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  • Writer's pictureLaurent Notin

Entrepreneurship Coaching and Its Benefits with Paul Baker

Updated: Jun 14, 2023

Paul Baker, co-Founder Rapaid Charities, ex-founder St Pierre Groupe

Being an entrepreneur can be a tough job with many ups and downs. Building up your brand, developing a business plan, executing marketing tactics, and managing marketing budgets are all difficult tasks requiring enormous amounts of time and energy. These demands can lead to burnout and failure in business, and coaching can help you achieve these goals. Coaching provides insight into how to make the most of your time and resources as you set up your business.

Join this conversation with Paul Baker, who talks about his entrepreneurship journey and gives a testimonial on the importance of coaching in growing his business, exiting it, and starting a new venture.

Paul Baker bankrupted his first business at the age of 17, and it took ten years before he got back to entrepreneurship. He acquired St Pierre Groupe in 2002 and sold it to the largest FMCG company in Latin America in October 2022.

Many things have happened since we first met back in January 2021. Can you give us some context?

When we first met, you invited me to a podcast, and it was during the pandemic period. So, life was quite different for everyone right around the world then.

I do recall you saying to me, well, as a thank you for doing the podcast, you get an hour of free coaching, and me, being me, said oh, I don't need that. Thank you very much, that is very kind of you, but you know I'm okay, really. And you said to me, well, what have you got to lose it is free. It is one hour of your time.

And I thought you are right. I am going to do the hour. And you said to me if you don't like it, fine, nothing is lost. But if you like it, it could be useful to you. And in fact, I found it very useful. I was amazed, I'll be honest, at how eloquent and effective you were at really managing that one hour, which, let's face it, is not a lot of time to really ask me questions that really made me stop and think and, in some ways, actually vexed me a little bit because I thought I haven't really thought about that, and maybe I should.

It was very objective outside questioning and probing, which made me, as a business leader, stop and think a bit differently, which is always good. So that led to me saying, okay, let's carry this on, and we started off, and it's been incredibly useful.

I'm still your client, and people may not know that. Even though I've exited St. Pierre now, you were with me right through that journey, and I found it incredibly useful. I've got to be honest. And that's coming from somebody who was probably quite doubtful initially. So that's a bit of a turnaround.

You are a successful entrepreneur. So why did you decide to get entrepreneurship coaching with me? What was your bottleneck?

That’s a good question. You have always asked excellent questions, Laurent. It's difficult sometimes when you are leading a business because you have to make all the decisions, not all of them - you make some decisions as a team, obviously - but some key decisions.

Sometimes it can be quite lonely at the top, and my business partner Jeremy had retired the year before, and we very much run the business as a partnership, me championing America, and Jeremy is back at base.

I didn't have the sounding board I used to have. So, it was instrumental in having you put questions to me, making me think differently. And, of course, you were very objective because you're outside of the business so you would come from a completely different angle.

I think any person who's leading a business knows what their strengths and weaknesses are. Perhaps you helped me realize where my gaps were, which weren't obvious. I'm sure my team would say differently. They'd say, well, we knew where your gaps were.

As we went through that exit process, there were moments when I didn't have the time to spend with you; I extended it out to the team, which also became incredibly useful to those team members.

In the business, there was a feeling that training was the way; I wasn't always convinced about training, I'll be quite honest with you. I think it can be very positive. I think it can also be very divisive because you get pigeonholed as a person. There are all these exercises, whereas with a coach like yourself, it's far more personal, and it really gets into how you think, how others see you, and perhaps the things you need to address and the questions you need to answer.

It's more of a personal conversation, which gets into the nitty gritty of how you operate and what you need to do, which will empower you and be useful for the people around you as well, which is critical in a business. So, I was interested in how our relationship evolved, and I extended that to the team.

Coaching for me was a light bulb moment, really. I wish I'd done it earlier in my career.

Why didn't you get coaching earlier, then?

I was so busy building the American side of the business. When we went into the pandemic, about four or five of us were working on what, at that point, was a profitable fifty-million-pound revenue business.

So, keeping the wheels on that took me all my time and energy. There were only five dedicated to the US. That's why I didn’t because I just didn't have time. Now, I know people can say, well, you've got to make time for stuff like this. It's very easy to say that, but it took a lot out when you've got a very high-growth business, and it's going gangbusters. And, of course, we had a pandemic to manage, which put huge additional pressure on the pressure we already felt.

Scaling a business in the way that we scaled it is all-encompassing. And then when you have to go out and recruit seventy people to keep the scale going and to keep the momentum, doing something like coaching, it seems very self-indulgent, or that's how it appeared to me.

It had sort of occurred to me. I thought about getting a mentor, and I just thought, I don’t know when I will find any time to give to this person. But you came in when I was grounded because of the pandemic, and I couldn't fly to the US. That did give me more time, and I was in the office; nobody else was.

It was one of those things where the timing was right for me. You were in the right place at the right time, and I had the space and energy to say, this might be useful. I knew an exit was on the table hence why we were recruiting. We recruited to follow the growth, not to exit, but of course, we wanted to ensure that the business was in perfect shape if we were going to exit.

But I knew that was coming, and I thought it might be useful not having been through an exit like this one. Anybody in business aspires to a successful exit, and indeed we got that, but it's quite an intense process. So having you as a wingman was actually very useful at some particularly challenging points in the process because it's not just people see the money with an exit, but as a founder, it can be quite emotional because it's something you've built. It's your baby, and you'll hand it over to somebody else.

Can you mention some practical benefits of entrepreneurship coaching?

If I keep it to the exit process, going through that process, it's almost like an out-of-body experience as a founder because you are having to talk about your business, something that you've nurtured and cared for, and grown and built a culture and people's lives and people's careers and, you're into every part of it.

And then suddenly, you have almost to disengage yourself in the process because it does become about the finances, the profitability, the sustainability of the business, everything, the brand. You go into so much detail in due diligence, whether it's financial or commercial due diligence. You get these massive reports, and they're insightful. So just at the point, you're on a trajectory where you will exit and leave, you start to find out all this fascinating information about your business. You almost start sparking again, but you'll sort of jump off the cliff; it's a weird scenario.

You helped me to navigate some of those challenges and perhaps straighten my head out if that makes sense. Because as I said at the beginning, it's emotional and financial, affecting many people's lives. We had a hundred-odd people working for us, which is not massive in terms of some businesses, but it's still a hundred lives, it's a hundred families. And we had a great culture. And because of a certain degree of confidentiality with an exit like that, you have to change your demeanor slightly. You can't share everything with everybody, which we were used to doing. We were used to being very open.

There are lots and lots of practical reasons why I think coaching can help in an exit process, particularly if you've never been through one, because it's a bit of a rollercoaster, and it can go on as well; you could be looking at anything between twelve months and two years. It's a long time for that sustained different approach to how you normally operate—so having a coach beside you helps.

I remember one thing you said to me; I think I was particularly stressed once, and you said, what can you control and what is out of your control? And so, I talked about that, and you said, really, the only thing you need to focus on is what's in your control because what's out of your control, what's the point of focusing on it?

I don’t know if I've ever said that to you, but that was very helpful at that point because it's that realization that I can't do anything about it. It's out of my control. And then you'd let it go into the ether, and that's like somebody lifting a weight off your back because it's something that you've probably been right in the apex of that situation, trying to work it out and grinding away at it.

Another aha moment was me realizing that in the exit process, I'm busy having to do all these meetings and due diligence - there's so much to do, it's a very intense period - and I couldn't get to my coaching time with you. I think you told me, well, what about if I coach one of your team? I thought this is a great solution, and we did it. And it worked well. And then we expanded it, and we brought all those people together for a peer group session that was incredibly powerful.

In the business before that, there'd been this sort of idea that training was the way, and I was always a bit, I don't really know, I'm not really convinced about training. I mentioned that earlier. Don't get me wrong; it can be very good. I haven't got a downer on everybody's doing training. It's got a lot of positives. But it depends on your business, culture, and people as to whether training will work and what type of training it is. I don't like the training kind of paints you out to be a plan or a monkey or something. I don’t know how useful that is, really. Whereas when we expanded coaching out to the team, that was really powerful.

And again, I wish I'd done it earlier because our plan was to put a group of ladies through the coaching and then put a group of men through the coaching and then put them together and really build a supportive peer group. I could see that evolving, but I couldn't complete it.

What would you say to anyone wanting to know more about coaching?

Here we are, we're talking; I'm still a client. People might think I've exited the business. I don't need coaching anymore. Quite a reverse, actually. I'm embarking on a new chapter in my life, into a charity, a different business, and a different sector. That's exactly the time you need coaching.

So, for me, this is a continuum now; it's something that I've found incredibly powerful and beneficial. It's helped me to navigate lots of tricky situations in a practical way. I might say not in a sort of theoretical management way but in a very personal way. It's got far more power than training. It gave me a deeper understanding of myself, how I interact with the team, the culture, the purpose, and everything else.

We worked at different things at different points, depending on where I was in my journey, and of course, that evolves. Training is like being hit with a blunt object repeatedly, whereas coaching evolves with you and it changes with you. I started my career as a baker in a craft bakery in Denver and ended up selling an internationally branded business. Am I a baker? I've evolved away from that; probably, that's the truth. People do evolve and change. Coaching recognizes that and is built to deal with that. So that's where I think coaching's powerful.


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