Greg Wilkes (00:01):
The construction industry can be a tough business to crack, from cash flow problems, struggling to find skilled labour and not making enough money for your efforts, leaves many business owners feeling frustrated and burnt out. But when you get the business strategy right, it’s an industry that can be highly satisfying and financially rewarding. I’m here to give you the resources to be able to create a construction business that gives you more time, more freedom, and more money. This is the Develop Your Construction Business podcast, and I’m your host, Greg Wilkes.
Greg Wilkes (00:43):
My special guest today is Sebastian Bates. Now I’ve known Sebastian for many years. I’ve been involved in a business program with him many years back and been in the same community for a while. It’s been absolutely fascinating for me to see the transformational growth of Sebastian’s business. Now Sebastian is the founder of the Warrior Academy, and this is an award-winning global martial arts organization that’s responsible for developing the character of 25,000 children across three continents. Now you might be asking, ‘why have I got a martial arts expert and founder on a show about construction?’ Well, there are so many lessons we can learn from Sebastian, from his personal habits to the way he does business, to his passion, his drive, his purpose. We’re going to talk about all of that. And of course, you’ll be able to apply those strategies in your own construction business too. So, so many lessons to learn, I’m really excited to get into this and show you what Sebastian is all about. Let’s jump in.
Greg Wilkes (01:45):
Sebastian, really good to have you on the show. I appreciate you getting up this morning from Dubai. It’s amazing how we can do these podcasts. I’m over in Sydney, you’re in Dubai, and we’ve got all our listeners in the UK, but welcome on the show.
Sebastian Bates (02:02):
Amazing to be here. Thank you for inviting me. Like we were saying just before we started, it’s nice to be able to do a morning podcast, right? Most of mine are <laugh> afternoon or evening. The time zone kind of works for me.
Greg Wilkes (02:14):
That’s awesome. Well, I know you’re a morning guy, you were up at half five this morning wasn’t it? Is that a usual wake up time for you?
Sebastian Bates (02:21):
Yes. I mean five 5:00 am and in the summer here I tend to then get out a lot earlier. I’ll get up at approx. 4.30 am, that’s sort of time, start the day with a one or two hour walk just to try and beat the heat. I take the dogs out. It’s just a great way to start the day. Two hour walk. I tend to do a lot of journaling, a lot of writing, a lot of creating content as I walk. Not filming, but just writing notes, ideas, that sort of stuff. I tend to be quite creative in the morning. The morning time for me is really great for me to spend on my own really.
Greg Wilkes (02:51):
I’m a hundred percent a big believer in mornings. I think for me, if you win the morning (they say) that you win the day. Without a doubt. I love early mornings too. I’m a half five guy at the moment. I don’t think I’ll do any earlier than that. But it’s absolutely incredible. <laugh>
Sebastian Bates (03:11):
You’ve got to sacrifice your evening. That’s it really. I mean, I’ve got to get up at the same time as my kids who are three and five, in order to get enough sleep. If they want to stay up, I’m kind of looking at the clock thinking it’s past my bedtime! It’s a little bit backwards there, but it works for me.
Greg Wilkes (03:30):
It does work. Yes, well done. So Sebastian, as I said in the introduction, you’ve achieved some incredible stuff in your business at the moment. And although it’s not construction related, there’s some incredible business lessons that my listeners are going to be able to learn from your story and how you’ve developed and grown your business over the years. We know (well I say we know where you’re at now) maybe you could just tell us where Warrior Academy is at the moment. How many staff have you got on? How many (did you call them) Dojo’s, or Academies?
Sebastian Bates (04:02):
Yes, Dojo offices. We started 13 years ago in the UK, mostly in village halls in Somerset and Wiltshire. It scaled quite quickly to about 500 students in the first eight years. But we were staying in rural England, right? We hadn’t expanded into any big cities at that point. So I really wanted to test it somewhere urban. At the time met a team of about four or five instructors and admins who were looking after the business. I kind of stepped back, but because I was outsourcing all the technical delivery, I wasn’t really earning that much in order to enjoy my life and do all things I wanted to do. I was at that glass ceiling where I’d outsourced all the work, so I had lots of time, but now I didn’t have that much money, so I didn’t really have the balance I wanted.
Sebastian Bates (04:49):
I wanted to grow the business and test it somewhere urban. It was going to be London. Then I decided to expand it into Dubai after a long weekend here, where I kind of assessed the opportunities here. Pretty quickly then, I moved it to Dubai. I started working with the Royal Family over here, who found us online, because we were offering something quite unique through character development using martial arts as a vehicle. That’s our USP. Within (we started beginning of 2019, a year before covid) grew the business to about 250 students. Then Covid hit and, and suddenly lost everything overnight and had to pivot online. But it really made us, that moment of transition from having the business, losing it, and then having to really dive into that fear to then regrow the business, re-evolve the business. It forced us into commercial real estate, which is quite interesting because everyone was running away from commercial real estate. Everyone was running away from offices. I saw that as a good opportunity to actually get good deals on offices, which is what we did, rather than renting halls. We then started to refurb offices, turn them into training academies and dojos. We built the first character development center in the Middle East here in Dubai. So very quickly. From 2020 to now, two and a half / three years later, it grew to about a thousand students a week in Dubai. We’ve got about six offices in Dubai and launched Abu Dhabi. We’ve got three there. We’re in the middle of launching in Doha. I’m hoping by the end of this year we can open up an academy there, and we’ve also got work in Saudi Arabia and Neon on the line and Riyadh coming up as well. There’s loads going on. We’ve got scholarship academies in with the charity work we do in Kenya and Nepal, Sri Lanka, soon in India and Malawi as well. We’ve got about 50 staff, about 10 offices across three continents.
Greg Wilkes (06:44):
Wow. Yes, that’s absolutely incredible. What a story of amazing growth. Would you put it down to purely the move over to Dubai or do you think you could have actually applied those principles in the UK? What triggered it, that sort of growth?
Sebastian Bates (07:01):
The way I explain doing the business here versus doing it in the UK, is a bit like pushing a snowball. In the UK it really felt like, and soon when I look back and I can see this, it really felt like I was pushing a snowball up hill, specifically for my industry. Hiring people is expensive in the UK. It’s pretty much the same price for an instructor out here and you buy relative what to what we would. You’ve got the commercial real estate, which is much more expensive than the UK. You’ve got business tax, which of course is a stinger in the UK. Then you’ve got corporation tax, you’ve got VAT on top of that and then income tax as well. There’s the whole tax against you. There’s the commercial real estate against you and then what you can charge out here is relatively a lot more than what you can charge in the UK. For the services we provide, we can charge more. We’ve got all those things working in our favour over here, but then you’ve got to really take into consideration that you’ve got to be a very patient person. There’s lots of cultural challenges and differences out here, which you need to be acutely aware of and you need to be very quick at moving. It’s not as easy to say as, if you’ve got a business in the UK, it’ll work in Dubai. It’s a very competitive environment here. You need to be very patient and need to understand the cultural complexities that exist here. But if you can do all of that and you the right character, then it’s a great place to be.
Greg Wilkes (08:21):
Yes, it’s incredible, just listening to the story there. Did you say you were only over there for a weekend or a week, was it, before you made the decision?
Sebastian Bates (08:30):
Yes I was here for long weekend with a good friend of mine helping him out with his business and traveling around and going on a few adventures and that sort of stuff. I was on a boat, and we’d been pondering the idea of starting the business in Dubai. It was just an idea. Then on this small yacht, just enough for four or five people, I’m having a few beers…Suddenly, at night all the fireworks go off in this incredible site in front of us. I just sat there thinking to myself, “I would never see this in Wilshire or Somerset.” I said to myself, “Look, I’ve got to launch the business here, right? Everything’s lining up and it’s just the perfect time to do it.” There’s never a perfect time to do anything. But it just felt to me like this was the opportune moment to make a big change that the majority of the work in the UK had been the technical delivery, had been outsourced. I don’t need to be there physically. We are in a position where my wife wasn’t working as much, she was working with me in the business so she could come with me. Although there was a transition three or four months where I had to be here on my own, do lots of little trips. But essentially I said to her “Look, in a few weeks we are going to be moving to Dubai.” And that’s what happened.
Greg Wilkes (09:50):
Wow. Yes. And what supportive wife as well to be able to go and do that. You need to be aligned, don’t you, to make such a big move like that. Not everyone would do it.
Sebastian Bates (09:59):
Well man, you know what, it’s incredible for me to see the impact of having a super aligned, supportive partner in my life. I see so many other people who don’t have that. They can be the best business people in the world. They can have an amazing idea, be super creative, have all the energy and passion, but their partner isn’t aligned to them. They don’t support them, they don’t do everything in their power to make that work, to give them the extra push and even hold their partner to a high standard, right? It’s also having a partner who says to you, “I believe you can do this. I think you can do this. You need to push yourself to do this. You need to be the sort of person who can step up into that role.” I think having that level of support and accountability and trust from someone in your very close team is massively important. That’s certainly helped me a lot.
Greg Wilkes (10:50):
Yes, hugely important. I guess on the other end, the scale, if you’ve not got anyone who supports you, you’re in a constant battle, aren’t you? Imagine you’re pushing a weight uphill all the time. That’s what you feel like, wouldn’t it, if you had an unsupportive partner. I think that’s absolutely crucial and that’s testament to you both.
Sebastian Bates (11:07):
Honestly, I would say it’s like the top three bits of advice. Like today we’re going to be talking about advice and what you should do, what you shouldn’t do. Just don’t marry the wrong person, number one, <laugh>. You know what I mean? If you just hit that perfectly, your life will be better. Even if you don’t build a big business that you think you’re going to build. It’s not just about that is it? It’s about building a future and building a life around you with the right person and ultimately, your business will grow because of that. It’s a real asset to have someone like your team. Having Vicky in my life who was so flexible and just up for it, right? Like “Yes, okay, let’s move to Dubai!” Was a really good plus. The other week I said to her, “Look, why don’t we to Bali?” And she was like, “We’ve just moved here.”
Greg Wilkes (11:56):
Sebastian Bates (12:00):
It’s got to be a balance!
Greg Wilkes (12:01):
<laugh>. Brilliant. I guess, people looking from the outside now, they see what you’ve managed to create with Warrior Academy and your foundation, you’re doing some incredible stuff and it all looks like it’s going amazing and is going amazing, but it wasn’t always there. As you said, you’ve had some real difficulties and struggles. I just wanted to talk about them a little bit so we can see what lessons we can draw from them. Where would you say, if you had some real difficult times in business where you just thought, should I chuck this in? Is this right for me? Have you had those occasions at all?
Sebastian Bates (12:39):
Yes, so initially growing the business from lifestyle to performance, from a team of five to fifty, that you reach this glass ceiling. I spoke about that in the talk in London (the night that I did at the lifestyle business summer, which we spoke about a second ago) and that glass ceiling is where you feel like there’s nothing you can do to break through it. It’s like you are outsourcing a lot of the technical delivery, but you then don’t really have enough money to enjoy your life and you’re kind of spinning plates. It’s like, what do I do to actually grow it? You can have all the passion and purpose in the world without the right strategy, but you’re never going to break through it. You’ve got to find the right mentors to help you break through that. But certainly at that time, I started seeking passive income, I wasn’t really enjoying what I was doing. I wanted to grow a business, but this business seemed like it was stuck. So sometimes when your business feels like it’s stuck, you have to take massive action, right? It’s this kind of balance for me between massive action and doing sustainable daily habits, which you do the rest of your life. Often the small little changes are the things that make the biggest impact, because they stick with you and they compound. But sometimes you need big massive action to kind of get momentum and get things going. That was definitely the first one. That lifestyle to performance, glass ceiling would be the first one.
Sebastian Bates (14:00):
I think as you grow then you then start running into cultural challenges. We ran into cultural issues internally, we had a team who had been with us from the start in Dubai, a team of five that was growing in the Dubai office to a team of thirty. The pressure was higher because it was more about performance. We’re getting funding in, we’ve got to make it work, we’ve got to expand, we’ve got to hit targets. Whereas before it was less about that because it was a small team of five impacting less lives, but more flexibility for the staff. Now it was more procedures, more policies, slightly more corporate feel, but more professional and more lives impacted ultimately. That transition for a lot of people, there tends some challenges that crop up, whether it’s an asset deficiency with their procedures, their policies, their IPE, their tech, their marketing, their sales, their admin operations, whatever it is. For us, it was culture and it was HR. We had more and more HR issues coming up and the more we did to bend over backwards to help everyone and give them all the little things that they wanted, it’s like the more issues we had. People wanted a longer lunch break, so we’d give that. Then there would be another complaint about wanting to work shorter days and then there would be another request, more holiday. Suddenly it’s like, you give an inch and people would want a meter. Whereas the five people who are with you originally would never ask for so much. There’s the cultural shift based on the top of the team, the leadership team and the bottom people who are just joining in. It’s this strange feeling of, this has changed so much and people clinging onto the past, not believing in or wanting to be a part of the future. It’s like the ship sailing, who’s jumping aboard and going with us, right? You’ve got to have that kind of approach of, at the end of the day, we are moving in this direction, who’s joining us on that adventure? There are lots of little things we did around culture to help us with that, but ultimately it comes down to lots of uncomfortable conversations.
Greg Wilkes (16:02):
Yes, I can imagine. When you’re scaling to that pace and that speed, I can imagine. I’ve had it myself when I was bringing different people on and we were bringing people on just to fill seats at one point because we were growing pretty quick and they were just the wrong people, just the wrong cultural fit. If they don’t fit (it was funny because I did read a book and what they were saying was that you need to be really careful on who you hire because sometimes you only hire people like you, like your personality) and I was reading this book and I thought, “That’s interesting” Then the next hire I made, I hired someone that was nothing like me at all.
Sebastian Bates (16:39):
Greg Wilkes (16:40):
A complete, like complete outlier. I thought he was a genius, but he was a bit of con artist <laugh>. It was the worst decision I ever made because I went against my gut <laugh>. Sometimes maybe I shouldn’t listen to everything I’ve read in a book!
Sebastian Bates (16:53):
You know what? It’s interesting, right? Your gut feeling. I’ve really started to lean into this more and recently I turned down a really good opportunity because it just didn’t feel right. On paper it looked great. It was a [missing word] acquisition and on paper it looked great. It was just something inside me said it’s not the right fit. I explained, “Sorry, I’m going to pull out now and my gut’s telling me this is not the right path go down, it’s not the right fit.” And so I stepped away. But I think you’ve really got to trust your gut. Where it comes from, I don’t know! But often, those little niggling thoughts in the back of your head, they can give you an insight into something which you are not quite aware of, but your self subconscious is, I really do believe that.
Greg Wilkes (17:39):
Sebastian Bates (17:39):
When it comes to hiring, look, I’ve made every single mistake in the book, I think when hiring. Especially when you’re hiring fast,. Now we hire really slow, like it’s almost like we’re trying to stop people from joining us when we’re hiring because there’s so many little steps in order for us to make sure we’ve got the right person. When you bring them on, they don’t just impact the business and you, they impact the whole team and the culture and everything. It’s a massive deal to bring someone onto the team. You treat it like a professional football team. You bring on the wrong character and suddenly bang, you’re out the league. So for me it’s, when we scaled from five to fifty people in a period of twenty four months, it’s like we were hiring two people every month. Some months we were hiring seven or eight people. I think one month we hired eleven people. It’s huge jumps like that, which you don’t realise the impact that can make culturally.
Sebastian Bates (18:32):
Every single mistake, we’ve made it! I think fortunately I’ve made it quite young and I’ve made it within a 24 month period <laugh>, which I can now use to leverage and that knowledge I can use to improve the business and improve the future, improve the way in which we do things. But certainly, bringing on the right people and doing the due diligence. Doing the DnD and phoning up those references. We even do psychosomatic tests and stuff now, which is like they’re joining M15. But it’s like we want to know everything before we bring someone into our team, which was so protectable.
Greg Wilkes (19:08):
Yes. I think that’s so wise. Like you say, if we get it wrong, it’s not just going to impact your culture, but financially it can be seriously painful, can’t it? if you make that wrong choice. I think that’s really wise.
Greg Wilkes (19:21):
I wanted to talk to you about, obviously related to culture, you’ve got to get everyone to buy into what you are trying to achieve as a business. You are a company that’s really going places and impacting tens of thousands of people and probably a lot more as we go into the future. So talk to me a little bit more about how you found that purpose in the company. What is the purpose? What do you want to achieve and how do you instil those values in your staff?
Sebastian Bates (19:48):
Yes, so people get hung up on purpose I think. I think either they don’t necessarily believe in what they’re doing or they want to find a deeper meaning in what they’re doing because they tie a lot of their success to making money. A lot of people, they’re in business to make money and that’s likely because they haven’t sold personal wealth for themselves. Maybe they aren’t financially free. I think once you get to that level and it’s like you’ve got enough money to live off comfortably, what do you really want to do? I think then your mind starts changing. The cogs start turning in a different way. I find a lot of entrepreneurs when they are financially free, suddenly when they’ve solved the problem of making money for themselves and their family and maybe their closer community, they start to think, who else can I impact? What other problems can I solve? But I would definitely say that, a bit like the niche (I always say this, right?) Micro niche, people search for micro niche and it’s like they’ll sit there with a pen and paper for the whole day trying to figure out their perfect micro niche, then they’ll go to the market and no one wants it! The reality there is your niche finds you. You have a great idea, you keep it fairly broad enough that it gets attention, but it’s broad enough. Go to the market and then you see what actually hits. “Okay, well actually I enjoyed working with these people. I made the most money with these people. I made the biggest impact with these people.” That narrows it down from ten to one, now we just double down on that, then the kind of niche just develops and narrows down as you go. The niche finds you, right? So it’s the same that I feel about the purpose.
Sebastian Bates (21:19):
I think that when I started teaching martial arts, it was about martial arts. I loved martial arts, I wanted to be active and fit and I loved the idea of training people, competitions and all this sort of stuff. Then I got to a stage where I started to realised character development was such a huge part of the puzzle here. The real impact, like the high impact side of martial arts is developing someone’s character. The kicking and the punching is like cool, okay, great, someone can kick and punch and defend themselves. But when you change their character and develop their soft skills, that person will go on and do incredible things in their life and impact lots of people around them, get them through some really difficult things, develop more resilience, develop what we call a black belt character. So I started going down that route. Initially it was working with young teenage men who were 16 to 18. They were very much living difficult lives, substance abuse, domestic abuse, often on the street, all this sort of stuff. Within a year we made a huge change to their lives through the Thai Boxing Club I set up and I realised the impact there was their character. Then it was like, “Well, okay, what if I wanted to work with them when they were younger, plant the seeds of a black belt character, develop their confidence, conduct, concentration (what we call a three Cs) from a younger age. What would then happen before they get to 18? Like if I worked with them from the age of eight to eighteen on that stuff, would they be in that position (difficult situations)?” An extra decade of potential support and direction and a moral compass over time snowballs. Now you’ve got this compounding effect where they’re not just living for themselves, they’re living for the weekend, they’re living for their community, their families, the people around them, they’re doing incredible things in the world and they’re able to overcome previous trauma and all this sort of stuff.
Sebastian Bates (23:01):
So that was the second stage of developing my purpose. Then it got to the stage where, okay, we’re now building a business. The business is doing well and we’ve got hundreds of clients and we’ve got tens of staff. About 10% of our clients, our customers, our members in the UK were on scholarships. The purpose there, the purpose piece was, 10% of our students were getting free tuition because they were going something really difficult. Divorce, separation, financial issues. We were working with welfare officers, we were partnering with children’s hospices, getting training to the siblings of those kids who were terminally ill, all sorts of incredible stuff like that. And so I started to see the impact of that and how it lit up our team and they really enjoyed working with us and so did we.
Sebastian Bates (23:45):
The philanthropy side started to really take over. Then to the point where we are now 13 years down the line, I then said, “Look, 50% of my time’s going to be in charity work. 50 percent’s going to be commercial.” The commercial side’s pretty straightforward. We’ve got a very simple model, we know what we’re doing, we know it works. We know exactly who to hire, we know how to market it, we know where to put the money, where to scale it. I try and keep things as simple as possible so we can grow in the most effective way. That’s fine.. If your head can take on more space and just grow a commercial, then you can start developing a charity, which is a whole other game. So I launched ‘The Bates Foundation’ and I hired my dad. He was previously in the Army and then he was running one of the largest army charities in the UK doing really great at that. But he didn’t feel that aligned to the charity after a while. I think that he wanted more freedom, he loved the work he was doing, make a big impact, but ultimately he wanted more freedom of flexibility in his life. So that’s what I offered him, our CEO of the Bates Foundation. Wthin six months, the goal was within three years to go from no students in developing countries to 50% of our members being in developing countries around the world. That was a three to four year goal. We did that in six months! Now, 50% of our members are in orphanages, homeless shelters, slums, rural primary schools where they walk three hours to get to school and the other 50% are paying members in the UAE and in the UK. So, the purpose evolves. The reason I tell that story is because if you had asked me 13 years ago what the purpose was, it would be train people for competitions so they can be tougher, stronger, more resilient. A couple of years down the line, transform teenagers so that they can live better lives and work on them developing their conduct. Two years down the line, work with young people so they don’t have those issues that the teenagers did by developing their character. A little bit down the line would be the kind of philanthropy work. And then boom, essentially building an organisation which is designed to teach young people that they can and should impact the world. That’s our vision. The Warrior Academy is very aligned to the Bates Foundation in that it’s got a hundred year plan to be on every single continent around the world to work with young people, to really teach them that they can make an impact.
Greg Wilkes (26:01):
Wow, that’s incredible. I think you’ve just explained that so simply because sometimes we can read books like ‘Finding Your Why’ by Simon Sinek and things like that. I’ve read it myself and I’m thinking “What is it <laugh>? What is it that I really want to do?” I often say to my clients, there’s nothing wrong if your purpose is, “I just want to create the best life and experience for me and my family for now” then that’s your purpose, isn’t it? That may change, then it’s right now “I want to create the best experience for my clients” ad then it might be whatever else you’re going to be doing. So I think…. (inaudible)
Sebastian Bates (26:37):
People often sit there, and try and come up with a really grand purpose, which sounds impressive. Like, I want to change the world and do this. And it’s like, do you actually want to do that because that is 50 years of work? Or is what you really want to do, is to live an inspired life and teach your kids that they can go against the grain and create their own life around them? What do you actually really want? It’s exactly what you said, it could be a lot more local than such a grand idea. I think when I first started out, it wasn’t impacting the whole world, but it’s only evolved that way because we’ve seen it work. I think initially you want a fairly realistic purpose. Something that really lights you up but is within grasp.
Greg Wilkes (27:20):
I think that’s brilliant. Yes, I think that’s fantastic. So just tell me about, you mentioned you’ve got a hundred year plan potentially with the Warrior Academy or the Bates Foundation. What do you mean by that? Are you actually planning out a hundred years?
Sebastian Bates (27:33):
Yes so here’s the way see it: I sat my dad down and I said to him, “I want to build a charity that outlives us both”. There’s a legacy aspect there. I want to work on something with him that continues after he dies and then continues after I die and we just pass on the Bates Foundation to the next generation, the next generation. The hundred year aspect of that is that it is designed to be very sustainable and to continue. The other aspect is that we want it to be self-funding. We’ve built into the Warrior Academy, about 10% of the profit from the Warrior Academy, all goes to the charity. As the Warrior Academy grows and we are designing the Warrior Academy to grow without any extra funding, without any extra support from me, it’s designed to grow and it’s got an amazing leadership team in there who are looking after it and growing it. The more I focus on developing the business and making sure the business is sustainably growing without me, the more the charity will grow without me as well. So this is kind of flywheel effect between the two linking together, which is the hundred year aspect. The other thing that we always talk about is, one of the most important things about working with developing countries, is building trust. When we go in, what we don’t want to be is, “Oh, the western guy coming in and saving the day and here’s some money and that’s it” We go in, we interview locals and then we provide employment. We’ve got about 16 full-time instructors in developing countries, mostly in the Nepal and Kenya at the moment. We really want this to be a charity where young people in those rural communities look up to role models within the same community and see this as something that they can go on to achieve as well.
Sebastian Bates (29:07):
Now when you go through the black belt journey with the Warrior Academy and you get a black belt as a child, (you’re 16 years old, you get a black belt) you are guaranteed a job with us. That makes us quite unique, right? We’ve got about twenty five to thirty assistant instructors around the world right now who have gone through the eight year journey, become instructors, and then they teach part-time and then they can do a one to two year course by the time they’re 18 and become a full-time instructor. We’ve got one student who’s just done that and he’s now a full-time instructor on a great salary in Dubai. We’ve got the proof the system works. Then as they grow up, they then teach the next round of students going through it. The big vision there is within 20 years, I would love for most of our clubs to be taught by students in developing countries who’ve gone through our program, had the Warrior Academy education, and have moved around the world to teach, providing employment for them around the world.
Sebastian Bates (30:01):
But the other side of that is, is really, when you do go into an orphanage…Here’s the thing about orphanages that a lot of people don’t realise. A lot of them are corrupt. So you have an idea of, “I’m going to donate to an orphanage, or I’m going to donate to this charity or that charity”. When you actually go there (and the reason I know this is because we’ve been there and we’ve done it and we’ve visited like 20 orphanages and we’ve really done a lot of research, boots on the ground, backpacking around Africa, road tripping type charity work, right? Almost like Warrior Academy missionaries)
Greg Wilkes (30:35):
Sebastian Bates (30:37):
But as we started to learn and meet people who have been doing it for 20 years and really got stuck into it, we started to realise, well actually a lot, when you go to a lot of these desperate countries in desperate cities, one of the things that they really need is money. A lot of these orphanages are actually set up in order to get money from people. They’re not necessarily there for care for the children. And so it’s finding the right orphanages. And really for me, the best way to do that is to work with other charities who have already vetted the orphanages. They’ve worked with them for five / ten years, they’ve got people who have worked there alongside them. They know them, they trust them, and they can really provide the right introductions. We go straight in there and do the work we want to do with the right people. But once you’ve built that trust and you’re in there, it’s really hard. If you’re an entrepreneur and you’re a problem solver, it’s hard not to sit there in an orphanage or a homeless shadow and think, “What else can we solve here?” The reason only twenty out of the three hundred kids at this rural primary school are turning up today is because they need to be working on the farm instead, or they’re not getting food here, they’re not getting two meals only getting one meal, or there’s not enough medical care here etc. So you start to think, “Well actually, what other problems can I solve?” So that’s how I think we’re going to start branching away from just doing Warrior Academy character and work, which is how we get into these various places and we build our program there with that flywheel effect, but then we start to branch out to hospitals, to schools, to medical care, to food, whatever it is.
Greg Wilkes (32:15):
Fantastic. Yes. What an amazing opportunity for ones that potentially graduate through that program to be able to work in the foundation later on or in your academies. I think that’s absolutely incredible.
Greg Wilkes (32:27):
I’m quite interested for myself, just knowing what you are actually doing in the classes to develop children’s character and resilience, or is it literally just the training that develops that? Or are you doing some other programs with them?
Sebastian Bates (32:43):
Yes, so we’ve got a character development program which sits alongside the martial arts training. Martial arts training is one aspect of what we do. The other aspect of what we do is we build a daily habit routine into their lives. The first thing we do, a parent joins us, and we analyse their breakthrough area. They go through the whole system where we go in and we basically find out a score, a percentage for their conduct, concentration and confidence. The lowest of those three tends to be their breakthrough area for the first three months. We really try to transform that particular area. Then they go on a course with us and we measure every two months, each three areas again, so that we can incrementally improve it. We do workshops, we buy books, we’ve got lots of experts who help parents. We’ve got a parent support network alongside it all. Then what we’re now building is transition events. If you look at character development, for me it’s lots of small decisions every day. The daily habits routine, the goal setting cadence, all that sort of stuff. Then it’s big one-off memorable events. It’s a bit like what I said to you about small, consistent actions throughout your life and massive action one-off events. If I look back at the things that really transformed my character, it was probably some of the adventures I went on. When I was younger, hiking across Dartmore for 50 miles or 40 miles or cycling across the Sahara Desert with my dad and his army mates when I was 17 or cycling around Turkey, all these big adventures I went on. Base jumping, or amazing things like that, which really shaped my character. But certainly when I was younger, it’s the big events and it wasn’t necessarily just martial arts. What I found is that if you put a child through a martial arts program and they become really good at martial arts, they’ll end up doing ten to twenty hours a week in the Dojo. If you get a child doing ten to twenty hours a week in the Dojo, and then they become a national champion, maybe they’re in the GB team, what I then find is they become really confident in that small bubble. They fill that room with their confidence, their confidence stretches as far as that room. It’s like, this is my place, I own this space. There’s ego involved with that. Someone else comes in and it’s like, this is clearly their space. This is where they’re comfortable.
Sebastian Bates (34:56):
Put them into a competing arena. Pretty similar, right? Yes, it’s big and it’s different. It’s a good transition to another event, but it’s a different environment so it’s a slight test, but it’s still within the same comfortability range. You take someone like that and you put a backpack on them and you make them walk 50 miles across Dartmore, and suddenly you see a very different side of them. It’s like suddenly all that ego and competence crumbles because they’ve now got to perform in a different light. What I want to really build into the Warrior Academy is these big transition events. So when a junior becomes a senior after two years of being with us = one event, like a half day outdoor leadership and adventure event. When a senior becomes an advanced student, which takes another two years = a full day event, which is really arduous. when an advanced student becomes a black belt = we’re talking an overnight experience where they have to survive in the desert and they’ve got to look after the juniors and the seniors.
Sebastian Bates (35:46):
It’s those memorable one-off events, which I think forces a student to bring the lessons from the Dojo to the home and the school life and actually apply them in a real life setting. It’s really looking at it like, martial arts is a great vehicle for developing character, but it’s just one of the tools that we use.
Greg Wilkes (36:05):
That is absolutely fantastic. I mean, as a parent myself and as a parent, you always want to develop your children and bring them up the best way. But what you’ve just described there is incredible. I think that anyone listening to this…Have you, you’ve still got academies in the UK as well?
Sebastian Bates (36:18):
Yep. We’ve got academies all across. Wiltshire / Somerset / Bath / Salisbury.
Greg Wilkes (36:22):
Okay. Awesome. Yes, I think anyone listens to this who’s got kids that want to put them through a program like that, I think it’s life changing, isn’t it? It truly is. It sounds amazing.
Greg Wilkes (36:33):
Just wanted to touch on something that’s obviously you’ve developed into your business, but it’s something that comes from your personality is the habits, the daily habits. Now I’m a follower of you on social media, so I see what you’re doing daily. Your daily schedule for someone who is so busy in business is incredible. How you manage to look after yourself and your fitness schedule that you have. How important is fitness to you compared to your business? I mean, when you look at the two, they clearly align don’t they, being you’re a peak performer in both. Talk to me about your fitness schedule and why that’s so important.
Sebastian Bates (37:15):
Yes, so when I first started my business, I was young, I was 19. Throughout my twenties, smashing fitness, smashing training, which is a part of what I did all the time. I would always lift weights, I was always doing martial arts, I was always interested in keeping fit and active. That was just normal for me. But then as the business grew from my team of five to fifty, I was still lifting weights, but diet was slipping slightly and I was enjoying the fact that I was earning more. I was able to have better food in Dubai and go to restaurants and all this sort of stuff, which before I wasn’t able to do. I think for me, the stress of the business and focusing on the business became more important than my health. I think that business owners tend to go through that. (They think) Where in order to actually make it grow, you’ve got to sacrifice everything, right? You’ve got to sacrifice sleep, like you want to make this business work, forget it. You just got to absolutely smash it. You got to hustle and do all the grafting. And sometimes, yes, you’ve got to do that. That’s the reality, especially when you’re a startup. Then I’m now in a position, at 33 where (and fortunately I’ve done it young, whereas a lot of people they don’t figure out their fifties) my health is more important than my business. If I really focus on my health, my business benefits. If I’m ill, I’ve then got to make high pressure decisions from a negative place, which then impacts other people negatively. It’s my responsibility to make sure that my health is completely optimal, right?
Greg Wilkes (38:48):
Sebastian Bates (38:48):
If I can really make sure my sleep is good, which is basically the foundation of everything you do in your life anyway, you spend a third of your life in bed, so you can make sure that’s good. If your diet’s good, so you’ve got more energy, you’ve got more longevity. Your training’s good, so you feel good, you’ve got more energy and you’re healthier. If you can tick all of these boxes, your business really has a huge growth. It’s like your business is responding to your health in a weird way. It’s a symbiotic relationship. And habits form all of that. It’s interesting because a little of our chat’s been about massive action versus small changes. I think, like I said before, you need massive action to get going, but it’s the small changes over time. This is why I don’t believe in things like new year’s resolutions and fad diets and I’m going to do the two month challenge and that’s it. But instead of doing the two month challenge where you don’t eat any carbs for two months and hate your life, why don’t you just eat a little bit less carbs and go for an extra 20 minute walk in the morning and do that for the rest of your life? <laugh>. Do you know what I mean? It’s making these tiny little changes. Little percentages here and there, which compound over time and make a huge difference. People look at my daily routine and they think I’m mental. I don’t blame them because it’s a lot. I walk 25,000 – 30,000 steps a day….
Greg Wilkes (40:12):
Tell us what it is? Talk us through the timeline of how your day starts and what you’re doing before you start work.
Sebastian Bates (40:18):
Yes, so it really changes and depends on where I’m working, what I’m doing. I listen to my body now more than anything. If my kids are ill then that changes things slightly as well. I’m traveling a lot, I’d probably say a good 70% of the year. My routine is a little bit like this. I’ll wake up sort of 5.30am without an alarm, normally beacuse I go to bed at about 8.30pm and so I get a good seven/eight hours slee in, which I track and I measure. Then I’ll wake up, 5.30am. First thing I’ll do is go outside. So fresh air and sunlight, you want to get first thing in the morning, right? In the summer here, I’ll go out even earlier to avoid the heat so I can take the dogs out. I’ll walk with the dogs for an hour and a half, I’ll then come back, and I’ll have a shake, protein shake with a banana and some nuts and that sort of stuff. Then I will walk fast on a treadmill about six, seven kilometers an hour. My body’s warmed up, I can now walk a lot faster. I’ll do that for about an hour. I’ll do about two and a half hour walk in the morning. I’ll then have a coffee. I might do a little bit of work, a podcast like this, or a meeting, whatever it is. Then I’ll go for another walk with my wife and I’ll walk with her for about an hour / hour and a half. No phones, just talking, just quality time. One of the most important things as a business owner is being present, right? Your partner doesn’t want three hours of your time where you’re not really there. They just want 20 minutes of your time where you are completely focused on them. That’s what I try and do on those walks. I think that’s really powerful. I’ve got an amazing relationship with my wife and we’re very aligned, like I spoke about. A big part of that is down to the time we invest in each other. It’s a lot of walking, right?
Greg Wilkes (42:01):
What are we on now, about three and a half hours of walking so far, are we?
Sebastian Bates (42:04):
Two and a half hours of walking so far! Then in the afternoon I’ll get training. 11am/12am ‘ll get trained by my personal trainer who gives me some disgusting workouts <laugh>. It’s normally an hour of very focused lifting. One of the great things about having a personal trainer is I don’t really get injured anymore. When I was training on my own, I would get injured. I’d always be like, “Oh, I wonder if I can lift this much or if I can lift that much.” Even if I’ve got a little niggle on the shoulder, I’ll still try and do a wander round max on a bench and push myself. Whereas I would probably say 20% of his job is to prevent me from doing too much. The other kind of 80% is pushing me and forcing out those extra three to five reps when my body’s in the right time to do it and the right state to do it. Then the bits of advice he gives, which it’s almost so simple, but when someone else tells you to do it…We almost know this stuff. Have good sleep. You have to go to bed early to do that. Get off your phone, have a good diet, plan your diet in advance. Everyone knows what to do. It’s not rocket science. But when someone else tells you to do it, we tends to stick to it. For me, paying for accountability is vital. The daily habit routine: 20-25,000 to 30,000 steps a day, four training sessions in the gym. I do about seven cardio sessions a week. I cycle for about 45 to 60 minutes, sometimes swimming, every day. I stay at about 10% body fat. I get measured every three to four weeks, so I kind of use that as a benchmark. I have so much energy from doing that. These little walks are where I download all the information from my brain.
Sebastian Bates (43:48):
Then in the evening, it’s the new routine I’ve now started is, I finished dinner at 7:00pm with the kids. I turn all the lights off in the house and I just put candles on in the rooms, there’s no artificial light at all. So for about two hours before I sleep, there’s no tv, there’s no phones. I put my phone on airplane mode. I charge it up downstairs instead of upstairs because it’s so easy to use, I just want to check the time. But I have a clock in the room, like digital clock, so I can see the time if I need to and I have no distractions. It’s weird when you start doing that, because suddenly it’s like you are completely isolated from the rest of the world. You’ve said to yourself, “Well, I’m not going to look at my phone until the morning walk at 5:00am” So between 7pm and 5am, no one can contact you and it’s just quality time with the people you live with, which is really great. We’re sitting there reading books, the candle’s on. It’s a really nice atmosphere and it slows you down, especially if you are like me and your head’s so full of stuff. By 5:00pm/6:00pm, your head’s still full, you eat, and then you have that two hour transition where you slow everything down and then you’re ready to sleep. It works really well. I think measuring sleep as well and measuring your steps and measuring your weight, having three or four metrics works really well. I know in business, metrics are vital, right? You measure your leads, your lapse is a great example. Leads, appointments, presentation, sales. If you read any of Daniel Priestley’s, oversubscribed or KPI stuff (which I know you have) it’s something he talks about as the perfect week. I apply the same thing to my health. I look at it like, what’s the perfect week? What’s the perfect day? What’s the perfect morning? What’s the perfect evening? What’s the perfect night? I try and just seek perfection from a health point of view through each aspect of the day. Because ultimately, if you can do that, even if you have ups and downs which are natural, some days you won’t be able to do it. But if you can do that, your average over the week is really good. How do you make sure that you’re hitting the targets and it’s perfect? Well, you’ve got to have a few metrics. Your sleep’s got to be good. It means you’ve got to be in bed probably eight and a half hours. You’ve got to be in bed so you can sleep about seven and a half. Most people only sleep for 80% of the time they’re in bed. You’ve got to make sure that you are weighing yourself in the morning. As soon as you wake up, you go to the toilet and then you weigh yourself nice and easy. You got to get your steps in minimum 10,000. If you do less than 10,000, like what are you doing? You’re a human being. You’ve been given legs to use them, you need to use your body. All the issues we’ve had in our lives, I guarantee 80% of them would go away if we just walked more than 10,000 steps a day. 15,000 minimum. Use your body for what it’s made for. Steps: 10 to 15K, minimum, try and add 2K every couple of weeks. Then the training sessions. If you can get four decent lifting sessions in (or three if you’re just starting out full body) a week, you’re on the right track. In diet, I try and eat the same things every day because that stops me from having any variants. If I go out for a meal at a restaurant, I’ll combine two meals in one. I eat four meals a day. If I go out a restaurant, I’ll combine two. alcohol’s another interesting one. Alcohol’s a massive impact on stress levels. It raises your cortisol levels throughout the week. If you are in a position where you can see yourself, “Right, I’m only going to drink once or twice a week” instead of doing a glass of wine in the evening. I used to have a glass of wine on a meal in the evening. It was like a Mediterranean vibe in this house. But now I’ll only drink twice a week and I’ll cut off at 6:00pm, because I know if I drink after 6:00pm then what happens is, I struggle to sleep in the evening or I wake up in the middle of the night and then I can’t get back to sleep. ‘ll make sure that I cut off at 6:00pm and then I’ll go on a long walk to try and burn off some of that access alcohol. I’m meeting up with friends. One of the easiest ways to do it is, if you want to do something on the weekend and you want to have a few drinks, do it at lunchtime. By the time the evening comes, it doesn’t disrupt your sleep. Have that cutoff.
Sebastian Bates (47:56):
So for me, those are the things that work really well. I see it similar to the Samurai. Like the Samurai, they would seek perfection in everything they did in their life. If they were a painting or if they were cooking or if they were cleaning, they would try to do that perfectly. Like what’s the best way to mop this floor? If I was going to mop this floor, it’s going to be perfect. What’s the best way to do that? If I was going to paint this picture or I was going to clean these clothes, whatever it is. What’s the best way to do that? What would be perfection in that? I think the pursuit of perfection, as long as you’re not basing your success or failure purely on that, but the pursuit of it, has an amazing impact on getting your average much, much higher. That’s why I see business and linking the health as well.
Greg Wilkes (48:45):
Yes, I love that. I’m fascinated follow all sorts of people, David Goggins and all different ones that are on that pursuit of perfection and resilience in their own minds. That was just like a little crash course for me then what you just told me. I’m going to take all those notes, try some of that in my life. That’s really fascinating.
Sebastian Bates (49:08):
Sebastian, can you tell us about what you think the future holds? What’s the big goal for you for the Warrior Academy? Where do you see this going over the next few years?
Sebastian Bates (49:21):
So short term Doha, we’ve now started doing work in Saudi Arabia as well. We’ve been invited to Neon on the line to do some corporate training, our corporate events. We’re going down the corporate road as well to train up execs and business owners and their teams on basically the things I spoke about. Bringing character development into the norm, making it a widespread focus. I think people don’t necessarily look at character when they onboard people/when they hire people enough, and they measure soft skills to a degree. But we can help them with that. I think developing a daily habit routine that the business follows, but then each individual follows as well to optimise performance, that sort of stuff. The corporate side’s really interesting. That’s one of what we’re doing. Then the normal Warrior Academy centers, we are doubling down on character even more, so we’re focusing, like I said, on these transition events. We’ve got 10 to 15 partnerships with some of the leading parenting experts in the world. Psychotherapists, psychologists, occupational therapists, we are talking speech therapists, zen experts. basically bestselling authors, thought leaders, people who are really doing pioneering work. That’s a part of our program for our parents to access. We’ve given them that support. So doubling down with the character on the side of we’re doing. Launching our academies in eight cities across the Gulf. We’re looking at Doha next, and then Riyadh, Jeddah, Yemman, Bahrain, Kuwait, maybe even in Oman as well. So expanding that. Then across the charity side, we’re trying to keep up with the charity right now because the charity’s growing so quickly. Within six months we’ve got 2,000 kids on the charity. At the same time as that we are looking for investments and donors as well. One of the things that I’m also building, is a high net worth group of business owners who can go and do fun stuff like skiing in Japan with me. A part of that goes towards the charity and bringing exciting, interesting people together who have the same mindset as me. Where they want to create a business beyond making money that impacts the world for good, but they want to have fun while they’re doing it. That’s ultimately what I’m trying to build. That’s what I’m up to, that’s a five year goal. Maybe I’ll do it sooner, maybe it’ll take longer. People often overestimate what they can do short time and underestimate what they can do long term!
Greg Wilkes (51:51):
Yes, exactly. That sounds incredible. You’re going to certainly be busy Sebastian, and I can’t wait to follow your progress as you go through that.
Greg Wilkes (51:59):
if any of the listeners want to learn a little bit more about you, I know you’ve got a couple of books out there…Where’s the best places for them to find out a bit more about what you’re doing?
Sebastian Bates (52:08):
Yes, sure. First of all I do one podcast a week. If you want to book me for a podcast, you can email email@example.com and Sarah will help you with that. For business mentoring, I mentor about 300 business owners a year. If you go to sebastianbates.com, you can have a look at the mentoring I do there, lots of reviews and testimonials there as well. If you’re interested in the Warrior Academy, one of the best places to start is going to breakthrougharea.com and doing the breakthrough area assessment, which I mentioned earlier. I’ve also got warriorcademy.ae or warrioracademy.co.uk. You can find me on Instagram, so seb.bates on Instagram or Sebastian Bates or LinkedIn or even on Facebook, every platform I’m on. If you just search me, hopefully something interesting that you are aligned with, will pop up.
Greg Wilkes (52:51):
That’s awesome. I’ll pop the links into the show notes as well when I’ll get them off you after Sebastian. Amazing.
Greg Wilkes (52:56):
Can I just say, thanks so much mat. I really appreciate what you’ve gone through. I know you’re been super busy and you’ve probably got another walk to get on now <laugh>, but there’s some real value in that and I think it’s nice to have someone from not a construction background to come in and just talk to us about business and purpose and resilience and habits and everything we’ve gone through. I think there’s a tremendous lot of value. So really appreciate it. Thanks for coming on, mate.
Sebastian Bates (53:21):
My pleasure. Thank you having me.
Greg Wilkes (53:35):
If you’d like to work with me to fast track your construction business growth, then reach out on www.developcoaching.co.uk