Issue 7: Your time is now

The single most important factor for me launching Conker was the internet. In fact, Conker simply wouldn’t have happened without it;

There has never been a better time for you to do your own thing, learn new things, follow your passion or launch your own business. 

When I were a lad, the products and brands you knew about were those pumped through the four TV channels. This monopoly on direct access to the consumer meant that only the big boys could afford to market to the masses. Our field of vision was very narrow.

But today, Joe Blogs can set up shop in his garage armed with just a laptop, and can not only appear to be an organisation infinitely bigger than himself, but also reach the same customers as the mega brands. And with overheads consisting of a £350 laptop and an electric heater at his feet, he’s laughing.

Conker Spirit HQ – August 2014

From the comfort of your sofa, you’re able to reach a global market and trade side-by-side with multimillion pound organisations – they must miss the old days…

By removing the barriers to information and access to a global population, the internet has turned us into a resource-enabled society;

Knowledge has never been so easy to acquire and your voice has never been so easily heard.

In the same way the internet has enabled me to bring Conker to market on a shoestring budget, it’s also created the very market in which products like Conker can thrive. It has created a transparency that removes marketing’s façade – something the big brands can only fear and yet Conker thrives on. We actually want you to see what we do day-to-day

I’m often asked how I went from Charted Surveyor to running a distillery. I answer simply ‘Anything can be learnt.’

A lack of knowledge is no longer a barrier to entry. Pick any subject – no matter how complex or obscure – and you’ll find everything you need from your phone. Today, your ability to become the expert in the room on practically any subject is restricted only by your tenacity to learn it (and perhaps your phone’s battery life…)

I’m empowered by the resources the internet offers, most of which are completely free of charge. I can learn new things, reach my audience and trade on a global scale.

If you have an itch to learn something new or do something for yourself, then I’m afraid you’re running out of excuses. And to play on the old cliché saying, ‘A year from now you’ll wish you’d googled it today.’

That’s the Spirit ®


Issue 6: A happy kind of hungry

When I set out in Conker, I was seeking happiness and contentment in my work. I thought that running my own business, building something for myself, would finally quench the ambition and hunger that had kept me restless.

But now, three years in, I’ve realised that when you run your own business, ‘success’ is continuously around the corner. I have started to wonder: will I ever be satisfied with my lot?

The beauty of working for yourself is that every ounce of effort you put in translates back to a little fist pump moment – that quiet ‘yesssssss’ heard over the clatter of the bottling machine (or ‘gin cow’ as we call it).

The result is that you turn into a ‘Yes Man’, seizing every opportunity, working all hours and feeling restless in the little down time with the family. It’s addictive in that way.

With this perpetual opportunity to do more, I worry if my hunger will ever be quenched. Is it possible to reach a point where I can relax, take my foot off the gas and cruise? Or is that just not the kind of cloth so-called entrepreneurs (I hate that word!) are cut from?

I’m often asked, “What’s your ten year plan for Conker?” Or, more coldly, “What’s your exit strategy?”

For me, starting a journey like Conker where the soul motivation is to end it is bonkers. You’re just setting yourself a target you might not achieve, and, more importantly, working for a future outcome rather than embracing the now and celebrating every win, day by day.

In realising this, I’m not desperately grasping for the moment in Conker’s life that will mean ‘I’m done’.

After all, if you’re spending your day seeking the contentment and happiness that will be here tomorrow, by definition that day will never come.

So, instead I think the secret is to relax and ‘lean in’. I embrace the quenching hunger to do more, and realise that if you’re in a position to strive for more, and enjoy the process along the way, then you’re living. You are in control.

When I read the musings of big time entrepreneurs, they all say they have no plans to retire – they fear it. They live to see their ideas come into fruition. Personally, the thought of putting my feet up and tinkering on a project in the garage is total bliss. But until then, I won’t concern myself with finding that ‘I’m done’ moment.

Issue 5: Money shmoney


I’d hazard a guess that one of the top justifications not to follow a dream or do something like start your own business would be ‘money’. Whilst the amount of money you have will impact on your ability to do something, it will be your attitude to money itself that has the greatest bearing on your actions.

After all, how you perceive and value money can keep you plugging away in a job you hate, or it can give you the freedom to live out of a backpack and see the world without a penny to your name, or allow you take huge risks with unimaginable sums whilst running a multimillion pound organisation.

Some of the world’s most successful business leaders will tell you they’re not motivated by money; money is simply the output of following their passion. As a result, they’re happy to risk it all in pursuit of what’s important to them. They have devalued money to the point that they can play with it.

Co_blackChanging my attitude towards money was one of the single most important steps I took towards leaving my nine-to-five and launching my own venture. And I don’t mean that I no longer wanted to earn good money and have nice things, it was more basic than that…

Money in itself has no value – it’s an unfulfilling and futile motivation for your work. And despite the term ‘working for a living’, your job does not keep you alive and your immediate survival is not in threat if you choose to take another direction.

One of the best books I read whilst prepping my brain to confront leaving my day job is titled ‘Entrepreneur Revolution’ by Daniel Priestley. Daniel says that to become a successful entrepreneur you have to change the way you think about your job, its importance to your survival and your perception of the value of money. Throughout the book Daniel sets the reader a number of tasks to challenge the way you think about these things.

One of these tasks is to start carrying around £2,000 in your back pocket. This simple act had a powerful impact on me. Eventually you realise that the expensive items you previously thought you couldn’t afford, you in fact could; the money is there in your pocket, thereby readjusting your idea that £2,000 is a hefty sum. However, you choose not to buy them and are empowered to make that decision rather than feeling powerless to the price tag. In effect, you lose your emotional charge on your pursuit of those items.

Most importantly, however, is that you don’t ever feel your survival is at stake. You therefore stop making short-term decisions to earn a quick buck ‘to earn your living’, allowing you to think big about the future rather than the next pay cheque. ‘Empire building’ as Daniel puts it.

Co_blackWhen I first thought about launching Dorset’s first gin distillery, I didn’t have any money. No savings. Zilch. However, I ploughed on regardless repeating the mantra, “there’s always money for good ideas”, whether it be loans, grants or having to give up a part of my company to some dragon somewhere.

Luckily, where I lacked in money I was rich with the moment of opportunity. I had no mortgage, no kids (although that didn’t last long!), and an incredible girlfriend whose wage we could get by on. ‘’We’ll give it two years’’ we said.

The allure of money can be a powerful persuader to keep your head down, especially when your pay cheque or the car you drive is everyone’s gauge for success. And at every turn we’re encouraged to strive towards evermore expensive possessions, shifting the goalposts of what we can afford.

If you feel you don’t have the window of opportunity I did to follow that nagging idea, then ask yourself what exactly is stopping you – is it beyond your control to change? It is a cruel situation where the possessions we own or how we’re perceived by others keeps us on a path that makes us miserable.

Of course we need money to prosper in the modern world, but I’ve learnt the hard way that working for the pay cheque is incredibly unfulfilling. Today I work longer hours and countless weekends, and I have never been poorer… but I’ve also never felt so content.

That’s the Spirit ®

Issue 4: Ladders & Dots

The career path that has led me to sitting at the helm of Conker Spirit is full of twists and three point turns. I couldn’t have foreseen how each path would play a role in getting me there – you can only join up the dots looking back.

In early 2014 I had got Conker to the point where my day job was holding it back. I had people to meet, botanicals to forage, and a gin recipe to perfect (basically all the things I couldn’t do on the sly at my office desk…)

But I was terrified of taking the final leap to hand in my notice. I had to admit to my friends, family and colleagues that the thousands of pounds and hours spent hunched over my desk revising, was all for nothing. I had chosen the wrong path, I was walking away. Part of me felt like I’d failed.

This was not the first time I had stumbled across a ‘dead end’ in my grand plan. For me it’s been a bit hit and miss; first setting off on a Biology degree, digressing to a Masters in Construction, pouring years into becoming a chartered surveyor, only to find myself now running Dorset’s first gin distillery!

When I’m out Conkering some dark and thirsty corner of the UK, I’m often asked:

“so, how did you get into the drinks industry?”

“I’m a Charted Surveyor” I reply. Proving that some things can lead you to drink…

In fact, the closest I came to working in the drinks industry was as a barmen at the Stumble Inn whilst ‘studying’ at Royal Holloway University. Whilst I have since long forgotten how to assemble the perfect ‘Slippery Nipple’, there is something that has stuck with me ever since. At a six month appraisal I was sat down by my manager and told that I “would climb to the top of whatever ladder I chose to climb”.

Halfway through a Degree I had begun to see no future in, this really struck a chord and I have never forgotten it. At the time it gave me some hope that everything would work out ok, but now it’s even clearer than that;

It is up to you to choose the ladders you want to climb, and it’s likely you won’t pick the right one the first time around.

The concept of a single career ladder is flawed. Instead it will be a series of ladders and snakes, hops and leaps of faith as you make your way to the next rung that feels like your next best move. Trusting your gut rather than a perceived obligation to see it through, and crucially, not viewing each previous ladder as a waste of time.

This was perfectly put by Apple’s co-founder Steve Jobs, at his 2005 Stanford University commencement address. Uninspired by his traditional College courses, he dropped out, leaving him free to attend only the courses that interested him.

By following his curiosity and intuition, he took a course in calligraphy, something he says seemed like irrelevant and unproductive training at the time. 10 years later, however, Apple’s Macintosh were the first computers to have beautiful typography, with multiple type faces and proportionally spaced fonts. As he put it;

“It was very difficult joining up the dots looking forward from college, but very clear looking back 10 years later”.

Anything you do you will learn from. And while I had previously seen my meandering career to date as a series of unrelated false starts, each have played an essential role in setting me up to run Conker.

The ladder you are on should not be your guide, you are not a train. Nor should the lure of more money or that sexy promotion persuade you to keep climbing and finishing what you started.

It is the belief that the dots will eventually link up that will allow you to follow your heart, even when it leads you off the well-worn path.

That’s the Spirit®

Issue 3: Relearning creativity

A little over three years ago, I’d come to the refreshing conclusion that I was going to start a new career. I’d work for myself and build a business that would inspired me – something I could pour my heart into. But doing what exactly?!

You’re led to believe that divine inspiration will fall into your lap – that light bulb ‘Eureka!’ moment. But when you’re up to your eyeballs with the pressures of work and a bulging inbox of to-dos, when do you have the head space to explore ideas and inspiration? You don’t.

You need to dedicate the time to think beyond your day-to-day and re-teach yourself how to be creative and innovative. But those skills may be more buried than you think…

The common theme running through the world’s most successful people and companies is their unrelenting creativity: their ability to unearth an idea that has value and bring it to reality. These companies look at problems from a new perspective. They innovate, evolve and create opportunities that allow them to take advantage and stay ahead of the competition. I wanted to know exactly how they did it!

I started out by reading books written by successful entrepreneurs. I drowned myself in TED talks on any subject that sparked intrigue. I read about creativity and innovation and how to discover that bright idea. Everywhere I looked, I found two essential ingredients for effective creativity:

One: Embracing failure is part of the course of creativity and innovation

Two: You’re most creative when pursuing the things that excite and inspire you

The problem is, we’re not necessarily brought up to embrace and pursue either of these essential concepts.

When we’re children, the idea of failure is completely alien. It doesn’t exist. If we had a sudden urge to draw a tiger, we sprawled an orange crayon across the page and paraded it across the room, head held high to the praise and applaud of all surrounding adults. The potential for criticism and judgement is completely removed – who’s going interrupt that victory lap?!

When we’re little, whether we’re any good at something bares no influence on whether or not we give it a bloody good go (and have a load of fun in the process!)

Parent: ‘What are you up to?’

Child: ‘I’m drawing a picture of God’

Parent: ‘But no-one knows what God looks like’

Child: ‘Well they will in a minute’

-Sir Ken Robinson

Kids will take a chance, and if they don’t know how to do something, they’ll have a go. They’re not frightened of getting it wrong. This is the ultimate creative freedom; the ideas pour in and there are no obstacles to making them a reality.

When that same kid goes through school, that tiger is assessed for likeness, judged for the use of colour and tone and suddenly that voice in their head appears: ‘maybe I can’t draw tigers?’ We start to doubt our own abilities, we fear other people’s judgment and we adjust our behaviour accordingly. In short, creativity is quashed.

Not only does the school system and the pressure from our peers install a fear of failure and therefore curb creativity, we’re also too often dissuaded away from the very things we enjoy and inspire us the most. We can all recall the words, ‘well you won’t get a decent job doing that’. And all because it doesn’t fit within the subject areas valued as important within a curriculum, or indeed a parent’s idea of a ‘good, solid job’.

With curriculums focussed on academic achievement and schools held to ransom over exam results, teachers are not given the rope to indulge in a child’s creativity. Instead, talents are long buried and at best left only to be indulged in as a hobby.

The case for a more rounded creativity and innovation-led approach to our upbringing is even stronger when you think that the kids sitting in school today will have careers that will come to retirement in 2065. This world, 50 odd years from now, is impossible for anyone to comprehend. The same way it was impossible for my careers advisor to have foreseen my ability to run a small business from my smartphone, reaching thousands of people around the world at the touch of a button.

The reality is that with the technology available to us today, the concept of a career has completely changed way beyond our parents’ nine to five career we all grew up preparing ourselves for.

There’s never been an easier time to run your own business, or to simply make money doing something you enjoy. And it will be your ability to think creatively, adapt and innovate within a field you love that will bring you the most success and, most importantly, the greatest happiness.

That’s the Spirit ®

Issue 2: Living your work

Either you’re here again because my first blog entry was bearable enough to spark enough intrigue for you to take a second look, or you are as yet undecided – humour me…

So what is this Conker Blog all about then? Well, I can assure you that you’ll not be subjected to an endless rant on the wonders and versatilities of Conker Gin (that goes without saying). What I really want to talk about is the journey of going from working for a living, to living your work. Now that sounds like a negative, right? Just hear me out…

You see, what gets me really excited is the process I went through to change my mindset to go from a well-paid and safe career, to putting it on the line to make an ambitious idea a reality. Because that is all it is: a change in the way of thinking that allows yourself to behave in a way that you hadn’t before.

At 28 I’d got myself educated and qualified to ride out a safe and reliable career that would make me the ultimate provider. School would’ve been proud. I hadn’t been looking for riches; I just wanted a safety net in place so that no matter what, we wouldn’t be counting the pennies at the end of the month. So inevitably I chose a job that I thought I might be interested in, but which I knew would provide.

I chose to sacrifice the now for a reward in the future. Financial security over following a passion; or to put it simply: fun. This has been the work model for generations: 9 to 5 working for the weekend and the eventual retirement package that will allow you to follow your dreams. But what if that future you’re working for never materialises?!

I’ve always had a vivid comprehension of my own mortality. This has kept me off a skateboard and away from cigarettes from day one. I wasn’t the cool kid. But now I’m thankful for this, as it brought me to an early midlife crisis moment at 29 where I thought to myself, “I’ll be bitterly disappointed if I retire or die doing what I currently do for a living.” It really was that simple.

The enlightening truth is that there is no payday, there’s just life. You are living it, right now. And yet five days a week is spent working all hours to afford the cars we sit in traffic jams to get to work, to pay for the house we only see at the weekends. If we really are being observed by a third kind, they must think we’re all completely bonkers.

For our grandparents, work wasn’t meant to be fun – that was for the weekends. But the reality is you’ll be most successful and therefore reap the most rewards from doing the things that make you happy: fun builds your business.

This doesn’t mean that every working day will be filled with laughter and excitement, it’s more that there’s no separation between work and life. This may sound like a negative, but in fact for me it’s a blessing. Instead of spending the day making decisions and working myself miserable and ill for something that means nothing to me other than the payday, every single decision I make during the day is about the life I am building for myself and my family. As a result, nothing is meaningless or mundane – it’s my lifeblood.

For example, today I spent hours on the internet buying stationary. Rock and roll. But as it happens I’m now completely stoked that we’re going to start doing things more efficiently and with quality gear. A sad stationary fetish? Your call, but it all boils down to whether what you’re doing has meaning for you.

This month the world has mourned the loss of some Greats: David Bowie, Alan Rickman, Glenn Frey and Sir Wogan. These guys excelled in their day jobs. Now, my instinct was to write ‘their crafts’ – but that’s just it, you wouldn’t consider what they did to pay the mortgage was a day job. They chose the dangerous road of pursuing a passion and they excelled because they were all doing what they loved and the riches followed.

The greatest lesson I take from these guys is that when they left us, they weren’t remembered and celebrated for their bank balance. It’s what you do each and every day that matters and I wouldn’t count on waiting till retirement age to do it…

That’s the Spirit ®

Issue 1: Getting Started

Making the first move to start something new can be harder than the thing itself. I’ve wanted to write a blog from day one of Conker, so in January 2015 I made it my resolution… well that year passed quickly!

So here goes: Conker Blog Issue 1: ‘Getting Started’

When something new and important is in front of you and you want to do it right, you procrastinate, plan, and outright avoid doing it. But if I’ve learnt anything from the agonising jump from the day job to launching Dorset’s first gin distillery, it’s that you’ve just got to take the leap and learn later.

My first move as a desk-bound quantity surveyor to get the proverbial Conker rolling was to pick up the phone and make that first call. Before the Conker light bulb had landed I’d read somewhere that no matter how daunting it might be and how much of a plonker you’ll feel (and sound), making that call will set an exciting chain of events in motion. They weren’t wrong. That one call led to three others and soon I had a to-do list that I was itching to tick off.

It seems apt to talk about this now, a time when we all start to reflect and draft up our new rules for the year ahead – but why do we only do this in January?! Why are we so happy to ignore those niggles of discontent for the other 11 months of the year? And if it’s only January that we do this, why do we so often not follow through or persist with our new wills and wants?

If you think about it, the only thing stopping you from starting something new is fear. Fear that your first blog post will be a flop. Fear that you’ll be laughed off the other end of the phone. We place such an incredible amount of importance on other people’s perception of ourselves that we all too often take the safe road. I did this for years: pouring everything into getting qualified and climbing the career ladder in the way I thought I should.

So much is placed on success that we forget that the road to the greatest success is the road less travelled; the road that’s full of unknowns and riddled with the potential for failure.

You can max yourself out on wise proverbs telling you that ‘a journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step’ and that ‘it always seems impossible until it’s done.’ But for me, the simplest mantra you can tell yourself is that it’s OK to fail, because it’s the getting back up that matters.

This realisation is incredibly liberating and will empower you to follow your deepest buried ambitions. After all, the surest way to avoid failure is to do nothing at all…

That’s the Spirit®