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Ink’s Cofounder & Co-CEO, Simon Leslie To Samir “Mr. Magazine™” Husni: “I Think Sometimes People Forget How Important This Media [Print] Is And How Much It Means To People On Their Journeys,” The Mr. Magazine™ Interview…

October 21, 2019

“My products are in a place where we haven’t got as much digital interference as some of the other people have. And readers don’t have to get out there and buy it, it’s right there in front of them. They have to spend $300 or $400 on an airline ticket, but the magazine is there and it gives them stuff they didn’t know they needed to know, and I think that’s why they’re still engaged with it and still excited by it, still inspired by it. And because of that, we find brands that want to be associated with that. The biggest challenge that the other brands are having is they have stopped investing in their product, they have stopped believing in their product, they have stopped loving their product. They have listened to what the naysayers have told them, as opposed to believing in why they existed in the first place.”… Simon Leslie

Motivational speaker, motivational writer and author, Simon Leslie, is a man who defies defeat, yet accepts it when it comes and learns from it. He is a believer in the print product, but knows the advantages of digital and doesn’t write off either. He is also seeing growth and optimism in the future of his company, Ink.

Simon heads up Ink’s global commercial operations, overseeing the media sales teams in six of its offices around the world. A natural-born seller, he began his career in door-to-door insurance sales at the age of 17. Today, Simon is responsible for Ink’s global sales and business strategy. He is also instrumental in defining Ink’s unique sales culture, of which he believes in motivating his team to believe in themselves and the products they’re selling wholeheartedly, along with helping the brands they represent to reach and help more people.

In fact, the help factor is so strong in Simon that he has written a new book, “There Is No F In Sales,” that offers many tips and advice, and his unique and successful approach to selling, to people who are just starting out or those who are in the thick of it today.

I spoke with Simon recently about the new book and about the ever-growing success of Ink, the inflight travel brand that has more than 30 print publications for its travel partners. The book is a culmination of the knowledge he’s learned over the last 33 years in sales. And if Ink’s success story is any indication of his expertise, salespeople from around the globe may want to pick up a copy as soon as possible. By the way, all the proceeds from the sales of the book goes to charity, Simon informed me.

But until then, I hope that you enjoy the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Simon Leslie, cofounder and co-CEO, Ink.

But first the sound-bites:

On why he wrote the book: I wrote the book because I wanted to share some of the things that I’ve learned and accumulated over the last 33 years of being in sales. I wanted to write the book because I wanted to generate money for charity, all the profits from the book are going to charity. And I wanted to help people, who I think, are going through some of the same struggles as I’ve been through, to maybe not make the same mistakes that  I’ve made along the journey. If they’re starting out, they can learn something from it; if they’re halfway through their career, they can learn how to accelerate, and if they’re getting to the end of their career and thinking about what to do next, there are bits of advice in it for that as well. It’s giving a full list of ideas of how to deal with certain situations, and hopefully people won’t make as many mistakes as I did.

On what he would say about the book if he were writing a review: I would say it’s not a difficult read; it’s written in short chapters with tips at the end of each chapter. It’s funny, the author is incredibly funny, and there is some great advice for people going through different phases. And it’s delivered in a conversational way. A lot of books give you lots of ideas, but those ideas may have never been done at all. These are real life situations that I have encountered and then I tell you how I dealt with them.

On why he thinks his company Ink is flourishing while many others are not: The answer is going to be timely. Recently somebody ran a sub-2 hour marathon for the first time and I love that. I love the fact that they went through every little detail to make sure they performed and everybody did what they needed to do, and that got them the result they wanted. And I think that sums up how I operate. I look at all the details, I work out what we need to do, how we need to do it, and we work together, and that’s mostly coming from the team. I have a great team. And they believe what I believe and together we’re all rowing in the same direction. We believe in our media and we believe in our product.

On his secret sauce of why his advertising revenue-based business model still works for Ink: (Laughs) My magic formula. I can only tell you it’s a good team and a 100 percent belief in our product. We spend a lot of time training, and in personal development, working on mindsets of how do we get these people performing at the level they want to perform at. How do they deal with all the excuses and reasons why people don’t want to work with us? And how do they come up with better stories? It’s a story, life is one big story. And it’s encapsulated in the book: the ones who can tell a better story are the ones who succeed. And if you tell good stories, if people believe your stories and they believe in what you’re doing, that’s important.

On whether his business has felt more like a speedboat, such as the one in the ad he tore out when he was only 21, propelling him to do more than dream: The example of me tearing out Sunseeker ads from The Sunday Times goes along with what the ad actually read: Many dream and few achieve. That really inspired me and I was trying to explain how much that did for me in my career. It was so motivating, but that’s not necessarily what Sunseeker wanted; they wanted to sell boats. And sometimes you don’t realize the correlation between the message that you put out there and what it does for people.

On what position he places Ink when he goes out to sell for the magazines: Today we are focused on travel media, and it’s more space. I’m spending nearly every waking hour looking at how I can be better in that space. At the moment I have airports, I have people at home, I have people who, before they check in, I inspire them before they even decide where they’re going to go. I then get them on the airplane and I can talk to them about where they’re going, where they should go or might go, where they should think about going. And then I get them on the way back, and I have a different message for them. So, I am interested only in the traveler. And that traveler has a high propensity to spend money. They’re agile, opportunistic, and they don’t think twice about spending money.

On whether he differentiates between selling the traveler to the advertiser or selling the stories to the traveler: I have to make sure that I inspire the traveler. I have to keep the new content fresh and well-researched pieces of editorial to make sure they pick that magazine up and that they’re excited, which is what they continue to do. In our research we did the Harris poll about six weeks ago, and the recall and pickup was getting close to 90 percent. It was unbelievable. Then I have to make sure that the airlines love their products as much as we do, because they have to carry this around the universe and their customers have to be engaged and inspired, and have to do great feedback.

On whether he’s had to face any challenges along his journey: I’ve had more challenges in 25 years than anyone should have. When we started in 1994 it was a recession, then we had the dotcom boom and bust, then we had 9/11, we had 7/7, we had the Great Recession; we had countries going bust. Then we had our own growing pains; when you’re private equity-backed, there’s never-ending growth, so you have to keep growing and making decisions. And sometimes you make wrong decisions and you live with the consequences of those as well. And there will be another 20 challenges in the next 20 years. The thing that I really do want to get across is that I’m super-excited. Probably more excited than I’ve ever been.

 On mentioning in his book that he doesn’t admit defeat unless he’s tried every single, possible path: Well, sometimes you have to lose. I question if I prefer losing to winning, because I’ve learned more from losing than I have winning. You do have to keep going, it’s a hurdle race and sometimes you’ll fall over and sometimes you’ll jump beautifully. Or you’ll get to the hurdle and you’ll refuse. And that’s the art, you have to keep racing and the opportunities will present themselves.

On Ink’s expectations for 2020: We’ve just went into Ethiopian, so we’re getting back into Africa. I’m really excited about that. With this business, one of the first airlines we had was in Africa, so it’s going back to where we started, which is quite exciting. Ethiopian Airlines is the largest airline on Africa and we’re launching a new magazine, which will come out this month. And that will get bigger and bigger next year.

On whether this year will be a financially bountiful year: I think we’ve had records in about a dozen titles and that’s not records for this year, that’s the best ever. I have to say, we’re not seeing a downturn, if anything we’re seeing optimism. Our U.S. operation is up 24 percent from last year. The problem with that is, next year we’ll expect that again, but we keep doing it, we keep finding growth. And what’s exciting about the growth is that we’re helping companies at the same time reach new customers that they weren’t reaching.

On what motivates him to get out of bed: I’m getting more and more excited by watching the team grow, I’ve seen them develop. The pace that we are seeing some of the youngsters come through at is just incredible. They’re 19, 20, 25, 30 years old and they’re just doing things that even they didn’t believe were possible for them to achieve. And we’re just excited by that. Every time we have success, we also have some that don’t succeed, but we’re doing more and more to improve our ratio of making them absolutely great salespeople, with great customers.

On if he ever believed he would become a motivational speaker, writer and author from his days of clipping ads from the Sunday Times years ago: Some days, as you may have seen in the book, I have to pinch myself to actually believe what I’m allowed to do, what I’m making happen, and it’s incredibly rewarding.

On the biggest misconception he thinks people have about him: I only see positive; I don’t worry about what people say about me, everyone is entitled to their opinion. (Laughs) When I started out, people said I’d be bankrupt, and I use those statements from my younger years to motivate me, I was going to prove them wrong. In the last 10 years, how many times has someone told us that print was going to die, that there is no place for print and they’re wrong. And they’ll continue to be wrong.

On what someone would find him doing if they showed up unexpectedly one evening at his home: You’ll probably listen to a podcast with me. You’ll find me with my earphones in and working on my brain, working on my knowledge, working at how I can learn to get better, and relaxing, I do meditation. It’s really important to me to give my family time as well, so I’m making sure that I’m sharing my knowledge with them and that we’re all growing together. I’m the father of four boys and I’m incredibly proud of the way they’re all developing. And that’s good, because for a long time I was an absent father, but I’m very proud of them.

On what keeps him up at night: Normally indigestion. (Laughs) No, it’s very rare that I get up at night, I sleep really well.

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Simon Leslie, cofounder & co-CEO, Ink.

Samir Husni: You’ve just written a book “There Is No F In Sales,” tell me, why did you write the book?

Simon Leslie: I wrote the book because I wanted to share some of the things that I’ve learned and accumulated over the last 33 years of being in sales. I wanted to write the book because I wanted to generate money for charity, all the profits from the book are going to charity. And I wanted to help people, who I think, are going through some of the same struggles as I’ve been through, to maybe not make the same mistakes that  I’ve made along the journey. If they’re starting out, they can learn something from it; if they’re halfway through their career, they can learn how to accelerate, and if they’re getting to the end of their career and thinking about what to do next, there are bits of advice in it for that as well. It’s giving a full list of ideas of how to deal with certain situations, and hopefully people won’t make as many mistakes as I did.

Samir Husni: The book reads as though you and I are sitting and having a conversation. I can hear you talking throughout the book, telling me it’s okay to not be okay, that challenges will be faced and this is what I do with them. I am going to have successes and I am going to have failures. If you were to write a review on Amazon about the book, what would you write?

Simon Leslie: I would say it’s not a difficult read; it’s written in short chapters with tips at the end of each chapter. It’s funny, the author is incredibly funny, and there is some great advice for people going through different phases. And it’s delivered in a conversational way. A lot of books give you lots of ideas, but those ideas may have never been done at all. These are real life situations that I have encountered and then I tell you how I dealt with them.

Samir Husni: I know you have encountered many of those real life experiences on both sides of the Atlantic, if not all over the world. Once, in an email, you asked me why all of these people were closing magazines or selling them, your company, Ink, was doing very well. Why do you think Ink is thriving during a time many others are not prospering?

Simon Leslie: The answer is going to be timely. Recently somebody ran a sub-2 hour marathon for the first time and I love that. I love the fact that they went through every little detail to make sure they performed and everybody did what they needed to do, and that got them the result they wanted. And I think that sums up how I operate. I look at all the details, I work out what we need to do, how we need to do it, and we work together, and that’s mostly coming from the team. I have a great team. And they believe what I believe and together we’re all rowing in the same direction. We believe in our media and we believe in our product.

Of course, we get people telling us that they have no print agenda, telling us that magazines aren’t important, but we just don’t believe it and we don’t accept it. It’s like when there was a recession, I said to my team, we’re just not participating. Let it carry on. Some of the biggest companies are formed during recessions. Some of the brightest stars were created when times were tough. I’m actually looking forward to a recession, because that’s going to bring so many opportunities that haven’t been here. People aren’t doing anything at the moment, they’re just sitting and waiting, and you actually need a shakeup from time to time to bring opportunity and fresh ideas.

Samir Husni: You’re results are more than just fiction or a dream or a belief. Your entire business is based on advertising revenue, and yet you’re succeeding where many who have that same business model are failing. What’s your secret sauce?

Simon Leslie: (Laughs) My magic formula. I can only tell you it’s a good team and a 100 percent belief in our product. We spend a lot of time training, and in personal development, working on mindsets of how do we get these people performing at the level they want to perform at. How do they deal with all the excuses and reasons why people don’t want to work with us? And how do they come up with better stories? It’s a story, life is one big story. And it’s encapsulated in the book: the ones who can tell a better story are the ones who succeed. And if you tell good stories, if people believe your stories and they believe in what you’re doing, that’s important.

My products are in a place where we haven’t got as much digital interference as some of the other people have. And readers don’t have to get out there and buy it, it’s right there in front of them. They have to spend $300 or $400 on an airline ticket, but the magazine is there and it gives them stuff they didn’t know they needed to know, and I think that’s why they’re still engaged with it and still excited by it, still inspired by it. And because of that, we find brands that want to be associated with that.

The biggest challenge that the other brands are having is they have stopped investing in their product, they have stopped believing in their product, they have stopped loving their product. They have listened to what the naysayers have told them, as opposed to believing in why they existed in the first place.

Samir Husni: Do you think your business has been more like that speedboat ad that you were tearing out and falling in love with at age 21, rather than a more relaxing and slower sailboat that others may have admired?  

Simon Leslie: The example of me tearing out Sunseeker ads from The Sunday Times goes along with what the ad actually read: Many dream and few achieve. That really inspired me and I was trying to explain how much that did for me in my career. It was so motivating, but that’s not necessarily what Sunseeker wanted; they wanted to sell boats. And sometimes you don’t realize the correlation between the message that you put out there and what it does for people.

Samir Husni: What message, in general, does Ink have now? As we approach 2020, where would you put Ink as a company that publishes several titles, websites and video? What position do you place Ink as you go out and try to sell even more ad pages?

Simon Leslie: Today we are focused on travel media, and it’s more space. I’m spending nearly every waking hour looking at how I can be better in that space. At the moment I have airports, I have people at home, I have people who, before they check in, I inspire them before they even decide where they’re going to go. I then get them on the airplane and I can talk to them about where they’re going, where they should go or might go, where they should think about going. And then I get them on the way back, and I have a different message for them. So, I am interested only in the traveler. And that traveler has a high propensity to spend money. They’re agile, opportunistic, and they don’t think twice about spending money.

When you’re on holiday and when you’re traveling, that’s a time when that credit card gets used far more than when you’re sitting in an office or at home. So, I have this affluent consumer who’s a different face than most consumers and I’m just saying this is my customer; this is what he or she or they look like, and this is what they’re going to deliver over the next 12 months. The art for me is to get more and more granular into where they’re spending their money, how they’re spending their money, why they make certain decisions, so understanding their behavior. The portfolio that we have is really exciting right now.

Samir Husni: Do you differentiate between selling that traveler to the advertiser or selling the stories to the traveler?

Simon Leslie: I have three customers. I have to make sure that I inspire the traveler. I have to keep the new content fresh and well-researched pieces of editorial to make sure they pick that magazine up and that they’re excited, which is what they continue to do. In our research we did the Harris poll about six weeks ago, and the recall and pickup was getting close to 90 percent. It was unbelievable. Then I have to make sure that the airlines love their products as much as we do, because they have to carry this around the universe and their customers have to be engaged and inspired, and have to do great feedback.

I don’t know if you remember, but a couple of years ago I launched something called #Hemigram on social media and I talked about how people want to see their face in print. We just relaunched it, we produced a 200 page book on all these pictures that people have sent us with a copy of United magazine in the most unbelievable locations around the world. And I think sometimes people forget how important this media is and how much it means to people on their journeys. So, I have to please everybody.

Samir Husni: Have you had to face any challenges on your own journey, and if so, how did you overcome them?

Simon Leslie: I’ve had more challenges in 25 years than anyone should have. When we started in 1994 it was a recession, then we had the dotcom boom and bust, then we had 9/11, we had 7/7, we had the Great Recession; we had countries going bust. Then we had our own growing pains; when you’re private equity-backed, there’s never-ending growth, so you have to keep growing and making decisions. And sometimes you make wrong decisions and you live with the consequences of those as well. And there will be another 20 challenges in the next 20 years.

The thing that I really do want to get across is that I’m super-excited. Probably more excited than I’ve ever been. I have an opportunity to affect certain people who work for inflight, to enhance it and help them improve. And I have a chance to inspire a generation of travelers.

 Samir Husni: You mention in your book that you don’t admit defeat unless you’ve tried every single, possible path. Keep on going and going and going. Is that your motto in life, your motto in selling, or is that just nice talk?

Simon Leslie: Well, sometimes you have to lose. I often question if I prefer losing to winning, because I’ve learned more from losing than I have winning. You do have to keep going, it’s a hurdle race and sometimes you’ll fall over and sometimes you’ll jump beautifully. Or you’ll get to the hurdle and you’ll refuse. And that’s the art, you have to keep racing and the opportunities will present themselves.

It’s really funny, I watch all of these viewers on Instagram every day telling people the seven things they need to do to be successful and the 10 things that can help them become a multibillionaire. And I think to myself: I didn’t know any of those things and yet I’ve had some nice success. So, sometimes what people think will make them successful is not necessarily what actually creates the success. What creates the success is the failings, the challenges, and the things that don’t go as planned and you having to adapt.

Samir Husni: What are Ink’s expectations for the year 2020? Will there be any new magazines coming  up?

Simon Leslie: We’ve just went into Ethiopian, so we’re getting back into Africa. I’m really excited about that. With this business, one of the first airlines we had was in Africa, so it’s going back to where we started, which is quite exciting. Ethiopian Airlines is the largest airline on Africa and we’re launching a new magazine, which will come out this month. And that will get bigger and bigger next year.

We have a few more airlines on the backburner ready to come over to our stables. We are now going into airlines and doing so much more than just magazines. We do partnerships; we bring brands to vend to help them grow. We just launched a new program called “Clubhouse TV,” which is a dedicated channel for airlines to have their own TV network within the clubhouse, which is starting really well.

We’ve just acquired ReachTV, which is the fastest growing airport network and is available at 90 airports in the U.S., and we’re going to grow that across the rest of the world. So, I have things that I need to do, and I promise you that we won’t slow down. If you’re talking to me around New Years’ time, and you ask me have I achieved all those things that I set out to do, I think the answer will be a resounding yes, because I’m bringing in even more coaches, even more trainers. people who are going to help my people get better. One that I am quite proud to have added is a young lady who is an Ultraman, she participates in Ultraman races, which is 520 km over three days. And she beats the guys at it. So, she has the most incredible mindset. And if I can get her to share that mindset with the people here, dealing with the old naysayers won’t be a problem anymore.

Samir Husni: As Thanksgiving approaches, I see on your website that you have a turkey made out of dollars, will you be having a financially bountiful Thanksgiving?

Simon Leslie: I think we’ve had records in about a dozen titles and that’s not records for this year, that’s the best ever. I have to say, we’re not seeing a downturn, if anything we’re seeing optimism. Our U.S. operation is up 24 percent from last year. The problem with that is, next year we’ll expect that again, but we keep doing it, we keep finding growth. And what’s exciting about the growth is that we’re helping companies at the same time reach new customers that they weren’t reaching.

People were spending a lot of money on digital and it’s getting harder and harder to get anything set, the noise is so loud. And for you to be able to understand that with all of the different changes and all the algorithms, sometimes something as simple as having a magazine on an airplane is rendering sharper returns than where they’ve been over the last couple of years.

Samir Husni: What makes you tick and click these days and motivates you to get out of bed in the mornings?

Simon Leslie: I’m getting more and more excited by watching the team grow, I’ve seen them develop. The pace that we are seeing some of the youngsters come through at is just incredible. They’re 19, 20, 25, 30 years old and they’re just doing things that even they didn’t believe were possible for them to achieve. And we’re just excited by that. Every time we have success, we also have some that don’t succeed, but we’re doing more and more to improve our ratio of making them absolutely great salespeople, with great customers.

And it’s really important that we’re spending time making sure that they understand what the customer needs and wants, because sometimes they don’t always know what they need and want, but we give them good advice, which doesn’t mean they always take it, but we’re getting better and better at understanding what brands need to do.

Samir Husni: Since you clipped that ad in the Sunday Times those years ago, did you ever think you would not only become a salesperson, but also a motivational speaker, writer and author?

Simon Leslie: Some days, as you may have seen in the book, I have to pinch myself to actually believe what I’m allowed to do, what I’m making happen, and it’s incredibly rewarding.

Samir Husni: What’s the biggest misconception you think people have about you?

Simon Leslie: You tell me.

Samir Husni: (Laughs)

Simon Leslie: I only see positive; I don’t worry about what people say about me, everyone is entitled to their opinion. (Laughs) When I started out, people said I’d be bankrupt, and I use those statements from my younger years to motivate me, I was going to prove them wrong. In the last 10 years, how many times has someone told us that print was going to die, that there is no place for print and they’re wrong. And they’ll continue to be wrong.

Samir Husni: If I showed up unexpectedly at your home one evening after work, what would I find you doing? Having a glass of wine; reading a magazine; cooking; or something else? How do you unwind?

Simon Leslie: You’ll probably listen to a podcast with me. You’ll find me with my earphones in and working on my brain, working on my knowledge, working at how I can learn to get better, and relaxing, I do meditation. It’s really important to me to give my family time as well, so I’m making sure that I’m sharing my knowledge with them and that we’re all growing together. I’m the father of four boys and I’m incredibly proud of the way they’re all developing. And that’s good, because for a long time I was an absent father, but I’m very proud of them.

Samir Husni: My typical last question; what keeps you up at night?

Simon Leslie: Normally indigestion. (Laughs) No, it’s very rare that I get up at night, I sleep really well.

Samir Husni: Thank you.

2 comments

  1. […] have stopped believing in their product, they have stopped loving their product,” he said in an interview with Samir “Mr. Magazine” Husni. “They have listened to what the naysayers have told them, as opposed to believing in why they […]


  2. […] Courtesy of Mr. Magazine – https://mrmagazine.wordpress.com/2019/10/21/inks-cofounder-co-ceo-simon-leslie-to-samir-mr-magazine-… […]



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