When an advance copy of Looptail crossed my desk, I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect. The title piqued my curiosity, though, so I started reading—not expecting to get past the introduction. I didn’t put the book down until I was finished.
Looptail is Bruce Poon Tip’s extraordinary first-person account of how he started and developed G Adventures, a highly successful international travel adventure company. Along the way, he reveals his unusual management secrets that not only keep his employees fully engaged but also keep his customers extremely happy.
Looptail vividly illustrates Poon Tip’s unique entrepreneurial instincts that have driven G Adventures’ success: The company has grown 30 percent each year since its founding, and has consistently been rated one of Canada’s 50 Best Managed Companies.
What makes G Adventures so successful? The short answer is that Poon Tip has created an entirely new and refreshing approach to management. In his company, there’s no CEO—but there is a company Mayor. Employees make instantaneous decisions to help clients on the spot. There is no HR department—but there is a Talent Agency and a company Culture Club. He even offers any employee a check for $5,000 if he or she can actually hurt his feelings with less than positive feedback about the company and how it’s being run. So far, nobody has claimed the prize. (See G Adventures’ culture in action.)
I was so intrigued that I contacted Poon Tip to ask him a few questions.
What is your definition of the “looptail” and why is it important to your story?
For me it is about a business that builds its business model around a people-centric culture and that is committed to defining its success beyond profit. It’s about going beyond triple bottom-line thinking of “people, planet, profit” to incorporate passion and purpose into your business model.
Looptail is about how people in life and at work can achieve greater results through driving a more sustainable mindset that rests on the notion that happy people achieve better results. It’s why community, culture and karma matter in business today with the social revolution that is changing the way people think of businesses and how they connect with brands.
You were fired from McDonald’s. What key insight did you gain from that, and how did it contribute to your eventual success as an entrepreneur?
Well, I was fired from both Denny’s and McDonald’s at a very critical time in my life. The only success I had ever experienced was when I ran my own business. I started three businesses before I turned 16 so getting fired in many ways defined my purpose early on. I was given the message very early that I was not really good at this working-for-other-people thing! Getting fired definitely made me stronger and gave me the confidence to decide when I was very young that I was going to have to defy the odds and take a different path than the one I was being shown.
What was the “eureka” moment that sparked your business idea?
It was when I wanted to travel and see the world, back in 1990. This was before Google and when people researched travel very differently than they do now. Back then, there weren’t many choices. You either went to a compound resort, took a coach tour or went on a cruise. All those things seemed awful to me, and the only way to get away from that was to go backpacking. I didn’t want to go backpacking really, I’m not the backpacking type, but I had no choice.
It was on that trip that I had my “eureka” moment. I saw people in the same situation, kind of the “walking dead” of the travel world. People who were young professionals with disposable income, who didn’t want to take part in the growing all-inclusive canned holiday experience and were forced to go backpacking. I knew there just had to be other people who wanted something more with their holiday time, and they wanted to have a positive impact in the world through their vacation.
You got a “seven year itch” that resulted in a soul-searching trip to Tibet and Bhutan. What did you discover?
Well, that particular trip really had quite an impact on how I look at life in general. Tibet is a place that is so spiritual at the base of its existence, and it was fascinating to me how people could guide their decisions based on principles that seemed otherworldly to me. As an entrepreneur who needed empirical data to make any decision, and who was very scientific in my approach to life, I was fascinated by a society that put spirituality at the core of their lives.
Bhutan was different but equally impactful. A kingdom barely known in the modern world that had declared their country’s success was based around Gross National Happiness. There was so much to learn from a society that still had no television or daily newspaper and that still used the bartering system as its main form of trade.
All of these experiences I brought back with me influenced how I think, and challenged how I had lived up until that point.
What did G Adventures gain from eliminating things like traditional titles and functions, such as CEO and human resources?
It helped provide a sense of freedom, as well as help underline what’s most important in our business: the customer.
Everything about our success is based around our customer service and if we don’t take care of our customers, somebody else will. To do that well you have to manage your people differently. To drive a culture that is customer obsessed is hard if you don’t understand that it’s all about two things: happiness and people.
Human resources was created to take away people’s freedom, which restricts happiness. It is a department that is set up so companies avoid errors as they get bigger while systematically eliminating both people’s freedom and the ability to create happiness. It takes a bit of faith, and that is where karma creeps into business because you have to believe that if you get your people and culture right, everything will fall into place.
In the Innovation section of the book, you say that “your culture is your brand.” Are you redefining both?
I don’t think you can ever stop redefining your culture or your brand. They are living, breathing entities that have very little to do with you and more about what people think of you. I think the great misconception in today’s business world is the ownership of brand. You’re only as good as what people think of you and you’re only as strong as your weakest person or department.
Entrepreneurs are notoriously paranoid and never settle. They always think they can do things better and spend many sleepless nights thinking about how to achieve this. Good entrepreneurs realize early on that people are what drive a successful business. You can never stop redefining your culture, which in turn breathes life into your brand.
Again, your brand is nothing without people and what they think of you.
If you had one piece of advice for someone looking to start a business today, what would it be and why?
Know why you want to be in business and clearly define your purpose. There are many different types of entrepreneurs, and you have to understand what type you are. There are people who run franchises or a corner store and they are very much entrepreneurs. There are people who work within the confines of big corporate companies who are very entrepreneurial in their thinking and, as far as I am concerned, are entrepreneurs. There are much fewer who create using businesses as their vehicle to make their ideas a reality.
Everyone thinks they’re an entrepreneur or can become an entrepreneur if they read enough books. Everyone can be a leader, but there are much fewer entrepreneurs in the world than we might think.
What’s the one thing you want readers to take away from this book?
The social revolution is upon us—businesses have to change if sustainability is ever going to be achieved. Businesses paying it forward and acting very much like how we should live our lives are the future businesses that will mean something to the more connected consumer. People interact with brands like never before and create a more intimate relationship with brands that make their lives better. True leadership is about creating a movement and transcending what you do to a higher purpose.
This article appeared first on my OPEN column.