STORIES OF COMMUNITY RESILIENCE
Peter and Aamon discuss the challenging and rewarding process of establishing a start-up business. Peter talks about the value of having mentors along the business journey, and how his strategic design consulting firm used a reframing approach to overcome business challenges during the pandemic.
Peter Gould leads a strategic design consulting firm based in Sydney, Dubai & Jakarta. Gould Studio advocates for Heart-Centered Design to create meaningful brands, cross-cultural understanding and transformative change.
Produced by Aamon Sayed:
You can follow Peter’s projects
Produced by Aamon Sayed
Aamon has worked within the Social Work sector since 2012. His work experience adds sensitivity to interviews to create them in a culturally safe setting. As a podcast producer, Aamon explores the human condition, and how to make the world a more positive place through his podcast series AddLOVE.
Aamon’s latest creative project is Untold Stories a photography series. To get involved follow Untold Stories on Instagram.
Please note: this transcript is automatically generated and may contain errors.
Aamon Sayed : My name is Aamon Sayed and welcome to another episode of Stories of Resilience, Stories of Community Resilience by 3ZZZ. On this episode of the show, I’ll be speaking with Peter about his experience of resilience and in particular, what it was like to forge a way forward when his business was on the brink of collapse. Before I start, I want to acknowledge the traditional owners of the land and recognize that as we capture stories here today, the Indigenous people have been storytelling on this land for thousands of years. It always was and always will be Aboriginal land. Thank you and welcome Peter.
Peter Gould : Thank you so much. It’s great to be back with you.
Aamon Sayed : We have a very long history, I guess. Um, as we were speaking about before we started recording in terms of like just having so many different connections it’s always good to, like, come back and like, have these projects come up and, and kind of share those stories. And you’ve always been very welcoming and very willing, willing to participate and partake.
Peter Gould : Now, of course. And yeah, looking forward to our chat.
Aamon Sayed : When I first came to the to ask about what your story is of story of resilience was, you talked about, um, for people that don’t know you and for people that do will know that you’re into in the creative space. Um, a lot of like design stuff, but it’s more transcendent than that. I would say that you’re considered an entrepreneur in many ways. Um, and so when you mentioned that there was a period of time where there was some hardship around like the business almost closing. That’s something I actually didn’t know. So I felt like it was a good, good topic because then I’m also learning about the experience and yeah, so what, what was that like? What was the, I guess the situation leading up to that time?
Peter Gould : Well I, I think I’d firstly say that that sort of feeling and scenario of feeling like your business on the brink of collapse is, is very common for so many business owners or entrepreneurs or founders of some project that at some point and probably at several times in the life of, you know, most entrepreneurial journeys, there’s that feeling of like, you know, something happens and am I going to make payroll next week? Oh, my gosh, you know, this happened, something happened. It’s you know, it is very much in entrepreneurship. There’s, you know, many of those, you know, quotes. One of them always I think it’s I think it’s attributed to Mike Tyson, which is like everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face. And, um, one of my entrepreneurial friends and, you know, a bit of a role model of mine, he’s, um, he’s company got acquired by Shopify in Canada is a really nice guy and I’ve known him for many years, but he put that on a sticker, you know, as a side project, and I stuck it on the front of like, you know, where I kept my keys and stuff. So I would see it really often. And it was just one of those good little reminders, you know, a little cheesy. But, you know, that’s that’s kind of how it goes. When you’re, uh, trying to be bold, take risks, be creative. When you, when you mentioned like, you know, thinking about resilience and in business and you know what comes to mind, there’s lots of things.
Peter Gould : And of course, businesses and anything entrepreneurial, it’s it’s really run by people, right? It’s, you know, it’s not all AI led yet, you know, it’s um, and so that resilience, you know, founders or people that are trying to grow something, build a team or a coach or launch a product, you you find yourself in these difficult moments and sometimes often. But there’s been, I think really several times, you know, in the last 20 years or 20, 20 plus years of, being involved in different companies. Um, yeah, that feeling of like, “Oh man, are we going to make it through next month?” You know, something happened, maybe a project didn’t work out. Maybe, you know, some this there’s lots of different, there’s a few examples I remember, one of the things that I just came to mind when you were, you know, asking specifically, it was just coming to Covid. And we had, I had just literally left Dubai, where I had many of my big projects happening at the time. And we just basically almost had sign off on three really like great big projects, you know, a couple of them government sort of backed or, you know, big cultural projects and really cool like it was all it felt like it was all sorted and like, you know, yeah, great. I got the team hired pretty smoothly. Yeah. Yeah. Um, and I’m sure like many, many people. So coming back to, uh, coming back to Sydney and then just kind of watching things unfold globally and then as things started shutting down pretty quickly and at the time it was um, preparation for a big thing called Dubai Expo.
Peter Gould : You know, it was meant to happen in 2020 and we had like three big projects kind of lined up and it was great and pretty much within the. Base of a few weeks. One by one, they all just got completely canned and cancelled because the whole event was cancelled and the had big flow on effect because, you know, at the time we weren’t that big of a team and all of a sudden I was like, Oh no, like, okay, what are we going to do here? And then the next one cancelled. The next one cancel. Oh, no. So although, um, you know, that was sort of unfolding, um, you know, that’s when you start having to, you know, start looking, um, you know, beyond just the business, you’ve got to look within yourself, look at your team, and be grateful for your situation that okay, well, all right. I might be not able to do those projects. Maybe some things are not working out the way you planned, but okay. How do you be resourceful? How do you be, you know, lean on, um, you know, people and teams. Can you go to your team and find ways to kind of, um, kind of scale back a bit? Let me, let me pause there. I feel like I can recall a few of those moments, but that, that one around that time was, was pretty challenging.
Aamon Sayed : Something that you just you’re just talking about now that was interesting was this idea of like having this concept of having to create like the idea, right? Because when sometimes when we have a roadmap in front of us, if we just follow the steps, we can complete the roadmap, but then it’s like not having a way forward. I find that interesting and I’m very curious about what that process, that specific process is for certain people, that different people of like like almost like feeling the pressure like a bit backed into a corner and then like not having a very obvious way forward. Like what is the process for yourself in terms of like needing to create like a new path or a roadmap out of the situation that you’re in when there’s not an obvious way forward?
Peter Gould : Well, I think it’s firstly you, you know, you, you kind of go back to you have to think what is your state, where are you at. So that, here I am talking, you know, a little selfishly about oh no my my companies we’re going to, you know, we’re going to be short on cash flow and runway and we’re going to have to are we going to have to let people go or are we going to find ways? And then literally during Covid, of course, you know, disaster is unfolding for millions of people, you know, who are not able to get clean water and not able to, you know, literally go out to, you know, perform, you know, basic work and things like that. So it’s always looking at perspective. So you just see your hardship in perspective and, you know, literally first world problems like, “oh, no, my design consulting business is not going to”, where it’s like your family’s very safe, you’re at home, everyone’s comfortable, even though everyone’s, high anxiety, you know, around 2019. You look at that in perspective, so that’s important. And I think that’s where a spiritual path I’ve found, you know, just really the foundation for how I think about business and how I think about work and life and all of my decisions kind of come through this spiritual perspective, which is like, okay, well, this is by design. You know, I’ll get through this. This is a way to learn and grow. But there’s a number of things you that I’ve found over the years whenever I’m, you know, faced with a really confronting or difficult kind of situation like this, especially in business, is one, I’m very blessed with a great life partner. My wife, you know, we’ve been married for 20 years now, and she’s seen every version of the business from when it was just literally me in a, you know, a one bedroom, you know, freelancing design, trying to, trying to get my first clients, stuff like that all the way through to, you know, a much bigger team now, you know, 30,40 people and doing lots of projects and lots of things like that. So having that, you know, that partner you can count on is, is essential. Um, having good friends and mentors in Arabic. There’s the word “Sahba” like companionship. I feel in entrepreneurship especially that’s you really need that. You need that “Sahba” support, you need that people around you that they get you. They’ve been there, done that, or they’re doing it with you. And definitely in times of business, hardship, it’s essential. Like if you don’t have that, I just couldn’t, you know, you just need people to. So I have a couple of good, close friends that are also entrepreneurs. They’ve built great businesses and some of them, one of them much bigger than mine. But, you know, many issues that that kind of you can relate to. Something like gratitude, having that companionship and mentors around you just to kind of like relate to and keep yourself kind of, sometimes you come down to like week by week, what am I going to do? What’s the how am I going to how can we deal with this? So and at that time, you know, it’s also coming to each team member and having conversations about, look, you know, things haven’t worked out with this.
Peter Gould : How do we manage this? And I was fortunate that, um, I didn’t let any staff go. We found a way. We just found a way to dial back. And you also count on mentors. So I had a great mentor. I still do. Who, you know, a bit older than me, who had a very successful design business in San Francisco for a long time and went and survived the GFC, which is in the sort of late 2000s, you know, big design business, lots of, you know, dot com clients like, you know big projects. And so I learnt from her, Maria’s her name, um, and she’s a good person to go to. And at that time I was like, What do I do? And she’s like, So she’s like, We’ll look at your numbers, look at your staff, look at how you, what’s your runway, you know, which is how much cash you have in the bank, stuff like that. And she’s like, look, you can work out those basics. But it’s also a time to go to your best clients and long term, partners and relationships that you’ve worked with and just level with them and say, listen, we’re we’re kind of struggling. We’re facing an existential kind of, situation. Is there some projects you can share with us or things we can work with you and, and they came through. That’s, that was their time.
Aamon Sayed : So. Yeah. You’re not even asking for a handout. You’re like, I’ll earn it.
Peter Gould : We leaned in on some, long term, partners and yeah, that worked out. So we, and, and we survived. And, and not only that, I guess maybe it’s for another, uh, podcast or radio interview, but we, through that whole journey because of the global massive transformation. We ended up trying to in design and in creative kind of particularly a design led, kind of thinking you want to reframe a problem into a design challenge. So reframing a problem into design challenge is like, okay, how might Covid 19 and the transformation that’s happening with a lot of businesses in terms of, you know, working globally, remotely, how might that be something we can contribute to, meaning a lot of our clients had, uh, have global teams, sorry, but they’re all in person and all of a sudden had to quickly do remote teams. And this is back when people were just learning to use Zoom, you know, a lot of kind of all that stuff a long time ago. And um, uh, we had been a remote based team for a long time. So we, meaning we had staff in different parts of the world.
Peter Gould : So we just our culture was remote, not just our tools, but our company, you know, was so we were in a position to actually do sessions and help some of our bigger clients, like a bank. We kind of help their team develop some culture and process around working remotely. So it’s kind of reframing this problem into something that we can help with and design our way through and be agile. So we did that and then we also kicked off another project. So we had a bit more time which ended up becoming very successful and that wouldn’t have existed if we did the other projects before, you know, that were before Covid. So it’s that’s where it comes back, I think to that spiritual perspective is like, you know, what you think is good for you might be bad. What you think is bad for you might be good. And if there’s an arrow that’s going to hit you, it’s going to hit you. Right? But it’s seeing that through perspective as All right. I can’t see the wisdom now necessarily, but certainly at some point you, you feel like you will and that that was the case.
Aamon Sayed : It’s like practice, like trying to apply these lessons that we’ve been taught and brought up with into these very practical ways and seeing how it applies to you and the people around you.
Peter Gould : There’s a lot of practical, timeless advice that around resilience and that,it kind of, you might have read about it or if you’ve, you know, if you listened to a lot of podcast stories or, you know, for example, How I Built This, as always, you know, a weekly podcast about entrepreneurs, a very popular one, or there’s plenty of, you know, if you’re into learning about entrepreneurial stories and, you know, great innovators and whatever area they might be in, they’re always a story of resilience and growth because there’s no such thing as the, you know, the sort of the myth of the, you know, the 19 year old tech whiz that comes out and all of a sudden, you know, Google gives him like $50 million. That’s extremely rare. Like extremely rare. The more more statistically, it’s more likely to be people in their late 30s or 40s that are the big, uh, you know, sort of the success stories in entrepreneurship. And by then they’ve usually been through 2 or 3 failures. They’ve been through massive, existential crises and like periods of like real hardship. In fact, there’s a great book called The Hard Thing About Hard Things by one of the founders of a big venture capital firm. It’s basically a whole story of entrepreneurs like, you know, coming back from the dead and like, how do you, you know, how do you survive these? Like you said in the intro, the, uh, how did you describe it was very dramatic.
Aamon Sayed : The forging a way through the collapse. Yeah, the near collapse.
Peter Gould : In some businesses that happens on a quarterly basis.[Laughter]
Aamon Sayed : So it’s like a, there’s a, there’s an element of, of grit and, and kind of like, like pushing through knowing that this is actually contributing in the long term to the success. Like this is just one of the speed humps in the, in the road I guess.
Peter Gould : That’s right. And sometimes we, uh, make the mistake of thinking that, um, the product or project or platform we’re building or the content or whatever we’re building, you know, all these things that happen to us or around us that stop us. Like, you know, things that happen in life. Like maybe you’ve got to attend to a family thing or something comes up and you keep going. Yeah, but if only if you could get back to the project, then, you know. I just got to do this, this, this and it’ll be successful. I’ll get to the next step. But. And you think, Oh, I need to get back to the work. But I think in our, you know, kind of holistic view of, of entrepreneurship is that no, that is the work. The work is, you know, figuring yourself out, dealing with your family, getting, you know, dropping your kids at school and then also doing that like that. The work is all of those things.
Aamon Sayed : That’s the skill is like living, like doing your life duty while still engaging.
Peter Gould : You’ve got to work through all these these things as part of the, the journey.
Aamon Sayed : I think for some people it’s just like an overwhelming like thing you know because. I think the like you said, mentors and relationships are so important. And in an increasingly isolated world, people maybe don’t have that support or, you know, some, like, you know, as a social worker, like having an understanding that people in their 30s and 40s are learning lessons, that I’m like, Man, if only we learned this like growing up, you know, these are like really basic life lessons that if we understood them as a whole, I think the trajectory of people’s lives might be different. And, you know, there’s a whole like relearning of what, like, importance and, and, and what’s important to us as we get older and we’re experiencing these lessons. So sometimes in those circumstances, it can be a little bit tough and overwhelming to, like figure out like what to do. And hence the question specifically about like, how do we move forward when there’s no obvious path.
Peter Gould : I think there’s different seasons of life, you know, in that like the way I kind of work and think now is as a 41 year old is different to when I was, you know 19 or 20 and started my first business and could literally work all night and then sleep for half an hour under the board table and then present, you know, an an hour to the clients coming in. Then after that, go to university, finish my you know, I used to do that stuff. Now forget it, man. [Laughter] I’m lucky if I can make it to 5 p.m. with five coffees and that’s it, you know, So, uh, but one of my mentors who’s, you know, a wonderful older lady, I call her my strategic auntie, she’s very successful in business. She has, I think, over 40 properties to her name in Dubai. She’s just, you know, amazing lady. And she is very spiritual. One of the things she said is like, Peter, you can have anything you want in life or you can you can attempt anything you want in life, but just not at the same time. So you’ve gotta look at the perspective is when is the right time, you think to to do something at what time? And in seasons of life, you know, depending on if you’re a parent or not or if you’re certain priorities you might have whatever it might be.
Peter Gould : Um, you know, maybe entrepreneurship is not the right time, you know, for that or but, but I encourage you people to be entrepreneurial in their kind of mindset and thinking. So you might be working somewhere at a company or you might be involved in a community or a project. You can always develop that skill set of being entrepreneurial, thinking about, Well, how do I make this more sustainable? How do I find ways to make this project more successful instead of just the creative and the product, but the business around it? And how does it benefit people? What is the value, things like that. If you keep just kind of chipping away at thinking like that, I think that becomes valuable. And if you do feel at some point like, Yeah, I’d like to start something or I want to be part of a kind of, you know, a startup journey or something like that. It’s, it’s a big commitment, but it’s, it can be very rewarding, but it’s helpful if you’ve had that sort of, um, you know, lots of little tests and prototypes and iterations along the journey.
Aamon Sayed : Well, thank you very much Peter, for your time and your openness an your story of resilience. It’s, it’s been awesome.
Peter Gould : Thanks so much. It’s great to chat.
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