Caspar Craven | Interview | Podcast | Maria Franzoni | MFL Global

Maria Interviews Caspar Craven

This week Maria interviewed Caspar Craven, entrepreneur and adventurer. Caspar believes in challenging conventional thinking on how leaders and teams become truly effective to create extraordinary results. Caspar has 30 years of experience in building teams to make things happen. Starting as an entrepreneur at the age of 14, he has built and led teams in global corporations, start-ups, struggling and high growth businesses, and on a trophy-winning world racing yacht. But his toughest challenge by far was building his family team to sail around the world with his wife and three children, then aged 9, 7, and 2.

Maria:      

Caspar Craven is an entrepreneur and an adventurer. He believes in challenging conventional thinking on how leaders and teams become truly effective to create extraordinary results. Caspar has 30 years of experience in building teams to make things happen. Starting as an entrepreneur at the age of 14, he has built and led teams in global corporations, start-ups, struggling and high growth businesses, and on a trophy-winning world racing yacht. But his toughest challenge by far was building his family team to sail around the world with his wife and three, children then aged 9, 7, and 2. Welcome Caspar.

Caspar Craven:

Hi, Maria. Thank you very much for having me here.

Maria: 

Fantastic. Well, I want to start with this love of the sea. Throughout your life, there’s this strong connection to the sea. Did you grow up by the seaside?

Caspar Craven:       

I did. I grew up in South Devon, and I was always playing around on the beach and by the water. It’s kind of a dual love, both business and the sea, because at the age of 14, I repaired an abandoned fishing boat, and my mum actually used to row out to sea around the coastline, around Stark Point in South Devon, and I managed to, with the help of some local fishermen, make up some fishing pots. So we became sort of a little bit of a double comedy act, because it’s the old wizened fisherman and then there’s this 14-year-old boy and his mum rowing out and doing their fishing pots. I kind of, yeah, just sort of grew up along the coastline there, and that was my entry way into the world of business and my love for the sea.

Maria:       

Fantastic. The first business you started was actually catching crabs at the age of 14. That could be misconstrued, couldn’t it? Crabs and the sea.

Caspar Craven:           

It’s funny you say that. I did actually play on that, because I started catching all these crabs and lobsters and I had this wonderful sea food, and it’s like how do I sell it now? There was a little shed on the beach and I put up a sign saying crabs for sale, and I sold a few there, because people would come up to me, and then I had the idea to make up these T-shirts. I got these white T-shirts and a black marker pen, and I wrote on the T-shirt, “Crabs for sale,” and people would see the T-shirts and they’d start laughing. As soon as I had people laughing, I engaged them in conversation and I usually ended up selling something. It kind of started there.

Maria:     

Amazing confidence at 14 to do that and that went on to be successful, but you then went on to study and changed direction completely. You went into accountancy and investment banking, but you, again, were not far from the sea were you, because in 2000, you joined the BT Global Challenge.

Caspar Craven:    

Yes, by then, in 2000, I’d had, what, six years in the working world and I was doing pretty well inside KPMG, but I always knew that a standard corporate world wasn’t going to challenge me. The thing with the BT Global Challenge, it was start of 2000, and I don’t know if any of your listeners can cast their mind back to that time, but there was all that talk of those Y2K and there was thing about the turning of the millennium and what does that mean? I remember going to the Boat Show. I think it was the 10th of January 2000, and I was there with my dad, and my brother, and my girlfriend, and I remember wandering around and I saw that they had this huge great big plasma screen with this video footage of these incredible boats crashing through the biggest waves I’d ever seen, and I was just standing there mesmerised. The guy on the stand came up to me and said, “Would you be interested in doing this in 2004, four years’ time?” I was like, “I’d love to do it, but I can’t plan my life four years in advance. That’s crazy.” So they said, “Well, would you be interested in signing up as a reserve for this race?” I was like, “Whoa, whoa, tell me about that.”

Before I knew what I was doing, my hand just flew across the piece of paper to fill in a form to sign up as a reserve, and, as I as was writing out the check for £100, my girlfriend comes up to me and says, “What are you doing?” To which I answer, “I’m signing up to sail a random yacht, but don’t worry, it’ll probably never happen.” About a week later, I had a phone call from Sir Chay Blyth, had an interview with him, and I was on the race. It kind of came from nowhere.

Maria:       

My goodness, my goodness, but you didn’t go back to the corporate world afterwards, did you?

Caspar Craven:       

I left on that yacht race in September 2000. The big four accountancy firm, KPMG, that I was working for at the time, they very kindly sponsored me to do the race. They gave me a one year lock in. When I came back from the race, I did a year with KPMG, so they promoted me to an associate director, moved me to London, gave me a telecoms team to run, but at the time I’d come back, and I actually had peroxide blonde hair at the time and had a year away on a boat, so I’m not sure I really fitted the corporate mould. They were fantastic and they did a great job engaging me, but I knew then that actually my heart was more in being more entrepreneurial and helping other people to build teams, rather than being inside a large corporate. That was my shift out of that. It took me a year to leave KPMG, but I starting launching my own businesses after that.

Maria:         

What was the first business you launched from there?

Caspar Craven:     

The first one I launched was back in … This was early 2003, and it was actually an online dating site. I remember back then, everyone in corporate world just laughing at me, sort of saying, “It’s like Caspar’s giving up this great job to go and launch a dating site?” I also launched an online social networking site, so I launched around the same time that Facebook did, clearly they were a little bit more successful than I was with that one, but that started my journey of iterating towards things that actually work. I ended up raising some private equity funding and grew those, and they did become successful in the end. Took a little while, but we got there in the end with those.

Maria:   

That’s really interesting, because I met my partner 15 years ago, 14 years, which is 2003/2004 on an online dating site. Now, we broke up and have got back together again. We’ll have to have a chat about that, that’s really interesting. So we have a connection there that goes back. Have you got plans to launch anymore businesses?

Caspar Craven:   

I’ve come back from our recent sailing adventures a year and a half ago, and in that time I’ve been doing a number of different things. One of which is doing a lot of speaking, just written my book, which is launching shortly, and I’m involved in half a dozen different ventures, and the language I use around it, I love helping entrepreneurs build rebellious businesses, which challenge the way that things work. So I’m doing that, both in San Francisco and here in London, so, yes, definitely involved in more early stage businesses.

Maria:    

I like that, I like rebellious businesses. That’s great. And we’re going to talk about the sea again. We’re going to come back to this incredible adventure that you went on with your family, and I’d love to have been a fly on the wall, and I’d like you to tell me, when you announced to your family and close friends that you were going to do this, what was their reaction?

Caspar Craven:   

“Are you mad?” The usual first reaction is, “How could you be so crazy? What a crazy idea.” When we did it, there was a whole list of reasons why we shouldn’t do it. We didn’t have a boat. My wife, Nicola, had only sailed twice. She’d been seasick both times. We didn’t have the money to do it, not even remotely close. There was the concern around healthcare and concern around pirates. And around that time, actually as we got close to doing it, there was an unfortunate incident with a boat, Cheeky Rafiki, which sailed across the Atlantic. They lost their keel and turned over, and people died on that. So, when we announced we were going to go and do this, there was a lot of resistance, but the thing is that each of those areas that everybody suggested were things for us to think about and to consider and to find a way round that, so they weren’t reasons not to do it, they were things to think deeply about, and then find our path through, because, yeah, there was a good number of reasons why we shouldn’t have done it.

Maria:            

And, actually, I know you spent five years in the planning, so you did really think it all through very carefully, and, of course, in that planning at that time you didn’t have three children, you only had the two children when you were planning it. Did that not make you think, “Hang on a minute, we’ve now got one more, does that change things?” Or were you all determined to do it anyway?

Caspar Craven:           

When we came up with the idea, we wrote a vision statement on the wall, and, basically, it said, “On the 1st of August 2014, we’re going to be setting sail as a happy, contented family,” and we knew that we wanted to have three children, so that was actually, believe it or not, part of the plan, and, although we were outnumbered, there were more children than there were parents, we knew we would figure out a way, so, you’re right to mention those five years. We did a huge amount of preparation in those five years, and I’m an accountant by background, my wife, Nicola, she’s a barrister by background, so we don’t consider either of ourselves to be reckless or cavalier, and it was going through all the different things we needed to think about, all the preparation, we both trained to become ship’s doctors and we went on countless training courses, so building up our experience, so that we would be in the safest state possible.

Maria:          

Very good, very responsible. I was a terrible traveller when I was a child, how did the children cope with travel sickness? How did they also cope with missing their friends and keeping up with their studies?

Caspar Craven:           

Yes, gosh, lots of things there. The seasickness, my wife, Nicola, still got seasick a good amount of the way round. The kids, I think only one of them got seasick. I think seasickness, actually, is a mental thing that kids, they get seasick and two seconds later they bounce back and they’re fine, well certainly in my experience. So they were fine with that. The home schooling was interesting and challenging and enjoyable all in the same breath. When we left the UK, we loaded the boat up with school books, we’d spoken to the kids’ teachers, and we were planning to follow the UK National Curriculum. We found about a month in that us sitting down with my son, Columbus, and trying to get him to learn about the Tudors and he wasn’t even remotely interested, so we chucked the books over the side, and we said, “What are you interested in?” And he said, “I’m really interested in fishing.” So we got all the fishing books out, he started reading them at a phenomenal rate, because he was interested and engaged.

We then started catching fish. He’d be weighing them, he’d be measuring them, we’d be dissecting the fish, he’d be writing about it in his journal. He then set up a business making and selling fishing lures and advice sheets. So, basically, we took each child and just found what they were interested in, and each of the subjects just led them deep into learning, to maths, to literacy, to science, to business, to everything you can imagine, but it all started with following their passions and what they are interested in.

Maria:    

Actually, that leads me really nicely onto another subject, because I know that you invest personally in your own learning, and, in fact, you’ve mentioned it already that you trained as a ship’s doctor, a sea doctor, and we’ve met up on workshops ourselves, where we’ve both sat in as students, but you’re also passionate about the education system, and, of course, having done some home schooling, I’m sure you have a lot of ideas about what you see as wrong and maybe what should be happening. What are your thought about the current education system?

Caspar Craven:

So, look, I think …. I’m a massive fan of Sir Ken Robinson, and his whole philosophy around schools killing creativity. Well, I remember when we were sailing, someone summed it up in a line for me. They said, “Why do we persist in teaching children the way that we think they should be taught? Why don’t we teach them the way they want to be taught?” The thing with the kids is that we found what they were engaged in, what they were interested in, where their strengths were, and we focused on that, and their learning rate went up like a thousand-fold, just because they were engaged in doing that, and I think that’s the same thing that schools need to be doing. And clearly, it’s a challenge, because you have classrooms of children, but I think the way that technology is enabling us to reach people on a one to one basis. I think there are incredible opportunities for how we can transform education. The parallels apply to teamwork and businesses, and that same thing of getting people doing the thing they’re brilliant at, the thing they love doing and doing more of that. It’s the same principle.

And we all have strengths, we all have weaknesses. I’m a great believer in finding your strengths and building on those, rather than trying to cover up the … Well, not cover up, but build on the weaknesses, where you’re going to get much less of a return.

Maria:  

Brilliant. And, of course, art of your passion to share knowledge has taken you into the speaking world, and has taken you to run workshops as well to take it further than just delivering a speech, and you’re sharing the lessons that you learnt on this amazing adventure. What would you say are the main learning points from that adventure that apply well to business?

Caspar Craven:

I think the thing that we just touched on there is one of the key things that I’ve learnt, both being in teams run by other people and building my own teams. It’s finding that each individual person, what’s the thing that sets that person on fire, that completely engages them? And I remember back in my businesses, back in the old days, I remember I would hire people for roles, and it became apparent that they weren’t right in those roles, so we made the choices. Rather than saying, “You’ve got to do this,” just asking them, “What are the things that you love doing?” And praising people building on what’s right, rather than telling them what’s wrong. So I think if there’s any underlying core message, it’s for each person in your team, what is it that you can do that really gets them engaged and passionate, and I’m going to give them the freedom to go and do that. And if that leaves gaps in the business, then you need to go and find other people to fill that gap, because one man’s meat is another man’s poison, so it’s finding that right combination of talents.

So I think that’s one of the key things, and I think a lot of it also comes back to the purpose. Both the purpose of the business, and the purpose of the individuals, and it’s where you get those two things to meet, I think that’s where the magic really happens with that.

Maria: 

I know there, many, many more lessons, and we will share links to your masterclasses, so people can read more. How did you start speaking?

Caspar Craven:   

When I was back running my business beforehand that built a data analytics company before, I used to do a lot of speaking, a lot of events, so we used to run an event every month called Troves Tuesday, where we would fill a room in this little member’s club in London, and I used to really love being on the stage and sharing ideas. And then, when I came back from the sailing, someone asked me to go and do an after dinner talk, and I went and did that. I just found it wonderful to be able to go there and share what I’d learnt, and to see the impact and the effect that it had on other people. And you see people walking away with inspiration, with ideas, with energy, and it’s like, you know what? That’s just an incredible thing, and I’ve kind of got addicted to it now, so it’s …

Maria: 

And you’re very good, so we appreciate that. So I’d like you to share with our audience, if someone were to book you to speak, what advice would you give them to get the very best out of your time in the organisation with them?

Caspar Craven:         

What a great question. I think the first question I would ask is getting really clear what’s the impact that you want to have on your team, on the audience, and helping me to understand that, because of all the different things that I’ve experienced, and I’ve learnt, and I would love to share, there would only be a proportion of that that is relevant to your specific audience, so it’s truly understanding what’s your goal, so that I can utterly focus on that and deliver you exactly what you need. So clarity of purpose, I think, is the single biggest thing, so we can be working together to be able to make that happen.

Maria:         

And my last question for you is, have you got another family adventure planned?

Caspar Craven:       

Yes is the short answer. After we sailed round the world, we took our boat to San Francisco, which is why I’m based there a portion of my time. Last summer, we sailed up to Canada and back, and that was a 2000 mile expedition. This summer, I would like to get further north and head up towards Alaska, and go and find a little bit more of the cold stuff, go and find some more killer whales and things like that, so yes is the short answer.

Maria:         

I hope Nicola finds a solution to her seasickness in that case. Poor woman. Caspar, thank you so much for your time. That’s been wonderful.

Caspar Craven:         

Thank you very much, Maria.

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