What I've Learnt: Paul Sullivan, Founder and CEO at BIAS

Charlie Spargo's picture
by Charlie Spargo

Paul Sullivan, contestant on 2016's The Apprentice, is the founder of BIAS, an award-winning inbound marketing and conversational marketing agency.

In 2017, BIAS was born out of the merger of PS Consulting - a semi-traditional management consultancy firm - and Paul Sullivan Marketing, an inbound marketing and web design agency business.

Paul is an experienced brand strategist, boasting more than 15 years' experience implementing marketing development strategies, promoting growth and enhancing ROI.

We found out the lessons he's learnt throughout his career.

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

Honestly, it would be my to-do list. There is a mental and physical comfort from seeing the things that you need to do written down on paper dwindle in size on a daily basis. This is tied into my email which I try and keep my inbox under 100 emails at any end of the day.

What's been your luckiest break?

To-date, my luckiest break has been a project I am currently consulting on. I use a lead generation platform to support my sales pipeline when we are quiet.

As a business as well as delivering our marketing and sales services, we also consult on large projects. Over Christmas, one such lead read challenger bank but was addressed in E9, Hackney East London. Whilst that may not seem strange in our line of work, you get to meet a lot of people with slightly warped perceptions of reality. That is to say, ideas that far outweigh their understanding or budget.

In this case, the team that arrived were deadly serious, well researched and looking for a team that wasn’t KPMG or EY or any other leading consultancy. Again, an alarm bell, but the reality has been a very different outcome and this project is well underway.

What's your best failure?

My best failure was a project I was involved with in 2014/15 where I was running my own consultancy but was contracted as a CTO to build the app.

It was pitched as a game of chance with the idea being around sports questions whereby you could answer the questions rightly or knowingly wrong and then decide if you were with the majority or minority.

Alan Brazil was involved, but I quickly realised that the app was not in fact a game and had better use, which I proposed to the team. I came to understand that the app would be better used as a research tool and proposed trying to speak to Tesco or the like about it.

My idea was rejected and when the app went live there was little interest and very little by way of downloads so the team invested more money and added a range of games to the app and it failed.

I still had the code for the app up until a while back and I have been tempted to call the old team and try to convince them, but with AI and data science, this is now far behind quite a lot on the market.

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

The best investment I ever made was buying my first place. I did this under duress as it was a family expectation rather than a personal one. I bought just before the crash in 2007 as I opened my first business and it was tough.

However through the ups and downs of self-employment over the following eight years, I amassed a hefty profit and when I sold it, it paid for my travels, growing my business and investment in further education.

How would you describe your work/life balance?

I am unfortunately a workaholic and my girlfriend constantly reminds me to switch off my laptop, not to answer my emails on the weekends and has definitely banned laptops when we travel on holiday. I think that paints the right picture.

Which book would you recommend others to read and why?

Oh wow, I am a reader, I currently have 33 books on the go on my Audible and at least five books in paper format; choosing one to read would be difficult as all areas of your life can be improved by reading.

However, a good book to read for those owning their own businesses is 'The Hard Thing About Hard Things' by Ben Horowitz. It talks about the hard choices business owners must make.

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

Don’t stop believing in what you want to achieve and do not let a lack of academic education force you into a mind frame of a deficit. Academics prove nothing other than the ability to learn a framework.  

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

My grandfather. He always told me to work hard, dress smartly and read well. His ideals certainly frame my way of thinking and approach to life.

Tell us something about you that would surprise people.

I am of mixed heritage. Although I look like I am white European, my mother hails from Saint Lucia and my sister got all of her visible genetics. I take after my dad, who is of Irish descent.

What does success look like to you?

The key to recognising success is to understand that any time you learn something either positively or negatively that allows you to grow, you are winning. Sometimes its the ability to understand those grand outcomes alone are not the only representation of success.

I’ve learned to understand all of my outcomes as outcomes, yes they affect me sometimes in a way that makes me down but I also appreciate I rarely celebrate the ups either.

Success is learning that you have to understand what success truly means in all it’s forms, rather than the ones that give you feelings of joy alone.