Make mistakes, speak up, assume the best: Lessons from Matt Phelan, entrepreneur

Monday, 06 January 2020

It’s no surprise that the most important thing to the co-founder of a business that’s all about making work a happier place is: people.

Make mistakes, speak up, assume the best: Lessons from Matt Phelan, entrepreneur

It’s no surprise that the most important thing to the co-founder of a business that’s all about making work a happier place is: people.

Matt Phelan is one of the brains behind The Happiness Index, a business that creates tools to help companies build a happier, healthier workplace. The idea came about when Matt and fellow co-founder Chris Hyland were running digital marketing agency, 4Ps Marketing.

The pair built 4Ps Marketing from scratch over a ten-year period and created one of the hottest SEO agencies in the UK. By the time Matt exited in 2018, the business had worked with major brands, including Marks & Spencer, Ralph Lauren and JP Morgan.

“Our philosophy in the agency was: If we look after our staff, they’ll look after our customers and we’ll make more money," Matt says. "That was our belief and it worked, but we couldn’t measure it, which is why we built The Happiness Index as a tool to measure the intangible.” 

The pot of gold

Matt, who will be speaking at Elite Business Live 2020 – a two-day event bringing the best of British small businesses together to discuss how to secure business growth and build smarter enterprises – is Head of Global Happiness at The Happiness Index (the title is a tongue-in-cheek alternative to ‘CEO’ and reflects his role expanding the business worldwide). 

Having been at the helm of two successful businesses, Matt has invaluable insights to share with delegates about what he’s learnt about how to grow a brand, and the importance of a strong team ethos to achieving your vision.

Any entrepreneur will make their fair share of mistakes on the way to success, but Matt says he wishes he’d made more.

“What I’ve learnt is that making mistakes is not a good or bad thing, it’s just a process of finding out how things work. I would say my biggest mistake is not making more mistakes.”

Another lesson he’s learnt is how important it is that everybody in a business feels empowered to speak up.

“The only thing I find inexcusable in people working for me is not speaking up when they have a thought. If you’ve seen a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow and you know how to get there, I’d like to know.”  

An open culture sounds great, but how do you make it a reality? Matt says the key is assuming the best of people.

“One of the principles we use at The Happiness Index is to always see positive intent. Often people get paranoid that someone is coming to them because they’re trying to take their job, and assume that the person has a bad intent. Here, we make the assumption that people are saying things to be positive.

“I learnt it from my sisters, they have no filter. They just say whatever they want, but for good reason. The test I use is: If someone’s got food on their face, are you the person that’s going to tell them, or are you just going to leave them like that? You want to be the person who's going to tell them.” 

Where’s the mountain top?

So, if Matt had to share one pearl of wisdom with an entrepreneur, what would it be?  

“Think big and think small at the same time,” he says. “You’ve got to have a big vision, but then you need to get down and think small, work out where that mountain top is, then train your mind to go one step at a time.”

Matt says that when the going gets tough – as it inevitably does for all business owners – it's the people around him that keep him going. In fact, he says it's the relationships he's built inside and outside work that he considers the most important part of his business journey, and that networking is meaningless unless you build real connections.


"I’ve surrounded myself with people who have got the same mountain top and we get ourselves along that road together. I also don’t carry business cards with me, because if I meet someone and we don’t remember each other, we haven’t had a good meeting. It’s quality not quantity when it comes to business. You’re better off spending a good amount of time with five people than trying to shove a business card at 50.” 

To hear more of Matt’s insight and learn about his exciting and original entrepreneurial journey, book your Elite Business Live early bird tickets today https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/elite-business-live-2020-where-entrepreneurial-minds-meet-tickets-71142768937