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Secrets of Success: Cat David MacLeod

There are some “rules” of business success most entrepreneurs abide by. But many also have their own “secrets”—things they do or believe that helped them achieve success. In “Secrets of Success,” a weekly interview series here at’s Small Business Forum, I ask some of today’s smartest, most innovative, most successful business owners to share their insights and success secrets with you.

Meet: Cat David MacLeod, the founder and CEO of Leod Motorcycle Escapes, which specializes in motorcycle tours that give clients the opportunity to ride on famous racing circuits all over the world.

He’s an avid marketing theorist with particular interest in consumer behavior and subconscious decision theory. He’s worked in the travel industry for 10 years and the power sports industry for 15 years—with experience in information technology and marketing promotion.

Cat’s passport is well worn and he can convince anyone in five minutes that they need to travel more—and they should do it on two wheels.

You can find him on Twitter @LeodEscapes.

Rieva Lesonsky: What did you want to be when you grew up?

Cat MacLeod: An international business hero–someone who was a source of inspiration to others.

Lesonsky: Why did you start your own business?

MacLeod: I wish I could say something inspiring but to be honest the employment market is not really viable anymore for Gen X people with significant education and experience. That said, the business I chose to start is a reflection of what I know best and what I wanted to achieve. I know the travel business, I know the motorcycle business and I desire to add meaning to people’s lives through amazing experiences.

Lesonsky: Did you experience a pivotal moment on your way to success?

MacLeod: Starting your own business is similar to building a rebel ship and piloting it at the same time...while it’s on fire! So I measure success one day at a time.

A turning point for us was when I decided we could not survive as a business by following. We had to lead by offering something nobody else did. When we did that, it defined our brand—and also changed our strategies. The “best practices” that worked for our competitors wouldn’t be guaranteed to work for us. When you are in uncharted territory you can’t succeed by looking over your shoulder at your competitors. You can take broad inspiration from other pioneers, but to stay ahead of your competition you need to keep your eyes forward. Never mind the guys on your tail. Focus on your future. If you plot your course cleverly, your competition will never be able to keep up.

Lesonsky: What’s the best small business advice you ever gave and/or received?

MacLeod: People are not rational creatures. They make decisions based on emotion so good relationships are key. When you are a small business owner trying to survive you need the goodwill of others. You cannot get people to be interested in your success unless you are interested in theirs. I always ask my contacts, “What do you need so I can keep an eye out for you?” A reference, a job, some advice, a fresh perspective with your contacts’ concerns at the center can make all the difference. Just showing an interest in their needs alone can shift you from being a contact to an ally. There are people in my industry that actively help me out simply because I care about their needs as well. The goodwill of those in your working environment can save you thousands of dollars and open up opportunities that would otherwise be closed to you.

Lesonsky: What’s one “best practice” more entrepreneurs should be embracing?

MacLeod: Select your vendors by attitude and size, not just capability. Your small business is not going to succeed by depending only on large vendors to serve your needs. As a small or midsized company you thrive on your flexibility and ability to innovate. These are things large companies do not do well. So chose your vendor partners like you would an ally. You need allies that think like you and have similar abilities and needs.

My favorite example is bank services. Particularly in the U.S., large American banks do not serve your business. They thrive on increasing efficiency through standardization, minimizing risk and maximizing short-term revenue. That means it’s not in their interests to flexibly work with you but rather to charge you as much as possible in the short term.

So wherever possible, use the services of midsized innovators. My favorite example is TransferWise. The nature of my business means I do a lot of international payments in different currencies. True to their nature big banks will charge you exorbitant fees for this. Whether by credit card or wire transfer banks will tack on additional fees and cheat you on the exchange rate. TransferWise cleverly does low cost wire transfers at the market exchange rate by dynamically matching the currency exchange needs of their many small customers. This does more than save my business thousands of dollars. By using their services I’m part of the solution rather than feeding money to the problem. When you use the services of a business with the same size and mindset as yours, you are helping an ally pursue their dream while you pursue yours.

Lesonsky: Do you have a prediction for small business?

MacLeod: As larger businesses become more and more risk averse they will seek to squash small businesses rather than innovate themselves. Only by innovating and outmaneuvering the skittish giants and allying your business with likeminded partners, clients and vendors can you survive. You can’t do battle with a giant head-to-head but you can go around them and trip them up as they try to chase you.

Lesonsky: What’s your favorite book?

MacLeod: For the purpose of this forum, Malcom Gladwell’s Outliers.

Lesonsky: Is there a quote you find particularly inspiring?

MacLeod: “We’ve done the impossible...and that makes us mighty.”—Malcolm Reynolds, Captain of Firefly Transport ship Serenity

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Rieva Lesonsky

Rieva Lesonsky is CEO of GrowBiz Media, a media and custom content company focusing on small business and entrepreneurship. Email Rieva at [email protected], follow her on Google+ and, and visit her website,, to get the scoop on business trends and sign up for Rieva’s free TrendCast reports.