From Comparing Notes to Comparing Energy Prices

Alumni Stories, Cass Business School News.

ugonwaAfter feeling nostalgic about abandoning the energy trading knowledge she had gained from Cass Business School, Ugonwa made the decision to leave her position as partner at an insurance brokerage firm to pursue her dream. She is now the successful owner of Compareenergyprices.ng, an online marketplace for oil trading and supply.  Read on to see learn she did it.

 Can you tell me about your time at Cass?

My experience at Cass Business School was a memorable one. I studied for my MSc in Energy Trade Finance in 2010/2011 and I must confess it was one of the most intense periods of my life. I guess we all know that Cass isn’t a walk in the park!

We had lectures five days a week and often had to meet on the weekends. My friends in other schools often asked why I was so busy and didn’t have enough time to hang out as much in London. Others looked at me with admiration saying things like “You must be a whiz”, when I mentioned where I was studying. However, despite the busy schedule, the wealth of knowledge gathered and diversity of people I met made it worthwhile.

What happened after you graduated?

Post graduation I had considered staying behind and getting a job in London, but then an opportunity came up to start an insurance brokerage firm with a partner back in Nigeria. I guess I chose to move back to be a boss and escape the gloomy London weather! While my new career path was interesting and challenging, I still harboured a deep longing for the Energy business as I felt nostalgic about abandoning my energy trading knowledge acquired at Cass. So about a year and a half later, I left to start Viluton Energy, an oil trading and supply business in Lagos, Nigeria. I still run this and it has been extremely rewarding.

How did Compareenergyprices.ng come about?

I realized during the course of my oil trading business that companies and residences lost time and manpower having to call around in a bid to compare prices of petroleum products they purchased. I figured there could be a better way and Compareenergyprices.ng was born.

Compareenergyprices.ng is an open online marketplace, where you save money by comparing prices of various vendors, whilst keeping in mind other factors such as ratings, reviews, payment plans, delivery speed etc. With this platform buyers can compare prices and purchase products from cherry-picked premium dealers with a click of a button and have the products delivered to their doorstep.

The benefits of the business are twofold, on one hand the buyers are able to get more bang for their buck, save time and avoid the stress of visiting different websites to compare prices and pick dealers who would compete for their business. On the other hand the dealers get exposure and grow their business by reaching a wider audience and market which would be made available by our website.

What has been the biggest challenge?

Actually the biggest challenge I foresaw was not what I encountered. Well, “c’est la vie”! I thought it would be difficult to convince the dealers to join, however we have had to carefully select from a lot of dealers. Our major challenge has been convincing clients to place actual orders.

We get a lot of visitors who compare but do not necessarily click the purchase button and we are trying to increase our conversion rate i.e convince window shoppers to become actual buyers.

In addition as a startup, we have had to do a lot of PR to get the ball rolling and this certainly does not come cheap. Getting skilled hands to work with you and help bring your vision to reality is often difficult as well.

What has been the most rewarding experience?

The most rewarding experience has been getting feedback from site users and hearing people say things like “Wow this is such an innovative idea, how come no one had ever thought of this in Nigeria?”

Do you have any advice for anyone looking to follow in your footsteps?

With regards to advice, I reckon that you have to be prepared, do a lot of research and have a watertight business plan.  Also seek advice from experienced people with knowledge about the intended business and never take no for an answer.

Lastly dream bigger than your mind can fathom, if your dreams don’t scare you, then they are not big enough!

Finally, it’s the quick fire question round!

Favourite place in London:  Scotts Restaurant

Favourite holiday destination:  Miami

Must-check every day website: Bloomberg

Dream travel destination:  Fiji Islands

Cheese or chocolate: Chocolate

I am DIA

Alumni Stories, Uncategorized.

Dia Poster ST - 8TH JULY CHANGEDia Thanki – aka DIA – studied BSc Management and Systems, and went on to be a project manager and then founded her own record label. She will be playing her first solo concert on 24th September. We had a chat about this exciting change of direction!

Tell me about your time at Cass

I did my undergraduate degree at Cass – I studied a BSc (Hons) Management and Systems and I did well – I got a 2:1 and really enjoyed the experience. I met great people from all around the world, and I still keep in touch with some of the lecturers. It was a really inspiring time.

What did you get up to next?

I got a studentship to do a Masters in Management Information Systems at Cranfield University. This was a one year course and when I finished I couldn’t find the role I wanted, so I joined a Motown group called “Mission Blue” for a short time as a backing singer and dancer and we performed nationally. We performed covers of all the classic Motown hits, but I left because I realised I prefer to be a solo artist, performing my own songs.

I eventually got hired at Lehman Brothers having taken a gap year as a teenager to work at PricewaterhouseCoopers in their Corporate & International Tax division. I then moved to Turner & Townsend, a construction project management firm where I worked as an Information Systems Manager. Following this, I fell in to project management with the likes of British Telecom, Bupa and many more private and public sector clients as a freelance Consultant, advising on operational and strategic planning.

Though I was successful at my work, I realised that this wasn’t fulfilling, so I decided to go to LA. I joined a vocal camp in the summer, and was coached by Seth Riggs who has coached the likes of Beyonce and Michael Jackson. I went there for a few weeks and learned important concepts like vocal technique, stage presence, production and song writing – and it spurred me on to start following through with my dream to be a singer.

When did you start being interested in music?

When I was 5 years old I had a keyboard my aunty bought me and I just started playing it intuitively – so that was really the first sign that I had a propensity towards music. I properly fell into music around age 13. I participated in a song contest in London and I was a finalist alongside a few others in the same age category, and we performed in front of 500 people. I also then chose to do GCSE music.

Also my aunty ran a community group called Holly Hall Music, so I went along and met lots of other teens with different talents and we performed every year at different venues like Islington Town Hall and various theatres. I had a very active extra-curricular life with playing the keyboard, singing, choreography and dancing during my teenage years. Patrick Jean-Paul Denis was my vocal coach and gave me the support I needed to develop my voice.

So, your first solo show?

I finally set up my own record label about two and half years ago. I decided I want to write songs, manage and co-produce the set. I’ve had ups and downs in the industry so it’s nice to have that control. My first solo concert will be on 24th September.

I’m the headliner and I’ve got producers from Paris (Audible Art) and the Netherlands (Roman & Ravy) working on the music production. It’s going to be more of a dance production rather than a live band; I’ve got Del Mak on board. He is one of the UK’s top choreographers and often gets invited to be a judge at hip-hop competitions. My concert on the 24th September is at the Watermans Theatre in Brentford near Chiswick, West London.

What has been your main challenge along the way?

Being ethnically Indian (I was actually born in Kenya and I grew up in London), people in the industry have always wanted me to fuse Bollywood and pop music and I didn’t really want to do that as it’s not really my style. I love urban music – hip hop, dancehall and house music. There are some world influences in some of my songs but I’m trying to break free from this box they often try to put artists in and I just want to produce pioneering, great quality work to attract a diverse demographic regardless or gender, ethnicity or age.

Do you have any advice for anyone following in your footsteps?

I’m still at the early stages of my music career but I would say that I don’t have any regrets regarding my late start into music. My project management background has certainly helped me run my own label, especially with the multitasking and delegating – there are lots of transferable skills so if anyone is considering a career transition, I think they should maximise their past experiences and apply their skills into their new career. Nothing is ever wasted and it’s all part of the journey.

Having said that, there are moments where I wished I had followed my passion earlier, however, I guess everything happens for a reason. If you have a passion for something, you should definitely follow it, even if it’s part-time to begin with.

Finally, it’s the quick fire question round!

Favourite place in London: Erm.. The Shard GONG bar – it has a fantastic view of London and I always feel so grateful to be living in one of the best cities in the world!
Favourite holiday destination: Bali without a doubt!
Must check every day website: www.iamdia.com :-)
Dream travel destination: Hawaii
Cheese or chocolate: Cheese (when I’m not going through my vegan phase!) – I’ve not got much of a sweet tooth!

Follow DIA on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter via @iamdiauk. To buy tickets for DIA’s concert visit the booking website or call Chilli Tickets directly on 020 3474 0674.

Discovering Grace

Alumni Notice Board, Alumni Stories, Arts and Social Sciences News, City News.

Meet Jocelyn RobJocelyn Robsonson, the City alumna who coincidentally found the story that became her debut book whilst studying Creative Writing here at City. Read Jocelyn’s interview to learn how the journey of finding the story became a story in its own right. 

Tell me about your time at City!

In 2008 I started the Creative Writing (Non-fiction) MA course so I could learn to use the techniques of fiction to tell a true story. At the time, I was working at London Metropolitan University as a researcher for the Institute of Policy Studies in Education and I really wanted a change of direction.

I had always wanted to write but I was never sure how I could make a living from it. A short time after starting the course I came across Grace’s story. I had seen some old photographs of girls in a gymnasium and wondered where they were and what they were doing. I soon found out that the girls were attending a technical education school in London and that the first of these Trade Schools for Girls had been founded in the 1900s. I read that someone called Grace Oakeshott had been the driving force behind them. But in an academic article about these schools, there was a footnote that said Grace had drowned at the age of 35 – and it made me think ‘what a tragic waste of life’.

How did this become a story?

Later I found an online review of a play entitled ‘Grace’. The play was about a woman called Grace Oakeshott who had staged her own death and run away to New Zealand. The playwright, Sophie Dingemans, claimed to be Grace’s great granddaughter and she said her play was based on fact.

I immediately began to wonder if this woman was the same as the one I was interested in. Was the footnote wrong? Had Grace not drowned after all? I started to Google. I then contacted the theatre company in New Zealand where the play had been performed and was put in touch with Sophie who in turn put me in touch with her mum, Cherry. Though Grace had assumed a new name in New Zealand, Sophie and her family had always known who their relative really was.

Cherry told me she was the daughter of Tony, one of Grace’s sons. I’m actually a New Zealander myself and when I was there a couple of months later for a conference Cherry met me at the airport. She took me to a cemetery in a small town in Hawke’s Bay and showed me the grave of someone called Joan Leslie Reeve. ‘That woman is the person you know as Grace Oakeshott’, she said.
By this time the story was getting exciting and I was struggling to balance my first year coursework with all the research I had to do. And I still had to decide how to write my book. I didn’t want to write Grace’s story in an academic way nor did I want it to be a dull story about education for girls, so I read lots to get ideas!

Coming to the end of my MA I was required to write 60,000 words which is about two thirds of a book. I told my tutor I wasn’t ready to write that much especially as there were moments when the story was turned on its head by the things I found out. In the end I didn’t complete my Masters but I left with a Post Graduate certificate. I wasn’t too bothered about the qualification because for me it was about the experience, the writing practice and the opportunity to meet others.

I was fortunate that the story and the opportunity to write it came along together.

What was writing your book like?

I left my post at London Metropolitan University in 2009. I wanted to write the book and so I treated it like a job and became a full time writer. My academic experience,meeting deadlines and expectations, helped me to structure my time. I spent 5 years researching and made some significant trips; to Fort Simpson and Fort Rae – where Walter Reeve, the man Grace ran away with, was born.

I thought of them as field trips and I also found more members of Grace’s family, and the descendants of those who had been left behind. I discovered that Walter had trained to be a doctor at Guy’s Hospital and that he knew Grace was married (to Harold Oakeshott) when he first met her. I found out that William, Walter’s father, had lived in Islington before he moved to Canada and that Grace was 1 of 4 children born in Hackney. I found out about Grace’s siblings, who her brother had married and the names of their children.

Not everybody wanted to talk to me but those who did were very helpful. I found a daughter of Grace’s great nephew on the electoral roll. I wrote to her and to my delight, she put me in touch with her parents. A short time later, I was able to meet the family in Kent. The night before my visit I was too excited to sleep! They shared their memories and family papers with me. I also traced the children and grandchildren from Harold’s second marriage – and found that one of his granddaughters lived only a short distance from me!

I had a wonderful time and I learned as much about the social history as I did about the people. It was more fun than anything I’ve ever been paid to do and the story of finding the story was as much fun as the story itself.

What has been your biggest challenge?

The structure was very challenging – trying to keep everyone’s story in chronological order and making the links between the characters clear.

What has been the biggest reward?

The way the book took me back to New Zealand where I was born and brought up. I was able to find out about my country in a different way and when I went back in March it was like bringing the two parts of my life together through the story of Grace’s life.

Any advice to others looking to follow in your footsteps?

Find a story that moves you, a subject that you feel passionate about.

Finally, it’s the quick-fire question round!

Favourite place in London: Hampstead Heath
Favourite holiday destination: Iceland
Must-check every day website: BBC
Dream travel destination: Yosemite
Cheese or chocolate: Chocolate

Jocelyn’s book ‘Radical Reformers and Respectable Rebels’ is out now and available to purchase from Amazon

Working in the USA

Alumni Notice Board, Arts and Social Sciences News, Careers, Cass Business School News, City Graduate School, Health Sciences News, Law News, Mathematics, Computer Science & Engineering News, Webinars.

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On Thursday 23rd June 2016, we hosted our fourth alumni careers webinar. The topic was “Working in the USA”, and focussed on the next steps you need to take to work and live in the USA.

This webinar was recorded and is now available here. Running Time 50 mins.

Image credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/thomashawk

Olive is the new Black

Alumni Stories, City News.

morenikeAfter seeing her first anaerobic digester in operation during her time at City, Morenike Idewu (MSc, Energy, Environmental Technology and Economics 2013) has been considering the ways in which energy can be used more efficiently, particularly in her home country Nigeria. She has since created her own energy blog thefutureisolive.com. We caught up with Morenike to find out why olive is the new black.

 Can you tell me about your time at City?
I had an interesting time at City University London. I’m a frequent traveller to the UK so coming to the UK wasn’t new, but studying with lots of students from different countries was. My course mates were from all over the world: Bangladesh, China, Morocco, United States, Iran, Egypt, Brazil, Greece, France, Spain, Sweden, Norway and Portugal. The cultural exchange both in and outside the classroom was a unique experience for me.

I studied MSc in Energy, Environmental Technology and Economics at the School of Mathematics, Computer Science and Engineering. The course covered a variety of topics in the Energy sector including policy, technologies, energy markets, energy purchasing and the transport industry among others. 80 per cent of our modules were taught by industry experts who came in to share knowledge with us directly from real life commercial and industrial experience; all this made the course unique both in delivery and organisation.

What happened after you graduated?
After I completed my course in 2013, I tried, unsuccessfully, to get UK work experience, so after my graduation in 2014 I returned to my home country Nigeria.

How did your idea come about?
During my time at City there were three things in particular that stood out to me. They were the presentation on Risk Management Principles during the course Energy Markets from the Purchasers perspective, an excursion trip to see the Anaerobic Digester at Harper Adam University in Shropshire and the presentation on Combined Heat Power by Paul Gardiner of British Sugar. The visit to Harper Adams University was the first time I had seen an anaerobic digester in operation – the plant supplied the power needs of the University and enabled them reduce their carbon footprint. British Sugar on the other hand have a Combined Heat and Power plant (gas and steam turbine) at their bio-refinery in Wissington; the interesting thing about the plant, apart from improving energy efficiency, is that the CO2 exhaust is channelled to nearby Cornerways greenhouse where tomatoes are grown.

It got me thinking about the many ways energy sources and their technologies can be used in various industries, whilst at the same time considering ways to reduce emissions sustainably and economically. So in 2015, I decided to put my writing skills and my interest in the energy sector to good use by starting my own energy blog; there I write about energy issues and report on events and news in the energy sector and how they primarily affect my home country Nigeria and Africa in general.

My objective is to educate, inform and possibly demystify energy topics and issues. My site’s name is thefutureisolive.com. I chose the domain name based on the colours used to represent the main sources of energy. In my opinion the future of energy is a blended energy mix of both fossil-based (black fuels) and renewable energies (green fuels); the composition of the energy mix for any organization, home or country will depend on what’s accessible and what’s affordable.

I have also had the privilege to attend a number of seminars, conferences and workshops in the last year as a media representative.

What has been the biggest challenge with regards to your idea?

This is still very much the early days so I expect more challenges as I expand and add other services, however I would say that the biggest challenge has been the multitasking that administrating your own site entails. My work is not limited to just content writing; I am also editing, networking, advertising, handling correspondence and graphics, researching and being a journalist, as well as learning a good deal of web development to run the site.  It’s like doing 10 different jobs at the same time and being the non-techie person that I was, learning a bit about web development was a challenge. The good thing is that there is a lot of online help for newbies.

What has been the most rewarding experience?
I would say feedback from those who contact thefutureisolive.com about topics and the companies I have profiled on the site.

Do you have any advice for anyone looking to follow in your footsteps?
I would say go for it! Even if you are afraid. Look for others with the same interests, study how they did it and reach out for help when you need it.

Finally, it’s the quick fire question round!

Favourite place in London:  Bar Salsa on Tottenham court Rd
Favourite holiday destination:  Spain
Must-check every day website: Bellanaija.com
Dream travel destination:  Sweden or Manila (Philippines)
Cheese or chocolate: Definitely Cheese

The Airbnb of Meeting Rooms

Alumni Stories, Cass Business School News , .

IMG_20160504_133248Ygal Levy (BSc Business Studies, 2012) expanded his world view through exchange programmes whilst at Cass, and he’s now expanding the minds of…anyone who wants to book a meeting room, thanks to Bird Office “the Airbnb of meeting rooms”!

Tell me about your time at Cass!

To tell you about my time at Cass first you should know where I came from. I am from Antwerp in Belgium – famous for its diamonds and port. I grew up going to a Jewish school from the age of 3 to 18, where I was surrounded by the same fifty or so people throughout. I call it a “cocoon” community.

At the age of 16 I came to London to visit my sister who was studying Business Studies at Cass and I was instantly sold on the University and its curriculum. There were so many international students at Cass and it really opened my eyes to a whole new world. This sneak peek was all I needed, so as soon as applications opened I had Cass at the top of my list.

My experience at Cass was amazing, especially because of the large network of student exchange programs that were offered. During my second year, I studied abroad at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST) for one year; actually, after doing so I convinced my younger brother to also study at Cass and HKUST. 70% of the students were international and the University offers a broad range of exchange destinations to explore new cultures. I learned Chinese, travelled from Hong Kong to mainland China and practiced my Mandarin with the locals.

Most of the people I met in London and while on exchange are still close friends of mine. Recently, I travelled to San Francisco as well as Mexico and funnily enough I did not have to spend any time in a hotel, I knew people everywhere! Actually, I also got in touch with Bird Office through a friend from Cass.

What did you do next?

Following my undergraduate degree at Cass, I did a Master of European Business at the École Supérieure du Commerce de Paris (ESCP). I got the opportunity to write my Masters thesis about the EU container market for the largest container handling company in the world, PSA Antwerp, which led to a job directly thereafter.

They were looking to fill a specific position but after my studies I had a very open view of what I should do. I was only 21 and I did not know whether I would prefer sales, finance or operations, so I did not want to settle into any specific role; I wanted to move around and see what a large company had to offer. Since this was unprecedented, I became the guinea pig for the new management trainee program. I rotated through various departments; thus, I had gained a very holistic view of the company.

This rotation went on for three years and I really built up a good picture of what it was like inside the company. After about two and a half years I realised that I wanted to pursue a more entrepreneurial path and develop a new concept and market from scratch.

How did you end up at Bird Office?

Last year I was introduced to the two founders of the company through a mutual friend of a fellow Cass alumni. These two guys came up with the concept when they were in university. Over two and a half years they have grown from a start-up of two founders to a team of 25. They have received several awards and have featured in magazines like Le Figaro and on TV. It’s a great concept – it has changed the way people book meeting and training rooms. After several meetings the company awarded me the opportunity to launch Bird Office on the Belgian market.

So, what is Bird Office?

It’s an online booking platform for meeting and event spaces, whether you want to hire a small room or an auditorium for a conference, training rooms, or IT rooms for an hour or a day. We are now active in the UK, France, Belgium and Switzerland, and the website will be translated to Dutch in order to further expand to the Netherlands.

It’s a hassle-free online booking platform suitable for all types of companies looking for an event location and it’s able to offer better prices, thanks to our long-term deals with partners. Our partners are split in profile between those who have historically offered meeting spaces, and newcomers to the market.

We offer the classic options of hotels and co-working centres who have dedicated employees whose job it is to organise the hire of meeting spaces, but we also have added offerings like architects’ offices, lawyers’ offices, training facilities and university classrooms. These companies and institutions have a lot of rooms that are not in use all the time, so we can turn these in to B2B meeting rooms. Basically, any company can rent its available room(s) through Bird Office to gain additional revenue.

My role was to launch Bird Office in Belgium and the Netherlands and to create the partnerships (the offering of event spaces and meeting rooms on the Bird Office website). Everyone knows you can hire rooms at hotels and conference centres but very few know about those other meeting rooms in training centres, lawyer and architect offices etc. We have changed that!

Most of the people looking to book the rooms are companies or professionals organising meetings, but we also get entrepreneurs and recruiters using, for example, our smaller rooms for interviews as well as bookings for 300+ people auditoriums.

What have been the main difficulties?

The challenge is that when you launch a product that’s new to the market you are changing the traditional way things are done, so you need great communication to convey the benefits and time-saving of booking via Bird Office. People are used to booking events spaces or conference rooms in the classic hotels by calling or e-mailing the venue, which can be a very time consuming process.

Bird Office offers transparency on the prices, and a booking can be requested in just a few clicks without the need to wait for a reply. You know the exact cost when booking through Bird Office but there is also the benefit of a networking aspect.

We heard of one company that booked a meeting room at a university, in the auditorium, and subsequent to the event, the client suggested advertising its available job positions to the university students. The networking aspect can create unexpected connections!

The other main reason big clients choose us is the ease of administration and accounting. Whether you book a meeting room through Bird Office in Paris, London or Brussels you can access all your invoices on your online account.

Could you give any advice to people looking to follow in your footsteps?

I would definitely recommend to go on exchanges and fully immerse yourself in a culture different to yours. I left my comfort zone and went to London, Paris and Hong Kong and learned Mandarin, these adventures gave me the push to pursue a start-up adventure.

It’s hard work but when you see the fruits of your labour and obtain clients or partners it really puts a smile on your face. You’re not a number in a company rather you’re an asset. The concept has real added value and you’re an important part of the ride!

But what was also important for me before joining a start up was to get that experience at a large company. It’s a great learning school, like how through my job rotation I saw how departments work together and coordinate. Start up life is really exciting and fun and there is lots of networking to be done but you need to understand the building blocks first.

The secret is to find your skills, what you like, your passion, and then aim for the sky!

Finally, it’s the quick fire question round!

Favourite place in London: I discovered this one recently, Bounce in Shoreditch.
Favourite holiday destination: Not strictly a holiday but going to Hong Kong and travelling from there, it was the best year of my life.
Must-check every day website: Bird Office, of course, and also Tech Crunch, which is about new tech concepts and start-ups.
Dream travel destination: South America, I’d love to discover it all on a backpacking trip.
Cheese or chocolate: Chocolate of course – Belgian chocolate is the best!

From City Graduate to London Recruit

Alumni Stories, Uncategorized.

Ken K blog photoGraduating in 1968 with a Bachelor of Science degree in Electrical and Electronic Engineering, Ken Keable went on to become an activist in ‘the secret war against apartheid’. In his own words, Ken tells us his story.

Born in 1945 and leaving school in Walthamstow in 1963, I secured a student apprenticeship with the London Electricity Board (a fine, publicly owned organisation that offered good opportunities for working-class people). I was put on a four-year “sandwich course” (six months in industry alternating with six months at college) with the college part being at the Northampton College of Advanced Technology leading to a Diploma of Technology. However, while I was there the college was upgraded to a university and my diploma was upgraded to a BSc in electrical and electronic engineering. I paid no fees and I was paid a good wage – a fact that I love telling to young people I meet today, as it shows that things were not always as bad as they are now, and could be better again.

It being the 1960s, there was a lot of left-wing activity going on among students, but not, alas, at the new City University. Being a member of the Young Communist League (due to coming from a Communist family), I sometimes felt isolated and had many arguments with my fellow students. I remember the Students’ Union inviting a diplomat from the South African High Commission to explain apartheid to us. He said that white people had arrived in South Africa a few months before the black people came in from further north – he told us the precise dates – and claimed that this meant that South Africa belonged to the whites, implying that the black people were there on sufferance. This apparently justified the entire apartheid system. No-one challenged this argument. I was astonished by it but could not think of a suitable riposte.

In the autumn of 1967, I was a delegate to the London District Congress of the Young Communist League. There I was approached by the District Secretary, George Bridges, whom I had known for about seven years, and he asked me whether I would be willing to go on a visit to South Africa “to help our comrades”. I was deeply honoured at being asked. After sleeping on it, I said that I was taking my final exams in January and would be available after that. I met him again after the exams and he took me to meet a young white South African, Ronnie Kasrils (who was to become, in 1994, a minister in Nelson Mandela’s government). I had numerous meetings with Ronnie with the result that, in April 1968, I flew to Johannesburg with a false-bottomed suitcase containing 1,200 letters addressed to members of South Africa’s Indian community. Staying in a hotel for a few days, I bought 1,200 stamps, posted the letters and returned home. I had never flown before. I told no-one at all about what I had done. I found a way of locking the experience away in my mind so that it could never come out accidentally. It never did. I was proud of what I had done, and I still am.

After the Rivonia Trial, in which Mandela and most of the leadership of the African National Congress were jailed for life, the remaining members had to go into exile to avoid arrest and torture. Wondering how they were to carry on their liberation struggle, their leader, Oliver Tambo, hit upon the brilliant idea of recruiting white foreigners to enter the country and show that the ANC was not defeated. They chose London because there was so much human traffic from there to South Africa, and they wanted young people because they needed people with no dependents, as dependents would add to the problem if we were arrested. Ronnie Kasrils revealed a little of the story in his book “Armed and Dangerous – my undercover struggle against apartheid”, published in 1993, with a chapter called “London Recruits”.

My second and final mission to South Africa was in 1970. Together with my comrade Pete Smith, I went to Durban where we planted several “leaflet bombs” – entirely harmless devices, tested on Hampstead Heath, that blasted leaflets high into the air. We also set up a street broadcast, using an amplified cassette player. Only afterwards did we realise that similar things were done in five cities simultaneously. This brought hope to the oppressed people and signalled that the ANC was still alive and kicking. The most difficult moment came when, setting up the leaflet bombs in our hotel room in the middle of the night, I accidentally set one off, with a very loud ‘bang’. ANC leaflets were everywhere. Taking advantage of my white skin over that of the night manager, who was Indian, I succeeded in talking my way out of the situation and prevented him entering the room.

I kept all these activities secret, as did the other people involved. It became a deeply ingrained habit. In 2005, on reaching the age of 60, I began tracking down the other London Recruits, asking them to write their stories for a book that I edited. London Recruits – the secret war against apartheid was published in 2012 and is now being made into a documentary film, to be called London Recruits. All royalties go to the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund.

From the information gathered in the book, we now know that the London Recruits did similar agitational work inside South Africa at least once a year every year from 1967 to 1973. Recruits also smuggled weapons, helped ANC fighters to enter South Africa and did reconnaissance and other work. Three – Sean Hosey, Alex Moumbaris and Marie-José Moumbaris – were arrested and tortured. Some were students (mostly from the LSE) but most were young workers. We did not liberate the South African people – they did that themselves, at great sacrifice – but we helped. We also struck a blow against racism worldwide and against those forces in British society that were profiting from the apartheid system and supporting it in deeds while opposing it in words.

I love telling the story to young people because international solidarity and anti-racism are so much needed today and I hope our story will inspire them to work for a better world.

To buy the book or find out more please click here. You can also follow Ken on Twitter @KenKeable.

London Recruits is hoping to make its way to the Big Screen. To find out more, or to sponsor the project, please click here

Next Generation Entrepreneur

Alumni Stories, Cass Business School News , .

IMG_0301Whilst at Cass, Alumna Ashuveen Linsbichler (neé Bhadal) (Executive MBA, 2013) met her partner Lukas (both pictured), and began her journey into the entrepreneurial lifestyle that’s been in her family for generations. She’s now up and running with VEVA, an app designed to make meeting up and going out with your friends easier by combining all the elements you need in one place – chat and venue search complete with reviews and offers.

Tell me about your time at Cass!

Wow – my time at Cass was intense! I did the Executive MBA, so I was working full time as usual and then studying on evenings and weekends. One reason we both started at Cass was that we were keen to start a business, it’s in our blood – both of our families are entrepreneurs going back generations.

I had fantastic times with great people. Cass really gives you an incredible network – for example, I met my CTO for our company here. I have nothing but praise for Cass and the support you get.

I learned great business tools and how to scale, but nothing really prepares you for business until you do it. It’s based on intuition and hard work – but the knowledge is all Cass. Most useful is business strategy, what is important on a more holistic view, how to structure the business, and how to speak to investors in their language.

What happened next?

An idea emerged in late 2012 around ordering and payment (then known as QPiranha) that was taken forward by Lukas’s MBA dissertation. I left my career in late 2013 to commit full-time to the venture to drive it forward and take the leap. The co-founder team was formed with complimentary skills, fuelled by a desire to innovate and a vision to make life easier.

We spoke with venues (pubs, bars and clubs) and found the order and payment space is tricky, and this is where the MBA comes in – how to turn it around. We learned that the venues could logistically not handle pre-order by phone at busy times, well, they weren’t interested – their biggest challenge is filling the venue off-peak. The issue was further compounded when we looked to scale the product. It could take six months to a year to integrate with a firm’s point of sale system, by the time we had 40 bars on board and were concerned people may stop using the app, thus limiting scalability and growth. The app was called Drinqsmart at this point.

We re-pivoted after this, to focus more getting people together and give people a tool to meet as well as finding promotions designed to get spontaneous footfall. After extensive user feedback the app went through a facelift, focusing on high quality imagery and an easy to use interface.

So, here we are, rebranded as “VEVA”. Now more energetic, about life and living in the moment – being able to see who’s free to meet and find a place or offer on the day, everyday.

Now it’s out there and people love it. We’re getting hundreds of downloads, but we want to push it to thousands. We’ve also got ~5% of all venues in London signed up. It’s an exciting time. I’m glad we didn’t give up on it even though it’s been a lot of work, especially alongside our other projects.

And what is the idea in a nutshell?

“Going out just got a lot easier!” VEVA wants Londoners to “Live in the moment” by finding a great place or offer to meet a friend on the go, everyday! No more long emails, endless WhatsApp groups, missed evenings or frantic web searches. All you need for going out in one app. People love the ability to see who’s free to meet by tube station; it’s relevant but not intrusive to people’s privacy.

VEVA shows you when someone is free to meet based on the closest tube station and allows you to find a place or offer based on your mood – a rooftop bar for a cocktail with the girls, a pub with sports for that football match or a bottomless brunch at a funky place in the West. You can always find a place with an offer tailored to your need (2-4-1 cocktails, free pints, or 20% off your bill), invite friends and let VEVA handle the updates – Denis is running late or Bea is coming at 7pm.

So what is VEVA exactly?

We’re onto something big. Imagine a social network coupled with a venue/offer discovery platform customised for going out. That’s VEVA and the future “How to bring people to places” and “a contextual way for venues to promote to mobile users – when they decide to go out”.

There are lots of apps that are location-based to help you find your friends nearby, but they fail to focus on the fact that you need somewhere to go. And on the discovery side, there are hundreds of apps for bars but they are limited because they focus on a small part of the big problem – “Where”, but we’re also thinking about the “Who” and “When”.

VEVA brings it all together – you can see Who is out, Where to go nearby and easily agree When to meet and chat about it all in one app.

Our users think it’s the future and once hooked use it every time they go out – the next big thing hopefully; discovery doesn’t add enough value, neither does social. We combine images from Foursquare with reviews from TripAdvisor and offers from Twitter (we have an algorithm that picks them up in real time) – all these mean we can scale quickly. We’ve also added a chat function that can be between two people or a group. WhatsApp is great for group chat, but it can be vague when trying to get together – here you can do the discovery in the chat and stay in the conversation. Some scenarios I’m sure we can all relate to:

1) You want to go out but you’re not sure if anyone is free – ping an email or message to 50 people or switch on the app to let friends know you’re free or see who is free close by. 2) You’re strapped for cash and need a deal – scout the web or open the app and filter places to find one. We also pick up last minute tweets by venues so offers are as real-time as they can be. 3) You just finished a pint at the pub and need to find the next place for a boogie – look at Google maps tapping on bars, reading reviews for hours or use VEVA, filter by nightlife and find the closest bar with the best reviews. 4) You’re planning a night out on Saturday but you’re not sure where to go – use WhatsApp and send a million links back and forth or setup a group chat on VEVA, send venue suggestions that you can browse in the app, agree a place and send an invite. And we’re only scratching the surface here.

App Shots_DiscoveryApp Shots_Social

How do you connect with friends?

VEVA auto links you with friends based on a two-way match on your phonebook. If both you and your friend hold each other’s numbers the website auto links you as friends. If you hold your friends number but they do not hold your number in their phonebook, or visa versa, the app assumes a one-way match and does not auto-link you as friends. Auto linking is built to protect user privacy and ensure false friends cannot add a user on their phonebook to track status or location updates.

How did the development go?

An intense roller-coaster ride – developing, testing, designing! We have managed to keep a core team of developers who are brilliant, love the product and find the project very exciting – it’s like building 3 apps in 1. With 40k+ lines of code you can imagine what a monster the app is, this is excluding the web portal for venues. What a project, what a ride!

We have dozens of integration points to give our app users accurate, real-time data: Foursquare for images, Tripadvisor for reviews and Twitter for offers.
And we’re only scratching the surface here – we’ve got sophisticated algorithms and logic refined after months of discussion and market testing: that’s VEVA.

What has been the biggest challenge?

Nailing the consumer angle. Me and Lukas both have a B2B background, and we had underestimated the importance of the consumer and how to get and keep their attention. There is no special tool for doing this, it’s trial and error and market testing to find the right approach.

If you could go back and give yourself some advice, what would it be?

Spend at least 4-6 months refining the concept with consumers before developing. Development costs (time primarily) rise exponentially with each new feature.

Also be persistent! Keep at it and never give up – it’s a hard journey and it takes longer than you think. You could be on the edge of something really amazing, getting to the peak is the hardest part.

What’s next for you?

Pushing VEVA out to a wider London audience and signing up more venues to get special offers for our users. We want to focus on traction and self-funding with revenue from venues. Once we hit the 25k+ user mark we would seek a Series A investment round to scale the brand to UK and beyond!

Finally, it’s the quick-fire question round!
Favourite place in London: Shoreditch and the City – it’s got the best pubs and bar concepts
Favourite holiday destination: Greece
Must-check-every day website: FT, Twitter, Time Out, Londonist, About Time London
Dream travel destination: Caribbean
Cheese or chocolate: Ooof! Depends on my mood – I’m a fan of both!

Download VEVA from the app store here.