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Entrepreneurial and experienced business leader: Neeta Patel (Marketing MBA, 1995)

Alumni Stories.

NeetaHaving been named in Computer Weekly’s UK Top 50 most influential women in UK Tech in 2018 and listed as part of ‘Top 100 BAME leaders in the UK’ by the FT/Inclusive Boards, we’re delighted to catch up with Neeta Patel (Marketing MBA, 1995), CEO of the New Entrepreneurs Foundation and the Centre for Entrepreneurs. Neeta is an experienced executive with over 20 years of strategy and operational leadership experience in launching new ventures, business turnarounds and change, and has a sharp focus on growth and revenues. She was an early internet pioneer having launched the first personal finance website in Europe for Legal & General in 1996 at a time when there were only 300 URLs registered in the UK.

Can you tell me about your time at Cass?

I was part of the Cass MBA class of 1994, a long time ago! The business school at that time was located in the Barbican complex. The MBA programme was split into five verticals; marketing, IT, Finance, International Trade and Shipping and HR. I joined the programme quite late as I was going to be self- funded and needed to get my funding arranged. Doing the MBA was a really great learning experience for me because I was at the middle management level and I had the technical skills around marketing and communications. However, I needed that big picture experience and understanding of how businesses work. The programme itself and doing an MBA at Cass especially, was really an eye-opening experience in that I understood how strategy works, how companies compete and how a company sees itself. I also learned about financial management, managing HR and IT. I had learned the tools and techniques of marketing through working so it was nice to have the academic theses to back up what I had been doing intuitively. In a nutshell I think it taught me the language of business; it gave me the fluency to talk at a higher level in business.

What happened after you graduated?

I was headhunted before I even graduated! I was approached by the board director at the insurance company, Legal and General (L&G). It was just after the Easter break and it came as an out of the blue letter addressed to me at Cass Business School (this was before email became commonplace!) asking if I would be interested in meeting him for lunch at his offices in the City to talk about a potential job opportunity. I was surprised and of course I never say no to lunch, especially a free lunch so I accepted. After the lunch, he called me and offered me the role of Head of brand, advertising and communications for L&G, which was a huge step up from what I was doing as marketing communications executive in my previous role. I started the L&G job after graduation and soon realised the enormous scale of the job; I had 47 staff and a £40m budget to oversee. It was certainly the MBA that facilitated that because I don’t know how the board director at L&G would have known about me unless he had spoken to one of the Professors – but I never found out who had recommended me.

How did your businesses and entrepreneurial interests come about?

I had always been interested in the ‘business’ of business but having worked in several senior roles, I realised that the type of roles I was being offered and actually doing in these companies were always around transformation, innovation and turnaround – I was always an ‘intrapreneur’ launching new ventures and new ideas within established companies.

After L&G, I joined FT Personal Finance (part of the Financial Times Group) where I was initially developing partnerships in Europe to launch local language finance websites and then ran the FT.com business news website. After the FT, I did a bit of a career pivot and joined the British Council where, during my six years there, I led the global internet operations, customer service functions, knowledge management and marketing activities.

The shift to entrepreneurship happened when I went to London Business School in 2008. I decided to leave the British Council as I’d been there six and a half years and I was at a crossroads in my career. The Sloan Fellowship programme which is for senior managers at a crossroads was just the impetus that I needed to get back from the public sector to the commercial world; it was like an MOT for my career. It was whilst I was there that I met a couple of people who came up with the idea that we should launch a consultancy helping publishers to monetise content. That venture failed very quickly but shortly afterwards I was approached by my ex-boss from L&G who had an idea for a new kind of personal finance start-up and asked if I would join as a co-founder and as CEO and lead the development of this start-up. We spent a year and a half from 2009 which was just after the 2008 financial crisis (not a good time to be raising money!) and during my time I pitched to over 100 investors and they all said ‘that’s all very nice. But no we can’t invest right now’. We closed the business but the following week I met a venture capitalist I knew from LBS who asked me to join his company. I was working there when I was tapped on the shoulder by the chairman and founder of the New Entrepreneurs Foundation which is where I currently work.

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

I thought at the time that our main challenge was our timing (starting a finance venture immediately after the crash of 2018) but looking back on it actually the challenge was that we weren’t able to sell the proposition properly and nowadays people can start businesses and go as far as launch without any external funding. We were three people who had come from a corporate background so we didn’t really understand how to do a lean start-up so our business plan said ‘give us three million and we’ll set up this amazing company which will be profitable within three years without any traction! That’s not the way start-ups work and I don’t think we understood the start-up mentality. I understand it now, ten years later!

Other general challenges which I come across when speaking to entrepreneurs I mentor is this chicken and egg situation where entrepreneurs say ‘I need to get traction but in order to get some traction I need money’ and the investors say ‘we’ll give you some money but we need to see some traction’.  Another challenge for founders is finding the right people for your early teams and especially finding the right co-founders because it’s a lonely business doing it on your own. I know of many businesses that have gone belly up because of co-founder conflict.

What has been the most rewarding experience?

I think the rewarding experience for everything I’ve done whether its failed start-ups or working in corporates is that I’ve learnt something from each one of them and I’ve met some really incredible and talented people, many of whom are friends to this day. If you have a learning mindset and you’re curious, in any job you do you’ll learn something if you ask the right questions. I think curiosity is something that is ingrained in me – if I don’t know something I will ask people and find out.

It was also a great honour to be listed recently in the UK’s top 50 most influential women in Tech by Computer Weekly magazine. I’ve been ‘in’ tech since the day I graduated so I was particularly delighted by this recognition.

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

If you want to be successful in a big corporate and move up the ladder, you’ve got to grab opportunities as they arise, which is something women are shy about doing. You’ve got to get out there and look at cross-departmental projects, put your hand up and say you want to lead it. Say yes and figure out how you’re going to do it later. That’s always my approach. I always say yes and then think ‘oh great, how are we going to do that?’. Get involved and be seen. So, when it comes to big projects you’re top of the mind in senior people’s heads. Once you deliver a great project and when promotion time comes, you are the first person they think of. It’s about creating your own brand within the company if you want to be successful.

Now, let’s find out a bit more about you outside of work…

What is your favourite place in London?  

Hampstead Heath. It’s my favourite place. I live right by it and it’s where I walk my dog every weekend. I love to see the yearly changing of the seasons through the trees, shrubs and bushes. It’s the place I go to when I need to think about a seemingly intractable problem or if I’m feeling a bit low. My dog, Jasper always cheers me up with his energy and enthusiasm.

What is your favourite holiday destination (that you’ve travelled to)?  

The Amalfi Coast and Amalfi specifically, I’ve been there six times. I just love the whole coastline; the ambience, the views, lifestyle and food. You can just sit there and look at the view forever. Having said that, I have recently discovered the beaches of South Goa, so Amalfi has competition!

Which website do you check every day?  

Very few. I subscribe to a lot of news feeds so I don’t actively go into websites everyday but if I do it would be BBC News. I also use Twitter, Facebook and Instagram and will look at LinkedIn once a week or so.

What is your dream travel destination?  

I want to do the Silk route from Istanbul all the way to Beijing and X’ian, so right across Asia. I’m already making plans to do it in three years’ time or when I can take a sabbatical because I’ll need three or four months to do it properly.

Do you prefer cheese or chocolate? 

Cheese. I don’t mind a bit of dark chocolate once in a while either!

Writer pens his adoption story in new memoir

Alumni Stories.

Peter PapathanasiouAfter discovering the truth about his adoption, award-winning writer, Peter Papathanasiou (Master of Arts in Creative Writing (Novels), 2017) has recently published his first book, Son of Mine, which follows the incredibly moving story of his reunion with his biological family in Greece. Peter also borrowed from his own life and heritage to write a crime novel – The Stoning – during his time at City, which covered issues around refugees and asylum seekers.

Find out more about Peter and his books here:

Can you tell me about your time at City?

I studied a Master of Arts in Creative Writing (Novels) specialising in crime fiction and thriller writing. The original City MA creative writing programme had been in literary fiction, with the crime thriller MA having been launched in response to overwhelming demand and growing genre popularity. We studied specific aspects of the crime thriller genre including the creation of suspense, characterisation, and investigations. The overarching aim of the course was to write an industry-ready novel and establish contacts with literary agents and publishers who could then take the manuscript to publication. It was a fun group of about a dozen students who were all passionate about learning the craft and dedicated to creating stories that entertained. We had an incredible array of published authors as guest speakers too, including Lee Child, the creator of the successful Jack Reacher series.

What happened after you graduated?

My book was published! Well, it wasn’t quite as easy and as instantaneous as that; it took two more years and was actually for another manuscript I’d already been working on, a memoir. But the lessons I learnt at City and the contacts I made helped me write, edit and polish my memoir manuscript to industry-standard, which was eventually published in 2019 as Son of Mine by Salt Publishing in the UK and as Little One by Allen & Unwin in Australia and New Zealand. Both publishers have been incredible to work with. Meanwhile, The Stoning – which is the crime manuscript I wrote at City for my MA – has been recognised by numerous unpublished manuscript awards. My agent is currently submitting this to publishers with a view to it being my second book.

How did the ideas for your books come about?

My memoir is all about my international adoption as a baby. My parents were unable to have children of their own, so Mum was gifted a baby by her brother in Greece to take and raise in Australia in 1974. I then grew up as an only child before learning the truth behind my adoption in 1999 as an adult; this then led to a journey of discovery, and an emotional reunion with my biological family in northern Greece, including meeting my two blood brothers. Sitting and talking with my mum, I wrote notes on all she remembered, which I then turned into chapters that came before 1974, so the story moves backwards and forwards in time, and is told through the eyes of two narrators over the course of a hundred years. I originally wrote the first draft of this manuscript from 2008 to 2011, but only returned to it in 2018 after finishing my MA at City.

As for the crime novel that I wrote for my City MA, this was inspired by the broad themes of race and migration, and specifically the plight of current day asylum seekers and refugees. As the son of migrants and grandson of refugees, my heart goes out to the way that refugees are treated when seeking asylum in certain countries. These topics tend to receive negative media coverage these days, so I thought that telling a story through the prism of a crime would be something that would interest readers and bring them to examine these issues more easily, because on their own they can be rather confronting. Borrowing from my own life and heritage, I designed a Greek-Australian detective investigating the crime, which takes place in a small outback Australian town.

What has been the biggest challenge with regard to writing your book?

There were many challenges along the way. Writing the first draft was difficult, getting the words out of my head and down on paper. But then editing the draft and being unemotional during that time was hard too; forgetting all the work that went into writing and believing that every edit – which sometimes involved cutting several thousand words at once – actually made the manuscript stronger. In the end, my memoir needed 14 drafts, while my crime novel had 8 drafts. It was also super challenging to sign with a literary agent, and of course a publisher.

What has been the most rewarding experience?

By far and away the most rewarding experience has been having my writing connect with readers. It’s fascinating to see how different parts of my book resonate with different people, and sometimes even move them to tears. I’ve received so many messages from people with similar experiences wanting to share their stories and thank me for sharing mine. At a recent book event for my adoption memoir, I met a woman who finally became a mum at age 47 after 20 IVF treatments; she empathised with my adoptive mum, for her burning desire to have a baby, but she also wanted to give the gift of a child to help another infertile woman, as my biological mum once did. At the end of the day, that’s the power of writing – to document stories so they’re not lost forever, and to connect with readers and share our experiences of the human condition.

It was a long journey to publication for me, filled with many ups and downs. But if you connect with just one reader, it’s all been worth it.

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

I’ve found it especially amazing how the writing community embraces debut authors, perhaps because most writers remember how hard it was for them to get their break. No matter who, every debut author has a dogged story of struggle, doubt, rejection, and persistence behind their success. This is just my story. It doesn’t come easy; if it did, more people would do it.

Perseverance pays off. Keep at it. Keep going. Keep writing, keep editing, and keep submitting. Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do it. Keep working hard at your art, and eventually, you’ll knock on the right door.

Thank you to Peter for sharing his story! 

Supporting people with finding work quickly

Alumni Stories.

Todor MadzharovSince graduating from Cass Business School, Todor Madzharov (Management, 2011) has been helping many graduates and students find jobs at one of the UK’s top hiring apps, JOB TODAY. As the Chief Marketing Officer, Todor leads the marketing and acquisition efforts, and contributes towards product strategy and vision to ensure sustainable growth paths are followed. He has also helped to develop new market release playbooks which have played an important role in the global expansion of JOB TODAY.

Find out more about Todor and how he secured his dream job below:

Can you tell me about your time at Cass?

It was an amazing year and the best part was meeting all the great people. I did not expect such diversity in terms of academic and professional background – in my course we had people who had studied gambling, engineering, business, chemistry and sports sciences. It was amazing. Spending time with these people was the best thing and really gave me a new perspective on life and business.

The nature of the course meant that as well as academic knowledge, I also developed great networking skills by mixing with students from all over the world.

What happened after you graduated?

It did take me several months to find the right job. Most of my classmates were going into consulting and were applying for jobs months in advance. They were participating in the graduate schemes of big companies. However, joining the corporate world was never tempting for me. I was looking for a job in a startup, I wanted to challenge and disrupt the big corporates, not join them.

Eventually, I was lucky to get a digital marketing role at a really promising startup. There were a dozen people trying to disrupt the huge and established lettings agency industry, by digitising the process and by making tenant fees and vetting more transparent.

How did you get involved in JOB TODAY?

It was very opportunistic. At the time I was working at WPP, building a digital acquisition team for Ford of Europe. I had been doing this job for two and a half years, achieved a lot, and it was a good time for a change. When JOB TODAY’s CEO got in touch with me, I was instantly attracted by the strength and clarity of his vision – enable everyone to find work the same day! How can you not want to be a part of this?

What have been the biggest challenges?

Learning that you have to make decisions quickly and accepting that you will make a lot of the wrong ones. But that’s OK. In a startup that is challenging big and established companies and disrupting an industry, there is no time to dwell. You have to get on with it. It’s better to fail occasionally and learn in the process, than to try and be perfect.

What has been the most rewarding experience?

At JOB TODAY, the most rewarding experience is reading the App Store reviews that our users leave us. It has become a bit of a daily habit. We have an internal Slack channel where we publish all our app reviews and it’s incredibly powerful to see that you are impacting people’s lives positively every day. It’s the main reason I look forward to going to the office every day and helping the company grow.

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

Be brave and be curious. If you are not happy or don’t feel challenged in your job, look for something better. In this day and age, you don’t have to wear a suit and be in a Canary Wharf office to be considered successful. London is an amazing place, there are thousands of small companies that are looking for smart and driven people and will give them the opportunity to grow and learn. You have to take these opportunities.

Thank you to Todor for sharing his story!

The HAUS that Rachel built

Alumni Stories.

Rachel GodlinCreated by Rachel Godin (MA International Politics and Human Rights, 2018) and her business partner Elise Harrison, social enterprise HAUS OF is a safe space for vulnerable adults, providing them with an opportunity to connect with art therapies whilst ‘encouraging political activism and promoting diversity’. Read more about the HAUS that Rachel and Elise built…

Can you tell me about your time at City?

I studied an MA in International Politics and Human Rights which I thoroughly enjoyed. Especially learning about grassroots democratic movements and exploring political ideologies such as cosmopolitanism, universalism and community-making.

What happened after you graduated?

I took a job at British Standards Institution working as a Programme Manager, all the while wishing that I could somehow merge my political activism passions with my creativity so that I could live a more balanced life that was in tune with my ethics.

How did HAUS OF come about?

I met Elise Harrison, my partner and co-founder in the summer after graduation. We were both struggling to find the meaning of valuable work within capitalism and feeling like we had much more to offer than what was being given to us in traditional employment roles. Nothing felt radical enough. We encouraged each other to get out of capitalistic jobs and focus our sights on making a real difference, remaining activists and helping vulnerable groups access healing.

We decided to start HAUS OF, a social enterprise that provides pottery and furniture classes to disadvantaged or vulnerable adults. HAUS OF will not only provide wellness through art, but will provide a safe space in which people can explore creative, alternative avenues of living by encouraging political activism and promoting diversity.

HAUS OF began as a conversation about our upset over the busyness of city life and a real interest in building a fun-filled creative arts community that could be accessible to everyone. We noticed that we and many of our friends were unhappy with the hum-drum monotony of daily life too. We noticed that there were many vulnerable groups in London that were not properly connected to arts therapies that would deeply benefit them. These vulnerable groups include people struggling with homelessness, mental illness, loneliness, LGBTQA+ and women. We’re partnering with local charities who help us front the cost of our workshops too. Working with vulnerable groups is at the heart of our business concept.

HAUS OF is built on the solid belief that everyone should be able to access hands on creative time so that they can be as happy as possible. Starting HAUS OF seemed like the most obvious solution.

London is a hot spot for partying and alcohol, but when it comes to improving mental health and sticking to a healthy lifestyle, finding ways to socialise that don’t involve lots of money or alcohol were hard to come by. So HAUS OF is a place that focuses on building community and fun-filled experiences apart from the hustle and bustle of chaotic city life.

What has been the most rewarding experience?

In May 2019 HAUS OF won the creative category of the Big Idea Competition hosted by the Accelerator of London Metropolitan University. We have garnered support and have plenty of people cheering us on. That feels amazing.

View the project pitch that won us our award.

What has been the biggest challenge?

The biggest challenge is a lack of funding to carry our project through to realization. We have the support of many loving people, but little access to funding.

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

Believe in your idea and others will too. If you’ve found a solution to a problem your idea is valid.

Interested in supporting HAUS OF?

Funding is dwindling from the government to local charities who help the vulnerable groups that HAUS OF seeks to support. We’re taking it into our own hands to give back to the community. Mental health and homelessness are now considered a crisis and populations needing assistance are forecast to grow. NHS resources aren’t sufficient enough. It’s time we do something to lift the strain.

We are attempting to raise £16,000 so that we can move into a physical studio that we have put a down payment on. In this case, we’ll have to think about ways to continue HAUS OF, whether this is to continue with fundraising into summer 2019 or thinking up something even more adventurous.

Help us get the word out and make some noise about this campaign!

Please share our project with people you know on Instagram (tag us @hau_of__), Twitter and Facebook!

Alternatively, you can support us by donating to our concept.

If you can support us, that would be awesome! Your donation is going to a great place. We can assure that people who really need our services are getting them and that the products we’re making are unique and sustainable. If you message our Instagram, we’d love to do a shoutout to thank you for your donation!

The future of film finance

Alumni Stories.

Peter StoreyWhen it comes to crowdfunding, one size does not fit all. A certain structure may be put in place for a smart luggage brand or perhaps a pop-up pub but what about other important industries? Peter Storey (MBA Strategic Management, 2004) recognised that film is not a commodity and actually requires specialised support from the ground up. This is how his recently launched business was created.

Greenlit is a new British-based crowdfunding platform dedicated to film, which supports creative filmmakers at any stage of their film’s lifecycle. Here you can read about Peter’s time at Cass Business School and his innovative approach to crowdfunding.

Can you tell me about your time at Cass?

I did the full-time MBA. Prior to that, I’d been working as a “gaffer” or senior technician in media production, managing lighting on film sets. The MBA was a terrific experience, coming from an interesting, but fairly narrow, field of engineering and suddenly being bombarded with fresh ideas from all disciplines of business. It was challenging, of course, but the opportunity to take a step back and think about things, in an academic environment was invaluable. My dissertation was on the effectiveness of public support for the film industry, and this research enabled me to build relationships with a lot of senior people in the industry, some of whom I continue to work with today.

What happened after you graduated?

I started work immediately in film finance, structuring and dealing with compliance on large international coproductions, tens of millions of euros’ worth at a time. This was interesting work, but there was something that always troubled me. The money in the market for film at that time was invariably sheltered in some way – it was more about the tax breaks than it was about the quality of the films. This is something the Americans have always done better than us, recognising film as a proper investment class, not just somewhere for celebrities to park their cash.

Shortly after that, the Chancellor, Gordon Brown, shut down a lot of these schemes; this meant that a lot of companies, and a lot of film productions, were left high and dry. I ended up gaining experience in a number of different industries, particularly technology and property. But the belief never left me, that there should be a better way to think about the process and culture of investing in film.

How did Greenlit become a reality?

I was approached at the tail end of 2017 by a financial services company that had some success operating joint crowdfunding ventures in other sectors, as they were curious if the model could work for film finance. I spent a period of several months researching and drafting a business plan; the more I discovered, the more excited I became about the potential. I spoke to dozens of people involved in crowdfunding, for the film sector and other industries, as well as drilling into the business models of the other platforms.

It was clear that the one-size-fits-all approach of commodity crowdfunding was not appropriate for the film business. We set out to do things differently; to support producers throughout their campaigns and in building their audiences, to work closely with the broader film industry, and to manage costs very closely. It took a little over a year to go from first conversation to public launch, but the response so far has been terrific.

What have been the biggest challenges?

The biggest challenge has been that, particularly among the film community, crowdfunding is seen as a lesser form of finance – it’s what you do when you can’t raise the money elsewhere. My response is that reflects their short-sightedness, rather than any fundamental flaw with crowdfunding. In other industries, companies like BrewDog or Monzo have shown the immense power of crowdfunding for raising awareness of their products, and I think the film industry is missing the huge marketing potential of the process.

Our long-term goal is to completely reinvent crowdfunding as something desirable, and to attract bigger and more prestigious films. So to try and persuade producers of this vision, I spend a huge amount of time just talking to filmmakers one-on-one – at events and festivals, in seminars and lecturing at film schools and universities. There’s no substitute for shoe leather, but this approach seems to be working – we’ve got some really exciting and substantial projects cued up to launch over the next couple of months.

What has been the most rewarding experience?

It’s difficult to pin down a single experience. When you’re in the middle of it, it can seem like very slow going – it’s great to tick off a completed task, but then you look at the to-do list and there are still a hundred things outstanding. It’s only when you take a step back and take a macro view of what you’ve built that you can say, yes, that’s actually quite impressive.

And also when we successfully closed funding on the first two film projects. Until you’ve actually put some clients through the process successfully, then it’s a concept rather than a real business. So finding those producers, taking them through the cycle, watching them hit their targets and delivering the money has been very satisfying.

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

The key thing is persistence, and the ability to not take things personally. When I teach classes to filmmakers on how to conduct their campaigns, I always stress the importance of persistence – if there’s someone you want to meet, follow up, follow up and follow up again. Don’t feel self-conscious, or as if you’re being a nuisance, it’s always better to ask forgiveness than for permission. And don’t take things personally – a lot of creative people identify so closely with their business, that setbacks or rejections can feel like it’s a reflection on you. This is natural, but it’s the ability to shrug off the knockbacks that makes an entrepreneur.

Thank you to Peter for sharing his impressive story! If you would like to find out more about Greenlit, submit a project or support one, please click here.

Sustainability in a fast-fashion world

Alumni Stories.

Eshita (back right) with her team – two of whom studied Journalism at City – at the private launch of her new venture, By Rotation

After considering the importance of sustainable fashion and the increasing “throwaway culture of Instagram outfit photos”, Eshita Kabra (Management, 2014), soon realised that sharing economies were not as prevalent in the fashion industry as they should be. Noticing a gap in the market for an on-trend, ethical and fashion-conscious platform, Eshita launched By Rotation.

Here you can read about Eshita’s time at Cass Business School and how her new venture, By Rotation, promotes circular fashion.

Can you tell me about your time at Cass?

I enrolled onto the BSc (Hons) Management programme in 2010 and was very actively engaged with multiple student societies. I was offered a placement year in the asset management industry and graduated in 2014 – I would highly recommend this aspect of Cass as it sets you apart from most other graduates. I believe I was very plugged into student life; I lived in student halls for the first two years and made a point to speak to all my professors individually.

As an international student, I knew how challenging it would be for me to stay in the country post-graduation as I needed a visa sponsorship, so I spent a majority of final year applying for jobs and ensuring I was on track to graduate with a First.

What happened after you graduated?

After graduating, I was offered an incredible opportunity to become an investment analyst at one of the largest British asset management firms. My focus was on analysing and investing in corporate bonds of European banks and I was fortunate enough to be mentored by an excellent boss, who gave me unparalleled industry exposure. This was instrumental in building up my confidence.

I then spent a couple of years in this role and was offered a job in London on the trading floor, again analysing and making calls on corporate bonds. While the pace of the trading floor was exciting, it was evident that banks had in fact begun shrinking their balance sheet and regulations had curbed the exciting aspects of my job. I also began to feel a shift in my priorities and wanted to move into a role that allowed me to use my interpersonal skills more and build a network of investors. Most recently, I have found this in my role in Investor Relations at an opportunistic credit asset manager, where I am constantly in touch with clients and the investment product itself, along with a good work-life balance. This has enabled me to start my new venture, By Rotation, a digital peer-to-peer platform for mid to upmarket fashion rental in the United Kingdom.

How did By Rotation come about?

The idea came from a practical point of view and upon further digging, I opened my eyes up to much larger issues around waste within the fashion industry.

In late 2018, I was planning a spreadsheet for a special holiday and turned to social media for ideas on where to go, where to eat and also… what to wear! I always saw “influencers” on social media wearing beautiful clothing – often only once – in idyllic settings. Being the practical person that I am, I couldn’t help but wonder if these items were gifted from the brands themselves or bought just for the photo, and what would happen to them after.

I started thinking about my world view: I was born in India, where we celebrate colour, wear fairly elaborate clothing and love fashion. I grew up in Singapore, where our national hobby is shopping. In school, we were repeatedly taught the 3Rs (reduce, reuse, recycle) and was made to feel guilty about wasting water (until recently, Singapore bought most of its water). I now live in the United Kingdom, where people are fashion-conscious and increasingly turning up the volume on sustainable causes (note: the Extinction Rebellion). These people have also embraced sharing economies such as Airbnb, Uber and Fat Llama – so why not fashion?

According to the World Bank, 20% of water pollution globally is caused by the textile industry and the fashion industry is said to be the 5th largest contributor to carbon emissions. In this throwaway culture of Instagram “OOTD” (outfit of the day) photos where we feel pressurised to entertain our audience with something new, By Rotation aims to promote circular fashion and increase the usage of your mid to upmarket items. We want people to consider how big the difference between sharing and owning really is, and connect them together via our community.

Our offering is simple: look good (staying on top of fashion and trends), do good (for the planet, wardrobe and wallet) and feel good (share and connect with other fashion-conscious individuals).

What have been the biggest challenges?

We are early days and I am certain we will be met with many more obstacles along the way. However, a fundamental challenge we have and continue to face lies within the very essence of our service i.e. sharing items, especially with “strangers” and the concerns that lie with hygiene, forget damage/theft.

As a practical individual, I acknowledge that we will not be able to win everyone over. However, we have set ourselves on this quest to open up mindsets, and continue to educate our target audience. We also continue to ensure that our service is more convenient, accessible and provides peace of mind – thus making the switch to sharing rather than buying an easy choice.

What has been the most rewarding experience?

The passion I feel for what we do has been the most rewarding experience for me. I truly believe in our concept and I am incredibly thrilled to have created an idea that both my value system and interests 100% align with. The amount of traction we have received from people we do not have any direct link with, resonating our views, has made me feel we are not alone in our belief that fashion consumption must change.

One of the more tangible experiences I have felt pride in was when our first transaction occurred between two users of the platform who I was only slightly acquainted with – not anyone I knew personally! It was a real joy because it is essentially what the platform will evolve into – a community of diverse people interacting and rotating their wardrobes – without my push!

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

Do not rush into setting up a new venture (i.e. often right out of university), and especially not for the wrong reasons (i.e. to label yourself an entrepreneur).

While I grew up in an entrepreneurial environment and always felt it was my calling, I chose to kick start my career at large multinational firms (and continue to work at one). Albeit a large part of it was to do with visa sponsorship at the time, upon reflection I am very certain it has provided me with the building blocks to running a well thought-out business.

Having the passion, drive and an effective idea are important ingredients to setting up a business, but I believe a strong work ethic, discipline and commercial view are even more important to running a successful business. I strongly believe that the latter comes from training and experience and for me a structured, challenging corporate environment was the answer. The cherry on top is the credibility you hold as a new entrepreneur (even if you might be older than some brilliant but also lucky people) and the network of corporate professionals you have built along the way.

Lastly, considering I am working full-time and have started my own new venture (familiar with the term ‘side hustle’?) – do not be afraid to test your idea out first before committing completely. If anyone judges you for that, remember that they might not have the same bandwidth or capacity to achieve as much as you do!

Official expert in risk management

Alumni Stories.

Daniel VolpeCongratulations to Daniel Volpe (Business Undergraduate Exchange, 2008) for recently qualifying as an actuary in Brazil – the highest level of qualification attainable within the Institute and Faculties of Actuaries (IFoA). What makes this achievement even more special is that Daniel is widely considered to be the first Brazilian to qualify and to do so in his native country!

Having now received the FIA (Fellow of the Institute of Actuaries) designation, Daniel shares with us how Cass Business School has hugely enhanced his career and helped to secure him his dream job!

 

Can you tell me about your time at Cass?

As part of my Actuarial Science Degree from the University of Rome, I spent my last year at Cass Business School through a scholarship arrangement. For me, it was a unique opportunity to have contact with the British actuarial profession and standards. I took full advantage of it by attending lectures in topics that were not easily available in my home country. While studying hard, I have also met very interesting people, who I continue to keep in constant contact with.

My plan was to have an international working experience after my graduation. I found the carrier centre of City most helpful with preparing for job interviews.

 

What happened after you graduated?

After graduation, I started working for an actuarial consulting firm, which helped me to gain the international experience I was seeking.

After five years of working there, I received a phone call from the Chief Actuary of a large multinational bancassurance company, who explained to me that there was a vacancy in my home town in Brazil. Having studied at Cass, it certainly helped me to score points at this process and secure this appointment.

I have also started actuarial exams for the IFoA. Although there is not such a formal process to become a qualified actuary in Brazil, I believe that this is the best class of actuarial qualification and it will only benefit my future career.

 

Congratulations on becoming – what appears to be – the first Brazilian FIA! 

Successfully completing my actuary qualification and becoming an IFoA member has not only been a huge career goal but pure self-achievement. This was particularly rewarding to me as it was not an obligation of my role but something I just personally wanted to accomplish.

 

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

I recommend people exploring the possibilities that may take you out of your comfort zone. This is what makes life exiting!

For Brazilians planning on taking the IFoA exam, I recommend being prepared to “run a marathon”.

 

Now for some quick fire questions:

Where is your favourite place in London?

The financial centre at Canary Wharf has always inspired me as a place I would like to work at – which I did on many occasions.

I also enjoy the surrounding areas of Buckingham Palace including Green and Hyde parks.

What is your favourite holiday destination (that you’ve travelled to)?

I believe it is very important how you get to your destination. The trip I enjoyed most was a two-week car trip from Germany to Italy.

Which website do you check every day? 

BBC News

What is your dream travel holiday?

A sailing trip

Do you prefer cheese or chocolate?

Cheese

Innovative approach to personalising the experiences of online consumers

Alumni Stories.

Having recently graduated after completing the two-year Executive MBA course at Cass Business School, Isabella Aberle is already putting her new and developed skills into action by improving the experiences of both consumers and online companies. Isabella’s new venture Xarista – which has just successfully secured a spot on City Launch Lab – will support businesses with personalising their websites based on who is visiting them, making the user experience much more relevant and enjoyable.

We caught up with Isabella to find out more about her time at Cass Business School and how Xarista came about. 

 

Can you tell me about your time at Cass?

Having heard great stories from friends advocating for an MBA, it definitely weighed in on my decision to study the programme. Now with the studies behind me, I feel fortunate that I shared a similarly fantastic experience and learning journey. My time at Cass Business School was one of a kind!

It was challenging at times to manage time and energy, especially during year one of the two-year Executive MBA programme. But with the breadth of subjects and assignments, there was a constant sense of achievement. I equally enjoyed learning about new disciplines, and more about those I was already familiar with, either as part of my first studies or professional life.

Also, I cannot overemphasise the importance of my cohort and other Cass and City, University of London members. I’ve met amazing people from all types of backgrounds who I now call my friends.

 

What happened after you graduated?

I used my thesis to look into a specific business idea – a new form of web personalisation on users’ terms. With the learnings from the MBA and previous roles in strategy and product management, I had a solid tool kit to analyse the market, shape the core proposition and assess the potential of different routes to market.

By the time we finished our last lectures, I was confident in the business idea and dedicated most of my time to it. While we reached the next milestones over the following months, for example market validation with our prototype, I phased out other work commitments. Now, just after graduation, we are a small and growing team gearing up to launch our service Xarista.

With Xarista, third-party online companies can personalise their websites based on who is visiting them. Online companies in fashion, travel or groceries can tailor their products and content to suit each visitor’s preferences, and thus drive conversion and sales. Xarista users, individuals browsing the web, save time and enjoy relevant experiences online, while they are in control of their data.

Xarista offers true 1:1 web personalisation from the first second, and is a great step towards responsible marketing practises online.

 

How was Xarista born?

I spend a lot of time online and was frustrated by the time spent unnecessarily. Personalisation has been a ‘hot topic’ in marketing and consumer services for many years. However, when I go to a retail website, it takes time and effort to narrow down the product range to what I like – although a large part of my preferences and requirements (e.g. shoe size, holiday preferences) are consistent over time or across shopping sites. The cookie approach just doesn’t help much.

Moreover, I strongly believe it is the right time for the retail industry to take the next step in building out their web experiences via personalisation. There are regulatory pressures (GDPR), commercial pressures (it’s an Amazon world), and users are increasingly sensitive about their data and its value.

It was almost an obvious choice to combine my experience in marketing automation, transactional digital products and blockchain, and team up with other subject matter experts to create a service that meets the needs of both individuals and online companies.

 

Sounds great! Congratulations on Xarista securing a spot on City Launch Lab. Can you tell us a bit more about how that happened?

We learned about the City Launch Lab in the Entrepreneurship elective of my MBA. The City Launch Lab is the first of a series of steps CityVentures have taken to support student and alumni entrepreneurs with learning and support infrastructure.

We’re thrilled that Xarista got selected as one of the most promising ventures for the next intake this February. We look forward to the programme, especially the initial accelerator phase and the opportunity to share office space with some of the brightest entrepreneurs and most successful ventures that will grow at City over the next 12 months. This will definitely help boost Xarista and facilitate faster progression on our journey.

 

What have been the biggest challenges with setting up your own business?

Starting a company is a constant struggle of resources – time, human capital and financial capital. However, a successful entrepreneur is someone who thinks beyond current limitations. This meant for us two things. One, to be creative and always look out for a better way to spend our time, skills and funds to progress Xarista. And two, to balance dependencies between these resource pools carefully.

This was sometimes counterintuitive. We have, for instance, turned down an investment package including development resources, when we were looking for funding as well as development capacity. It was a tough call. Fewer dependencies – hence better optionality – helped us move faster and more confidently eventually.

 

What has been the most rewarding experience?

Unlocking the various pieces of building a company, step by step, was a most rewarding experience – and it still is!

Among the top things about entrepreneurial life I cherish, are the sense of purpose and how feedback from users or the businesses we speak to keeps the team and myself going the extra mile.

It’s true that every single conversation or meeting can bring up new ideas, new partnership opportunities and even more audacious goals. You never know what’s next. But we do know we’re onto something and wouldn’t want to miss it for the world!

 

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

I genuinely enjoyed that my MBA journey took me to a very different place than I imagined at the outset. Hence, my advice for anyone considering an MBA or secondary studies is to keep an open mind. To embrace the challenge – and the change! To gauge if an unforeseen opportunity is the right one to go for – and if it is, to do so decisively.

 

Is there anything the City community could help you with at this point?

Yes, indeed – I wouldn’t be a true start-up entrepreneur without asking for help!

Fellow students and alumni, do you have experience in online retail or know someone who is an expert in the field? I would love to hear your thoughts on Xarista and its impact on online retail/eCommerce as we know it today. Please email: isabella@xarista.io. Thanks for reaching out!

Do you spend a lot of time online and would like to own your experience with online retailers? Learn more about how Xarista can help you and sign up today at: https://xarista.io/ to start building your profile.

Now for some quick fire questions:

Where is your favourite place in London?
Shad Thames

What is your favourite holiday destination (that you’ve travelled to)?
Hong Kong

Which website do you check every day? 
Product Hunt

What is your dream travel destination?
I’d be suspicious of myself if I had only one! Cuba has been high up on my list for a while.

Do you prefer cheese or chocolate?
Chocolate

To find out more, visit: xarista.io.

Protecting the biosphere

Alumni Stories.

Angus Forbes is the founder of the charitable endeavour Bankers without Boundaries and is a Cass MBA alumnus passionate about protecting the biosphere through the creation of a Global Planet Authority, by way of the first action of global self-determination. He has recently launched the website www.votegpa.com and is married to ballerina and Strictly Come Dancing Judge, Dame Darcey Bussell DBE. Find out more below about Angus’ story… 

 

What did you study at Cass and what happened after you graduated?

I did an evening MBA in the Barbican Building.

I was working at Merrill Lynch as a stockbroker while I did my MBA, so I kept on working there. A few years later, I joined a hedge fund for a further six years and for the last 10 years, I have worked in small business, non-finance.

 

How did your business idea come about?

Two years ago, I started advocating global governance of the biosphere. I suspect it was due to my life experiences and observations.

The first 20 years of my life, I lived all over the world as my father was a diplomat. The second 20, I was in the City, here in London and I specialised in the consumer sector. The last ten I have had reasonable exposure to the environmental philanthropic sector.

 

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

Well, I started from scratch. I had to be brave enough to stand up and start talking about what I felt passionate about.

In two years, people have joined and we are beginning to get organised into work streams and become more effective at getting the idea out.

 

What has been the most rewarding experience?

Having 90% of hands go up of A level students, indicating that they would vote a Global Planet Authority into place…and having people join me on the journey.

 

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

If my footsteps are to be followed, I’d say, always pursue your passion when you can. There are times when you have to just knuckle down and earn some cash and feed yourself and your family, but never let go of what feels right and natural for you. Your passion doesn’t have to be some revelation, or some great insight. Most of the time, it’s just recognising what comes naturally to you. That’s because your brain and your soul are telling you.

 

Now for some quick fire questions:

Where is your favourite place in London?
Probably the walk path just inside Green Park, heading down towards the Mall. You have the London plain trees around you and feel right in the epicentre of a world city, a global cross roads.

What is your favourite holiday destination (that you’ve travelled to)?
Wherever there is a clean beach and a medium sized wave. Bondi at the middle flags is pretty special.

Which websites do you check every day? 
Daily Telegraph, Bloomberg and embarrassingly, I google Dame Darcey Bussell, my wife, just in case there’s some erroneous article written about her. I like to know if she needs a bit of protection, given she is in the public eye.

What is your dream travel destination?
Right now, to ski in the rockies, I have never been there.

Do you prefer cheese or chocolate?
Tough question. Chocolate just wins.

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City, University of London is an independent member institution of the University of London. Established by Royal Charter in 1836, the University of London consists of 18 independent member institutions with outstanding global reputations and several prestigious central academic bodies and activities.

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