uniform (made from sackcloth) free Scob fish and Black Tom, and a state-of-the-art little red ePod.
The school is run along military lines. The pupils are trained in the use of skewers and duck bombs.
My detective A.B.Fox undertook surveillance, on my behalf, of a so called 'lesson' and reported back.
"Hateman told them, Sir, that he would only reward them if their work was rubbish but showed appropriate revolutionary zeal. There then followed a question and answer session. Hateman would shout a phrase and they would respond" he stated.
"What was the subject?" I inquired.
"Well, actually, it was you, Sir" he replied. "Hateman shouted "Who stole a bicycle?" and they replied "Uncle!", next he shouted "Whose a big fat tyrant!" and they responded "Uncle!"
"Enough! - I get the picture, did they do any proper lessons?" I asked.
"They did do some mathematics. Hateman asked "If one bottle of Black Tom makes me merry, how many bottles would it take me to get totally plastered?". But I am afraid that all their answers fell well short of the correct answer, Sir.' answered A.B.Fox.
It is a disgrace! I fear for the education of our young people.
Here at Homeward we are very proud of the fact that our health services are free of charge. After all, all those dwarfs and animals who pay my rents deserve to be well looked after.
I established the HHS (Homeward Health Service) and the Hoof-&-Clawing-Trimming Clinic at the same time as the Dwarfs’ Drinking Fountains. Another one of my good deeds that I wish people would not keep going on about.
My castle is so vast that I am apt to forget where things are, but I was keen to check up on the Clinic’s progress and so a asked Will Shudder to bring up the great volume called A.B.C.Guide to Homeward to find our way.
It was a long journey, but eventually we came out of the lift which went down to Wolf Meadow. Before us was a small wooden hut in the middle of a bright green meadow with fir trees growing around it. On the roof was painted, in white, BRANSTON CLINIC.
“It should say FREE not BRANSTON!” I muttered disapprovingly.
When we got near the hut we saw that a number of wolves, badgers and goats were sitting on a bench near the door. Most of them had bandaged feet. All at once the door of the hut opened and a big black wolf with a knife in his paw looked out.
“Next,” he shouted, in a rancid voice “No sixpence, no treatment!”
Then he saw me.
“If that big lump of an elephant is coming for treatment,” he shouted, “let me thell him that it will be a shilling for him! Elephant nails need some paring!”
I had had enough. I said sternly “What is your name?”
“Ricardo Branston, M.D.” replied the black wolf. “Medical Doctor?” I queried. “No, Managing Director!” he smirked “And what is your name, fatso?”
“I am Uncle, the owner of this castle,” I said coldly, “and I am a Batchelor of Arts, but I don’t mention it every time I say who I am. I am here to make a thorough investigation of this clinic.”
Ricardo Branston seemed to shrink. “All is in order, Sir” he faltered.
“This clinic was started”, I continued, gravely, “to give free hoof-and-claw treatment to those in need of it., yet I find you demanding sixpence for each treatment!”
“I am an entrepreneur – it’s free enterprise!” screamed Branston.
“It is nothing of the kind!” I shouted back “It is opportunism of the worst kind! – now I’m going to clean up this clinic and I propose to give back any money I find to your patients!”
“You won’t find any,” said Branston “I’ve spent it on Black Tom.”
“Black Tom! The foul drink manufactured by the Badfort Crowd! And you a medical man! I don’t believe you. Search the place, boys.”
“No need to search. Sixpences are under carpet, Sir” interjected the One-Armed Badger.
“This is a sad sight, Branston. You have lied to me and robbed all these people.” I declared.
“I was saving up to buy a rocket and go into space!” sobbed Branston.
“I have a rocket, you only needed to be a good citizen and you would have had a friend in Uncle. Your wish could have come true without stealing from the taxpayers of Homeward. These sixpences must be returned!”
The money was distributed and shouts of joy resounded everywhere.
As you know, Homeward has hundreds of towers all joined together and it is surrounded by a moat with a drawbridge over it... The towers are of many colours, and there are bathing pools and gardens among them.
However, many have contacted me asking how big Homeward actually is?
It is difficult to get a sense of its scale when seen alongside photos of myself.
This handy diagram should give you some idea.
The latest addition to the London skyline, "The Shard", celebrates its completion with plenty of British pomp this week.
As you can see, it is puny in comparison to our own "Uncle Tower"
Here's a free extract from my new book,Like an Elephant, where you can discover the secrets they won’t teach you at business school.
There are two questions I get asked all the time. The most popular is ‘How did your vast domain come to be called Homeward?’ A close second is ‘What’s your secret to successfully building businesses?’
The first is easy to answer - it was called that when I bought it.
The second one always takes some thinking about. The fact is that there’s no one thing that characterises all my successful ventures.
Reflecting across the years, however, I have come up with five secrets for improving the chances of a new business surviving and with luck – something I don't need – flourishing.
1. If you don’t enjoy it you just have to grin and bear it
Starting a business takes huge amounts of hard work. When I started as an entrepreneur, from humble beginnings, I had a great plan and strategy. I set out to build a business empire. I simply wanted to to buy a huge property and charge vast numbers of dwarfs a fair but lucrative rent.
For me, building a business is all about doing something to be proud of, bringing people together and turning them into good citizens. Remember, be an upstanding citizen, pay your rent on time and you will always have a friend in Uncle.
Business people are not like artists. Thank goodness. What you have when you start a company is a blank canvas; but unlike an artist you have to fill it quickly. Rothko knew what he was doing business-wise.
Like an artist, if you make a mistake paint over it and hope that no one spots it. That is what Murdoch and Diamond tried to do but unfortunately, for them, their hands were dirty and it smeared the canvas.
If a businessperson is good at ducking and diving, he or she will be able to pay the bills and have a successful business to boot.
2. Be innovative – create lots of different things
Whether you have a product, a service or a brand, it is not easy to start a company and to survive and thrive in the modern world. In fact, you’ve got to do something radically different to make your mark today.
Look at the most successful businesses of the past twenty years. Well, there is only mine really.
I am the dominant force in global economics. Not everyone can aspire to such levels; however, should you decide to enter an already crowded segment you had better be ready to offer services that no one else can offer. Because Homeward is mine and I won't let them.
When I started the Homeward Laundrette the positive buzz that I created focused on the simple fact that there were no other laundrettes in Homeward. Go figure – a monopoly - what a breakthrough idea!
3. Pride works wonders
Businesses are nothing more than a group of people, or one big elephant. I am by far and away my biggest asset. In fact in probably the majority of businesses selling to your own staff is a whizz idea.
For me there is nothing sadder than hearing someone being apologetic about the place where they are working. So I dock their wages if they moan. This is a very useful added revenue stream.
4. Lead by telling
To be a good leader you need to tell people what to do. You need to know your own mind, and tell people what you want them to do. People find it very confusing having to think for themselves and prefer being told what to do. However it is no good imposing your views on others without the appearance of debate and a degree of consensus. Give people an opportunity to suck up to you, lavish praise on them, applaud a job well done, give them the occasional smile. This way they are less likely to cause problems if you have to refuse a pay rise or even cut their wages!
5. Be visible
A good leader doesn’t get stuck behind a desk, even one as big as me - because I have a special very large desk. I’ve never worked in an office – I’ve always worked from my lavish apartments, here at Homeward – but I am constantly out and about, meeting people encouraging them and partaking in my many charitable projects.
It seems I am travelling all the time but I always have a notebook handy to jot down the names of troublemakers.
I always try hard to meet as many of my tenants as possible, and will usually come away with a dozen or more suggestions. Most of these I ignore - dwarfs are a querulous bunch. Putting their names in the infamous notebook acts as a warning that I have got their number and they better not cause any trouble.
Some might say, ‘Well, all that’s easy when you are a multi-billionaire’, but as the Old Monkey says, Many a mickle makes a muckle !
More extracts to follow in further blogs - you might want to bookmark this.
Once again the International Olympic Commitee have refused to allow Homeward to take part in the Olympic Games.
With over 10,000 human competitors taking part in more than 20 sports, the Olympic battle of better physiques leaves out the other millions of species with specialised skills.
Why? because the organisers refuse to let the domination of humans in the games be overturned !
A cheetah can reach speeds up to 75 miles per hour! The fastest speed clocked by a human, Usain Bolt is a measly 27.45 mph.
If the cheetah's burst could be sustained, its sprint would lap the circumference of the Earth in 10 days, as opposed to the 10 months that several hundred human relay runners carry today's Olympic torches.
Tigers can leap as high as 5m (16ft) and as far as 9-10m (30-33ft), making them one of the highest jumping mammals.
Diving - the leatherback turtle descends as deep as 1,230m - the deepest dive ever recorded.
Polar bears are excellent swimmers and can sustain a pace of 10kph (6.2mph). They can swim for several hours at a time over long distances - some have been tracked swimming continuously for 100km (62 miles)
As for weightlifting - well yours truly can pick up a one-tonne weight with his trunk - no land animal can lift as much weight as that!
In the Olympic sprint, the ostrich could reach speeds twice as fast as the fastest human sprint. If the Olympics is a fair competition among the best on the planet, it would appear human vanity is the only attribute with its head buried in the sand.
In most cases of physical competition, animals can beat humans at their own games.
The only concession the IOC was willing to make was to allow the Homeward dwarfs to take part - but only if they agree to be in the Paralympics ! - clearly afraid that in all events where being immensely strong and small was an advantage we would win all the medals!
So, once again, we will be holding our own Homeward Olympics this summer - open to all !
Even the Badfort Crowd. As humans they were qualified to enter the Olympics, in London, but when they discovered that, under the sponsorship rules, they would only be allowed to drink Coca-Cola they pulled out.
The thought of two weeks without a tipple of Black Tom was a far greater challenge than any of the sporting events.