Martin Cowgill - Mountbatten Program
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Martin Cowgill

Martin Cowgill

Entrepreneurial Alumni

Program: New York

Intake: January 2004

Current Roles: Founder, TenEighty Inc.

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Describe your business and your role within it.
TenEighty Inc (teneightyinc.com) is a strategy consultancy business focused on helping brands and companies plan and align their strategies towards long term success. As founder, I work closely with them to understand their objectives, what, if any, plans or strategies they have, and what their biggest challenges are. My goal is to provide clarity and guidance and help them to develop the plan that will lead them towards creating a successful business.

Throughout my career, I have worked for some of the largest companies in the world including Sony, Microsoft, Yahoo and Verizon and partnered with hundreds more. They all operate individual business strategies or plans that they feel will direct the company towards success. The key difference between companies that are successful vs ones that struggle is usually down to the overarching strategy that is in place. If the vision is good but the execution is poor, then the result will not be great.

It’s vital that the strategy is detailed and clear enough to be understood at all levels of the business and that everyone is pulling in the same direction. Take for example building a house. If I told you to go build one without any guidance or plans, the result will not match my expectations. However, if I gave you the blueprints and the details needed, the house you will build will be the same as the one that I envisaged. That is the value of a good strategy that has been thoroughly thought out.

How did you get into this line of business?
It’s fair to say that the Mountbatten Internship Program played a huge role in landing my first role in digital media and that my internship at Sony in New York really was the beginning of my career. As a result of that internship, I was offered a position at Microsoft in London when I returned to the UK. Without the internship, I would not have got that role and would not have had the career I have had, so I am eternally grateful to the program as a result.

How did you go about setting it up and getting established?
After leaving Verizon, I took some time to figure out the right approach and strategy for my business and I spoke to a variety of people that I trusted to give me their perspective of what was needed in the market. The overall opinion matched what I had thought – that companies often skip over thinking about their long-term business approach in favour of just getting going. It’s like setting off on a journey to somewhere and halfway there realizing that you have no map and no real idea where you are going.

What else is in the pipeline?
In addition to TenEighty, I founded a second consultancy business called Playmakr Media, which helps football clubs with their strategies focusing on longevity, self-sufficiency, and profits as key drivers. It’s incredibly rewarding for me as I get to combine my passion for football with my expertise and add value to clubs as they develop their business strategy.

I also do a lot of work as an advisor with MaRS which is the world’s largest urban innovation hub that supports start-ups here in Canada. As an advisor, I am helping new companies navigate the digital landscape and establish themselves within it. Each company is unique and has different issues which makes the job extremely interesting.

What has been the proudest moment in your working life thus far?
Launching my own business is my proudest moment so far and helping our biggest partner, Canada’s largest newspaper The Globe and Mail, to launch its new strategy. To build something from scratch and then see it benefit another company is a great feeling.

What has been your biggest mistake/learning experience?
One of the biggest mistakes I made early on in my career was focusing on finding solutions for the variables that were outside my control. I thought it was my job to solve those problems as well as the ones in my own remit. It took a boss who pulled me aside and told me to let it go, to understand that some things need to remain as they are, and you have to work around them. I learned a lot from that experience and have applied it in the jobs I have had since including in my consultancy business.

Who are your role models?
I don’t necessarily have specific role models that I look to for inspiration but instead I try to learn from those I work with and work for. Everybody has different skillsets that they can bring to the table and understanding that no one has all the answers is an important lesson in business as well as in life. Learning from others only improves my knowledge and helps me to think about situations differently as well as how I react to them.

Any words of advice/wisdom would you impart to others thinking of setting up their own business?
Try to take your time in the planning stage and understand what you want to achieve. Think about what you want to do, why you want to do it and what value it will bring to others. Don’t launch until you have the answers to these questions. When you are ready, make sure to have lined up everything you need to support your business, including your logo, website, pitch deck and long-term strategy. Launching without these things will only cause you headaches further down the road.