Why the Obstacle is actually the Opportunity, Bill Gates' autonomous London trip and what's your Strategy For Success?

Why the Obstacle is actually the Opportunity, Bill Gates' autonomous London trip and what's your Strategy For Success?
Walking into the unkown during a summer blizzard in the high Alps, 2017
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:: Five ways to bounce back stronger from your worst days in business ::‌‌

When you’re running a company, bad things happen.

And for a founder, these challenging moments can feel like the end of the world.

Shows being cancelled just before they air, team members having breakdowns, a colleague stealing our hard-won money - these were all part of my journey as an entrepreneur.

But, what if I told you that these traumas could be the best thing that could happen to your business?

Think about how big companies deal with crises.‌‌

Back in 2012, Danish Oil and Natural Gas were on a knife edge. They found themselves in a market slump that saw the price of natural gas crash by 90%.

But instead of digging in and waiting for the market to change, they used this moment as a huge wake-up call.


  1. Hired a CEO from LEGO (outside the petrochemical industry)
  2. Renamed their business
  3. Used the moment “…to be one of the first to go from black to green energy.”

This repositioned the business in clear water - as a force for the future, rather than one clinging onto the past.

I had a similar moment when we were a growing digital company back in the early 2010s.

At the time we were licensing content on behalf of many freelance photographers.

And we had built up a really exciting roster of top news and features contributors.

But one day, one of our most prolific stars walked in and sat down in my office.

He explained that despite enjoying working with us, he was leaving.

He said he could see that more established businesses were selling many more images for more money than we were.

And he needed to get the best returns from his hard work.

So he was leaving, effective immediately.

I accepted his decision as bravely as I could.

But afterwards, I was pretty heartbroken.

It felt like all the hard work over the previous decade - building from nothing to representing the best of the best - was beginning to crumble.

But being rejected was the best thing that could have happened.‌‌

It forced me to confront some home truths.

  1. We weren’t good enough at photo licensing to retain top talent
  2. We didn’t offer an upgrade for photographers on the legacy companies that had already reached scale in this industry
  3. We needed to pivot to creating and owning video content, which was a wide-open growth opportunity, rather than backwards into digital photo licensing, which was in a decline.

We continued to work hard on optimising our photo business.

But I decided that our future growth lay in video and TV.

This pivot meant that we slowly grew into a top video company, whilst retaining our photo agency.‌‌

And in the end, it was becoming a #1 YouTube company and Netflix producer that helped me reach our objective of scaling and selling Barcroft Studios.

So, I’m really thankful for what happened that day.

It was a huge wake-up call to where the real opportunity lay for our team.

We turned an obstacle into an opportunity.

For experienced entrepreneurs, spotting problems becomes a superpower.

They actively seek out parts of an industry that aren’t fit for purpose.

Because they know that fixing these problems is the reason that entrepreneurs exist.

In technology especially, the best entrepreneurs actively seek out the hardest problems, as fixing these often offer the best rewards.

Fixing London's crazy traffic‌‌

London's roads have evolved over the last 2,000 years or so.

They were initially made for horses - then trams, until busses and cars came along.

This makes for a jumbled-up, often hair-raising travel experience.

When I was twelve, I nipped across a main road, late for my train to school.

Next thing I knew, I'd been run over by a motorcyclist who was overtaking down the outside of stationary traffic

So can technology make our streets safer?

Bill Gates is driven around London by a computer

It’s been said again and again that developing fully autonomous cars - vehicles that drive themselves without any input from humans - is almost impossible.

That makes it a great area for entrepreneurs to work in.

But how do you best prove your technology works?

Well - how about putting it through its paces in one of the most difficult environments possible?

And why not have one of the world's richest people in the passenger seat?

I cant imagine how the insurance company felt about that!

When I saw this video this week, it blew me away. Talk about taking on huge obstacles!!

By testing its technology in a super challenging environment, this company is demonstrating that it can cope with almost anything.

‌‌It is leaning into the obstacle, addressing the challenges head-on.

That develops instant trust with sceptics.

It is a marketing masterstroke.

Instead of a boring video shot on a test track, I was excited to see how their system would cope with the intensely tricky task of overtaking a cyclist on a busy London street.

And I’m sure by taking on the hardest driving challenge, they will build their product really quickly.

By tackling a hugely difficult problem, they are opening up a massive financial opportunity.‌‌

But, why don’t big companies succeed in launching new things like level 5 autonomous driving?

Because incumbent businesses just won’t try difficult new things - they are beholden to their responsibility to make as much money as they can for shareholders, and once they have worked out how to make money, they mostly just scale what already works.

Giant corporates are far more risk-averse, as they have much more to lose.

And most corporate executives are brilliant defenders of what they have already built, rather than the maverick entrepreneurs; creative playmakers who are natural risk takers.

So - my lessons learned in adversity have been:

  1. learn to get through challenging moments as gracefully and quickly as you can. They usually don’t last too long.
  2. To be brave enough to dissect what went wrong, and be humble about your shortcomings.
  3. Reassess your business and the wider marketplace and figure out if there is a pivot you can make that would render this problem obsolete if it ever happened again.
  4. Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater - it might be that a crisis is temporary, so take stock before making fundamental changes
  5. Think long-term, as this will likely be the best way to achieve your overall objective.

This type of philosophy is nothing new. Stoicism has its roots in writings from 2,000 years ago.  And if you haven’t read it,  The Obstacle Is The Way is a brilliant book all about how you can use the Stoic framework to overcome difficult challenges.

If Roman emperors could deal with the daily challenges of running an empire, avoiding assassination attempts, plague, rebellion and earthquakes - you can probably find your way through whatever crisis comes next.

Work with me to deliver your Strategy for Success‌‌

On stage earlier this year talking to creative business leaders at Barclays Bank HQ for GrowthLab

I spent 20 years building my media company before I sold it in 2019 and then bought a farm.

‌‌And now I love helping other people to supercharge their organisations.

Which is why I run Strategy for Success.

In this six-session program for leaders in the creative industries, I first help you to identify and set your Objective.

We then build out your unique Strategies and Tactics.

Next, we craft this into the inspiring Story of your business.

Finally, we work up the Plan, which sets out exactly what you’re going to do next.

There is nothing better than helping a leader organise their thoughts into an exciting Strategy For Success.

And remember - sometimes the best time to seek help is when things are really hard.

That's the ideal time to turn your obstacles into opportunities.

So - drop me a message and we can chat about how I can help you turn tough challenges into exciting new adventures!

Sam Barcroft

Sam Barcroft

Creative entrepreneur and strategist with over 30 years experience of building media businesses