What I've Learnt: Geoff Griffiths, MD at Builtvisible

Charlie Spargo's picture
by Charlie Spargo

Geoff joined digital marketing agency Builtvisible as a Senior Consultant in 2013, and worked his way up to be named Managing Director in 2016.

In this role, he leads the team of 45, driving forward its business performance and overseeing the application of new technologies. Geoff is also a former professional rugby player, starting for Rotherham, Plymouth and Esher between 2006 and 2012.

Earlier this month, Geoff and his team completed a vendor-financed management buyout of Builtvisible, providing several employees with shares, increased control, and shareholding within the business.

We sat down with Geoff to find out more about his story.

Which single daily habit or practice could you not do without?

I make my bed without fail every morning. 

I've habitually done it since I was a child for little reason more than my mum told me to. About five years ago however, as my career was beginning to take shape, the idea took on a bit more meaning after seeing the video of Admiral William H. McRaven addressing the University of Texas at Austin.

He speaks about the fact that this small act means that no matter what else happens that day, you've accomplished something. In a role where some days can feel as though you are achieving very little or even going backwards, getting momentum first thing in the morning tees the rest of the day up brilliantly and provides a base on which to build.

It is also indicative of the idea that if you can’t get the small things right, you’ll never get the big things right.

What's been your luckiest break?

I do believe you make your own luck, and this is often borne out of taking positive action.

For example, a few years into my transition out of rugby I was working for what felt like a big agency at the time on the frontlines of SEO. Feeling I was hitting a bit of a ceiling I decided to take the leap and join a much smaller and specialist agency - SEOGadget at the time, now Builtvisible - and grow with it.

Outside of the hard work, many aspects that could be considered lucky such as good timing, colleagues, and market conditions have played into the journey that led to me taking over, but none of it would have happened were it not for that first leap of faith.

What's your best failure?

Never making the big time as a professional rugby player. 

A failure, because for years I obsessed over forging a long career as a rugby player; but after a bout of injuries, better understanding of my skillset, and general fatigue with the way 2nd-tier rugby is managed, I decided to move to London and have the best of both worlds - semi-pro rugby that took the edge off starting from the bottom of the career ladder.

The best failure, because this was the catalyst for future success. It gave me perspective, a pretty unique experience very few other people have, and a level of accountability for my own performance seldom seen outside of sport.

What is the best investment you've ever made, either financial or time?

Taking part in sport.

Professional rugby aside, I was always naturally very athletic, and from a very early age my parents encouraged me to take part in all manner of sports both in teams and individually.

As a result, I have always known how to win, how to lose, how to push myself, how to take feedback, how to overcome adversity and countless more attributes that come in handy every single day. I genuinely believe sport is like nothing else in its ability to teach these things.

How would you describe your work/life balance?

A work in progress.

I got this very wrong a few years ago which had all sorts of implications and forced me to take a step back and really think about what’s important.

This involved making a number of day-to-day tactical changes, but the key was in the mindset shift towards realising you can’t solve all the problems at once and enjoying the positives as they come. The athlete in me is very self-critical and looks for failure from which to learn, but the reality is there are so many wins to see on a day-to-day basis that, if focused upon, can make work feel nothing like work at all.

I spend a lot of time trying to create a positive and balanced culture and employment experience for our people, and I am not being true to that if not doing the same myself.

Which book would you recommend others to read and why?

'The Score Takes Care of Itself' by Bill Walsh.

An incredible book about how legendary NFL coach Bill Walsh transformed the San Francisco 49ers from the worst team in NFL history to Superbowl champions in three years through his approach to leadership.

He was not only strategically brilliant when it came to coaching, but was completely uncompromising in his approach to managing people - a philosophy that very much separated outcomes from processes and focussed on getting the best out of people in an organisation.

I could not recommend the book enough for anyone running a team of any size.

What one piece of advice would you give your 21-year-old self?

Control the controllables.

I used to over-analyse a lot when I was younger, obsessing over all potential outcomes in any situation. In hindsight, this is pretty unhealthy as the reality is you can’t control everything around you. 

I picked up this simple phrase from one of the best coaches I had the pleasure of working with, Mike Friday, and my team are probably sick of hearing it - but for me, it is the often-overlooked starting point of tackling any challenge.

Really it reflects the beginning of a very simple process for making good decisions, but this is definitely something I wish was top of mind when I was younger!

Who or what has had the single biggest influence on your working life?

My rugby career.

I’ve banged on about it a fair amount above, but being a professional rugby player really has influenced my management style across the board.

Understanding the importance of teams and what makes them tick, the effect of bad management in a results-driven industry, mental resilience and overcoming adversity, visualising success, the importance of culture in driving results, true accountability for one’s performance - all things that you get exposed to as a professional sportsman and which have completely moulded the person I am today.

Tell us something about you that would surprise people.

I am a massive vintage watch nerd and spend an unhealthy amount of my downtime reading about watches, attending meetups and, of course, adding to my own collection.

They tick a lot of boxes for me in terms of engineering, design and the human stories that so often accompany them. It also provides endless entertainment to my mates who love nothing more than to constantly ask me what the time is!

What does success look like to you?

Having a choice.

There are a huge number of people in the world who don’t have many choices and I think that is heartbreaking. Even very close to home, getting off the tube at Old Street every day you would be hard pushed to not see a homeless person on the three-minute walk to the office.

In business, money is an easy way of keeping score, but really all money typically does is give you the ability to make decisions from a wider range of choices, so I prefer to focus on that idea because it keeps you grateful for anything you do have. 

It also removes the unhealthy comparison game wealth often generates, as instead of saying “I have this, and they have that,” you become much more future-facing with what you are going to do next with your decisionmaking.