“I couldn’t afford to fail,” says the World Options founder about launching his global empire

His mother believed he'd never amount to anything but Stewart Butler proved her wrong by solving SMEs' shipping woes around the globe with 110 World Options franchisees

“I couldn’t afford to fail

Stewart Butler refused to go home. The day World Options, the shipping services franchise, launched, he told his co-founder Andrew Jackson they weren’t allowed to leave work before making their first sale. “I couldn’t afford to fail,” Butler says. “It wasn’t an option. And when your back is up against the wall you can do two things – you can either handle it or you can run from it.” He opted for the former and kept pushing because, after all, what choice did he have? Not only had he bet all his worldly possessions – including remortgaging the house he lived in with his young family – on the seemingly far-fetched notion SMEs deserved the same level of carrier service as huge conglomerates, but he’d also roped his partner and both of their wives into the project. “It was quite scary,” he admits.

But his tenacity quickly paid off. Several hard-hitting hours after his enterprise had opened its doors, Butler watched as his first ever client signed a cheque. “It was an emotional moment,” he remembers. “[I had] all those feelings mixed in – [I was] excited, nervous, scared. It was one of those moments where you want to laugh, to cry, to hug, to shout, to scream.” Given this wave of feelings washing over him, it’s understandable Butler couldn’t help himself and embraced the new client once the first payment had been signed. “He was a bit taken aback and I said ‘Don’t worry, we don’t hug all our customers but this is our first [sale],'” he laughs. “‘Welcome to World Options.'”

From the outside, the embrace may seem like an entrepreneur celebrating the first of many successes that would turn the company into a global brand with hundreds of franchisees around the world. However, that would miss the significance of the moment. For Butler it soothed a fear of failure he’s carried with him ever since childhood. “I remember being five years of age and playing outside in the back garden,” he recalls. “I was messing around, throwing stones, and my mum called me [into] the kitchen and she looked me in the face and [gave me] a backhand around the ear. And I remember her saying ‘Stewart, you know what, you’re a waste of space. You should’ve never been born and when you grow up you won’t amount to anything in your life.'” That moment has motivated him to prove her wrong in the years since. “You can either sit down and moan about it or you can do something about the things you can change [and] don’t worry about the things you can’t,” Butler shrugs.”

His drive saw him work hard to get the best results he could in school. While admitting this didn’t always yield straight As, his experience with education taught him a vital lesson for his future entrepreneurial endeavours – time management. And even when he left college to get a full-time job, Butler kept pushing himself harder and harder. “I took an economics and marketing degree at night school for four years [on top of] working six days a week,” he says.”

Having first tried his hand at car salesmanship, he eventually found himself working with a shipping company – leading him towards his future franchisor role. “This was probably in 1999 or in the early 2000s,” Butler remembers. “The internet had started but in the shipping industry it was a bit archaic, it was still way behind industries like banking and insurance.” This lack of innovation in the sector eventually presented him with the key insight required to launch his own enterprise. “The idea behind World Options was to be able to give small to medium-sized businesses [the same] treatment as large companies,” he explains.”

So why didn’t SMEs get the same red carpet service larger firms did? “It’s the economy of scale,” answers Butler. Essentially, it boiled down to one simple fact – it would cost large carriers and shipping companies too much to give each and every small-business leader the same attention that larger companies got. Therefore they’d rather opt to focus on clients shipping large quantities than small ones. “So I thought, ‘hold on a minute Stewart, there’s a hole in the marketplace here,'” he remembers.

Eric Johansson
Eric Johansson