Solutions Leisure Group Co-Founder Paul Evans' Journey From Despair To Determination

The co-founder and Managing Director of the Dubai-headquartered Solutions Leisure Group relives a few moments from his childhood in the UK, when he, as a dyslexic child, found his entrepreneurial kicks.
Solutions Leisure Group Co-Founder Paul Evans' Journey From Despair To Determination
Image credit: Paul Evans
co-founder and Managing Director - Solutions Leisure Group
13 min read
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This is an edited excerpt from When I Woke Up – The True Story of Paul Evans as told by Carolyn Coe, one man’s inspiring story of starting rough, making mistakes, personal suffering, and the raw grit it takes to get back up when life deals the heaviest blows. Told with his authentic humor and frank wit, this is an upfront and personal account of a life of full of jaw-dropping, gut-wrenching, and heartwarming events that will leave you reeling in disbelief, and full of admiration for one man’s spirit to survive, and live life to the full. 

During one of our many frank chats in the car on the way home from a day on the lake, I told Dad that I thought there was something different about my brain, compared with the other kids in school. I explained that being dyslexic was like having a mental disease. Naturally, he was alarmed that I had said such a thing about myself. But instead of responding sympathetically, he said that I should take an IQ test. His suggestion took me completely by surprise. At first, I thought he was joking. After all, he of all people knew that I’d never passed a single academic test in my life. Despite my hesitation, I thought, what the heck, it can’t hurt. And so, the next day, Dad arranged for me to take the test. When at last the letter from Mensa dropped through the letterbox, I sat nervously with my parents at the kitchen table to open it. I held the envelope in my hand and closed my eyes in prayer before I unsealed it and removed the contents. The results melted my face from a look of fear to utter disbelief. 

My score, to my shock and amazement, was 143! I couldn’t believe it. I was in the genius category! The report explained that as few as 1 in 1,000 students are of similar intelligence. My jaw dropped. I was completely lost for words as my parents jumped up and hugged me, giddy with excitement. Until that point, I had genuinely believed that I was stupid. I had believed that my school teachers were right to nark me, but that was all about to change. With my IQ score, I at last had the proof I needed to show them that I didn’t belong at the bottom of the class! When Mum and Dad showed my results with pride to the school headmaster at the start of the next school term, I was moved up from the bottom set of all my subjects. 

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Of course, it took a while for the change to sink in, and it certainly wasn’t as if my dyslexia vanished overnight. However, with 143 fixed in my mind, I finally had a tangible reason to believe in myself. I settled back into school much better, and Dad began traveling a lot more for work. At that time, he owned a successful sales-and-marketing company, and it must be said, although school was less painful, I probably got a better education from listening to him and watching him work than I did from all my school days put together. I loved it when he worked from home. I would sit on the floor with my ear to his office door and listen to him. I could hear the warmth and confidence in his voice always making his clients chuckle. They never seemed to notice that they were falling for his smooth sales techniques hook, line, and sinker. I would applaud when he used the “rabbit punch,” which Dad defined as “an irresistible offer that comes out of the blue, and hits the client between the eyes, leaving them so stunned that they simply can’t decline.” A salesman’s proverbial kill.

Around the same time, I landed my first job. Dad’s best friend, Andy, and his wife, Lindy, lived next door to us in Middlewich, and the couple had been like a second set of parents ever since I could remember. Our two families did almost everything together. Andy owned a very successful beauty salon supplies business, and on weekends, he ran a stall that sold electrical items at enormous liquidation markets around the country. Andy was the type of man who’d wake up asking himself, “How can I make a pound?” I knew there was so much to learn from him and his business ethos. He always aimed to make every pound matter, which was a tiny yet essential detail that would stick in my mind forever. There is no question that Andy was integral in showing me the grit required in business. One evening when we were at Andy’s house having dinner, he offered to make me his assistant at the market. I was so excited to be offered my first job! From then on, without fail every Friday after school, I would race across to his house to load up his van with microwaves, televisions, radios, toasters and washing machines. At 5 a.m. the following morning, Lindy would open her front door, yawning in her dressing gown, to find me waiting eagerly with a pack of sandwiches, ready to hit the road. 

Every weekend the market was in a different town, and not before long we covered the majority of the north of England. The market doors opened at 9 a.m., and business would be nonstop until they closed at 5 p.m. On an average weekend, 15,000 bargain-hungry customers came through the doors. Andy and I would place bets with each other to see who could make the most sales. Desperate to win, I’d climb on top of a washing machine to see over everyone’s heads and hawk our wares at the top of my voice to the passing crowd. I was determined to be the top seller, and each week I’d get closer to the target. At the end of each day, we’d count our takings: 12,000 pounds, 15,000 pounds, sometimes even 17,000 pounds! Andy would proudly hand me my percentage of the profit and holding my wages in my hand, I would feel so grown up. While other kids my age were washing cars or picking strawberries on the weekend for a mere 10 pounds of pocket money, I was raking it in. Soon, I began to see the potential to make money almost everywhere. Influenced by Dad and Andy, I became obsessed with thinking up enterprising ideas. I loved negotiating and the thrill of making a sale and generating cash. The whole process seemed to come naturally to me. One day, a money-making opportunity at school presented itself that was too good to ignore.

During lunch break that day, I couldn’t help overhearing a conversation between two boys in front of me when we were walking the short distance from the amusement arcade back to the school gates. “I’ve only got a quid left,” said one boy, regretting that he had gambled away all of his pocket money. “My dad gave me a fiver this morning, and now I’ve only got 30 pence,” groaned the other. “I had two watermelons lined up on the fruit machine, and when I hit the nudge button, I was sure it was going to be another, and then I would have had the jackpot.” 

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“Yeah, me too!” the other boy said, beating the air with his fist. “I put all of my 10 pence coins into the sliding drawer machine. I swear, I just needed a few more and I’d have won them all back. It was so close.” Little did they know, as they dragged themselves back to school with empty pockets, that they had just given me a fantastic idea. I noticed that the kids who went to the arcade on Monday all had the same financial problem on Tuesday. They always spent all of their lunch money on games, and then had no means to buy food for the remainder of the week. I saw an opportunity to solve their lunch money deficit problems. Most students owned a Parker fountain or rollerball pen. I knew each pen had a retail value of 10 to 12 pounds. So, I offered all those broke students the chance to sell me their pen for one pound. They could buy their pen back from me at any time before their parents noticed it was missing, but for two pounds. It worked like a treat! Everyone went to the arcade on Monday, sold me their pens on Tuesday, bought them back from me the following week, and I doubled my money. Within a matter of weeks, my school bag was bursting with various styles and colors of Parker pens. 

With the market sales on the weekends and my pen-pawning business during the week, I was racking up earnings of over 100 pounds every week. Not bad for a 14-year-old kid with dyslexia and a grim future.


Book Cover: When I Woke Up - The True Story of Paul Evans As Told By Carolyn Coe
Source: Solutions Leisure


Q&A with Paul Evans, co-founder of Solutions Leisure Group, and the author of When I Woke Up - The True Story of Paul Evans As Told By Carolyn Coe. 

Let's start with your reasons for writing the book--why did you think this was a project you wanted to undertake, and what do you hope readers to take away from the stories/messages in your book?
I have reached a point in my life where I thrive off helping others to grow and develop, more so than I do over my own achievements. There are a number of lessons learned from all the things I have gone through, and I wanted to be able to pass this on to a wider audience, than just the people I work with on a daily basis. I also have some aspects of my life that I’m not proud of, in addition to things that I have kept hidden inside of me, and never really spoken about. Writing the book and talking about my reflections was something that really helped me to become a better person, to forgive myself for the mistakes I have made, and understand that those mistakes were what shaped me to be the man I have become. The traumatic parts of my life have all played a part in the person I am now. I hope that the readers will be able to identify with some instances in my life, and use the book as a guide to get through them. I’m sure I can make them laugh with some of the crazy things I got involved in, and teach them that it is okay to be different, and to find your own genius by focusing on what you love to do, and notthinking at all about what you can’t do. 

Having completed your book now, what does this particular achievement mean for you as an entrepreneur/businessman? 
Honestly, it’s given all the stuff I have been through, whether that’s falling into a coma, or losing a business, a reason for it all happening. I’m happy for all of it- I would not change one single bit of the pain I have been through. I’ve embraced it all, as it makes me the man I am today. It’s humbled me so much. I was a dyslexia school dropout, died on an operating table, and yet today, I’m here, loving what I do. All these things happened for a reason, and even when I read my story over and over again during the edits, I had to pinch myself that I’m still here! I made it! Knowing people will read the book and take inspiration from my story makes me smile so much. I’m proud that I am able to give back. This drives me to continue to be a better version of myself. I’m just a guy that found his genius, and a guy who loves what he does. 

Looking back on your career so far, what would you say are the biggest or most important lessons you have learned in your time as an entrepreneur?
It’s been said a million times before, but the three most important things I have learnt are hard work, dedication, and to find that something you absolutely adore. See money and success as the byproduct of doing something you love. I have never built one venue with a P&L in mind. My thought process is totally the other way- we build venues to be the best we can in the given sector. My thoughts are that the more people who love a certain type of concept, the more people will come, the more people who come, the more product they will buy, the more product they buy, the more revenue you will generate. Money is just the byproduct of doing something well in all industries, and guess what, if you love what you do, then the chances are you will do it well, and so the circle continues. My other advice is a little less common, try notto find everything out before you start, find out enough to start, and then start. If we all knew everything that we need to do make it in business, none of us would even start. Once you’re on the way with something you love, and a problem comes along, you will always find a way to overcome it, because you haveto. Naivety is a great thing at times. 

Finally, if there is one bit of advice you would give those who wish to follow in your footsteps (and replicate your success in the business arena), what would that be?
Embrace the challenge. It’s meant to be hard- that’s the thrill, that’s what makes it all worthwhile, that’s what gives it a purpose. It’s taken me years to get to that point in my vision, but today I sit thinking no challenge can’t be faced, and there isn’t a problem which can’t be solved. I want the challenges, I need the challenges, I don’t want it to be easy. After all, overcoming those challenges makes the success taste even better. Have that thought process on day one that “of course, it’s hard, it’s meant to be hard”- that’s what makes it fun. Then, you’re golden, you’re all set, and you’ll never moan about a single issue you have to endure in any aspect of your life.

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