I guess you are with me this far …
It is unlikely that I would have ended up anything other than an entrepreneur. For my entire life, I’ve enjoyed setting things up, trying to get customers, and selling products and services.
When I was 10, I found some rocks in the back garden. I soaked them in water in an ice-cream bucket. In my little mind, I was expecting this to result in polished rocks. My plan was to sell them for 20 cents a piece to my family. From memory, I got a sympathy dollar for the effort … You got to start somewhere.
Travelling the World
In my twenties, I spent a lot of time travelling. Spending time in North America, then hitch hiking across Canada, living in Newfoundland, and going on road trips in the US. This trip led to a passion for travelling and learning about different countries and cultures.
Subsequently, I ended up living in South Korea, travelling around Asia and United States, studying German in Berlin and exploring Europe, solo camping around North Scandinavia and Iceland. Thank-fully I got to travel around Australia, and spent quality time living and working in Kyoto and Tokyo, Japan.
These adventures most definitely set me up for entrepreneurship.
Learning about the world. Learning about people.
A Life of Learning
I was fortunate to be blessed with writing chops.
As a high school student, I won an award for academic excellence with the Victorian government, called the Premier’s Award. It was nice to have received this honour, and it would be nice to share a photo of this with you. I was wearing a Pixies T-Shirt (it was that time) and I obviously missed the memo that I should have dressed a bit snappier.
Despite travelling and taking courses around the world, I kind of knew that academia was always going to be a fall back plan.
For some reason, I ended up doing a PhD at the University of Melbourne. I was lucky to have two great supervisors, and a bit of a goal to finish writing it as soon as possible. While I was working at the University of Melbourne, setting up a research Institute in the Medical and Health Sciences Faculty, the professor running the show would often joke it was a ‘virtual institute, because he was virtually never there’, I also studied.
While my thesis was never going to be read, it was a real delight to be able to teach University of Melbourne students how to write postgraduate dissertations and assignments.
To cut a long story short, I figured out a short cut (nothing unethical) way to writing a PhD. It was basically to deconstruct the structure of a dissertation, and reassemble the same in a formulaic way. Interestingly there is a whole field of research dedicated towards genre and textual analysis of PhDs. I find it fascinating …. then again, I’m probably on the spectrum 🙂
I probably would have stayed in academia, but three things changed things for me.
What was a turning point was three things for me. The first, I was honoured to be invited to the Dean’s Christmas party. While I was making up numbers, I realised that I was around 30 years younger than the nearest guest, and didn’t see my future involving future Christmas parties. Even though this might sound ungrateful, I was really flattered to be invited and to attend.
The second, I basically left the MBA program at Melbourne Business School. I was on the verge of getting kicked out, so I decided to know my limits before making a fool of myself. A problem for me was the mathematics based courses, and the general boredom of not being able to learn about business set-up. It really was a management degree. So I think I should have studied the literature a little better.
The third was a perception I had of universities. There was so much waste and duplication within the system. Even worse, the expenses and overheads that universities carried for administrative staff was a complete burden. It was making the universities uncompetitive and challenging. This became apparent to me in project managing a Co-Operative Research Centre bid. While we submitted the bid, which was a great achievement. The bureaucracy and sludge like slowness of working in such an environment did not appeal to my rock polishing self.
These led me to the next chapter, starting Darlo.
Starting Darlo was one of the biggest blessings of my life.
Despite being completely clueless about business, I felt like it was my destiny to bring something to life.
When I started I thought, okay, call yourself a consultant and you’ll be able to start doing things. The only trouble, I had no clues as to what consultants did. I had no selected area of consulting, and no sense of what it was that clients wanted. It was news to me that I needed to register a business and pay taxes and things …. Naive to the extreme, but that was part of the charm and challenge.
So what does Darlo mean?
Let me tell you the story of that name …
People often ask me ‘what does Darlo mean?’ The answer is I really don’t know. It just sounds good to me.
When I started Darlo I just thought of a bunch of non-sensical words that didn’t really mean anything. From the list, I basically asked around, and lots of people like how the word Darlo sounded.
Since then, people have said it sounds like Darling, it was someone’s dog’s name, others have found the word ‘dar’ as a spanish word conjugated to mean ‘connect’ or things like that. I later found out that a famous Sydney suburb, Darlington, has the nickname ‘Darlo’. It has nothing to do with that. I once made an acronym, Development and Research Learning Organisation. However, it could have been Donuts and Rice Likes Onions.
Darlo just sounded transcendental, a little childish, yet edutech sounding.
I also like that people can say whatever they like about it. They can make their own meaning.
Just like Darlo – we can give it any meaning we like.
A Japanese Company
While the name of Darlo just sounds open and short to me, the structure of the company was clear from the get go.
After living in Japan for a couple of years, I was really impressed by the private education companies there. They were/are well organised, focussed, and efficient. They seemed to bring together the best things of Japan: marketing and advertising, as well as design, and structured methodologies.
Benesse is a model Japanese organisation. It appeals to learning at all stages of life, it follows the one product, one brand model. It also offers correspondence courses, distance learning, as well as publishing. The owner of Benesse set up an Art island in Japan. What’s not to love about that?
I can say that while Darlo has morphed over the years, I often go back to the Benesse/Japanese family company model, and aspire to build a company like that.
Let me tell you about that …
Darlo started in communications, particularly technical communications. As mentioned, I was pretty aimless and under-capitalised in the early years. The first kind of break I got was writing technical documents, tenders, and running technical writing workshops. While these were not glamorous and I dealt with a lot of miners and mining organisations that aren’t too much about syntax or cognitive metaphors, it did help my confidence to stand in front of a room of 15 gargantuan guys in mining attire and teach them about technical writing.
From there, the Australian mining sector tanked to a great degree and became automated. There was far less demand for communications. While technical writing continues to do well, I also decided to broaden the horizons and build both an eLearning company, and a higher education regulations company.
Australia has/had a pitiful approach to private education. While in Asia there is a very robust and high quality private education system, in Australia private education has been stifled by government. Government agencies have been set up to present as many hurdles as possible for groups to compete with universities. (The monopolistic cartel like behaviour of Australian universities is an entirely different post.)
We have a great deal of success in private higher education. Essentially, it was of the things I’m most proud of. We really pushed private higher education in Australia, trying to force change, and we did. A substantial demand was made by the private sector to pursue higher education, and we facilitated (and still facilitate) the success of organisations.
I also learnt that our company could speak truth to power.
It was fantastic, as I know we have indelibly left our mark, and promoted new opportunities for companies that otherwise would have these available.
When we did the same in New Zealand, the NZ skills councils (I can’t recall their names), held a special meeting where 7 of 8 groups made an unanimous decision to refuse our invitation to meet. Now that’s an achievement. Little ole me, and our brave band of Darlovians, can upset a country simply by our presence. Crazy.
Fortunately for us, we out last public servants, and are on the right side of history.
As globalisation and the emergence of private higher education accreditation agencies will take their role, there’s not much hope for governments to stop people learning with private organisations.
Since then, we have had lots of growth in private education, both in helping private organisations with applications to government, eLearning, course design, virtual reality, augmented reality and games.
No doubt, we will continue to grow over the coming decades, as we establish ourselves in new markets, and appeal to a global audience.
Expanding the Group
In 2019, I made the decision to restructure the group. To develop overseas offices in Hong Kong, India and the United States.
In 2021, we decided to move our head office to Texas. With most of our business done in the United States, and parts of the Asia-Pacific and India, we have greater access to talent.
The Darlo team is the strongest it has ever been. We have staff throughout the world in UK, Spain, Philippines, Australia and the United States.
Aside from geographic expansion, we also have had substantial services expansion. This includes new products and services, publishing, and ventures into civics education and home schooling.
So, me again.
I realised that I got a bit side tracked.
Obviously Darlo has been a big part of my life. For over a decade, I have dedicated lots of time to that.
The past couple of years has made me re-evaluate what we are doing.
The main reason for this is that I developed such chronic back pain, I could barely walk. I was left on the couch moving slowly and in pain for most moments of the day. I went to a neurosurgeon who recommended replacing the discs in my lower back with plastic implants, and also stitching up my spine. A small risk of the surgery was brain damage and/or ending up in a well chair.
It was at this time that I radically changed my life. I cut out all the people who were bad influences, found a very supportive Pilates teacher who basically re-built my physique. I then ended up floating religiously, and that was transformative. On top of this, I started walking, spin cycling, and TRX. My diet changed too. No more sugar, alcohol or inflammatory foods. All hard work, however, the price of walking and running again has made it totally worth it. Needless to say I avoided back surgery – and no plans of going back to ill health or stress filled days.
All in all, I have had ups and downs. More ups than downs, more friends than enemies, and more good times than bad.
I hope you all have a great life. Very much appreciate you reading.
Keeping Fit and Healthy
One of the most interesting things I do in my week (apart from working on Darlo project) is to cycle, workout, and do TRX. At the moment TRX is definitely one of my favourites, as well as Pilates and Spin.
To run a company and to dedicate thoughts and time to our clients’ issues, I find that thinking time is really critical. To be able to think creatively and constructively, The best way to do this is to stay fit and healthy.
Over the coming decades, I am looking to get healthier and healthier. This will help create more opportunities and working with our great team and great customers.
Two mental things I really enjoy: floating and journal writing. The flotation tank is also known as a sensory deprivation tank. I typically float a couple of times a week for 2-3 hours per float. The benefits for creativity and relaxation are amazing. The approach to journal writing is based on the Progroff method. After doing a few workshops, and reading through At a Journal Workshop, I have incorporated journaling into daily life. I highly recommend it.
That’s how I like to spend my time …
The Future is Unwritten
One thing that I know for sure, anyone can approach their life differently, and see changes happen. This is because the future is unwritten.
For budding entrepreneurs, start small, and start to build your ship. It won’t be built over night, but bit by bit, your ship will sail. Get a crew and push it out to sea. You’ll figure out the direction, the rocky areas to avoid, and how to become a better captain.
The main thing is that you like the ship you are building, and enjoy sailing.
You just keep sailing in the direction that the wind takes you ….
The future is unwritten … and that’s a great thing.