Steve Sims is the modern-day Wizard of Oz. For the past 20 years, he’s operated a luxury travel and lifestyle concierge for the rich and famous. His job is to make the impossible possible, and in his new book Bluefishing, he reveals how he makes his clients’ wildest dreams come true.
In this episode, Steve shares the blueprint for how your company can break down any obstacle, accomplish unbelievable feats, and turn your customer’s dreams into a reality.
Where did Steve Sims start his professional journey?
I am an east London brick layer and I just remember questioning anything, I always used to joke that I was an 18 year old 40 year old. I would always ask “Why?”, to the point of really annoying my teachers, my friends, my family. I always wanted to know, “Why is this the life I got to lead, why have I got to be a brick layer just because my dad’s a brick layer?”
It was that constant inquisitive nature of just going, “Well why can’t I walk through that door” and I would walk through that door. That got me into a lot of trouble. As a youngster, people were going, “Look, this is what you do, this is the life that you’ve been dealt with, you know, accept it.”
There’s nothing worse than being told to accept anything and as an entrepreneur. You turn to an entrepreneur and go “Hey, this is the way it is, just accept it.”
That’s what sent me off, really just trying to find where that square hole was that I could fit in, rather than where I was trying to be forced in.
What led you to start the Blue Fish Group?
The complete polar opposite from being a brick layer is a stock broker. I had a friend of mine in London, they were actually going to Hong Kong because there was, at that time, a mass exodus of British stock brokers going over to Asia, looking after something called the Tiger Market in the 80’s.
Believe it or not, I actually borrowed my dad’s suit, went into the bank where my friend was working, and talked to the floor manager into actually giving me a job. Somehow, through the connections going out with people, I actually got transferred from London to Hong Kong as a stock broker.
“I landed on a Saturday, I got dropped with them on a Saturday night, got drunk with them on a Sunday night, did initiation on a Monday, and I was fired on a Tuesday.”
They realized that they had basically brought someone over to Hong Kong that had no idea what he was doing.
My dad is an Irish brick layer and he used to live on certain quotes. I would remember him saying things to me, at the age of like 12, 14, 18, you just got to look at that and you go, “What are you all about?” But then he’d come back and hit you in the head later on. I remember him, especially coming from a tough industry like construction, turning around to me one day and saying:
“The fight’s not over when you go down, son. It’s when you stop getting up.”
I remember the time going, “What the bloody hell does that mean?” You know? When I lost my job in Hong Kong, it was one of those things that “Alright, lost my job, now what?” I just went out and tried to find something and I ended up working as god created me to, as a doorman of nightclubs.
Before you knew it, I just started talking to different people.
I was never one of the best communicators. Waiters, waitresses and bar staff. Those are the best communicators in the world.
They know how – they look at you and within a second, “They know, is this a business trip, do I have to be ultra-respectful to that person or do I have to flirt with them a little bit?” They know how to interact with people in a heartbeat, from dealing with a thousand people a night. So honing that talent as a doorman, I enjoyed watching that and seeing how different people were being communicated differently.
I was just a student of life watching how this was going and without realizing it, built up a reputation as a guy that just told the truth. If this was a good club to go into that night, I’d let you in. If it wasn’t really happening, I wouldn’t let you in, I’ll tell you to go down the road, speak to Jimmy, tell him Sims sent you.
It just started growing organically without me realizing what I was actually building.
How did you decide to make Blue Fish into a company?
Here’s the stupidity behind it. For about the first to four to five years of having Blue Fish as a connector, community kind of company, I won’t say concierge, I wasn’t that then. I was still going to banks and stock broking firms applying for a job. It was actually my wife that said, “You’re doing all of this but you’re charging people to get them into the things and to make things happen.”
“This is our bank account, you’ve already got something here and it was her bringing in the bank account.” I remember, I was sitting in the back kitchen, she walks in with a paper and lays down our bank account and goes:
“You’re trying to hustle for a job in a bank. You’ve already got one. Maybe you should pay attention to that.”
That was in about 97 and I was like, “Wow, who’s going to pay me to get things done?” She said, “They already do. You’ve been doing this since ‘92. You’ve already got a couple of hundred people that ask you to go to Monaco, ask you to go to New York. You’ve already got it.”
Then we started kind of trying to pay attention to it and of course, like all entrepreneurs, the second you try to turn something that you naturally do into a business, you screw it up in every possible way. We had the password “Blue Fish” to get into one of our parties and it kind of stuck.
We would send people passwords to get in, we’d still charge them, but we would say, “Look, the password is, name two of the Teletubbies” or “Finish this sentence, one fish, two fish, red fish…”
If someone came up to the door and they weren’t cool enough, humble enough to just repeat this password, we wouldn’t let them in. Before we knew it, four years later, we have people walking up to the door going, “Blue Fish.” “In you go, enjoy the night.”
It was that kind of thing and if the guy turned up and went, “I don’t know what the password is, let me in.” We would say “Sorry mate, no party here for you,” and we’ll turn them away. As soon as we decided to make it our business, we even dropped that name, we tried to find something that was more elaborate.
Basically, that lasted out six months. Then we opened up a company called Blue Fish.
What’s your favorite story in your book Bluefishing?
The best story for me is probably the guy that wanted to have dinner in Florence. We knew that he had a huge budget and could afford it. We ended up taking the academia over in Florence which is the museum and having a table of six, put at the feet of Michelangelo’s David. That was one of the most over top, elaborate, “My god, this is so beautiful” moments.
One of the best chapters that I think is so crucial in the book is about auditing your circle and firing the vampires.
Now, if you’re passionate about something and you enjoy something, you may be tired at the end of it, but there’s been no effort because you’ve wanted to do it. If you are putting a lot of effort into doing something, and you know it’s effort and you know it’s pain and you know you hate doing it. I ask myself, “Well how can I eradicate that?”
“I found that the most effort I had in my life was to talk to people I didn’t like.”
I found that I had clients that would pay me a lot of money but they were really holes. You know, every time I was talking to them, it was a strange – I had to listen to their stories but I didn’t agree with them and I didn’t like the kind of people they were and didn’t like the philandering pricks but I had it in my circle and I noticed something that I would finish my cool with them tired.
Then I would go to speak to someone who I did like but I’d be wiped and I’d be negative and I occasionally without people turn around and go, “You alright Steve? Have I done something to offend you?” You never want those words to come out of a friend or client’s mouth.
What do you most want readers to take away from your book?
Communication. I’m an old school soul. I like the fact that in the olden days, I’m on about the 50’s and 60’s and 70’s and I had a bit as I was growing up.
We’d walk down to the corner shop and we’d take the food, from the corner shop, wave at the guy at the desk who would make a note of everything that you’ve taken and then on Saturday, your mom would go down and settle up the bill.
That was the period that I lived in.
Now, if we fast forward now, we got the ability to talk to anybody in the world, whether it be Twitter, whether it be through email, chat bots, there’s so many ways that we can reach out to people now but what it has done is diluted the impact of communication.
You can build a relationship a lot faster nowadays but just because you know what the guy drives, what the girl drinks, what the boy wears, it does not mean that you’re actually building up any kind of a relationship with him. It just means you’re building up a database on them.
And really gets you to question yourself but again, at the back of every chapter gives you how I do it. It gives you how I have built up relationships to be able to phone up Elton John, to be able to reach out to Elon Musk, to be able to reach out to the Oscars and get things done. How I can actually get the Vatican to open up a door for me.
How can we connect with people like Elon Musk and Elton John?
I hand on heart believe that’s the case because I have one element which you’ve just used, in other words, I’m transparent. So if you look at me, we’ve met each other a few times now and we’ve been in the same room as each other, other times you’ve never seen me walking around with a $40,000 watch talking about my Ferrari collection trying to impress anyone. In fact quite the opposite, nine times out of ten I don’t wear a watch and I am always in a black t-shirt and jeans.
There is nothing about me that is impossible to misunderstand. I am me, I do this, if you want me to do this, you ask me, you pay me, you get through the filter and I make it happen. I think it’s that transparency that is the key. Once you’ve got the credibility both of those things make you – I shouldn’t use this word but to a point invincible, as long as they can be maintained. But when people first meet me, you mentioned all of those lovely words and I very much appreciate it.
But let me give you some different words okay? I am none and although I am big and ugly, I don’t intimidate because I will converse with you. There is no intimidation when you talk to me. You are not feeling as though there’s a challenge. We are not trying to outdo each other as to who’s the better writer, who’s more attractive, who’s got the bigger watch, there is none of those efforts from me. So when you meet me, I’m very easy to communicate with because there is no threat or challenge.
How do people let their guard down?
That’s the tough one. You know that is probably the toughest thing and I had this lesson. You mentioned to me before about what has gone wrong? There was a point in my career when I started the money was flowing in, the phone calls that I was making to countries and government and people, they just couldn’t believe I was calling that I went, “Oh I can’t be the guy turning up on a motor bike wearing black t-shirt and jeans. I’d better change.”
“I went out and bought a Ferrari, and I started wearing suits because I thought This is the man I should be.
“Do you know what happened? I got the wrong clients.”
I started losing relationships because now it wasn’t quite clear. Let’s say you wanted a plumber. The plumber turns up at the door, knocks on the door, the door opens, there is a guy there in a three-piece suit that’s just turned up on a Ferrari. Do you trust he’s your plumber?
Now take another one, you need someone to plan your annuity or you need someone to handle the lottery you just won. You open up the front door, there is a guy there with his crack showing out of his jeans and his truck in the background. Do you trust that guy to look after your money? You see we do have a very primitive instinct to do two things and one of them is terrible. One, we judge the book by the cover.
But in doing that judging, in doing that kind of fight or flight kind of response, we try to quickly analyze the person in front of us to go, “Does this make sense? Does this compute with me?”
Now if I’m there, those examples I gave you were very obvious examples but the fact is if you are in a networking event and you’re talking to someone, you want to quickly ascertain, “Is this person trying to get something for me? Is this person safe? Should I be cautious about this person?”
That’s our primitive mentality: “Should I be aware of this person? Does this person carry any danger for me?”
Without realizing that’s what we do when we meet someone. Now, if you can’t quite clearly understand that person, is there something about that person? Again, think of me black t-shirt and jeans but now I am wearing a suit. Now I am wearing an expensive watch. Now I am trying to impress you. You’re not getting Steve Sims.
You are getting the persona I am trying to create but that persona is not quite natural and all of sudden your gut instinct is, “I can’t get a grasp of this target in front of me. I can’t fully compute this person. There’s a few things and oh yeah, he looks rich but hang on a minute, it’s not who he is.” Do you know what happens? You hit the flight button. You actually don’t do business with me because of that and I lost a lot of people because I wasn’t being true to me.
What are some brands that embody the Bluefishing philosophy?
Let’s look at Virgin Airways vs. British Airlines.
British Airlines says, “We are England’s choice.” It was always very precocious. It was always very royal.
Richard Branson turned up without ties, stood out the window, and waved to everyone with a bunch of sexy air hostesses and went, “Hey we are going to America. Fly Virgin because we’re cool.”
Everyone went with Virgin because they could relate to the cool dude that never wears a tie. British Airways tried to outlast that by staying precocious end up beaten up because of it.
Nowadays, I can give you a luxury brand that’s about $500 or less. It’s called Apple.
If you look at a car company, Ferrari is precocious, but you wouldn’t feel out of your depth going to a Porsche dealership. They have more race history, more race wins than Ferrari, but they focus on the engineering.
“You buy a Ferrari so you can throw the keyring down at the bar and impress the girl.
“You throw a Porsche down, you like fine driving.”
There is a difference in voice that’s actually happened over the past few years. Some companies still haven’t got it. There is still a lot of jewelry companies out there, Harry Winston, for argument’s sake. Still incredibly precocious, invites only. That brand needs to get in check before it’s a goodnight brand.
Any favorite client stories you want to share?
There is one that I think is very important. Everyone always comes to me and goes, “What’s the most expensive, what’s the most dynamic, what the most incredible?” but the second that anyone says to me, “What’s the most impactful thing you have ever done for a client?” There is one story that comes up every single time.
I am pleased to say I still have this client for the past 10 to 12 years. We’ve always done something wonderful for his anniversary.
We hit the 20th anniversary, which was a big symbolic year. Now the year before, we had flown them on a private jet. I wouldn’t say exactly where, but in the Chicago area into Paris for dinner for that night and then back again. One night in Paris, okay? We’d also done cocktails in a diamond vault in New York.
Every year, we had done something that was 50, 100, 150, quarter of a million dollars, half a million dollars. Every year a bit more expensive, every single year. This year, he said, “This is the 20th. It needs to be big. It needs to be bold. It needs to be incredible. It needs to be impactful.”
And it was that last word that suddenly twisted my whole perspective. I went, “Okay, talk to me about the first time you met her.”
He started telling me the story about how he had stalked her around the college campus, knew where she used to come out at lunch, borrowed his mum’s car and picnic rug, his mum’s hamper, some sandwiches from the local store and a bottle of cheap champagne with plastic cups. He had a boom box with romantic music and when she came out of class, he came out of his car and he was like, “Care to join me for lunch?”
This is a college kid trying to flirt with his want-to-be girlfriend, and she fell for it.
We knew the design and colors of the car rug. So we actually replicated the car rug, that was easy enough to buy, got a hamper, better sandwiches, better bottle of champagne, and then we had to find a boom box to complete the thing.
We went through three boom boxes to find one that actually worked. And then you’re going to love this, how the hell could we record any music onto that thing called a cassette? None of the outputs we had now worked.
We were like, “Where do you plug in the MP3 socket?” They didn’t have any converters because this stuff was dinosaur. We got someone to do the cassette and that whole thing cost less than $2,000.
She came around the corner of this park and there he was sitting on this rug with a glass.
“When she stepped out of that car, she wept.”
Now she had a half a million dollars to fly to Paris. But this one day, they went back to when they were in their teens and she just balled her eyes out. Absolutely that was the most impactful.
So, it ain’t the money. It’s the thought that makes it impactful or not.
How can our listeners connect with you?
I’m on stevedsims.com. I’m also on The Blue Fish which is the concierge, and I’m all over Facebook and Instagram and all that kind of stuff @stevedsims or Bluefish Group. If you want the book it’s on the usual suspects of Barnes & Noble, Books a Million and Amazon and everywhere else.