In conversation with Leo Castellanos, Cass alumnus and Co-founder of Comparabien.com

Leonardo-Castellanos

Cass Business School was the perfect location to meet Leonardo Castellanos, Executive MBA alumnus who graduated in 2009. He told us about his entrepreneurial journey and business plans.

Leonardo, who is originally from Venezuela, arrived in the UK back in 2002. He was already working for Price Waterhouse Coopers, a big consultancy firm. In 2007 he decided to start his MBA at Cass Business School because he was really keen on making a change in his career. He said “Half way through the MBA I decided that I had enough of consulting for big firms. I have been doing it for nine years and, you know, I had a good career, it was a great school. I really thought that at the end of the day what I achieved, could have been achieved by someone else, it was just another project. That’s why I decided that I really wanted to go and head into entrepreneurship and venture capital, and started working within that space.”

How was the experience of working and studying at the same time?

“It’s a challenge, it was a part-time MBA and it’s obviously a huge commitment to have a full-time job and do well in your studies. There is course work, exams and your family. Your social life suffers quite a lot, but in the end is a commitment that you know that you’re making and it’s for a certain period of time, and so you just have to go through with it.”

Comparabien.com and Leonardo’s role during its development.

A few months after Castellanos finished the MBA, he co-founded his start-up called Comparabien.com, a price comparison website. He and his partner Alfredo Ramirez, also a Cass alumnus and originally from Peru, followed a successful model in the UK and developed it for the Latin American (LATAM) region.

“We agreed to the fact that Latin America had a huge potential and we wanted to tap into that. Obviously it was a personal project and, you know, we both had bills to pay, in my case, I had a student debt to repay as well, so we couldn’t just forget about all of it and follow that route. We had to keep our jobs while working on the idea” he said. After a few hard-working months they finally launched in Peru in 2010.

Leonardo’s role has always been developing the business and, most importantly, finding investment to keep it growing. He says “Alfredo’s skills and mine were complementary. His background is in technology so he was in charge of developing the websites, and mine were in accounting and finances so I took charge of the business and money raising strategy. In 2012 we started working on an expansion model and by March 2013 we raised a small round of over half a million dollars” This big achievement allowed them to expand their business to four new countries including Mexico, Brazil, Chile and Argentina.

What’s the future of comparison sites?

Castellanos knows that competition is inevitable, but according to him Comparabien.com has the biggest foothold in Latin America and will lead in the years to come. “We have two competitors we worry about. They are in two or three countries where we have presence in, but we certainly believe that, like in the UK, there will be room for four or five big companies aggregating for national products and we want to be really leading that pack” he said.

What are your business expansion plans?

“We will certainly be looking, not in the next 12 months, but in the next 24 to launch in specific regions within LATAM. That may include the Hispanic states of the US. We are seriously considering launching in places like Florida, California, New Mexico and Texas. There is also the idea of launching in my own country, Venezuela, which we are not doing due to the lack of clarity to do business, but we believe that that would be a good market to be working in. There are other smaller countries that are also presenting a good opportunity, but it’s a matter of focus. We really want to consolidate in the countries we already are. Doing what we are doing well and then go beyond that.”

What are the “must have” qualities of an entrepreneur?

Leo-Castellanos-at-Cass“Being an entrepreneur is about working with people, in my view. You have to try to be good at many things, but not try to excel at everything because it is impossible. I think that recognising things that you don’t have and assigning it to others and being resilient is very important. Sometimes, you have to be quite stubborn and always follow what you think is a good opportunity. Also, make sure that you bring people together and create a vision that they will follow.”

We finished our conversation talking about the Cass Entrepreneurs Network (CEN) and the very important role it plays at facilitating a forum where entrepreneurs can meet investors and connect with potential partners.

Leonardo said: “I think the next step for CEN is to facilitate the connexion between Cass alumni and Cass students that are passionate about entrepreneurship and also to provide a little more support. I think that it’s important to drive that community spirit and I am very sure that people like me, and another people that have been to Cass are happy to contribute to that.”

Find out more about Leonardo’s business: Comparabien.com

Journalism alumna Iona Craig wins prestigious award

Iona-Craig

 

Iona Craig, BA Journalism 2010, is an independent journalist based in Sana’a, Yemen where she has been working as the Times Yemen correspondent since 2010. She has recently won the Frontline Club 2014 award, Print category, for her work in the region. The Frontline Club Awards seek to recognise new emerging talents and established names who have shown integrity, courage and independent spirit in their work.

Meet Iona

Iona used to work in the horse racing industry, riding and training racehorses in the UK, Australia and Ireland.  After thirteen years she left the world of jumping and racing behind her to return to the UK where she studied her degree at City in addition to studying Arabic for two years part-time.

According to her blog, since her graduation Iona has worked for: BBC Newsnight (in 2008), the Bureau of Investigative Journalism (2010), GCap Media (now Global Radio 2007-2008), Bloomberg News (2010) and gained valuable experience with the Sunday Times after winning the Tom Walker Trust Award in 2009.

In October 2010 she moved to Sana’a, Yemen and worked as an editor and then managing editor for The Yemen Times. Due to growing demand as Yemen’s revolution began she left the Yemen Times in February 2011 to concentrate on freelance work.

Iona’s work in Yemen

Craig has covered America’s covert war in Yemen for four years. Her investigation into a US drone attack that left 12 civilians dead, took her to travel undercover to the strike site six days after the bombing of a wedding convoy in remote central Yemen.

The Frontline Club describes her work:

“A story that it takes courage and careful preparation to report given the danger of kidnapping in Yemen. But it is important that people on the ground verify who is being hit by drones – otherwise the story is left to propagandists.

Iona Craig has done this convincingly in the sort of story that only a reporter who knows a country well can do.”

Iona has been back as a guest lecturer at City University London, spoken at the British Yemeni Society and Chatham House. She has also carried out workshops and training for journalists in both Yemen and the UK.

Learn more about Iona’s work.

The Annual Alumni Gathering Monaco 2014

Cass-Monaco-2014

Around 200 Cass alumni and their guests from Europe and places as far away as Ghana, South Africa, Turkey, Kazakhstan and Dubai came together in September for the 4th Annual Gathering in Monaco. The weekend provided the ideal opportunity to network with old friends and make new acquaintances.

The opening evening was held on the terrace of the Stelios Philanthropic Foundation, hosted by Cass alumnus Sir Stelios Haji-Ioannou. Sir Stelios was delighted to have been able to host this event and hoped that he will inspire others to give back. €6,000 was raised that evening though the honesty bar towards the Monaco Bursary that will be awarded to a Cass student in financial need.

On the Saturday morning Cass alumni and their guests had the privilege of listening to Sir Malcom Williamson reflect on his 55 year career in the City, which was most insightful and inspirational and covered his hugely successful career in the financial services industry. The talk provoked a number of thoughtful questions from the audience during a Q&A session managed by fellow Cass alumnus Robert Legget.

For those interested in Art and Culture, participants were provided with complimentary tickets to the Grimaldi Forum and many visited this outstanding attraction on the Saturday afternoon.

On Saturday evening a cocktail and barbeque party was hosted by Cass alumnus Lutz Strangemann, CEO of Land Union at his stunning private residence overlooking the Mediterranean Sea. The evening not only provided a great opportunity to network but also raised €2,850 and a further £90 through the sale of raffle tickets. All proceeds will contribute towards the Monaco Bursary. The raffle was drawn by the Vice-Chancellor of the University, Professor Paul Curran and the winning prizes, generously donated by Cass alumni included a weekend for two in Berlin, a chance to watch cricket at the world famous Lord’s, the Home of Cricket and dinner with Professor Steve Haberman, Dean of Cass Business School.

On Sunday morning Cass alumni and their guests had an opportunity to visit the Prince’s Palace of Monaco.

The Alumni Gathering in Monaco was yet another successful get-together for those who hold Cass close to their hearts in a spectacular setting by the Mediterranean Sea that provided an outstanding opportunity for alumni of the Business School to network and learn more about the progress of the School.

Were you there? Visit our photo galleries below.

The French Tarte Flambée is in London to stay!

Matthias Gilles, Olympia de Proyart and Jules Couten are three BSc Business Studies alumni who are following the same ambition: making the traditional Tarte Flambée recipe an exclusive dish for Londoners.

Working on an entrepreneurial project at City University London made them realise the potential of making this dish a profitable and fully branded business and so they founded Flambée, a pop-up style restaurant.

We met them to have a quick chat about their current plans for their business, entrepreneurial experience, and also to ask them a bit more about their time at City.

Meeting the Flambée team

From left Matthias, Olympia and Jules

From left Matthias, Olympia and Jules

Matt grew up in Alsace, Northern France. He is also a qualified optician and has always been fascinated by entrepreneurship. Olympia was born and raised in Geneva, Switzerland. She is very social, loves art, fashion, food, seeing her friends and going out, but also hates to fail, and Jules is from Paris and he really enjoys anything to do with finance.

Tell us about Flambée

Flambée originally started as a Uni project, Matt says: “When I moved to London, the Tarte Flambée was nowhere to be seen and I had the idea of opening a restaurant selling this dish exclusively.”

“When we were asked to create a fictitious business as well as a business plan and financial statements as part of one of our classes, we thought about this idea. While working on the business plan we realised that the margins could be as high as 80% and we therefore decided to give it a go.”

The team started catering at private events, first through friends, and then trading at Brick Lane Market and Camden Lock Market and have more recently been at Old Street Terrace on Old Street roundabout and Canary Wharf.

When asked about the uniqueness of their tarte’s recipe, Matt told us that as it was a very special one, they would keep it secret! But we still managed to get an answer. They described their recipe as a modern version using some “trendy” ingredients such as smoked salmon or pulled pork, and still keeping its authentic flavour. Fancy a test? Then you will have to visit their next pop-up location!

What are your current plans for the business?

“We are writing a formal business plan in order to evaluate its real potential to be opened as a restaurant” says Olympia. “While we do it, we are still trading on markets, and we will be launching in our new location in Shoreditch, from October 8th, the pub is called “Catch” and it’s located on 22 Kingsland Road, London, E2 8DA. We will be there Wednesday-Friday from 6:00pm – 10:00pm and Saturday and Sunday from 4:00pm – 10:00pm.”

What has been your experience like as entrepreneurs?

At first, we all thought that running a business would be less hard work than a 9-5 job, but then we realised that it becomes the main part of your live and it also brings its challenges, Matt says.

The main challenge, according to him, is having and making enough money to carry on. He had to look for a part-time job when they reduced their trading days and, on a personal basis, his social life suffered as all the activities of running a business are very time consuming.

Olympia, on the other hand, thinks that getting on very well with team members, and listening to each other has helped them to work as a unit. She also emphasises that truly believing in the project is key when the challenges arrive. Jules also adds that having people skills and considering all the stakeholders involved in a project is important.

Why Cass?

They all agree that Cass Business School’s excellent reputation played a key role when choosing a place to study, and also coming to London was a great opportunity to develop their language skills as well as being closer to ‘home’ as Jules explains: “I really wanted to go away from France so I had two possible countries where to study: the UK and Canada. As I wanted to be closer to my family I chose the UK.”

On the experience and benefits of studying the degree, each of them has their own point of view:

“I think my degree gave me some skills I will definitely be able to use when working on the venture as a whole. I think it also enabled me to have a better understanding of the business/finance world which again would have an impact on the decisions I would make regarding my own business. However, I do believe you are born an entrepreneur and do not become one. Entrepreneurship is a passion more than a job.” Matt

“The accounting lessons helped me, as well as the branding and marketing ones. But I think that I really acquired the skills required to be an entrepreneur while conducting our project. I definitely learnt much more in the three months I was being an entrepreneur than during the whole degree!” Olympia

“The degree focused on big ventures and finance and not that much on small companies, but I still think that it helped me to be more open minded and accept that people have different goals in life.” Jules

Don’t forget to visit Flambee’s new pop-up location!

Where: Catch, 22 Kingsland Road, London, E2 8DA. From Wednesday 8th October
Time: Wednesday-Friday from 6:00pm-10:00pm and Saturday & Sunday from 4:00pm-10:00pm.

Arts Management alumnus and also Orchestra Conductor, Timothy Carey, will be at the Singapore Lyric Opera season

Timothy CareyBorn in London, Timothy Carey studied the cello and the piano from a young age. He then went on to study conducting with Professor Ilya Musin at the St Petersburg Conservatoire. He has worked with several orchestras throughout Europe and Asia since his debut in 1999.

A devoted advocate of new music, he has collaborated with The Opera Group, Opera W11 and Birmingham Contemporary Music Group on new operas by Edward Rushton, Julian Philips, Stuart Hancock, Tobias Picker, Julian Philips, Judith Weir, Russell Hepplewhite and Jonathan Dove.

He studied the MA in Arts Policy and Management at City University London and graduated in 2003, and has also recently become a regular coach at the Royal College of Music’s International Opera School, a testament to his growing reputation in the world of opera.

Timothy will return to Singapore Lyric Opera, opening this month to conduct Lehar’s The Merry Widow, hailed as the “Queen of Operettas”.

For further information about his career, please visit Tim’s website.

Talk to you in November! Annual Telephone Campaign

As the autumn term approaches, we are looking forward to speaking to many more alumni as part of the annual Telephone Campaign. From the 3rd November, an enthusiastic team of students from City University London will be calling alumni to find out more about their time at the University and let them know about the amazing things that have been achieved thanks to donations to the City Future Fund from alumni like yourselves.

Last year, over 1700 conversations were had between students and alumni. Memories were shared, advice dispensed, and an incredible £72,000 was pledged to support the Annual Fund this year.

The Annual Fund is a way for alumni to make City an even better place for current and future students, providing unique opportunities and extra support that would not otherwise be possible. The generous donations made during the Telephone Campaign are the backbone of the support that we can offer students through the Annual Fund, such as bursaries for talented undergraduates and career development opportunities for all students at City.

Emma was one of the first recipients of the City Future Fund bursary. This year she is writing her dissertation and hoping to apply for a Master’s degree.

“I have enjoyed my time at City so much that I have decided to apply for an MA in Speech and Language Therapy to follow on from this course. I am so grateful for City Future Fund for supporting me and making the enormous leap, from working mum to student mum, a successful one. It has had a ripple effect to the rest of my family too. My daughter was set on finishing college and going straight into work. She thought university meant moving away from home, combined with a miserable workload and boring lectures. My experience has inspired her to stay on at college to gain enough UCAS points to apply for university herself.”
Emma Rhodes 3rd Year BSc (Hons) Speech and Language Science

We hope you have time to speak to a student this year and consider making a donation to support the Annual Fund. 100% of every gift you make goes towards student-based projects, helping to give more students the opportunity to thrive while at City.

Interested in supporting the Annual Fund? Please get in touch with Rachael on Rachael.Gill.1@city.ac.uk or call her on 020 7040 4236

Contributed by Rachael Gil

From London to New York. Cass alumnus Krishna Verma shares his journey

Studying at Cass Business School, was a great decision. London is truly an exceptionally diverse city where one can learn so much about different cultures and experience a new adventure every day. This really helped me grow as a person as it broadened my horizons and, more importantly, helped me to develop a perspective I can call my own.

I studied BSc. (Hons) Accounting & Finance, and I’m not going to lie to you, the course was very intense. I put in a lot of hard work over my three years, and I was rewarded with knowledge which prepared me for my new life today as a young finance professional in New York City.

Crossing the Atlantic to follow a career opportunity

London and New York City are very similar yet different cities, each one has its own unique energy and personality. Even though London holds a special place in my heart, I felt that moving to NYC was the right decision as it is truly the heart of the financial world. America is the land of opportunity, where one can work hard and be well rewarded for the effort.

I was facing many problems finding a permanent position in London, mainly due to the change in work permit laws for international students. I had never failed at anything in my life before, yet while trying to find a permanent position in London, I faced so many rejections which almost made me question myself, was I good enough, does my nationality define me?

I decided to not give up and took the challenge as an opportunity to prove myself. I secured an internship with a boutique investment bank in the City working within their M&A division. I networked hard, especially with the President of the bank who began his career with UBS AG in New York City. Nearing the end of my internship, I got my current position at UBS in NYC by leveraging what I had learned about the industry through my internship.

Study what inspires you and grab the opportunities early enough

I would recommend Cass Business School, to all who are passionate about the field of finance as the experience of studying there will allow you to find inspiration from great minds who teach you as well as those you study alongside with. The in-depth knowledge gained is also taught from a practical perspective which will allow you to face challenges in the demanding work environment from your first day on the job. Studying and working alongside your fellow students as well as the vast alumni network, will build you a strong network with the future leaders of the field.

Finally, my advice to students interested in the financial industry is very simple, make the best of the opportunities you have and seize them at the earliest. Work hard and dedicate to what you want to achieve and, at the same time, learn to adapt your goals to the situation at hand.

I intended on staying in London, but life took me in another direction. I was so disheartened and emotionally broken when I realized I would not be able to pursue my goal of staying in London, but now when I look back at, I wish I could have seen where I would end up.

Contributed by Krishna Verma

Enjoy reading pocket-sized stories? You will love Sixpenny, a literary magazine founded by a couple of City Alumnae.

Sixpenny MagazineOnce upon a time Elizabeth Leonard and Kate Thomas graduated from the Creative Writing (Novels) programme at City University London. They both had a common interest: writing stories to delight audiences.

They then embarked on a journey to create Sixpenny, a digital magazine of illustrated short stories. Each issue has six stories that take six minutes to read: three are written by widely published authors, and three are by unpublished authors. They will be launching their first edition this winter and are now looking for writers and illustrators, who will get paid for their work, to join their initiative.

Meet the founders

Elizabeth: “After graduating from NYU, I joined the “real” world with a proper job, a house, a car, and a promise to write when I was a “stable” adult. I turned in my resignation for this life in exchange for one I was better at. I moved to London to study at City University and wrote my first novel. I love the sound of the Thames as the tide comes in, sunsets over the Hudson, Hemingway, walking through a new city with an old friend, and a cheap spiral-bound notebook with a good pen.”

Kate, on the other hand, attended Cornell University and Goldsmiths in London for several years but graduated from neither of these fine learning institutions. She says: “I started taking myself seriously when I became a mom and I now hold a Masters degree in Creative Writing. I am a fan of surprising punchlines, the search for life on other planets, brave truths, keen observations, and people who laugh a little too loud.”

Why Sixpenny?

This is the little story of how Sixpenny was born according to their founders: Long, long ago, there were magazines filled with illustrated stories. They created a market for writers and illustrators to hone their craft and make a living, and they gave readers a steady supply of stories they could truly enjoy. When these magazines began, some were called sixpenny magazines, because they cost a sixpence – affordable enough for just about everyone. But over time, all of these ‘everyman’ fiction magazines died. Luckily, while out in the woods one day, we found a single cell of a sixpenny magazine hidden away in a nugget of amber. Soon after, we discovered the emerging technology of the internet. Thanks to that little pocket computer called a mobile phone, people are reading again so we decided that now is the time to bring back the Sixpenny.

Want to contribute?

Kate and Elizabeth are looking for creative writers who can produce literary fiction short-stories that keep the reader engaged and excited from the first word to the last. Each story should be a six-minute read – 1000 words, give or take (just a little). The six stories selected for each issue will be illustrated before publication in Sixpenny.

They are also looking for illustrators who can produce GIF illustrations as well as graphic short stories. To be considered you will need to submit a portfolio. For more information and guidelines, please visit Sixpenny’s webpage.

Don’t forget that the first edition of Sixpenny will be released this winter. Don’t miss it!