Justin North: Man of many ties
We live in such an impassioned world and, especially with the rise of social media, it's easier than ever for people to feel passionate about something, share their thoughts and, from that, gain a following and support for their cause.
This month, we were lucky enough to interview the incredible Justin North about how he has created a buzz and built a movement through his business, Janders Dean!
We also thought now would be the perfect time to show off Justin's wonderful polaroid photo from Farillio's party the other week! He definitely had one of the best poses of the whole party 🤣
Read on to learn more about how he started, how he built a buzz and maintained a positive movement both online and offline.
It’s one thing to have a passion but another entirely to take that passion and inspire others to carry it further with you and join you on the journey. You've obviously succeeded in this, so could you tell us about the movement you started and how you created a buzz around it?
We provide advice to the world’s largest law firms and most complex in-house corporate legal teams in the areas of technology adoption, knowledge management, and curiosity cultures.
Creating a buzz amongst a community of lawyers can be difficult. They’re not necessarily known for their sense of humour, their groupie culture, their tolerance of management or change consultants – and they are often seen as being far too serious for their own good.
We started around 13 years ago and have been having fun and cracking on ever since.
We’ve been fortunate to build a community of clients and friends around our brand and we put this down primarily to having fun, being slightly provocative when it’s called for, and generally just ensuring that no one takes life too seriously.
The most important thing for us was to maintain an approachable and personable brand that shows a human side. We bring that into our face-to-face interactions, our online interactions, our client events, and even our email footers.
We deliberately avoid creating thought leadership pieces, rarely contribute articles or opinions to industry trade press, and instead try to have human conversations with – you guessed it – other humans.
We found that our community of contacts craved human connections and a break from the banality of those who took themselves too seriously.
What are the factors that you believe made the movement such a success?
Honesty, and a belief that we shouldn’t kowtow to false idols in the market, or the legacy ways of working just because the old guard doesn’t want to face their irrelevance.
In addition to this, a movement requires patience coupled with discipline and selflessness. Patience to build trust, and patience to see fads come and go. Discipline to stand up for your beliefs and your positions over and above an echo chamber emerging. Selflessness to not be at the centre of the movement personally. You need to give voices to all, lift others, and stand aside to allow the community to thrive on its own. The movement should be able to live without you.
What did you need to get started?
We started our journey in Las Vegas one morning thirteen years ago – with a hangover. That always helps, as you don’t have the focus to think about all the things that could go wrong.
We genuinely started with nothing but a true belief that we could help the firms we were targeting as clients, and a partner who believed in us, kept us focused, and acted as our bullshit filter.
Success is entirely different depending on the person and on the journey that they're on, and often changes over time. But what does success look like for you?
Everyone measures success differently, and that’s OK.
When we started 13 years ago, we had (and still have) a founding principle that greed will kill our company – whether it be financial greed or brand ego greed – simply because we wanted to be a team originally focused on high-quality deliverables for a small number of awesome clients.
Success to us is simple – happy clients with whom you can build genuine personal relationships and clients who return.
What would be your advice for others wanting to do the same as you and start a movement?
Don’t make it about yourself. If you want to be part of starting something amazing, be selfless, champion others, and be genuine - don’t seek personal brand recognition. An intelligent market sees the transparency in those that seek to lift their own personal brand for their own personal gain. Brand recognition will come naturally from the market when you consistently deliver quality products and services.
A network that brings their hearts and minds along with you must be the goal when you are starting out, people that feel as passionately as you do and help to carry your idea.
How important do you believe a strong network and community is to be able to achieve what you have?
A network is obviously critical and can take years or decades to build if it is being built on trust. Many people underestimate the power of a trusted network and instead believe that a powerful network is a large network. It simply isn’t true. We would rather have a small network of trusted peers, than a large network of relative strangers.
Social media plays such a big role in the movements of today, even with something as simple as a hashtag you can spread a message. What role do you think social media plays in the growth of a movement?
Well, #weloveourclients and those who we regularly see embrace the awesomeness of @jandersdean or #JDHorizons – particularly those in #LegalTech and #LegalInnovation who want to #BringBackBoring or those who join us as we seek to bring about the #DeathOfDirectories.
Does that help?
In all seriousness, it plays a massive role in giving smaller brands the same platform as larger ones, but we often see it consume some people and their efforts to be heard.
Moreover, your voice and brand can often be lost in the increasing online population. Ultimate, it is only one of many vehicles through which your voice can be heard, and where your brand and your culture can be expressed. Nothing can replace the in-person passion of a founder or team member speaking face to face though.
Then following on from that, how do you ensure that the community will move with you – not only online but offline too. For example when you release a book or hold an event, how can you drum up support and intrigue?
Life for us is about human connections first and foremost. Human relationships are the most critical part of your business. Switch off and spend time listening to clients and others. You’ll hear so much more, and pick up on the things that they value – when you understand what they value and you find an area where your values and passions align, you can then build your work, your relationship, and your campaigns around these so that clients are more likely to engage.
On events, anyone can do an average event. It takes humility and bravery to do an awesome event. We believe that to pull off an awesome event, you need to make it all about the attendees and zero percent about yourself. When you have that mindset, you’re 100% in the shoes of your delegates’ experience when you’re planning it. Trust us – they’ll love you for it.
What has been the biggest challenge since you started, and how have you overcome it?
One of our biggest challenges has been the lack of sleep. Our clients are spread across multiple time zones and it means we’ve had to keep strange hours. Add to that the constant travel away from home, and the greatest challenge becomes a work/life balance one. We have an unhealthy passion for our clients, our work, and our brand, but sometimes you need to be disciplined and leave all this at the door when you come home.
People often say competition. Competitors come and go, some good ones stay around. You should reach out and befriend them. There’s nothing better than building a friendship, and sharing dinner and a genuine laugh with someone who the market believes is a competitor. It puts the world in perspective and reminds you that we’re all human.
Lastly, it would be incredible to do something like this for the passion alone – but, at the end of the day, you have to make money to be able to fund the movement so that you can keep it going. How do you monetise the idea or fundraise around it to aid in its growth and journey?
We understand that passion doesn’t always pay and, for us, we need to bring equal portions of passion and proficiency to our client work.
Our revenue is almost exclusively from consultancy services – helping firms realise their transformation potential, and acting as their Sherpa along the way. A services business like ours is different to many others as it means our cost base is relatively low.
We’ve been extremely fortunate in that we’ve never taken on debt or investment to fund our business. We’ve had over a decade of constant work and revenue from day one, and not a day has passed in that time when we’ve not had a live project.
Part of this is down to the size and scale of our market – there are always firms eager to improve. Part of it also centres on our philosophy of having our clients be our sales force. Our work comes in from client referrals – where an existing client tells one of their peers about the work we do. The rest comes from repeat business from existing clients.
Ultimately, do shit-hot work, love your clients, be deliverables focused, and understand the value proposition you bring. If that doesn’t work and you still need the funds, put a tenner on horse nine in race three at Ascot.
Thank you so much to Justin for giving us such wonderful answers and a really great insight into not only his business but into creating a movement from it. Hopefully reading this blog has helped inspire you to create a movement of your own – be sure to let us know what you think, we'd love to know!