I don’t know about you, but I love podcasts. Especially ones with a great story! Podcasts are a great way to get inspired, as you can listen to inspiring and fascinating conversations anywhere you are, on your commute, while prepping dinner, or during your workout at the gym.
I have found some amazing interviews where successful women are interviewed about how they got to where they are today.
Second Life is an interview style podcast where highly successful female entrepreneurs talk about how they changed careers to get to where they are today.
They give a really honest account that includes setbacks, overcoming weaknesses, and how they deal with challenges.
Notable guests include Reese Witherspoon, Cindy Crawford, Angelica Nwandu, and looooaaddddds more
I am delighted to announce that in the next couple of weeks, I will be putting together the next series of articles, following an exclusive interview with the sisters that started Cultureville, an online clothing store that celebrates the colour and vibrancy of their African Heritage.
Jane and Adeola have worked with Entrepreneur Anita Frost and the Curricula & Co team to get their exciting new business to where it is today. I can’t wait to hear more of their story, how they got to where they are now, and where they plan to take things in the future.
To find out about the great stuff they do, head over to their website…
The final part of the exclusive Dirt Factory interview is here! Dan Makin, the director and founder of the up and coming indoor BMX and mountain biking facility, tells us all about his bigger vision, and how he and his team are planning to get their plans off the ground. Bursting with inspiration and practical business tips, this is a great read!
Dan Makin has a huge vision for how he wants Dirt Factory to grow and develop in the future. Though he was clearly proud of what himself and the team had created already, he was very clear that this dirt track and indoor facility is only a small reflection of what they want it to become.
After the contract for the warehouse was signed with U and I, the innovative and community-focused property developer of the derelict Mayfield depot and its surrounding area, the guys started to get their hands dirty - literally.
At this point, Dan told me that he had previously worked in construction management before taking on Dirt Factory, so he was familiar with the planning and building process from his time working on construction sites. His friend and fellow director, Mark, is a professional bike trail builder - this is what he does for a living. They got together and put pen to paper. Dan did the original draft of the design plan, and ran it by Mark and Gary, another member of the team. Dan’s role was to manage the execution and delivery of the project as a whole, but everyone worked beautifully together as a team, each person bringing his unique talents and personality into it. Once the plan was underway, the dirt started to get delivered. Dan pointed to where the first truckload of dirt was dumped - clearly that was a really special moment for him. They hired a load of excavators and diggers for the job. With this building equipment, and a team of five men, they cracked on!
“We are bikers”, Dan explained, “but a big part of biking is the trail building. This is what we love to do - shaping dirt, building ramps and trails. I always say it’s an art form, like sculpting. There’s a bit of science behind it as well, making sure it’s safe, and not gonna start eroding - that it rides well, and is aesthetically pleasing to the eye as well”.
Really, this is a mixture of architecture, construction work, and landscape gardening! It definitely looks like it would be a super fun ride, and I’ve not been on a bike for years! I could see a guy riding around the trails on a mountain bike - almost as if he had been deliberately placed there to demonstrate how smooth and fun a ride it was! He looked like he was having an awesome time, as he seemed to have the whole place to himself.
As mentioned in Part 2, Dirt Factory is helping the local community in loads of great ways, especially young people.
“It’s a simple formula”, Dan said, “We are providing a fun activity, so people are exercising without realising it. They are having fun, but they are getting fitter, and it stimulates the brain by producing endorphines, which can be a real help for people who have issues with anxiety and things like that. People want to come back again. It’s good for socialising - people make friends here. If you keep coming back again and again, you eventually start talking to people, whether that’s fellow riders, staff members...of course, it doesn’t work for everyone, but we’re seeing some good results.
“We have a regular group from a company called Raise the Youth, an alternative education provider for 13 to 16 year olds who are from a challenging background. They use Dirt Factory to get young people active, help them with their achievement in the classroom, and help to grow some better life skills. We get some really good testimonials from them, as well as schools. It’s very rewarding to hear that it’s putting smiles on people’s faces, and hearing that people have learnt a new thing, made a new friend...whatever it is, it seems to be working, in terms of building people’s confidence up. We set out to build a community - It feels like we’re making inroads, anyway”.
With this current premises being just a rental contract, they want to find a permanent home for Dirt Factory - one that’s bigger, and has enough room to build the full range of design features that the team have in mind. A big challenge that came with not having enough room for all the design features they wanted, and what customers wanted, was deciding what it was they were going to include in the space they had. They decided that they wanted to find a balance of making it suitable for people at all levels taking special care not to make beginners feel too alienated by making the tracks and ramps too extreme.
Ultimately, the team are looking for a space three times bigger than this warehouse they are in now. It is 25,000 square feet, and they need one that is 75,000 square feet.
Dan said that this would allow them to have longer flow-style trails with longer and “mellower” descents, as well as a greater variety of jumps and ramps. At the moment, they have four jumps, but they would really love to have about eight or nine! They want more technical and challenging features such as rocks, and specially built wooden features. They also want to build a bigger drop for people to jump off onto the airbag. What they have now is great for people to practice on, and have that safe and soft landing, but they want a drop that is 2-3 metres high. Most people are not professional stuntmen, so this would give them that exhilirating experience, but with the soft landing. A bigger and more specialised skill-building area with lower level features aimed at children and beginners would be great. They have a kid’s area already, but of course, they want it to be bigger and better.
Dan is not someone who wants to rest on his laurels - he has a clear vision of what he wants, and he will not stop pushing forward until he gets there. This is a great quality to have, and is very inspiring to see.
I asked him what were the best things for him personally about managing this project to this point. First on his list was the build process itself. “Long hours, but I loved it!” Secondly, it’s the feedback from kids and their parents.
“Cheers me up every time”, he said. “The other week, a mum said her son showed her this place after he had come down. He said he thinks it’s the sickest place ever, and will be back next weekend! Another parent - now, this is interesting in terms of the social angle - said she noticed a change in her son’s behaviour. That one really stuck with me. It makes a lot of sense. He was on the computer all the time, not eating, or drinking regularly, constantly focused on the screen. He would get a bit cranky, moody, snarky...since he’s been coming here, she’s noticed a distinct change in his behaviour. That probably comes from the science behind releasing endorphines and that. Now, I’m not a blinkin’ scientist, but that was really interesting. Any feedback like that puts a smile on my face!”
Though it was his favourite part, Dan said that the biggest challenge of the whole thing was the designing and the build. They needed to get the design absolutely right for what they wanted, while sticking to a very strict budget. They raised around £431,000 on crowd-funding platform Crowdcube, but this was reduced to £401,000, as Crowdcube charges a fee for their services. The tight budget, coupled with their bigger vision meant that upcycling was the way forward for Dirt Factory. The bit that stunned me was that this whole awesome setup was put together mainly by Dan and the guys, plus anyone they could call on to get stuck in.
It was extremely tiring, Dan admitted. He would often leave the site at 2am in the morning, and have an hour to travel to get home. As well as this, he and his partner have two very small children, aged just 2 and 4 months.
“We were having our second baby during the build, so my hands were full. I have to say, my other half deserves a lot of the credit, as she was there at home, looking after a small kid, and pregnant. Lots of big changes in family and work. Don’t know how I did it, I just cracked on…”
Dan and his fellow founders, as well as the project itself, built their team from scratch as well. They put together their own recruitment process (my ears pricked up here, as I used to work in recruitment as a day job). They did it all in house, with no real HR experience. They did a lot of research, and got plenty of good advice from people in their professional network. It took quite a bit of time to build that process, which included sending out applications, interviewing, and inviting back for second rounds. It took a long time, but it was all worth it, because they have found the right people they need to build the solid, top quality team they have today. Right now, the team is made up of an Operations Manager, a bike shop Supervisor, and three Operations Assistants (including Dan’s made Ben, who I met in the first part of the article series) as well as three casual part timers. There are 4 full time members of staff, including Dan himself. As teams go, this is a relatively small one. For the interviews, they had a panel of three. There was a formal interview to start with, followed by more practical tests and scoring criteria that showed them who was the pick of the bunch.
“Contracts and staff handbooks can be a bit of a minefield”, Dan said, referring to the more legal and technical sides of HR. “I spoke with Lindsey Bell from Peach Law, who shed a lot of light on that. We also did our own research, and worked with our 550 shareholders from Crowdcube. All of it, we did inhouse”.
Crowd funding is a really good way for new entrepreneurs to raise funds. The idea is that you pitch your business plan, and it goes out to a really wide network of people, as well as the wider public. Dan recommends getting your pitch out to as many people as possible. The most important thing to keep in mind, is making sure your pitch is well developed and watertight, before you press the big red button to go live. People can contribute as much or as little money as they like, even as little as £10! The great thing is that everyone who donates will get an equity share in the business.
Getting ready to go again for the next big goal for Dirt Factory, Dan and the gang are going to continue to use crown funding. It’s worked for them before, and with the great track record they have built up in recent years, they plan to build up a bigger and better plan to pitch to bigger stakeholders, such as borough councils, and Sports England, for example, to justify why they need a bigger facility.
Right now, the biggest task the team have is to capture all the feedback from the positive work they are doing - to collect all the fantastic stories and reviews from individual customers like the mum who saw an improvement in her son’s behaviour, and turn it into solid data. That, and things like visitor numbers, demographics, and trends. They want to find out things such as what motivates people to keep coming back, how they felt before and after they came, whether or not they have been biking before…
“If we don’t capture all this data, we will miss opportunities”, Dan explained. “We have a brand new website, and are working on getting CRM software, so when people tell us this stuff, we can get it on record. The CRM system will be up and running by September. This will allow us to get feedback forms out to capture the nitty gritty so we can use it. Nobody is really gonna take my word for it that the kid’s mum said that stuff - we need evidence.
“This is my main job over the next two years”, Dan laughed. “Shovels down, laptop out!”
Dirt Factory have graduated successfully from Curricula and Co’s Entrepreneur Academy, and Dan said that he credits Director Anita Frost with getting his business and project off the starting blocks. Her work, and the work of Entrepreneur Academy have been the catalyst to their growth and success, and he expressed great appreciation for the mentoring that Anita provided, which helped him in so many ways.
“Next time you see Anita”, he told me, “pass on my thanks and my regards to her”.
Doing this interview, from the tour, to the writing of it, has been an absolute joy. There’s so much to take away, from an inspiration point of view, to the practical wisdom of things like tapping into the network that’s all around you, leveraging the positive feedback of your customers, and how to crowd fund effectively. The pride Dan and his team have in their project as it is now is quite something - but so is their drive to expand. They are down to earth people, who understand that starting and sustaining a business is all about cracking on, and not being afraid to get your hands dirty. If you are prepared to work super hard, be resourceful, and roll with the punches, you can go far. And these guys are a great example of what that can look like in practice.
Find out more about Dirt Factory on their awesome new website!
Who doesn’t enjoy a trip to Ikea?
Even if you don’t need to buy anything specific, it’s a fantastic day out, getting lost in all the expertly designed rooms, and trying out all the cushions and bouncy chairs. Their cafe is awesome as well - you have not properly experienced Ikea until you have tasted their Swedish meatballs!
Ikea are famous around the world for their clean and functional interior design that is accessible to everyone. They have found the balance of being practical, but attractive and homely.
CEO Jesper Brodin has worked for the popular furniture retail company for decades, starting back in 1995 as Purchasing Manager for Ikea Pakistan. 2 years later, Brodin moved on to become Regional Purchase Manager for South East Asia, as well as Assistant to the current CEO, Anders Dahlvig.
Over the following years, Brodin held various management roles in the supply business areas, eventually becoming the MD of Ikea in Sweden, before finally becoming CEO of the Ikea company in 2017.
Check out this video interview with Brodin, as he shares his future plans for Ikea.
Watch Morrison’s entire remarks on freedom of expression and the role of the writer from 2008.In addition to her work as a writer, Morrison was also a teacher, editor, and mentor. In 2014, she told NEA Arts Magazine about writing guidance she once gave her students.
“When I taught creative writing at Princeton, [my students] had been told all of their lives to write what they knew. I always began the course by saying, ‘Don’t pay any attention to that.’ First, because you don’t know anything and second, because I don’t want to hear about your true love and your mama and your papa and your friends,” she said. “Think of somebody you don’t know. What about a Mexican waitress in the Rio Grande who can barely speak English? Or what about a Grande Madame in Paris?
Things way outside their camp. Imagine it, create it. Don’t record and editorialize on some event that you’ve already lived through. I was always amazed at how effective that was. They were always out of the box when they were given license to imagine something wholly outside their existence. I thought it was a good training for them. Even if they ended up just writing an autobiography, at least they could relate to themselves as strangers.”
Morrison died August 5, 2019, at the age of 88.
You wanna fly, you got to give up the shit that weighs you down.
Chloe Anthony Wofford "Toni" Morrison was an American novelist, essayist, editor, teacher, and professor emeritus at Princeton University. Her first novel, The Bluest Eye, was published in 1970. The critically acclaimed Song of Solomon brought her national attention and won the National Book Critics Circle Award.
If you surrendered to the air, you could ride it.
The Toni Morrison Society was founded May 28, 1993, at the annual meeting of the American Literature Association in Baltimore, Maryland. At the invitation of Carolyn Denard, then an Associate Professor of English at Georgia State University, twenty-six scholars and supporters of Morrison's work met in Baltimore to establish the Toni Morrison Society as an official member of the coalition of American author societies that comprise the American Literature Association. With its founding, the Toni Morrison Society became the 41st author society of the Association and the fourth dedicated to an African American author.
Five months after the founding of the Society, Toni Morrison won the 1993 Nobel Prize for Literature. With the increased interest in Morrison's works after she won the Nobel Prize, the Society quickly grew from a small body of devoted Morrison scholars in the United States to an international literary society of more than 600 members, whose home countries include Japan, Kenya, Ghana, Egypt, France, England, Germany, China, Canada, Mexico, Brazil, and Australia. The Advisory Board is made up of leading individuals in the academic, art, business, and lay communities who support and wish to enhance the mission of the Society. In 1995, the Society was incorporated and chartered in the state of Georgia. In 1997, the Society became a registered, non-profit 501(c)(3) organization.
Social Impact, collaboration, and sustainability
I was amazed to hear about some more of the great ways Dirt Factory is teaming up with the local community to make their new place the best it can be, and generate new income streams, while also giving back to the area and the environment.
In the area outside, where the portable pump track is kept, were piles of old bikes in various states of disrepair. I was curious as to where these had all come from, and what they were doing there. Turns out, these old bikes are a lot more useful than they look!
Dan explained that they had been donated by Greater Manchester Police. At police stations, they have heaps and heaps of stolen and missing bikes that could not be traced back to their original owners, so were just sitting there not being used, taking up a lot of valuable space at police stations. Greater Manchester is a big place - thousands of bikes go missing or get stolen every year, so you could imagine the sheer volume of bikes that end up at police stations is unreal!
The Dirt Factory guys run workshops for the public - kids and adults - where they strip down the bikes, and people have the chance to get creative with the parts, and make their own ornaments and art pieces. People of all ages are welcome, and it’s absolutely free! “The idea is”, Dan explained, “is that you don’t use any tools; just the bike parts and your hands”.
They have plans for another project, due to start in a month. This is called Build a Bike. The idea is that people can come along, and restore one of those bikes donated by the police with help from the mechanics employed by Dirt Factory. Once the bike is up and running, they get to take it home as their very own!
As it turns out, the decoration I had seen on the way in, with the plant pots and the bike parts, was the result of one of these workshops! I found out later that the plan for this is for the plants to grow up and around all the bike parts in time, which will look even better than it does already. Dan showed me some more of the crazy things people had been making...the first thing I saw was something that looked like it had 4 legs and a head. “This is supposed to be a horse”, he explained.
On one of the steep inclines next to one of the dirt tracks inside, were things that looked a bit like faces - all made out of old tyres, and chains and bolts. This had been someone’s creation at one of the workshops. One young boy and his mother had worked together to build a big flower. They had wrapped fairy lights around it, and it still worked. Dan switched it on, and it looked amazing. I would love that as a lamp in my sitting room!
The whole area had so many of these quirky and characterful sculptures and pieces of bike art scattered around in various places. There was loads more to discover, by looking around.
Dan pointed out the real trees and plants dotted around. These, like the bikes, had started out in a bad state of disrepair, and had been given a second chance, once they had been donated by Mayfield, a building company.
So that was the outcome of the last 12-odd months. But how did it all start?
Dan explained the backstory, and how it has all come together…
U and I are a unique property developer focussed on regeneration of run-down areas, particularly in the biggest cities. They have taken on the task of regenerating the whole area where the Dirt Factory premesis is located - And Dirt Factory is part of that project. The old Mayfield Depot, and the surrounding area has been derelict and abandoned for over 30 years. The 24 acre area is set to create around 10,000 new jobs, as it becomes office, commercial, retail and leisure space, becoming a brand new neighbourhood for the people. The whole thing is worth £1.1 billion, and is a 15-year scheme.
A year passed by after that initial conversation took place before they took things any further. When Dirt Factory got back in touch with the development company, they broached the possibility of Dirt Factory potentially using one of the smaller warehouses to build a Dirt Factory Pop-up. Of course, their main mission is still to achieve something on a far bigger scale than what I had just been shown around, but they decided that for the time being, they would need to consider doing something on a significantly smaller scale. After seeing this warehouse space, Dan and the crew pitched their idea to Mayfield and U and I, explaining their vision in detail, how it would look and how it would work, the kinds of audiences it would appeal to, etc...they liked the idea and agreed to let them carry out the plan!
“We cracked on as soon as we could with building the thing, and here we are now!” Dan said proudly, with a huge smile on his face. He stressed the point that this is a mini Dirt Factory, and is only a small picture of what he wants it to become - They are currently a tenant of the warehouse, and have signed a 2 year contract. This is the reason they refer to it as a pop-up. This is a temporary thing, until they are in a position to scale up towards their bigger goal.
Dan had great things to say about U and I as a developer. They are quite different to most property development companies - They are highly creative and innovative, and passionate about bringing ideas to life. He felt that his idea had been properly listened to and taken seriously. This is so refreshing, to hear that big businesses can have people at the heart of what they do, and celebrate the creativity of the people around them. This is the kind of culture that makes Manchester a great place to live and work, and these are the kind of values I would like to build my own career on in future.
Dirt Factory share the space with an eclectic bunch of other tenants, including Easy Peel, a collective of craftspeople who make art installations, Underway, a group of makers who do all kinds of cool stuff like pottery, art work, printing, and run free workshops for the community, and Grub, who sell all kinds of street food and drinks.
From a social point of view, Dirt Factory’s focus is on encouraging activity, getting more people on bikes, getting people fitter, increasing their general wellbeing, and going some way towards tackling some of the issues we face in modern society, such as obesity, mental health, and even crime. It gives young people something fun and constructive to get involved with, increasing their confidence, and hopefully helping them to move in a better direction.
Find out more about what Dirt Factory do, and why they are awesome, have a look at their website:
For more information about what U and I are doing at Mayfield, check out their website.