Joseph Ashford founded K4 Global in 2014 and continues to serve as the firm’s non-executive chairman. K4 Global is a multi-dimensional firm based in London that serves clients throughout the world. Throughout his career, Ashford has maintained a reputation not only as an incredibly hard-working entrepreneur but also as a dedicated family man.
His business approach has allowed him to invest in unique opportunities and drive significant growth across a range of sectors while consistently managing risk effectively at K4, where he’s assembled a world-class group of experts in a range of unique fields.
Before founding K4 Global, Joseph Ashford held positions at varying levels within companies across multiple industries. His experiences as both an employee and a C-level executive lend him unique perspectives into the inner workings of businesses and how they best function. These perspectives have proven invaluable as Ashford leads K4 Global in the assistance it provides to clients. He’s also considered a marketing expert, capable of revolutionizing small businesses with detailed, bespoke marketing plans alongside his team at K4. He also works extensively in the worlds of public relations and VIP lifestyle management, offering brand management and much more in order to help clients meet their many unique needs.
K4 Global offers a variety of services that reflect Ashford’s personal expertise and the knowledge of his team. At the firm, Ashford regularly heads projects that are focused on VIP concierge service, public relations, global connectivity, event management, crisis management, security and strategic marketing. The firm is well-versed in media ventures, including both music and film undertakings.
Joseph Ashford is a member of PRCA and speaks three languages: French, Spanish and English. This publication recently sat down with Joe to find out more about where he came from and what his plans are for the future.
How did you get started in this business?
It started because I saw a need for an investment firm that looked outside of the traditional format, seeing things and offering things that other firms weren’t willing to or capable of offering to clients. At K4 Global, we bring our team’s expertise and passion to custom-designed investment opportunities in a wide range of industry sectors.
That allows us to reach investment opportunities that other firms simply can’t, and it gives us the opportunity to spread throughout the globe in search of promising investments across new and emerging industries, which have been very rewarding for us in the past.
K4 started small and built its way up from there, and that’s been the way that I’ve built many of the things I’ve worked on in my career. Start with the unique value you have to offer and build out from there.
How do you make money?
If you’re talking in concrete terms, investors make money by collecting fees that are a percentage of the assets earned on behalf of their clients. But in a broader sense, I make money by being where the market is going, not where it is now. The key to investment and what makes it profitable for some and not for others is that you have to be able to look at a market, a company, or an industry, and identify what the signs and signals they’re giving you actually mean. It’s like interpreting a language— you have to be able to put together all the messages to form a coherent statement, then act on what that statement is telling you about the future.
When I get the germ of an idea about an investment or another opportunity, I bring my team together and brainstorm about how we can best make that idea a reality…and I encourage my team to do the same.
How long did it take for you to become profitable?
It’s hard to say exactly. I would say a couple of years on average. I try not to measure my life and career in elapsed time but rather in how much work I’ve put in. How much work did it take for me to become profitable? A lot. Hundreds of hours, perhaps thousands. And it also took the work of other, very talented people with their own ideas and work ethics and expertise. It’s never a one-person show, even when that’s how it’s sometimes presented to us in biographies and articles and media presentations of successful people. It’s always a team effort.
When you were starting out, was there ever a time you doubted it would work? If so, how did you handle that?
There are always doubts, but I don’t think I had dramatically more or less doubts than the average person trying to build something where there wasn’t something before. Whenever I have doubts, I always ask myself first, “Are you spending your time the way you want to spend your time?” If the answer is ‘yes,’ if I’m passionate about the work I’m doing, then the questions of ‘Will this work?’ or ‘How long will this take?’ don’t matter quite as much, because I know I’m using my skills and experience and time in a way that’s satisfying to me now, in the moment.
How did you get your first customer?
That’s a tough one. I’m not sure I remember who my very first customer was. But I’ll just assume that it was after a lot of scraping, clawing, and late nights trying to acquire them. The first one is often the most difficult— that is, unless you’re a lemonade stand and your first customer is your mom coming out to support your business.
In reality our first customer at K4 was likely a referral or someone that I had a relationship with previously through other work or businesses. The power of forging positive relationships everywhere you go is extremely potent, and you never know when a passing contact will turn into a significant piece of your success.
What is one marketing strategy (other than referrals) that you’re using that works really well to generate new business?
I believe that content, not advertising, is the future of marketing, that marketing has evolved completely from the days of pitching a product or service. Today, companies and businesses have to deliver information to the customers and educate them about why your services and products are the best.
So that’s one of the things we’re really focusing on at K4, and that I’m focusing on personally. Rather than going out and trying to say, ‘You should trust us,’ instead actively showing why we’re worth trusting by demonstrating what we know through the content we put out into the world. We want to show rather than tell, and so our marketing efforts aren’t always clear-cut advertisements for K4. It’s a lot more of putting our ideas and expertise out there for the public, and then allowing that to lead to contacts, leads, and clients.
What is the toughest decision you’ve had to make in the last few months?
There are a lot of tough decisions in investing, so it’s hard to choose just one. I will say, there was a day recently where there was a particular investment. It was in an industry I really believe in and am excited by, and I thought that the company had a lot of promise. But it was just struggling, the signs were saying it wasn’t going to have the kinds of returns we hoped it would. I was tempted to hold on just a little longer because this little emotional side of me wanted it to work out. But I had to sell because I knew rationally it wasn’t the right call for me, for K4, and for our clients.
What do you think it is that makes you successful?
This may not be the answer that some people expect, especially from someone in investing, but I look for a good work-life balance— not only because it’s good for me and for my family personally, but because I also think it makes me better at what I do. I’m not the kind of entrepreneur that puts in 18 hour days. I think you can be just as productive if you come to work rested and grounded in a good social and family life. Family is important to me and I try to set aside as much time as possible for my wife and kids.
I also believe that deadlines and hard-stops on your workdays make you more productive. When I know that no matter what, I’m going home to be with my family at 6 pm, I’m more focused during those work hours. If I were someone who was comfortable just staying at the office as long as necessary, even into the late hours of the night, then I might get more distracted, be less productive— because I would know that I can always make up for it later. But sometimes it’s too late.
What has been your most satisfying moment in business?
The most satisfying moment for me is always when I get to see an investment pay off— either at the level I had hoped it would or far exceeding my expectations. Those are always the moments that make all of the hard work and disappointments worth it. It’s that bit of success you can point to and say, “See, I do know what I’m doing among all this craziness.’ That’s always been the most satisfying thing for me, and I would guess that a lot of the team at K4 would say the same. It’s a very satisfying feeling, one that you’re always chasing in this business.
What does the future hold for your business? What are you most excited about?
Social responsibility in business. At K4 Global, we understand the importance of having social responsibility. Businesses tap into their market and aim to provide a product or service that will benefit the audience that they are selling to. In order to keep their consumers happy, though, the business also needs to show social awareness.
That’s something we always want to be at the vanguard of at K4— it’s not just about making money, it’s about making that money work for the causes and groups of people that need progress, need social change. So while it’s not strictly a business-centric goal, that is definitely the thing we’re all the most excited about at K4. Finding ways for our business to become more socially aware, socially responsible— and helping encourage other businesses to take those same steps and develop those same priorities. Because what’s the point of success in business if it’s not channeled into something morally good and socially just?
What business books have inspired you?
“The Fourth Industrial Revolution” by Dr. Klaus Schwab. It outlines how technology like 3D printing, AI and the Internet of Things are shaping how we do business, today and in the future.
I always try to stay as informed as I can about where the future is headed, and how it’s going to change not only what I do but the world as a whole. Lots of people don’t like feeling like their industry or business model is going to have to change, so they bury their heads in the sand and wave away any emerging technologies as ‘trends.’ But it’s the people who face those developments and changes head-on that find lasting success. Plus, those advancements and industry changes are going to come along and shake things up whether you acknowledge them or not. You may as well face them head-on and come out riding the wave.
What advice would you give to your younger self?
To not lose hope or focus. I didn’t have a particularly good childhood, but I’ve been able to use those experiences to give me the confidence that I have the grit to see anything through to the end.
I’ve never been short of ambition. I’m not ashamed to admit that. But, at the beginning of my career, when I was fighting to succeed, I didn’t listen to those around me as much as I should have. Over the years, I’ve done a complete turnaround on that and now I think good communication is a hallmark of our business.
I’ve never been particularly fond of ‘universal’ business tips that are supposed to apply to everyone, in all situations, at all times. Because in business, you have to be different things at different times. Sometimes you have to be tough and bold, others you have to be more reserved and cautious. You can’t win by picking a hard line and sticking to it no matter what— reality will look at your hard line and laugh.
Are you willing to be a mentor? If so, how should someone contact you?
Network! It is essential to have friendships with individuals within your industry, your social circle, and beyond. I also recommend that you look at cultivating friendships deliberately with other entrepreneurs and like-minded individuals. You never know when someone within your circle of contacts can help you advance your business. It’s also important to remember that expanding your network must come from a place of genuine social connection. It can’t be an exchange of, ‘What can I do for you so you’ll do something for me?’ The relationships that really mean something in business are born from real, genuine connections and interactions.
Never stop communicating. Listen, talk, and delegate. Communicate with your employees and customers and find out your business’s strengths and weaknesses. If there are areas that can be improved, good communication will help your business to grow. You shouldn’t be so afraid of hearing the truth that you never ask for it. As long as you know how to parse the good from the bad, you can never have too much feedback and input to help you develop, grow, and improve your business offering.
It’s always been my practice to be honest and respectful to everyone around me, and I’ve brought that philosophy of kindness and respect to K4 Global. All employees share these values as we only hire passionate people who naturally understand our belief system.
And in terms of smaller, concrete tips for daily productivity— I’m a big Alexa fan. I use the device to keep my appointments, social calendar and ideas straight without being weighed down with a non-digital calendar or planner. This doesn’t have to be your specific tool or approach, but it’s important to look for aids like these that can make your business and work life simpler and more effective.