Imagine for a moment…you’re expecting your first child. It’s exciting and scary. You’ve been flatting for 10+ years and finally found the dream flat. The flatties are great, but with the baby on the way you can’t stay. Cutting down to one income will be tough too, won’t it?
I founded Inspiring Stories at the ripe age of 24, with the big bold vision to see all young New Zealanders unleash their potential to change the world. For the past six years this has been me, I’ve poured my heart and soul into it. It's been an incredible adventure, and I absolutely love it, but it certainly hasn’t been smooth sailing.
We’ve built some fantastic programmes and partnerships, worked with more than 6000 young New Zealanders and worked in every region nationwide. Our alumni have gone on to win international youth leadership awards, been shortlisted for the Young New Zealander of the Year Award and represented our nation on the world stage.
From the outside our work looks pretty shiny – mostly because my background is in design and marketing, not because we’ve had big budgets. In fact, in six years I think we’ve probably spent a grand total of $10k on design, marketing and web development.
It was amazing. I don’t regret it, but at the same time a couple of things didn’t line up. We were rock-bottom and red-lining for three months, had to shrink the team to just me and had to shift out of the office. Most people would have walked away. I couldn’t, I believed in the vision too much.
Six months later our Festival for the Future event attracted 400+ attendees, Live the Dream ran in two cities, and I was awarded Young New Zealander of the Year. That same week we found out we’d won a contestable chunk of government funding through the youth enterprise fund to scale up our two flagship programmes. And scale up we did. Our Festival doubled in size, we replicated Live the Dream to run in three cities over summer and built a new programme for young people in some of New Zealand’s most marginalized communities – Future Leaders.
While the government stepped up, other funders stepped back. At the end of 2016 it became evident that the youth enterprise fund wasn’t going to roll over – a $200,000 hole in the budget, and once again we faced huge uncertainty. This time, as per the opening paragraph, I’d just found out I was about to become a father. Boom!
Despite programme growth and clear impact for the young people we worked with, we had an extremely difficult end to 2016. We faced huge uncertainty and had to let most of our team go. With the exception of my amazing wife Michelle, I don’t think I really shared the full extent of this with anyone. We were on the edge of a knife; it was one of the hardest times of my life.
In search of solutions we quickly built three new business arms – the speaker bureau, the recruitment agency and the creative agency – all on less than $1000. The idea was that these could build on our strengths, generate much-needed revenue for the Inspiring Stories Trust and create better outcomes for young New Zealanders. We put the call out and went from looming insolvency to getting more than a dozen paying clients on board in a month. It kept us alive just long enough to get back on our feet.
Now we’re humming. Our commercial arms provide 100% of the profit to help support and expand our youth development programmes. If anything the experience has made us stronger. We’ve got the best millennial-led team in the country, and we’re now gearing up to support 2000 young New Zealanders to attend this year’s Festival for the Future.
Sometimes, from the darkest of times, remarkable things can happen. And here’s the best part of all – I’ve become a father. Our little boy, Finn, is now three months old.
Guy Ryan is CEO of Inspiring Stories, which is building a movement of young New Zealanders who can and will change the world. Support their movement with your 1% at www.onepercentcollective.org
Words by Guy Ryan and Illustration by Natasha Vermeulen.