"Reimagining Success" With Alastair Budge

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Which company did Alastair Budge work for first?

Leonardo English


[00:00:00] Bree: Hi there. It’s your host, Bree. To those of you joining us for the first time. Welcome. And to all the others, a warm welcome back. Today on the podcast, we’re going to hear a story from Alastair Budge. You may recognize his name and that’s because he’s been on this podcast before, and he’s also the host of the English Learning for Curious Minds p odcast. But before that Alastair was working in the technology startup scene in London. We’re all used to hearing about startups, you know, Airbnb, Uber, Tesla, ping pong tables, hammocks a company gym and nap room. Maybe the nap room is actually Google, but you get what I mean? In 2010 Alastair began at a startup called StreetCar And he then moved to a different one called JustPark couple years later. Alastair is ambitious.

[00:01:26] Alastair: When I first started I that thought that would be the most amazing thing in the world to be, you know, the boss of a company with a hundred people, and, people are writing articles about you or working six or seven days a week and people calling you up saying, we’ve got decisions to make. I, that thought that would be the, the most amazing thing in the world

[00:01:44] Bree: Today, you’ll hear Alastair. Talk about how our idea of success can change. We get more experience. We see others that have careers that we would like, or that we wouldn’t like. And our idea of what it means to live a good life evolves.

[00:02:03] Just one more thing before we get on with the show. Most students that I work with find listening to English easier than speaking it. When I started learning Spanish, speaking was really uncomfortable. But now, after becoming fluent and teaching many students, I know why. You have to get comfortable being uncomfortable. AC English School offers private coaching to help you become fluent. We teach language and practical strategies. Visit ACEnglishSchool.com for more info.

[00:02:47] Okay. Let’s look at five words and expressions that Alastair uses in today’s story. 

[00:02:57]  The first, to bond with someone. So to bond with someone means to develop a close relationship with that person. So, if you say we’re bonding, it means that you’re connecting with someone.

[00:03:15] For example, working on projects together helped us bond as colleagues. Or playing sports regularly helped me bond with my teammates. To bond with someone.

[00:03:32] Next to raise funding. Or to raise money. This means to collect money for a project or a business. For example, the nonprofit raised funding for a charity. Or the entrepreneur raised money for her startup. To raise funding. 

Next, a slog. S L O G. So if something is a slog. It means that it’s very difficult and normally quite tiring. For example, the work project was a real slog, but finally we finished it. Or training for the marathon was a slog, but I did it. A slog. Next, outlook. So this is one word outlook. So this is a person’s attitude or perspective on something. So we can speak about a positive outlook or a negative outlook. For example, he has a positive outlook on life.

[00:04:45] He tends to be optimistic. Or a change in career gave her a fresh outlook. It gave her a new outlook. Outlook.

[00:04:57] And lastly, cold plunge. Cold plunge, P L U N G E. So this is not a very common word, but it’s in fashion right now. A cold plunge is immersing yourself in cold water for health. So you’ve probably heard of this, people having cold showers or, ideally, immersing their entire body in very cold water for health reasons. Some people say it’s good for your immune system. Other people say it’s good for burning fat, for getting rid of fat. I don’t know if it’s true, but it’s a cold plunge. For example, after the sauna, he took a cold plunge. Or athletes use cold plunges for recovery. Cold plunge. Okay. As always, you have the transcript and extended vocabulary list. And a listening comprehension quiz on our website.

[00:05:57] I will leave you a link to that learning pack.

[00:06:00] And the description of this episode. Okay. Let’s get Into the Story.

[00:06:06] Bree: In 2006, Alastair went off to university to study French and Italian and eventually even Mandarin. And then he did a master’s in Chinese studies. He spent his summers teaching English in China and traveling around the country. And then around 2010, he heard about a startup and London called StreetCar. The concept was that you would have a little card and you could just open a car, just by pressing the card on it. 

Alastair: And I thought, wow, that is a really cool idea. And I’d never heard of that before and I just applied to work there and they gave me a job. So it, it was more a question of not necessarily having some highly planned career thinking, you know, from, from an early age, I want to be a doctor or. Lawyer or English teacher or whatever it is, it was more reading about this company thinking, whoa, that’s cool.

[00:07:02] I didn’t realize that could be possible. And, uh, ending up being offered a job there, uh, yeah, a few months later. It was a lot of fun. Um, because you are just trying to figure things out as you, as you go along. I think for lots of people when you are given, you know, you’re given a set of things that you need to do for your job because it’s very well documented, you are a teacher or you are a lawyer, and this is what you do for your job. Whereas I think the thing that attracted me to the world of startups was that it’s really not clear at all because a startup is, you know, it’s experiments trying to, trying to figure out how to, to make a business work. And sometimes they do work, in most cases they don’t work. But the, the fun is in the trying,

[00:07:49] Bree: Alastair loved working at StreetCar. It was very fast-paced. He was always discovering new things, it was really exciting. After a couple of years, he left StreetCar to join another startup called just park. He was just the third employee. At what would become a very fast-growing company.

[00:08:14] Alastair: It was like Airbnb for parking spaces, so it allowed people to rent a space at someone else’s house. So if you had a, uh, a house with a parking space outside a major stadium or a train station or an airport or something like that, you could say, ah, I’m going to put my parking space, um, on this platform. And Bree is as someone who might want to go and watch a game or go to the airport or go to the train station, you could search and say, ah, okay, there’s Alastair’s parking space and I’m gonna pay him. Four pounds an hour or whatever it would be. Uh, and the, the, the startup, the company would take a percentage of that.

[00:08:54]  Bree: And so like you say, it’s a startup, there’s an idea. They want to see if it will actually work, if they can get people to pay them money for it. So you were, were you kind of doing a little bit of everything? What was your, what was your day like? What were you in charge of?

[00:09:12] Uh, I, I did do a lot, a lot of different things. Yeah. Um, it, it was a huge variety going from, you know, like, uh, uh, sort of more like sales business development type stuff through to marketing through like Rebranding the company. Um, we also did lots of fun, uh, fun kinda experimental stuff. So one example was, we needed to try and find people who might have spare parking spaces. Like clearly if you, uh, if you have a parking space and your car is parked on it all the time, uh, then it’s not spare, you’re not going to be interested in putting it on the, on the platform. So we thought, how can we actually figure out which houses have spare parking spaces and which ones just have got parking spaces that are, that are used?

[00:09:58] Because if you go to a, uh, a house, and you look around at 11 o’clock on a Tuesday morning and there’s no car there, it might just mean that person has driven it to work. Um, so he thought, okay, what about if we go in the middle of the night? So, uh, for, I don’t know how long this lasted, a week or a couple of weeks or so, we would drive around neighborhoods of North London, uh, and kind of make notes of which, which, numbers, uh, had cars parked outside and which ones didn’t. And then we’d go and, and, uh, advertise to the people who lived in the ones that had vacant spaces. So it was, it was a lot of fun, uh, doing these kinds of things because you really, you’re bonding with your, um, kind of team members, with your fellow employees and made a lot of great friendships at the time. But clearly, you know, you are, you’re, or you’re working in the middle of the night and it can be, uh, not so conducive to other things in life.

[00:11:01] Bree: Right. I mean, but it does sound like a really fun job to have when you’re, you know, younger before you have a family and I can totally picture you driving around in the middle of the night doing this. So then can you tell us about how did this time in your life come to a close

[00:11:21] Alastair: Well, there’s, there’s a short answer and there’s a long answer. The, the short answer to how uh, my involvement in the company ended was the, uh, the company grew very fast, had raised lots of, uh, raised lots of funding, but then realized that it had employed far many people and a whole bunch of us were, were fired. So that’s the short answer. The, the long answer was that, throughout all of this, being involved in this very fast-paced environment. Really fun, but, um, without a huge amount of like work-life balance as, as people call it. Um, I sort of realized that I didn’t really think that’s what I wanted for myself long term.

[00:12:01] Bree: Until this point, Alastair has loved the fast-paced world of startups, but in 2015, he starts to see things differently.

[00:12:13] Alastair: When I first started I thought that would be the, the most amazing thing in the world to be, you know, the boss of a company with a hundred people. And, uh, you know, people are writing articles about you or working six or seven days a week and people calling you up saying, we’ve got decisions to make.

[00:12:29] I thought that would be kind of my idea of exactly where I wanted to go. but then the more I kind of saw what that involved, uh, on a personal level. The more I realized that that wasn’t really what I wanted for, for myself.

[00:12:45] Bree: And what did that, what did, what were you seeing? Was it something you were seeing in your own life or something you were seeing in your coworkers?

[00:12:52] Alastair: Uh, so it was mainly what I was seeing with, coworkers really, and people who are managing the company where it’s, if you are a startup and you’ve raised lots of money from venture capitalists, these are people who want to make a return on their investment, right? And their, their main interest is, is not necessarily making sure that you can go home at five o’clock in the afternoon. It’s making sure that you are everything you possibly can to increase the value of their investment, even if that might be to the detriments of other things.

[00:13:25] Um, so I sort of, when I thought about what I wanted my, my, life to, what kind of path I wanted my life to take, I, I saw what had happened to other people, uh, and. Yeah, I think I made a very conscious decision that that’s not what I wanted for, for myself. Yeah, I mean, what you’re speaking about is it kind of sounds like not only, you’re not only talking about work, you’re talking about what you want in your life, and of course our work does really dictate a lot of that. So then you were fired from just park, then you had this time, this space of a few years, where were you trying a lot of different things and trying to figure things out or what happened?

[00:14:08] Alastair: So yeah, I did a couple of years of kind of, uh, consulting, contracting, um, where I was trying to figure out what I wanted to do. Really. I think we’ve probably all been a bit lost in our, well, maybe we’re all still lost, but I, I was certainly a bit lost in my, uh, in my twenties trying to figure out exactly what that right balance was between, uh, yeah, between kind of growing a large company. Trying, attempting to grow a large company, I should say, um, versus being a bit more independent and having a little bit more control over your own destiny, but being content with something a bit smaller. Um, I also, about a year after that, I think I moved to Malta. Uh, so I’m, I’m from the UK originally, but moved to this tiny strange island in the middle of the Mediterranean, that’s, um, that’s when my wife was offered a job for quite a while I was, I was working remotely, but also commuting to London at some points every couple of weeks. Which sounds, it’s the kind of thing that probably sounds really glamorous to someone who might hear, you know, live in Malta commute to London. Uh, but there’s nothing glamorous at all about a Ryanair flight at one o’clock in the morning. 

[00:15:23] And then we found out that my  wife was pregnant, and, uh, I just realized that, uh, I needed to stop. Uh, I didn’t want to be constantly traveling. Uh, and I wanted to do something that was a bit more sustainable,

[00:15:39] so then I have this image of you on or Ryanair flight and being like, I can’t, I can’t do this anymore. This is not the future I want. Then how did you, did you think of other ideas? Did you sit down and like, brainstorm what can I, what do I have to offer? Or did you look at the market and say what is needed?

[00:16:00] Bree: Like how did you. How did you approach this

[00:16:03] Alastair: So, um, when I, uh, yeah, when I knew that I was gonna have a baby, uh, I was trying to find lots of things that I thought I could do, um, that were, you know, the, the sort of right mix between I knew about, um, what I liked doing and what was gonna hopefully allow me to. spend lots of time with my, with my kids, uh, and be, and be present in, in their lives. Um, so I did try lots of different things, little experiments, Uh, so I tried, yeah, I tried different things. I tried to create a, like a, a meal service for restaurants in Malta. Uh, I created a service where people could text each other’s birthday reminders. Um, but then I’d, uh, I’d become increasingly interested in, yeah, in language acquisition really. my, my university background was in languages. My wife is Italian, so we’re speaking Italian. and I was living in a country where, one of the main businesses is people coming to learn English as a second language. So it seemed kind of like the answer was

[00:17:07] staring me in the face. And I started, yeah, as I started Leonardo English

[00:17:11] Bree: and did you always intend to have a lifestyle business? Like was that very much intentional?

[00:17:16] Alastair: so, uh, a lifestyle business, how I understand it is a business that allows the, the, owner to, to fit in work very much around their life.

[00:17:29] So it’s designed to. To generate enough of an income to allow that person to live the life that they want to lead, but their life comes first and the business comes second. Um, whereas a, a startup, for example, is more, you know, it’s an experiment that is intended to grow very fast, um, and properly won’t work.

[00:17:51] Maybe it will work, whereas a lifestyle business is more sustainable. You are probably happier with a slower rate of growth. Uh, and you are probably happier with a, a lower end result. Um, but it allows you to, to live the life that you want to want to lead.

[00:18:09] And let me

[00:18:10] also caveat this by saying when I, when I was, uh, working for startups, we would quite often make fun internally of other businesses, be like, oh, that’s just a lifestyle business. It’s never gonna be a big thing. Uh, and when I think back to how I used to think about lifestyle businesses, I, I, I’ve completely changed my mind. Um, Uh, and so, yeah, my, my intention always was to try and create something that allowed me to have a slightly more

[00:18:38] balanced life.

[00:18:39] Bree: so tell us a little bit then about, about that.

[00:18:42] not only like the actual product itself and the content you’re creating, but also, you know, the business side, and then there’s the other side of like working from home, working remotely.

[00:18:51] Um, how does this all, how does it all actually work?

[00:18:54] Alastair: I mean, it’s definitely be very difficult. Um, it’s not, and it’s, yeah, it’s still difficult both the. Well, both the kinda business element and the, the, uh, being a kind of solo founder part of it.

[00:19:09] it’s a very, it’s been a slow slog, I think. Um, kind of gradual, gradual progress every month. uh, trying to kinda keep morale up, I guess. Um, because when you are, uh, when you are part of a team, you are all, you know, you are encouraging each other and you are, even if things aren’t going so well. You can at least have fun, right? Um, have fun and uh, kind of go out for a drink or lunch or something and like forget about things. with my business, I started it on my own. I’m still the sole founder. We have, um, you know, freelancers and employees around the world, but it’s very much remote, um, which is great

[00:19:50] in lots of ways, but also can be quite lonely. Because you’re not all sitting around the same table. You don’t have that kind of personal, personal,

[00:19:59] contact.

[00:19:59] So that’s something I still,

[00:20:02] I definitely still struggle with on a, on a daily basis really. Um, but I feel like I have kind of come to the self realization that you can’t, can’t have it all in terms of you can’t, uh, you can’t have a sort of A remote company where you also have all the benefits of in-office camaraderie. Uh, and you can’t also go and go to your kids’ Carroll concert on a Monday morning and be managing a large team. It’s just, it’s just very difficult to have everything. Um, and I’ve, yeah, I think it’s been an important realization for me just to, you know, visualize what, like success. Looks like, and success for me, um, is very much more about being able to go and pick up my kids in the afternoon,

[00:20:55] So then when you, it sounds like when you get to the end of your day, um, you feel like, okay, that was a successful day. Uh, but then when you look and we all do this, I think we look, you know, we kind of travel back in our mind and say, imagine that this one thing were different. Or imagine that I had followed that other path.

[00:21:16] Bree: how do you feel when you look at others, for example, who have followed that path and you see them, you know, maybe their financial remuneration is higher, but maybe they don’t have a personal life like you have. How do you, how do you balance that? Do you feel envious? Do you feel happy for them?


[00:21:32] Alastair: well, um, I think I’m I wouldn’t necessarily say that I am adequately mentally well balanced enough to have the same reaction, whether it’s been a good day or a bad day. Because maybe if it’s been a great day and I don’t know, there’s been loads of new people, uh, you know, signing up and it’s had some amazing conversations and it’s all been great, then it’s very easy for me to look at it and think, oh, yeah. It isn’t, isn’t everything wonderful? Um, but if there’s, you know, if there’s been a bad day, and uh, in terms of how things

[00:22:04] have gone in, in the business. it’s difficult to keep, to still keep a kind of optimistic outlook and think I’m very glad that this is the decision that I’ve, that I’ve taken. Um, so.

[00:22:15] Bree: Mm-Hmm.

[00:22:16] Alastair: I’d be lying if I said that there was no time where I’d kind of thought what would’ve happened if I’d kind of followed that particular path, or if I had, uh, if I’d not taken these decisions. But I think that’s, I dunno, I’m, I’m, I’m 36 I’m young.

[00:22:32] I would definitely consider myself very young. Um, I feel that’s, maybe that’s a realization that you get growing up. Um, I, I, I dunno, I’ve kind of, I’ve not

[00:22:40] really answered the question,

[00:22:41] Bree: No, you, you have, you’ve answered the question. You know why? Because It wasn’t fair of me to ask you that. I don’t think. um, . I’m also 36, so we have a lot in common. Um, you know, we both have two kids. We both uh, we’re in the same field.

[00:22:55] And as you grow up, you realize that you, there isn’t enough time to follow every path and you can’t have it all. And some days are good and some days are bad, and some days maybe you feel a little . Bit of regret, and sometimes you’re like, no, I’m right on the path that I’m supposed to be on.

[00:23:14] So then

[00:23:16] Do you have any final words of wisdom or final thoughts

[00:23:23] I, uh, I and I, I use Twitter a lot. You see lots of people on Twitter,

[00:23:29] Alastair: uh, with like, you know, this is my special morning routine, or this is how I do my, my best day of work and it’s rise at 5:00 AM and have a espresso, and have a cold plunge and do my daily journal.

[00:23:42] All these kind of things. And, uh, I, for a while I thought, you know, maybe I could do that. And then, you know, I’ve, I’ve two young children, uh, it’s just not, not possible for, for me to do at all. Uh, you know, I, I rise at 5:00 AM but that’s not because I’m drinking espresso and, uh, and, and journaling.

[00:24:02] It’s because I’m, I’m dealing with a crying child. Um, so I, I, I think it’s more just the only thing that I can, uh, hopefully speak with some authority on is just to kind of carve your own path and don’t worry about what other people might, might be doing. Everyone’s situation is unique and so long as you stop comparing yourself to other people. I think that’s only when you can truly be happy with the decisions that you’ve taken.

[00:24:30] Bree: ​

[00:24:31] Alastair Budge is the founder of the website, Leonardo English, where he leads a small team of writers, editors, and teachers. His company creates English courses that make learning more interesting. And his podcast, English Learning for Curious Minds, has been downloaded more than 5 million times. As I mentioned in the story, Alastair and I have quite a lot in common in our personal lives. We’re both native English speakers bringing up multilingual kids. In fact, we both have two little boys who are similar in age. So he invited me on his YouTube channel and we spoke about everything from tips, for using English at home for non-native parents, to balancing life, work and family. To watch that conversation between Alastair and I,

[00:25:26] follow the link that you will find in the show notes.

[00:25:29] And at the beginning of this episode, I mentioned that Alastair had been on Into the Story before. Well, if you’d like to listen to that episode, it’s number 33. And he tells us a story about when he was 18 years old, living in Lille, France, busking — he was playing his bagpipes on the streets to make money. 

Okay folks, if you would like to join our newsletter, then visit IntotheStorypodcast.com. And click subscribe.

[00:25:59] It’s totally free. And you will get a few emails from me a month, where I speak more personally about the lessons that I learned from each of our storytellers.

[00:26:11] And you can also follow Into the Story on Instagram and YouTube @IntotheStorypodcast.

[00:26:18] Okay. That’s all for today. Until the next episode, I hope that you have a good time or at least a good story to tell.

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