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Jazz Shapers

Shaper: Nick Deyong

Transcript

Elliot Moss
Welcome to the Jazz Shapers podcast from Mishcon de Reya. What you are about to hear was originally broadcast on Jazz FM however music has been cut or shortened due to rights issues.

Welcome to Jazz Shapers with me, Elliot Moss where the Shapers of Business join the Shapers of Jazz, Soul and Blues. My guest today I am really pleased to say is Nick Deyong, Founder and Owner of the NDL Group. They create and deliver global promotion and rewards programmes for some of the biggest companies in the world. Age seventeen Nick briefly set up his own airline business Deyong Airways, 1991 to ‘93 apparently and how many seventeen year olds can say they have done that or almost done that in his case. However though aiming to run 1930s nostalgia flights from London to Nice he was forced to close before he even began operating when his financial backer withdrew and you are going to find out what impact that has had on him and his life. The idea for NDL came about when Nick was working in travel in the early nineties, major radio stations were successfully running weekly promotions but struggling to manage all the traffic aspects for the winners. Nick says ‘I spotted a gap in the market for an agency specialising in winner experiences’. ‘We are in the business of making people happy’ he says, and he has certainly done that numerous times. And he’s right here, hello, how are you?

Nick Deyong
Good morning, very well thank you, how are you?

Elliot Moss
I’m very good thank you. Tell me what NDL does in your own words, I’ve tried to describe it earlier, I always do a terrible job and then I always say to people so really in the real world, what is it, what does it look like?

Nick Deyong
NDL works with brands, media owners and agencies and we put together the, I suppose the best way to describe it is the things that they don’t really have the capacity in-house to deal with. So, it’s all the back office functions that make promotional marketing campaigns work. So, if you want to award a consumer with an amazingly engaging competition prize, we put that together and our team make sure that the end customer has a brilliant experience.

Elliot Moss
And what’s interesting about a business like yours is Nick its been going for twenty years, covers many many blue chip brands globally and of course you work closely with lots of big agencies and its again one of those things people haven’t heard about and they just assume that when they win a competition magic happens. It happens because you make it happen Nick, you’re the magic man.

Nick Deyong
Well we play a part in it. I mean of course we have the luxury of working with some absolutely wonderful clients and people that we really enjoy working with and we work with a lot of very creative agencies that put together brilliant ideas. Our purpose in life I suppose is to make sure that those ideas happen, that they’re delivered and that their customer gets a brilliant experience, we kind of keep them safe but we have enough creativity and enough concept of creativity to be able to understand what our client’s idea is that they’re trying to get across and our purpose is to help them make that happen.

Elliot Moss
Now in 1997 when you set this up could you have envisaged that it would have become the business it is now? Is this true still to where you thought it would go or inevitably has life fashioned it and business fashioned it in all sorts of different ways?

Nick Deyong
Well I’d say life and business has fashioned it in a number of different ways. I mean obviously you touched on in the introduction my period of time before I was eighteen which I am sure we’ll talk about a little bit but at that time I have to say I had been told by various members of the family that maybe it’s time you should go and get a proper job and put aside the idea of entrepreneurship at which point I actually started to do a part-time law Degree and I was studying from 5.00 till 9.00 at night at Berbeck College to put that together and NDL really came about because I was trying to get through that period of college. I was going to go and do my articles and become a solicitor at which point I decided that in fact what we were doing with NDL started to pick up. People wanted to work with us, I looked at the amount of studying I was having to do to become a lawyer and decided that it wasn’t actually for me, so I focused on it and we grew it organically. You know we started off with one or two clients and that morphed into more and more business. Actually it came out of my bedroom, I was twenty two at the time and then I had my first employee who was sitting at the desk next to me, by the time employee number three came about that was the time to go out and get an office and try and take this seriously and we’ve grown the business organically over that period of time and really it’s been through delivery, consistent delivery and trying to do the best work we can for clients in order to get more.

Elliot Moss
Sounds like a very common sense approach to building a business. We are going to talk lots more about that and you mentioned your forays into the airline business, the brief moment where you almost took off and it didn’t quite happen but I think you’ve learnt a lot from that and we’re going to come onto that in a bit. Time for some more music right now though here on Jazz Shapers, its George Benson and Al Jarreau two of my favourites and they’re together with God Bless The Child.

That was George Benson and Al Jarreau with God Bless The Child. My Business Shaper today is Nick Deyong and we’ve been talking about the business that he’s created and the big companies that he’s been supporting. You said you grew it organically Nick and I said that’s a common sense approach. Where does that common sense come from? You seem like a very precise kind of person who’s not going to get panicky, who is not going to jump up and down and that’s enabled you to grow at a pace which makes sense to you. How’s that? Where’s that come from do you think?

Nick Deyong
I think a lot of what I’ve tried to do today has been shaped from how it all began you know when I was at school, even you know going back to the very early days I knew that I did not want to follow the standard path and you know when you talked about the airline, that was a case of waking up one morning and deciding, I’ve always loved planes, I’ve always been very excited, I mean I’m a Pilot now as a hobby, its one of the things I love to do, and I think that came from the very beginning and I woke up one morning and decided I was going to start an airline. Of course I didn’t have a clue what I was doing, didn’t have the money and I set about trying to work out how this would be done. So I managed to get four slots from Heathrow, don’t ask me how but in 1990 you could do that and I found an airline that agreed to paint a plane in my livery and would operate it on a per flight rotation basis.

Elliot Moss
What was your livery I would love to know?

Nick Deyong
Well it was Deyong Airways and we had a, I think there was a picture of a flying horse on the tail fin. Bearing in mind it was 1990 what we could find was a twenty one seater golf stream G1 plane which had been built in the sixties that kind of fitted with the business plan that I put together. I was trying to work out how could you start this thing on cash flow so I built a business plan around it and we decided on Heathrow to Nice, so I’d got the slots and at the time only BA and Air France were operating that route so I’m seeing you know there’s a gap, this is my way in. But having such an old plane that was going to take one hour longer to get to Nice than the competition meant I needed to find a point of difference which is what created this idea of a nostalgic service flying like it used to be. So we were trying to create the whole experience around it and that I think for me was shaping maybe what I wanted to do, where my passion is, it wasn’t necessarily about running an airline it was about creating the experiences that other people are going to enjoy.

Elliot Moss
Just on the thing you said before, you mentioned that you knew you didn’t want to do the standard thing, why did you know? How did you know? At what point did you know that you weren’t just going to go and do what other people do and have a career as such?

Nick Deyong
I had a pretty rough childhood, not because you know it was anything to do with parents, anything to do with lack of parents, my father had died when I was ten months old, he was only thirty and it left my mother having to look after probably quite a difficult child actually.

Elliot Moss
That’s you is it? Are you the difficult child?

Nick Deyong
Yeah unfortunately it was me. So I ended up at boarding school when I was seven and you know and my mother had made a lot of effort to keep my father alive in me and I was born into what you would probably call the 1970’s glam rock era, he was in the pop videos business, my mother had taken it over. As a child we literally had bands turning up at our flat in George Street and I got this impression of something I suppose it was early on about maybe, because my father was in pop promotion.

Elliot Moss
This is David Deyong, Producer of the 1970’s ITV music show, Supersonic.

Nick Deyong
Yes. Supersonic.

Elliot Moss
Yes.

Nick Deyong
Indeed and I actually have a vague childhood memory of being in the studio of Supersonic being carried around, I must have been three or four but you do get those early memories and there is a story of me going into the control room and playing with the buttons which managed to set the stage smoke off thus interrupting the ITN news going off in the studio next door.

Elliot Moss
Making trouble at the age of three, Nick.

Nick Deyong
Well yeah I did.

Elliot Moss
So, this childhood, basically was there a sense that it was different kind of upbringing to the friends that you had at the time.

Nick Deyong
It was definitely a different kind of upbringing, the lack of my father I think in my head made me feel like I, in a way I wanted to take over where he left off, he wanted to go and create this big you know promotions business I suppose and in his case it was in TV and production. I never felt that I could necessarily do that part of the business so I decided I would take a different path but I do not know whether it was a conscious decision at the time, it probably couldn’t be I was a child you know and I used to be at boarding school and I’d see planes flying overhead and my mother was very busy working til quite late in the night trying to keep this business going. So, holidays and things like that weren’t things that happened so they were very much a dream in my head, and I think that probably created a bit of an early desire for me to do something like that, but I was always the centre of attention at school. I was always the one that would be sent out of class you know I had to try and find a different way of doing things.

Elliot Moss
We’re going to come back to all of this stuff, it’s a very honest appraisal of your childhood and that makes a lot of sense and has informed indeed as you said your way of going about business and doing things. I’m going to have lots more from my Business Shaper coming up, that’s Nick Deyong but first we are going to hear from one of our partners at Mishcon de Reya with some words of advice for your business.

There are many ways for you to enjoy all our former Jazz Shapers and indeed to hear this programme with Nick again. You can ask Alexa, Alexa’s very obliging. Just say ‘play Jazz Shapers Alexa’ and there you can hear many of the recent programmes or if you pop Jazz Shapers into your preferred podcast platform you can enjoy the full archive but back to today and back to Nick, he is the Founder and Owner of the NDL Group, they create and deliver global promotion and rewards programmes and as you just were hopefully listening earlier you would have heard Nick talk about creating experiences for people. So, this rather unusual childhood, this kind of sense of being a bit naughty and of not really towing the line as it were, doing your own thing. It led you to try and set up the airline. When it didn’t work, because seventeen years old if we all go back to when we were seventeen you know we thought we knew everything, and we knew pretty much close to nothing but we kind of had you know brains and the sense of anything’s possible because you don’t know what might get in the way. When it didn’t work Nick, what did you do to move forward from that because that must have been, even though you were a young guy and stuff, that must have been pretty upsetting?

Nick Deyong
It was devastating for me because I mean at the time, I’d had an enormous amount of publicity. You know you can imagine the reaction at my age and then suddenly you’ve got headlines world’s youngest teenage airline boss you know, double page spread in the Daily Mail and I’m sitting here and being flown to Germany to appear on daytime TV. I’m on Radio Tokyo FM at 2.00 o’clock in the morning and then you know and one morning 8.30 the phone rings and it is Richard Branson on the line and we had a chat and he’s talking to me saying ‘I’ve been seeing what you’re doing I just wanted to let you know you’re completely crazy and actually if you want to be a millionaire in the airline business you better start out as a billionaire, its really not easy to do’ but actually he was very, very kind and introduced me to his CEO at the time who become for a while a bit of a mentor around this and I’d, I’d kind of almost had in my mind, I’d almost created a belief system that I’m now running this airline but the reality is that we hadn’t actually taken off yet. Hadn’t raised the money, eventually we found a backer that was going to put the money in. The first Gulf War broke out and of course that offer of backing went with it and I realised that this wasn’t going to happen you know and of course in the early nineties, it was pre-deregulation, it was a really difficult time to do it and I’m thinking to myself no I actually now need to do something different, continue with the passion that I have that maybe isn’t quite as much of a big thing to bite off straight away.

Elliot Moss
So, you learnt that but the other thing I know that you love you talked about loving flying and I know you’re a pilot and it says here on Twitter that you’re a food lover too.

Nick Deyong
I am.

Elliot Moss
He loves very well on it considering he’s a food lover. It must be, you must eat in moderation, it’s good. But the other thing you did before setting up this business was you had a little foray into radio – what was the name of your, you had a little programme didn’t you on Spectrum Radio what was it called?

Nick Deyong
All Night Long with Nick Deyong.

Elliot Moss
It has a ring to it doesn’t it?

Nick Deyong
Yes, it was the time that I learnt that radio, being a radio presenter probably wasn’t going to be my career path. I was very young, it was part of a sort of two week work experience thing to try and see whether or not radio was going to be my thing and yeah it didn’t…

Elliot Moss
But this is, what it says to me is you tried the airline thing, you’re looking at radio, you’ve been, and I think this is, it sounds like its one of your key strengths. You’re very open to stuff.

Nick Deyong
Yeah.

Elliot Moss
And then now it looks like you’ve become very organised and you’ve disciplined that into these businesses. How do you combine the creativity and the openness with the structure and the precision that you inevitably have needed to build this business?

Nick Deyong
I think what’s important that you know you’ve got, some people are very right brain orientated, some people are very left brain orientated. I crave order in my life but then the flip side of that is complete disorder so when you’re, somebody’s quite passionate and you want to try new things you need to have a little bit of that craziness to try stuff but I realised early on that you know if we were going to be successful in the business that we’re in you know we are, we’re responsible for our client’s reputation so we have to be absolutely organised and part of learning to be a pilot is about organisation, risk assessment, keeping yourself safe which comes first so for me there’s three really, really key things if you’re going to be successful in business and one of them is integrity, that comes before anything else and well really, integrity, trust and reputation – there are all those three things that actually are rolled into one so it doesn’t matter what you do providing that you do it on the basis that you’re making a difference to somebody else and you’re contributing something to the world that yes, people will be willing to pay for but you have to do that with a sense of responsibility in how, its not even about how you’re perceived it has to come from the heart, it has to be part of your make up that I do this because you assume you’re trusted from day one and then you have to earn keeping that and you can only do that with a sense of order.

Elliot Moss
In terms of the, there are a couple of parts to your business. One is now looking like its going to be much more based in technology than the other although the other I know has a big back end as well to make sure the machine works. How are you when it comes to being the leader in the office what do people say about Nick beyond the bright guy whose you know gone and done stuff. What do they say he’s like? Number one characteristic of Nick Deyong is it that I believe what he says? Is he tough? You don’t look like a horrible tough guy.

Nick Deyong
No, I mean I’ve, when I started the business, I wanted to create an environment that I wanted to go and work in myself. So, one of the big no no’s for me in a business is if you create an environment where your team are getting butterflies on a Sunday night and dreading going into work you’ve got something very, very wrong. So this whole notion of if you’re having fun you’re not working hard enough is really not the way that I like things to work and this whole thing about wanting to keep people happy yes we expect delivery, we expect results and hard work but at the same time I want to find passionate people that come to work because they want to and they love to do that. So, I’m not a big micro manager. One of the things I learnt, and you learn this over time, is you’re not the expert at everything and you cannot possibly be that person so you know if you can find people that are much better than you at doing the things that need to be done but are not your skill I think that’s really important. I think also as a leader its important to actually to show weakness you don’t need to always be the one with all the answers, the one that’s perfect because people won’t believe it anyway so you might as well be yourself and true to yourself and you find people and I’ve been blessed with having some really great people that have joined us over the years and help take things forward.

Elliot Moss
And in terms of dealing with the stresses of a business and you’ve got a pretty significantly big business on the one side, a burgeoning one on the other one how do you manage the different phases that those businesses are in at the same time because one’s a more mature business than the other and tell me a little bit about the other business just briefly. But in terms of that stress point how do you personally cope? Or do you not feel stressed? Some people say to me ‘oh I don’t get stressed, I just love what I do’.

Nick Deyong
Well if they tell you that they’re lying probably.

Elliot Moss
I reckon they are too for the record.

Nick Deyong
So you know, yeah for the record. Most entrepreneurs, certainly the people I know and if I look at my own experience, anybody that turns round to you and says ‘well it’s a walk in the park you know well you’re just doing this wrong, you have to do it this way and then everything’s fine you know stiff upper lip’ – it’s absolute rubbish. You get woken up in the middle of the night with thoughts and worries and concerns you know and it’s a very, very difficult challenging thing so you know on the one hand you might say well look if you go out and get a job that’s going to be easier because you don’t have the responsibility well it’s not either, because if you have passionate people they care about their own career, they care about, they’ve got their own issues. When you’re running a business you’re responsible for people’s livelihoods and it’s a really, it’s a really big challenge and I suppose the things that keep me up at night are worrying about are we doing things properly, worrying about what’s the next stage, where are we going and actually holding onto that is very difficult and yes, you get very stressed as a result and you have to try and find alternative ways of dealing with it. I totally disagree with the idea that people say ‘oh you know go to a spa for a week and you’ll be fine’ because actually when you’re the type of person that finds it really hard to switch off you might switch off for a week but then you’re going to come back straight in to the same level of stress so you have to treat the cause of the problem. Most people who are stressed it is because potentially you haven’t solved the cause of the stress. Maybe you don’t have enough of the right people around you to share some of the issues, maybe you’re taking on too much but its not always about work hard all the time.

Elliot Moss
No.

Nick Deyong
It’s actually about working smarter and doing the things that you’re good at doing and then sharing the load with others.

Elliot Moss
We are going to have our final chat, I’m also going to pick up on the question I had about your new business and a couple of other things that you’ve been mentioning. That’s all coming up with Nick Deyong and we’ll be playing a track from the one and only Miles Davis that’s all up in just a moment.

The sound of Miles Davis with Ahmad’s Blues. My final chat right now is with Nick Deyong, he’s been my Business Shaper for almost an hour and we’ve been talking about all sorts of things and if you’ve been listening in you’ll have heard some really good advice about the proper ways to behave, I think as you’ve been talking about Nick the responsibility you have to your people. Just give me the snapshot of the new element of the business. We’ve talked about the promotions part what’s, what’s part two then?

Nick Deyong
So, the other part of the business is technology. So, if NDL has come from a place of understanding how to make let’s say an individual competition winner really happy, what the technology business does is it enables our clients to be able to run the whole scope of that campaign in the background and it does one thing very well. We’re called Promotigo Technology and what Promotigo does is provide a back end for global brands to be able to deliver campaigns in any environment, anywhere in the world. So whether it is a sampling campaign so that their customer can go to the client’s website and order a free sample, if it’s the delivery of a competition, a prize draw, a cashback programme across multiple markets – again we’re very much focused on providing the back end technical operation behind it. That means that digital agencies that have creativity can build really exciting, engaging promotions at the front and what we provide is a secure back end to enable them to deliver it.

Elliot Moss
A very different set of skills to deliver that so I’m assuming you’ve had to assemble a whole different group of people and if so, how is it managing you know I imagine these are developers, essentially technology developers, software developers and so on what’s that been like? Have you enjoyed that? Is that fun for you personally?

Nick Deyong
Well I love it and actually the key there again is that you make a decision very early on so at that point it came out of backing a smaller business which is based outside of London. I have a partner in there, Steve who is fantastic, and he is the CTO, so you know you need to have somebody with the correct technical skills to be able to make something like that happen and you’re right developers are a very different type of person to manage. Ultimately, they are people, they want to come in and do a great job and do the best work that they can but again they need to be managed in more of a technical way. So, to succeed in a business like that it is absolutely about the team you assemble, the people that you bring in. So, my function there is very much about growing it, developing it, promoting it and taking the strategy to the next level in terms of the day-to-day delivery of management for a business like that, you know we have a completely specialised team that absolutely know what they’re doing.

Elliot Moss
What strikes me Nick and we’re going to move onto your song choice shortly but just one last thing you’ve talked a little bit around the edges about the fact that you love what you do and you’ve loved lots of things in a way and then you found that actually in the last twenty its been pretty consistent and now you’re looking at new ways of iterating that business with technology and shaping the future of delivery of global promotions. That passion that sits inside of everything is that what you look for in people that you hire and is that the kind of thing you talk about when people come to you for advice about their own business ideas?

Nick Deyong
Yes, I mean I think you need three things, so the first thing you need is passion. The next thing you need is a skill, so you need to be able to have the skills to deliver on your passion and then you need to find a way of getting somebody to value that. I think if you can connect those three things together then that’s quite a good recipe for happiness whether it’s a recipe for, you know it could also be a big recipe for success. You know you could be passionate about playing tennis not very good at it, but you can still enjoy playing tennis. But if you’ve got a major passion for tennis and you’re extremely good at it then you might have the potential to make a career out of it as well. So, the three aren’t mutually exclusive if you lose one element it becomes a hobby. If you’ve got all three of them, it could become a career or a business.

Elliot Moss
And you’ve got all three, haven’t you? In the sense of, I don’t mean in terms of your happiness and the fact you can make a living.

Nick Deyong
Yeah I mean I’ve found something I’m passionate about, I believe I’ve got most of the skills and the skills that I don’t have, the gaps I bring people around me to fill those in and so far we’ve been fortunate enough to have some great clients that see that and want to work with us and from that point of view its been very good.

Elliot Moss
Well look the technology business obviously sounds like you can take this to a whole other level and really good luck with that it sounds like that’s imminently going to be successful and once it becomes more visible we can talk about that again, get you back in in a few years when you’ve sold it for a few hundred million pounds that’ll be the plan. Just before I let you go today though what’s your song choice and why have you chosen it?

Nick Deyong
I’ve chosen Let’s Go Round Again by the Average White Band, it is one of those tracks that I used to crank up at full volume on my old quad 33 when I was about fifteen and I needed some chill out time so hope you enjoy it.

Elliot Moss
That was Let’s Go Round Again by the Average White Band, the song choice of my Business Shaper today, Nick Deyong. He talked about his passion for creating experiences for other people to enjoy. He talked about craving order and also that crazy disorder that comes with trying new things and he talked about integrity and having a deep sense of responsibility for his work and for the people he works with. That’s it from Jazz Shapers have a great weekend.

We hope you enjoyed that edition of Jazz Shapers. You will find hundreds more guests available for you to listen to in our archive. To find out more, just search Jazz Shapers and iTunes or your favourite podcast platform or head over to mishcon.com/jazzshapers.

Nick Deyong is an Entrepreneur and Investor with more than 25 years’ experience within Travel, Promotions, Rewards, Incentives and Marketing Technology industry. He is founder and CEO of The NDL Group and Co-Founder and CEO of Promotigo Technology Limited. 

NDL is a specialist provider of consumer incentive programmes, delivering creative prizes and rewards for media companies and brands, employing a team of twenty-five people in London.

Promotigo Technology is the back-end platform that powers consumer promotions for some of the world’s biggest brands. From cereal box competitions, to sample requests, consumer cashbacks to coupon offers in more than 30 countries from the UK & Europe to the United States, Asia and South America.

Nick lives in Hertfordshire with his wife and two children. He has a keen interest in music and art and is an accomplished pilot in his spare time. He uses his love of flying as an opportunity to raise money for charity by donating free flights as auction prizes.

Nick also enjoys coaching and mentoring young entrepreneurs. Having started at such a young age, he has experienced most of the hard knocks and challenges faced by anyone aiming to start a business. He has a keen interest in how entrepreneurship, combined with modern-day social media, effects mental health.

Our purpose in life is to make sure ideas happen.

Growth has been through consistent delivery and trying to do the best work we can do.

Going back to the early days I knew that I did not want to follow the standard path, though I do crave order in my life.

There’s three key things if you’re going to be successful in business…integrity, trust and reputation.

When I started the business I wanted to create an environment that I wanted to go and work in myself.

One of the things I learnt is you’re not the expert at everything. You can find people that are much better than you at doing the things that need to be done outside of your skills.  

As a leader it’s important to show weakness.

You don’t need to always be the one with all the answers, the one that’s perfect, because people won’t believe it anyway. You might as well be yourself.

When you’re running a business you’re responsible for people’s livelihoods and it’s a really big challenge.

It’s about working smarter and doing the things that you’re good at doing and then sharing the load with others.

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