I first met Kiwi entrepreneur and social change-maker, Derek Handley, in the early 2000s when we were party-mad 20-somethings, downing champagne and mojitos (or Manhattans if you’re Derek) at Auckland’s Crow Bar. At the time I owned a model and talent agency, and our wider group had that glorious unbreakable optimism of youth—we felt like we owned the world. But what most of us didn’t realise, while we were getting into mischief and staying up half the night (Derek included), was that Derek had almost been bankrupted, and, between drinks, was feverishly masterminding global technology ideas. In 2009 he sold his company, The Hyperfactory, to U.S. company Meredith Corporation, for an undisclosed sum. Oh, and bought half of Crow Bar—just for kicks.
Derek thinks in big pictures. I remember a meeting we had at Clooney’s Tony Stewart’s old bar, Match Bar, downstairs from Nova Models, about SMS marketing in relation to Cadbury Dream Model Search (a televised event I owned and ran, the precursor to Next Top Model). I left the meeting not quite grasping the gist of what this quietly spoken tornado had outlined. It wasn’t until last week, when I read his memoir Heart to Start (Random House NZ, 2013), that I realised it is his nature to think of the big enormous picture. He was one of the first to understand the importance and value of SMS marketing, but it took the rest of the world (and me) some time to catch up.
Now that I’ve disclaimed my personal connections, I can get on to reviewing his book, Heart to Start: The story of a global start-up plus a guide for turning your ideas into action (Random House NZ, 2013). Derek sent me a copy last year, after a chance late night encounter in Ponsonby. At the time I was immersed in my Master of Creative Writing at Auckland University, working on my own first book.
Firstly, the book feels deliciously worthy in your hands—the gloss title is embossed on matt brown manila card, just like, I imagine, the brown paper he spread on the wall of his Anzac Ave apartment in 2000, trying to mind-map the next ten years of technology, and where he came up with the ideas for Feverpitch and The Hyperfactory.
“If they say life doesn’t come down to moments, let me tell you they are lying…when you get presented with these moments, and you are ready to live them, let me suggest that what matters above all is that you put your undivided energy and consciousness into them with confidence and optimism, and that you expend every ounce of spiritual, mental and physical capacity you have, to come out the other side with the outcome you want.” (199)
Derek is a good writer, and the book rockets along at a great pace, keeping the reader intrigued. He’s not afraid of disclosing his failures and weaknesses, or of sharing his methods. He’s well-read (there are some great quotes from Emerson, Goethe, Martin Luther King, Oscar Wilde, Newton, Napoleon) and some cool cultural references, grounding his story in place and time.
The book is a biography of his determination—or obsessions—throughout his life. At five it was football; at 15 it was reselling game consoles; at 16, the stockmarket; and the rest—Feverpitch, The Hyperfactory—has been widely publicised. What the book gives readers, that isn’t published in newspaper or magazine interviews, is a detailed account of the lurching rollercoaster ride from losing everything, to finding and developing The Big Idea(s), right through to its sale, and figuring out what’s next.
For those entrepreneurial spirits out there, Derek includes a 60-page field guide, outlining how to turn ideas into action—perfect for the beginner entrepreneur, or people of any age wanting to kick-start their life, career, or business.
What I didn’t expect was for Heart to Start to issue me a call to action—not a blatant one, but one set by example. Derek is one of the new generation social entrepreneurs—a man who wants to do business, and do good. He worked with Sir Richard Branson on the B-Team, and has created the Aera Foundation, to unite profit and purpose through entrepreneurship. It got me thinking about my own business ideas and projects, and how can I build in a social aspect, allowing me to do my part in addressing social, economic and environmental issues. He also inspired me to step away from the computer and take time with pen and paper to think about the big picture. You’ve got to know what you’re aiming for, right?
Heart to Start was a great read, and would make a fantastic gift.
Kindle Edition available on Amazon.
Look out for my interview with Derek in The Heart of the Matter, my column in April 2016’s North & South magazine, on shelves late March.