Interview with Return CEO Guy Levine: “I had to make sure I was the least intelligent person in the room”

Our founder and CEO Guy Levine recently spoke to the Tech North Founders’ Network about starting a business. The interview revealed some of his tips and tricks for early-stage entrepreneurs, the biggest lesson he has learned in business, and the person who inspires him the most. Read on to find out more about what makes him tick!


Q: What is Return and how did it come about?

Guy: Return is an organisation that was set up to ultimately help other brands acquire new customers in the most profitable way, because I was fed up of hearing – even in the digital era – that people didn’t know which half of their marketing budget was actually making them any money.


To find out how we helped Robinsons Brewery achieve 81% year-on-year growth in bottles sold, check out our latest case study.


Q: How long did it take to get your breakthrough? When did you know the idea would work?

Guy: There’s 40-something of us working at Return, we’ve grown year-on-year and every day I walk in and think there’s something else to do. I don’t think there’s such thing as traction. It’s just like, keep on going until you either achieve the bit that you wanted to achieve, or just decide that the pain is too great.


Q: What’s the biggest lesson that you’ve learned in business and how has it influenced the direction of Return?

Guy: I think the biggest lessons have been genuinely to make sure that you are the least intelligent person in the room. But secondly, and the one that’s actually really hard for the founder, is to work out what you’re good at and stick at that. As you’re surrounded by more people, you effectively have less to do. That’s where you take the decision to either say “actually I enjoy doing less”, or “right now I’m going to find my sweet spot”.


Q: What is the best piece of business advice that you’ve ever received?

Guy: My family has a history of running businesses. One was the big family business that half the family worked at; when I was starting out, my uncle just used to say to me: “You can’t afford it. It’s either going to eat you or feed you. Now you make the choice.”

I think as we’ve grown as a business, that “eat us or feed us” mentality around the investments we make has really borne through, because the only thing that’s going to stop an entrepreneur or a founder sleeping at night is how much money is in the bank.


Q: Have you got any tips or advice for early-stage entrepreneurs to help them grow their business and their network?

Guy: Work out what you really do, work out what the problems are that you solve, and always be looking at how your customers are feeling about that problem at the time. We all have a website, we can all launch WordPress, we all have the same programming languages, but it’s that connection between product and customer that makes things special.

The other thing is to make sure that you have a really solid way of acquiring new customers, and that changes over time. For us, in the beginning it was really easy, I would approach my network and win business that way and it was really cheap to do. But it was unscalable, because once my network was exhausted, there was no new business coming in.

So, then I went on the speaking circuit and I’d speak to rooms of people about how to use digital to grow their businesses and that was great, but then I was at the mercy of being booked to speak at events. Then we started going proactive in hiring a sales team, which when I was comparing it against the other two forms of winning business proved to be really expensive and really tough.

I think every business needs a button that they can push when they need new business. So, if you lose a customer, if you need to expand, if you want to buy something new, if you haven’t got some function of being able to say “I need a new customer now and this is what I am going to do to get one”, it becomes really, really hard to scale.


Q: Moving onto our quick-fire questions… What is your most recommended business book?

Guy: I’m a big reader, but I’d have to say Dale Carnegie’s “How to Win Friends and Influence People”. I read it when I was 17 and on a lad’s holiday to Tenerife, and I got thrown into the pool with the book. But I think it just really gave me a good understanding of how to get what you want in life without the other people feeling like they’ve been mugged.


Q: What’s one thing you can’t live without?

Guy: Oh, it’s my phone. I’m addicted to my phone – whether it be checking the Bitcoin balance, seeing what’s going on at work or Facetiming the kids.


Q: What’s your favourite productivity app or tool?

Guy: Outlook! That has to be my ultimate productivity tool. App-wise, I don’t think there are many that I’m absolutely addicted to. I’m really old-fashioned; I like using notes, I use email and we’re just starting to use Asana, which probably makes me sound really old school.


Q: Who is your inspiration in business?

Guy: Controversially, because people who know me know I kind of have a hate for him as well, but I’d have to say Gary Vaynerchuk – for building the network and the eyeballs that he has managed to build, bearing in mind the content that he talks about and the way that he talks about it.

Another big inspiration is my uncle, who managed to work in a family business. He took it over from my grandpa and grew it really successfully, pivoting the way they did things. People who know him have really nice things to say about him, and I think that’s really important. Ultimately, the most important things are what we see in the mirror when we’re brushing our teeth and what people say about you at your funeral to your kids, and I think my uncle has done well on both counts. That makes him pretty special in my eyes.


Q: Explain yourself in one word.

Guy: Frantic.


Q: What does success mean to you?

Guy: I think this is a standard definition, but for me it’s being able to do what I want, when I want, with the people that I want to do it with. If you can do that then you can be pretty successful. But I think, ultimately, if I can build a business that allows other people to be able to do that as well, that would be really successful and actually quite a privilege.


Need some help achieving your own definition of success? Maybe we can help! Get in touch with Return today to see how we can solve your business problems.

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