DO Create a Scene!
The first time I met Richard Owen he was 63 centimetres tall. Just kidding, it was his son I met. The youngest and cutest participant at Olive Valley’s fabled Dragon’s Den party in June, he was bashing something against something else, as toddlers do. But this wasn’t just random object-bashing, no, I could distinctly detect a certain rhythmic beat.
And small wonder Owen Junior is musical at such an early age, for his dad is indeed a musician. “A musician who happens to be quite good at business” in Owen’s own words.
You can say that again. Owen seems to be in possession of that rarest of brains: Hyper creative but with a keen sense of mathematical and business principles at the same time.
After a series of high-flying executive jobs, including Lloyd’s of London, the Willis group and producing the Young Victoria together with a certain Sarah Ferguson (her of former British royalty and toe-nibbling fame), Owen found himself in Mallorca as a “trailing spouse.”
After a long, hard and eventful working life, he thought he could finally relax, or as close to relax as you can do with a six-month old baby. But that old, irrepressible entrepreneurial spirit soon reared its beautiful head.
“Yes, after four months as a full-time father I realised I needed more purpose.
“Yes, after four months as a full-time father I realised I needed more purpose. I was looking for a scene, a start-up scene of people venturing to solve problems through technology.”
At first he was disheartened, or actually, discouraged by the usual naysayers. “It won’t work!” they said. “Spanish tax law hates small businesses! they said.”
This must have spurred him on not a little.
He went to a couple of not so successful networking meet-ups, but then – was it serendipity or the hand of Fate? – he met our very own Melanie Kilpatrick and Andrew Slack soon after.
They talked, they laughed, and Olive Valley was born.
“Talking to Melanie and Andrew, I realised there IS a scene, […of entrepreneurs] but they sort of don’t know one another. It’s hidden. OK, so there aren’t 20,000 entrepreneurs on this island. But even if there are a hundred – that is a scene!”
Owen is also part of the throbbing music scene on the island. With his sunglasses-wearing band Autology (the study of the self) he plays keyboard synthesisers and writes evocative tunes under the moniker “The Dark Side of the Med.”
What a leap it must have been, from when he was a high-flying executive, the youngest director in the Willis Group, (possibly an insurance company but with so many abbreviations before and after its name that it is hard to say what they do.)
This company was so large and impersonal that after a while Owen felt he had completely stopped producing things and creating value. Instead “you end up just fighting in meetings.” His wake-up call came one day when he checked his pension statement and suddenly thought: “Hang on! If I keep on like this, I’ll be dead at 65, not receiving a pension.”
He felt he was looking down a long, unending row of days where everything would be the same, with no end in sight and where the deadline of the project was the grave.
“ I realised I couldn’t live like that. I had to have projects, things that came to an end, and then I could start another one. I had to create value, not just prop up some corporation. So I just left. ”
His “first exit” turned out to coincide with the growth of the startup culture, and he “ended up” (don’t tell me he wasn’t headhunted) co-owning and selling an outsourcing company. Then he “jumped” into an e-learning startup on the basis that this sector was hot with investors.
“But I didn’t spend enough time evaluating whether my co-founders had the same vision and values as me. Big mistake! We all ended up disagreeing on everything. I learnt that no matter how great the idea, if the founders can’t come together as a team to make it happen then it will fail.”
At one point he also “ended up” running a film company with Sarah Ferguson, Duchess of York. Or has she been de-duchessed now?
“Yes, the production company contacted me to be part of making The Young Victoria with Emily Blunt. I think they needed someone with creative and financial nous. Suddenly I was in this strange environment hobnobbing with all these famous people; being interviewed by Prince Andrew, having cocktails with his daughters… I must admit: It was fun!”
“Through bitter experience I know all the pitfalls!”
Money, fame, royalty aside, surely the very towering pinnacle of Owen’s career must have been a packed flight from Manchester one late Friday night, surrounded by stag and hen party revellers. After a while he started noticing that the whole plane was singing “Every breath you take.” Yes, in their legless state they thought Owen was Sting in the window seat on a chartered flight to Mallorca. So what if that fêted musician is 20 years older. It was Sting!
But actually, if the corporate world wasn’t for him, why hasn’t Owen gone down the musical road himself, full time?
“Oh music – I love it, but it’s all about feast or famine. I needed to work in “real” jobs to feed my music habit, as it were. So I was a director in the daytime and a musician at night.”
Then his partner was offered a job in Mallorca and “overnight I went from extreme stress to – Mallorca. Mallorca – what’s not to love? It’s a nice day 85% of the time. You can walk pretty much everywhere in Palma and nowhere is more than 30 minutes away. The beauty helps you live Kierkegaard’s “aesthetic life” – so you become more creative.
When I arrived, I remember sitting on an empty beach thinking: For the first time in 30 years I have nothing to worry about!”
I imagine that lasted at least a few hours, and then: “But now I need more purpose!”
He found it in Olive Valley – naturally. Now he is “keen to build a network and a community.” With his right and left brain firing on all cylinders as well as 30 years’ experience in all aspects of the business world, he can help startups not only with the actual seed capital, but also with the down and dirty, hands-on stuff.
“Through bitter experience I know all the pitfalls!”
People – meet Richard Owen! By day: Olive Valley groover. At night: musician staying up until 10pm – and later! But seldom able to forget the fact that the human alarm clock, his musical Duracell son, will be bursting into action at 6am.