Imagine you’re nine years old, growing up in the quintessentially English setting of Royal Leamington Spa, and suddenly your dad tells you ‘hey, we’re moving to Umhlanga Rocks’. Umhlanga what!? Umhlanga where!?
Well, turns out it’s a coastal surf town near to Durban in South Africa, and that is how two freckly lads with an English mum and a Scottish dad, suddenly found themselves standing out like a couple of pastie sore thumbs amongst the tanned beach boys who were to become their new school mates.
But this was only the beginning of an incredible series of events that would take Peter Brennan, our guest on this episode of ONEOFTHE8, to where he is today, a very happily married father of three (although one is Teddy the dog) and successful business owner, living in Sydney, Australia.
As boys in Umhlanga, surfing quickly became a big part of Pete and his brother Martin’s lives. They found a good group of people through the sport, people who welcomed them into their culture - albeit sometimes with a bit of tough love - people who would look after them.
‘Two English kids who did swimming lessons once a week, to literally (every day) before school and after school jumping in the ocean’
Pete describes himself back then as a ‘scrappy little shit’ with a bit of a chip on his shoulder, and it’s clear that he took this competitive attitude into his sport. As surfing overtook their lives, both Pete and his brother became sponsored surfers, with Pete even making the national team at the age of 15.
Describing something you just can’t explain, Pete quotes a campaign from surf brand Billabong that said ‘only a surfer knows the feeling’.
South Africa was not without its issues (it still isn’t), but life was pretty good for the ex-pat family, hanging out on the beach, having a great time. But that was all about to change.
Their fathers business began to hit some problems, and unfortunately his way of dealing with those problems was to turn to drink. As the problems got worse, so did the drinking, he became abusive and eventually Pete’s mum had to take the decision to move herself and the boys out of the family home and away from their father.
Their mum had to get a job, they were living in a small apartment, they were being dropped off at school in ‘a banged up old beach buggy’. Gone were the Mercedes, the Jaguars, the swimming pool. This was suddenly a very different way of life.
Then, when their mum picked them up from school one day visibly upset, they knew more bad news was coming. And it was devastating, their father had accidentally killed himself loading a gun. Pete was 11 years old.
With help from the tough love and respect they got from their surfer friends, the boys ‘figured things out’, but pretty soon it was decision time - to either go pro as surfers, or to study - and after taking an honest appraisal of his own abilities, Pete opted for the latter, studying graphic design, art and technical drawing. And so the next chapter of his amazing adventure began.
After qualifying, Pete began his career at Durban based agency ITI, before moving to the UK to work for London experiential marketing agency RPM. He was suddenly having to get used to working life, although his creative soul meant that he was definitely no lover of the admin.
‘I still joke to this day that spreadsheets give me nose bleeds’
Next it was back to his adopted home land of South Africa, as one of those ‘offers you can’t refuse’ came from Quiksilver, giving Pete an opportunity to bring the two great loves of his life together - creativity and surfing. He was soon working on surf competitions and a surf and skate bus tour event that led to him getting to know his boyhood heroes, Tony Hawke, Kelly Slater and Jack Johnson.
'Driving around with Kelly Slater and Jack Johnson in the back seat of my car was one of those moments that’s just surreal, and you just have to pinch yourself’
In fact, if you stalk Pete’s Instagram @mrpeterbrennan you’ll find pics back stage at a Jack Johnson gig in Sydney Opera House in 2017.
It was to be whilst working for Quiksilver that Pete would experience an astonishing life moment of the kind that - thankfully - most of us will never know. After getting news from the UK that his beloved grandma was extremely ill, Pete booked a flight and dashed home to pick up his passport, but then disturbing events began to unfold.
Three men approached Pete on the driveway of their home, one carrying a gun that he shoved into Pete’s mouth. With his mum unable to help, only the shouts and screams of the neighbour next door disturbed the robbers and made them run off. But Pete needed that passport, and without thinking he chased after the robbers desperate to get it back.
It was then that the guy with gun turned, pointed it straight at Pete and pulled the trigger. But incredibly, the gun was jammed and it didn’t go off. Everything happens for a reason, right?
‘I just closed my eyes and thought ‘oh here we go’
After literally staring death in the face, and with some help from the British Embassy, Pete got an emergency passport and thankfully made it to see his grandma before she passed.
Sadly, this was not to be the last time life would see Pete dashing to catch a flight with a heavy heart. The next time it was the same journey but in reverse, as after receiving news whilst in London that his mum was gravely ill, he rushed back to South Africa to be with her at the end.
London was to have a massive influence on Pete’s future. After moving back there with a group of friends, they quickly realised they needed jobs to pay the rent. While one got work in construction, Pete headed off in his t-shirt and jeans to interview with a recruitment company. Oops! Maybe, but he did get the job, although moving from the design world to the corporate one was difficult and meant having to ‘fake it’ week after week.
Eventually enough was enough, and when offered the chance to join Major Players, a recruitment company for the creative and digital industry, he jumped at it. It was to be ‘one of the best things that ever happened to me’ and as he says now ‘not a day goes by that isn’t heavily inspired by Major Players’, essentially they taught him how to run a business. Everything happens for a reason, right?
‘You’re essentially selling people, there’s a lot of emotion involved and people have feelings, you have to be very empathetic in how you operate’
Being in the UK also allowed Pete and his brother to be near their other big hero, their grandad Raymond Pratley. ‘Pops’ ran a company called Midland Diamond Tooling in Coventry, and was a huge inspiration to them both. Whilst they missed the sun, the surf and the ocean, they didn’t want that dash to the airport for a third time, so stayed in London to be close by.
'I said I just want to be near the ocean again, and he said ‘go do it’, but I said no I want to be near you and hang out with you on the weekends’
Remaining in London also led to the next life-changing chapter in Pete’s life. As a ‘bucket of beers’ was put down in front of him at a party, he looked up into the eyes of the woman who was to become his wife. Originally from South Africa herself, Nicky was working as a waitress at Urban Golf in Soho. A bucket of beer yes, but a case of ‘beer goggles’? Most definitely not, and almost ten years later Pete and Nicky are raising two beautiful kids (three if you include Teddy), and living very happily in Sydney, Australia. Everything does seem to happen for a reason.
‘First thing I ever said to her was ‘I love you’. I think she called me an idiot and walked away laughing, but I managed to get her phone number’
Around this time ‘Pops’ sadly passed, and his passing became the catalyst for Pete to take off with the girl he’d just met on an inheritance blowing six-month road trip around the US. They travelled from Laguna Beach through Vegas, visited Mexico, Orlando and New York, and they found something that Pete just couldn’t stop thinking about.
‘I genuinely believe everything happens for a reason’
It was while they were in Portland, Oregon, that Pete stumbled upon his piece of treasure, an old View-Master. For those too young to know, a View-Master was a hand-held viewing device into which you inserted cardboard disks containing ‘stereoscopic 3D images’. Give it a Google and see for yourself, think old-school version of a VR headset.
Pete talked to his brother about his find, and the idea for bringing the View-Master back to life was born. They started exploring the concept, came up with an app that lets you capture 3D images, and brought in product designer Oscar Fernandez to design the device, using prisms and lenses that worked in combination with your phone.
All they needed now was a really good KickStarter campaign, and they’d be off and running. But wait, just one week before launching their campaign they were sent a link to another project that was very similar and already gaining traction. What are the chances of that!? Well, fairly high actually, an idea that no-one else has ever had is pretty rare. They decided to launch anyway, but with the rival project consuming most of the attention, and their campaign falling well short of its target, it was time to ‘pivot’.
‘I heard someone say ‘pivot’ is Silicon Valleys way of saying ‘we f*@ked up’
So pivot they did, making ‘Viewpop’ app only, for creating a 3D effect on images on a phone. This time they were up and running, invited to pitch at Web Summit in Dublin, making the top ten start-ups, being featured on Wired, Mashable and Monocle. It was still just a side hustle, but suddenly they had angel investment from the US, and a valuation of $3m!
Side hustle maybe, but one that had piqued the interest of Chinese tech giant, Huawei. Unbeknown to Pete, they’d been looking closely at ‘Viewpop’ and when an email arrived out of the blue one day they were invited to a meeting - and to bring a lawyer!
‘You have these dreams of driving Lamborghini’s and swimming in pools of hundred dollar bills’
Enter the current President of the United States, and another twist in the plot. Everything was going so well, until they turned on the news one day to hear that the CFO of Huawei had been arrested at the Canadian border. They quickly emailed their contact, but the response was radio silence, nada, tumbleweeds. They had been just days away, but now Donald Trump had banned anything to do with Huawei in the US and it was game over.
‘The way I see it, Donald Trump owes us three million dollars’
Note for any investors out there, Pete still owns the IP for ‘Viewpop’, and you can reach him via the links you’ll find below - hey, we’re just saying.
It’s at this point where we can hear Pete saying ‘I really do believe things happen for a reason’. His philosophy is clear, to try and see through everything that happens, to try to see the bad and get through it, and to tap into the bigger picture and why this all happens.
‘Regardless of religious beliefs or faith, things happen. My dad committed suicide when I was eleven years old and that sent me on a trajectory that’s got me to where I am now. If I look at my life now, I have a beautiful daughter Frankie, my little boy Lex is two, we live a beautiful house, I can jump in my car and be surfing in five minutes. My wife is my muse and an absolute superhero’.
‘I’m genuinely at a place in my life where I’m really really happy. All those things that happened in my life have led us to here’
Finally, and as always on ONEOFTHE8, we asked Pete to share with us something that has inspired him, and he is proud to tell us it’s ‘Pops’, his grandad Raymond Pratley, and a story of how thinking creatively can have a really big impact.
Sitting in his office one day, a worker came in and told Raymond someone was stealing tools from the warehouse. Asked who it was, the worker said ‘it's John, we know it’s John, we’ve seen him doing it’. The tools were expensive, but the other big problem here was that John was the most gifted machinist money could buy.
Raymond could have fired him on the spot, but it would have taken months to replace him as the work he did was very specialist. Instead he called John in a day or two later, asked him how things were going, then gave him a promotion and bit more money. Along with the promotion came a new responsibility, to make sure nothing went missing from the warehouse.
From that day on the stealing stopped, nothing else went missing and Raymond kept hold of his most gifted machinist.
‘It’s not the cards you get dealt, it’s your reaction to what you are dealt, and how you respond that let’s you win the game’
To hear the man himself talk about the incredible journey that has brought him to where he is today, make sure to catch up with Pete’s episode on the ONEOFTHE8 podcast. He talks openly and honestly about family, love and loss, and about his inspirational philosophy on life. You can also find out more about Pete’s work at Electric And Analog, and discover the non-alcoholic beer brand that he has recently co-founded Heaps Normal.