By Remy Raitt
This frustration prompted him to start South Africa’s biggest presentation firm, Missing Link in 1997. “Before that I was a roadie for bands like Iron Maiden and Def Leppard. I worked in conferencing in the off season, doing lights, sound and AV and I would often sit in on the events. I realised all these lights and the sound made f*** all difference if the dude stood up there and bored the sh*t out of everyone. And then there were these guys that got up there with nothing but delivered an amazing speech, and still, the people watching weren’t going to go home and use what he said, or do anything about it.”
Mulholland started out “fixing crappy presentations” with a designer friend and then at 23 opened Missing Link. The company pride themselves on slaying boredom; making presentations that pack a punch. They’re pretty well known for slaying corporate culture too.
The Missing Link office in Fourways, Johannesburg looks like a new age anarchist HQ, somewhere Tank Girl might go to do her paperwork. Rock music blares, employees forego stairs for a slide or fireman pole and group together to work in cluttered collaged cubicles. It’s kind of chaotic, but it’s also kind of perfect. “This office is not for everyone; some people would think the music is too loud and stuff.”
For Mulholland it’s an ideal working environment. “It’s a double whammy, an unintended consequence; If you make a place you want to work in, it will appeal to people who think like you, people who get you and think in the same way you do.”
And what they are thinking about is grabbing people’s attention. “The key to engaging people is that you don’t want them to be engaged with you, you want them to be engaged with themselves,” he says. “You have to make it about them. You need to create a gap. You have to get people to give a sh*t first, you have to get them to want to have that space filled. Basically, you need to create a problem and then provide a solution.” And with big clients like Dimension Data, FNB, Coca-Cola, Pick ‘n Pay, MTN, MasterCard and Microsoft, they are obviously getting it right.
Mulholland also co-founded 21 Tanks, “an ideation and execution firm”. Along with Don Packett, who runs the company full-time, they facilitate strategy. They fix businesses by identifying the true problems within them and then apply a strategy that sorts them out.
And if that isn’t enough, he is also involved in Human Writ.es “a not-a-service business” that produce notebooks for left and right-brained people. The notebooks also give back, every time someone buys one, 10 are donated to a classroom.
Oh, and he’s also a writer. Contributing to magazines like Destiny Man and Longevity he is currently busy with his second book The CEO Bitch-slap. “I do a lot of work with CEOs and their problems are not unique. They have common problems and often their frustrations stem from the same place. This book is a step in changing people’s minds – which has to happen.” He says the book is for anybody in a position of leadership, “which is a big niche”.
Mulholland says since starting Missing Link in 1997 a lot has changed. “What’s changed the most over the years is my attitude. In the beginning I was definitely more focused on the business and how to grow it. Now that’s almost meaningless. I want to dig the stuff I do and the people I work with. That’s what’s important now. I mean I need to make money but I’m not willing to work a second more than I’m required. I don’t need to make more money than I need.”
He believes one’s youth is for working hard. “When you’re 20, f*** it, work till your eyes bleed.” His advice to those hard-working 20-somethings is not to wait. “I think about it in the same way I think about people who go on and on about whether they should have a baby. Like, why wait?” He says that if he had waited to start his business it never would have happened.
“That’s the great thing about younger people. They have these delusions of self-sense and they talk and believe everything they say. When you are young you are confident. The longer you wait the more questions there are. Which leads to second guessing,” he says. “This second guessing is the biggest killer of entrepreneurship.”
And although he says he’s slowing down, Mulholland still has a spark that inspires great work from both himself and his employees. “I will never be other peoples’ version of success,” he says. But we all know that’s not true.
For more information, visit www.richardmulholland.co.za. Alternatively connect with him on Twitter.