Carl Gough, founder of meetmagic.org, knows all about struggle. In fact, he struggled to be “alive and safe” while growing up in a poor, disruptive and chaotic environment in Nottingham, England.

But kindness always ran through his veins, and he reveals how coming from a poor background and seeing struggle firsthand, made him realise someone was always worse off than him – so he helped where he could, and found innovative ways to survive.

“I used to babysit a prostitute’s three kids while she went to work to earn money to feed them. Being a broke 19-year-old father of a three-month old son in a council house with no electricity, can go one of two ways. I burnt clothes once in the back garden to heat up a bottle of milk to feed him.”

Today, the philanthropic business leader, shared these and other ‘raw and gritty’ insights with Stories Ink, while also revealing his main vision – To live in a world where every business meeting has a positive impact.

Already, milestones are being achieved. This year alone, meetmagic.org has connected hundreds of meetings and donated $600k, which helped over 15,000 sick kids. The organisation is also on track to capture 10 cities around the world, hosting 1,000 meetings each per month.

“I always felt that I could have a major impact on millions of people though, but I just didn’t know what or how that looked like.”

Stories Ink caught up with Gough to discuss why ‘giving inspires him,’ what makes him tick, and to reveal some other fun facts about the man on a mission to spend his time helping others.

Quick time frame of where you were born, raised, schooled. Tell us a bit about your: 

Birthplace/Upbringing/Childhood

I was born and raised in Nottingham, UK. The land of Robin Hood, and Sir William Booth, founder of the Salvation Army – two of my favourite heroes. I left home at 16.

Schooling

I went to school at Bramcote Hills, a comprehensive school but I left at 15 without completing a single exam.

Growing up, what did you want to be?

I never really had any dreams because life was quite traumatic early on. Lots of disruption and chaos. Growing up I just wanted to be alive and safe. I always felt that I could have a major impact on millions of people though, but I just didn’t know what or how that looked like.  

What were some of your first and most memorable jobs?

My first job was a paper round at 12; I got sacked for not cleaning a toilet at a butchers at 15, and joined a YTS scheme at 16 to learn to cook. Did okay at it actually. My last job was with Aruba, the wireless mob. I sold Westfield Shopping centres all of their Wi-Fi. So when you log on, think of me. 

How did your journey lead you to meetmagic.org? 

After 20 years in sales, I discovered that marketing budgets were being spent on lead generation tactics, such as conferences and roundtable lunches, I call them, ‘Snouts in the trough.’ The results were generally ordinary and most marketing teams were disappointed with the hit and miss results. I confirmed that with the Aruba marketing team. 

In my spare time, I was doing a few social projects: I brought 200 disadvantaged kids from Claymore to Bondi for a day of inspiration, which led to me being connected to and helping ‘Feel the Magic’ – a Children’s charity running grief camps. I discovered how hard it was for charities to raise money. Soon after I was introduced to The Growth Project – a leadership development course helping charities to scale. I asked Aruba to pay for the course, but they declined, so I spent my last $10,000 and joined myself. There were 10 charities and 10 business leaders on the course. All had the same complaint on fundraising. 

Can you tell us about the organisation – and your vision as its founder? 

For busy business leaders who are looking to be a little bit more philanthropic, we set up programs that allow that to happen through a regular business meeting. One recent example was a CTO we matched who got to mentor a client, which ended up solving a critical cyber security issue – a great meeting that also helped 18 seriously ill kids. He has done four of these since. 

This year alone, we’ve connected hundreds of meetings and become a Platinum Partner of Starlight, by donating almost $600k, which helped over 15,000 sick kids. We see a world where every business meeting has a positive impact. We’re heading towards 10 cities around the world hosting 1,000 meetings each per month.

You’re known as a benevolent person and ‘doing good’ for society – and you believe that companies should stand for something greater than what they sell. Can you explain how this sense of social responsibility defines you – and how it came to be? 

Am I? I didn’t know that, but being kind is all there is. Coming from a poor background and seeing struggle, there was always someone worse off than me. I used to babysit a prostitute’s three kids while she went to work to earn money to feed them. Being a broke 19-year-old father of a three-month old son in a council house with no electricity, can go one of two ways. I burnt clothes once in the back garden to heat up a bottle of milk to feed him. It forced me to fight hard to survive. Our council estate communities were always sharing food with those that never had much. Compassion isn’t about making someone feel good, it has to do with leading them to the truth, because that truth will liberate them. Kindness was there from the beginning, and I guess had a huge influence on me.

I’ve heard you say: “If not now, then when? When the forest’s nearly gone. When the hole’s in the ozone. When the bees are gone. When the ocean’s coming up. When the rain just won’t stop. When the fire’s burning. When the chance is gone. When someone else led the way?” Can you give us a glimpse into your thinking – and hope for the future? 

I think people tend to spend their time doing what’s important for themselves. Sometimes it might be distractions like Netflix, or social media, or focusing on family drama because they think it’s important. Time is always the same. How we choose to spend it is according to our values. I think it’s good to stop and have a look around. The world and the humans in it need help. 

For just 45 mins of your time, meeting someone new in business, enough money can be generated to plant 200 trees, feed 10 low income families, provide play therapy for 300 seriously ill children in hospital, or provide funding for critical child health research. If you don’t think the world needs help now, then when? 

Can you highlight some of your main achievements in your career?

I’m still alive, a massive achievement! We’ve grown a social business to four countries and donated over $600,000 to charity and we did this during bushfires, droughts and a pandemic. I’m proud of the 1,000 senior executives who support us with 45 mins once per quarter. But I’m most proud of providing a safe space for our team of female leaders to grow. Makes me happy to see them win and lose and win again. That’s progress.

What are your main lessons learned during your career?  

Don’t be afraid to have a go. Your fears of what might happen in the future don’t exist, and the past is important only insofar as it illuminates what’s happening in the present moment. Other than that the past has no importance. So if not now, then when? Don’t be afraid 

What’s a fun fact or something people don’t know about you? 

I was raised with a Jamaican family so I can rap Jamaican. 

Have you had many challenges or hurdles to overcome? 

Hahahaha – sort of my whole life has been one big challenge. One BIG one two years ago was having the electricity cut off and an eviction notice for being three months behind on rent. Bootstrapping a start-up isn’t for the faint hearted.

What’s the term leadership mean to you – and what type of leader are you?

Leadership for me is about inspiration. How can you attract and lead a team if they’re not inspired by you or your vision? I constantly learn from my daughter and my team; I don’t know what that makes me.

As a philanthropist and global communicator, what advice or lessons learned can you offer?  

You can change your job, your car, your hair, your house, your husband, your wife, your boyfriend or girlfriend, but until you change your thoughts, nothing will change and everything will stay the same. 

What are your top priorities for the next 12 months? 

I’m not saying our meetings are the best in the world, but they are definitely in the Top 1! (Note: My quirky sense of humour there). But seriously, I’d like to grow the UK, NZ, Australia and Singapore to 3,000 executives who are hosting over 300 meetings per month. That’s a lot of money going to great causes. 

Looking back on your career, is there anything you’d change?

I wish I would have learnt about how to structure a new business or how to communicate better. I feel really quite terrible at verbally communicating.

What are some of your passions in life? Favourite things? 

Seeing others rise up makes me smile inside. Giving inspires me. I read about billionaire philanthropists like Chuck Feeny who wanted his last cheque to bounce. I like cooking and I read about the origins of things. I was surrounded by the wrong types of drugs as a teenager, but now I like brain drugs and the science behind them. My early years involved way too much cortisol, but I’m a dedicated dopamine dealer now.

What tech changes have you seen over the course of your career? 

All of it, we never had phones or the Internet growing up. I sold the Commonwealth Bank its international data network – went from frame relay to MPLS. That was hot back then, but now it’s dated. But I think it’s still in place. It’s hard for banks to rip old tech out, but like everything,  change is always hard at first, messy in the middle, but beautiful at the end. 

I’m really happy that tech is where it’s at today. It means an executive can join a meetmagic video call, sit on their bottom for 45 mins, half dressed and have the world be a better place by the time it’s finished.

I get amazed at watching progress like rocket ships, flying off the earth into space and landing back on a ship in the middle of the ocean. Talk about progress. 

And finally, what do you wish to achieve moving forward?

I’d like to have everyone who is close to me and around me, to be in a happy space mentally, growing and contributing, because that’s how we win at this thing called life.

I think the only two important human needs are ‘Growth’ and ‘Contribution’ – like a flower, If you aren’t growing, you’re dying.

I’d like us all to work towards our goal of contributing $250m to charity before I die. But hopefully we don’t do it too quickly. 

Do you know of a worthy ‘Close-Up’ contender? Get in touch with Jennifer at jennifer@storiesink.com.au to get the story captured.