City Alumni Network

Category Archives: Alumni Stories

Why give later when you can Giv-Now?

Alumni Stories.

Kaitlin Dunning (Transnational Media and Globalisation, 2015) is one of our newest additions to the Alumni Ambassador family and the mastermind behind Giv-Now; a platform that makes volunteering easier than popping a penny in a collection box. Read all about our newest recruit and her new app.

Can you tell me about your time at City?

I had the most wonderful experience at City! Prior to attending City as a student, I was working in London for 3 years. While studying at City, I was able to make amazing new friends from all over the world, learned from incredible lecturers, and was able to continue living in my favourite city in the world.

What happened after you graduated?

I continued to work in London as Marketing Manager for a technology recruitment agency for a year, and then decided to return back home to the US. I left London because my visa was expiring, and I was unable to get a new one. Additionally, I had already spent 4.5 years in the UK, and was ready to return back to the states, as it was never my intention to stay in the UK permanently. I was lucky enough to visit friends and family in the states 1-2 times per year while I was living in London, and I had a little taste of life back in the states during each visit, so it wasn’t a total culture shock when I returned permanently. Upon returning to the states, I moved to NYC, and it’s quite similar to London! Whilst there I founded Backpacks to Briefcases, providing career coaching content and services to recent college grads. After a year, I moved to Washington, DC, where I currently reside. I’m excited for this next chapter of my life working as a freelance marketing consultant and developing Giv-Now, and am especially excited to represent City University as its Washington, DC Alumni Ambassador!

How did Giv-Now come about?

The idea for Giv-Now was born out of the frustration of wanting to volunteer, but not knowing where to start. Young professionals in metropolitan areas are the demographic most interested in volunteering, but they also have the busiest schedules. In order for non-profits to recruit volunteers, they have to make the process as quick and easy as possible.

My background in the recruitment industry allowed me to see a direct parallel between recruiting for volunteers and recruiting candidates for paid positions. Employers are now investing much more time and money to recruit the top talent, and this is for paying jobs! Charities will have to try even harder to recruit folks to work for free. In addition, one of the main roadblocks to volunteering is not having the time to attend an orientation or to complete the necessary training. Luckily, there is a very simple solution. By converting traditional volunteer training into video, text, and audio content on the app, volunteers can complete their training on the go and at their own pace.

What has been the biggest challenge?

The biggest challenge has been trying to identify the most important features to include on the first basic version (MVP) of the app. I just want it to do everything, and that simply isn’t feasible for the first iteration!

What has been the most rewarding experience?

In addition to being able to help charities qualify more volunteers to carry out their mission of doing good, I have been working with a small group of college students on Giv-Now’s team. It is great to teach them how to start their own business, and the ins and outs of a tech startup.

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

If you can dream it, you can do it! Always put yourself out there, even if it’s scary. The only way you’re guaranteed to fail is if you never try. Find people smarter than you, and surround yourself with them and ask lots of questions.


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

What is your favourite place in London: St. James’s Park

What is your favourite holiday destination: Greece (Paros and Athens)

Which website do you check every day: Facebook

What is your dream travel destination: A tour of Asia (Beijing, Hong Kong, Kyoto and Tokyo)

Cheese or chocolate: That’s the hardest question so far! It depends on the time of day!


You can follow Kaitlin on Instagram: @_k_c_design_ or visit her website:

To learn more about Giv-Now please visit:

Mooving In a New Direction

Alumni Stories, Cass Business School News.

claireClaire Hall studied MSc Charity Marketing and Fundraising (2014) but has lately turned her talents to the digital sector at WordPress Agency Moove Agency and found plenty of skills crossover. We spoke about it all.

Tell me about your time at Cass!

I applied for the MSc in Charity Marketing and Fundraising whilst I was working overseas with an NGO in Nigeria. The then Executive Director of United Purpose (formerly Concern Universal) Ian Williams was a visiting fellow at Cass and he mentioned the CCE (Cass Centre for Charity Effectiveness) and the Masters programme. I looked into the course and Business School further and I knew that I’d found the right place to study. So I applied, got in and moved to London.

I absolutely loved the programme – it was very intense! It took a while to get used to Fridays and Saturdays in the classroom but I loved the total immersion of the course. I look fondly on my two years. The lecturers were fantastic, and it was the perfect balance of academic and theory and guest lecturers from charities. The cohort came from different parts of charity sector and were at different points in their careers; I learnt as much from them as through my study and reading.

What did you do next?

During my time at Cass I was working at the NSPCC. I held a few different roles whilst I was there, starting as Major Donor Fundraiser, then a secondment working for the Director of Fundraising and finally a move into the HR team to develop the Fundraising training programme. It was really fantastic to get the practical experience of those three roles.

I then had the opportunity a couple of years ago to join Moove Agency. After spending 10 years in the charity sector I felt it would add to my professional experience if I worked in another sector. I’m very interested in technology and the challenge of translating my skills and experience into the digital sector really appealed to me. Several of my modules with CCE were very applicable too, like resource management and strategy. It’s been great to use the learning, knowledge and insight from the course.

What is your role now?

At Moove Agency, we work with some of the UK’s biggest brands to provide fast and reliable WordPress support.
Even though I have transferred to the digital sector, I’ve found that in terms of people management and specifically my sales role I had many skills already. I love my role because we work with a wide range of clients in different sectors including fantastic charities like Internet Matters, Nacro and also CharityJob, the leading provider of charity jobs.

I’m also proud that we donate 5% of our profits to charity, and this year we supported Free A Girl who free and rehabilitate young girls who have been forced into prostitution. Although I’m not working in the charity sector I still feel that I continue to work with and support the sector.

What does the future hold?

From a business perspective I’m really lucky to work with a talented team of Developers, Designers and Account Managers and I’m looking forward to growing the team to reflect the demand for our services. We have also just launched a new service for API integrations so we can get the websites to work harder and with more automation; we plan to launch more services in the future which is exciting.

On a personal level I’ve been mentoring people for the past two years through the Aspire Foundation which is specifically for mentoring women, and I actually started as a mentee. I also mentor for the University of Reading and I’m looking for the right opportunity to join a charity board where I can add value with both my fundraising and digital sector experience.

What’s been the biggest challenge?

From a personal perspective, after 10 years of experience in the charity sector and doing the MSc, I had built up a huge knowledge base of the sector. When I transitioned into the digital industry, I had to start from scratch in some ways. So I immersed myself in our work and the industry and I got up to speed pretty quickly. Every sector has its own language and I found I could quickly utilise skills I already had, because sales and fundraising are really similar territory.

From a business perspective, we have grown 20-30% year on year and clients love our work and we receive great feedback. The challenge is that as we scale and senior people take on more responsibility, we need to refine our internal processes to reflect the size of the business and continue to deliver the best service to our clients.

Do you have any advice to share?

Whatever stage you’re at in your career there’s always more to learn. You need to keep working on yourself, and the Masters for me was part of that. I really like the Churchill quote “to improve is to change, to perfect is to change often”. I love the sentiment to push forward, grow and improve; it’s good advice and it’s definitely what I’ve done in my career. Work on your personal growth and you will really add value to organisations that you are a part of.

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

Favourite place in London: The Planetarium in Greenwich always puts things into perspective!
Favourite holiday destination: Venice
Must-check every day website: for insights into exciting breakthroughs and discoveries in science and tech
Dream travel destination: Japan
Cheese or chocolate: Chocolate

Find out more about Moove Agency on their website.

The Light Fantastic

Alumni Stories, Cass Business School News.

drew Drew Midgely (BSc Banking and International Finance, 2007) loved the buzz of London when he arrived at 18 and now his family business Vendimia Lighting Co. provides vintage-inspired fittings for trendy London restaurants, amongst other places. We caught up for a chat:

Tell me about your time at Cass!

I came to Cass to study BSc Banking & International Finance in 2004 and I graduated in late 2007. What drew me to Cass was first of all that it was in London. I had family in London and I loved the buzz in the city, so I wanted to make sure I was there. Also, I had researched the credentials of Cass and it really drew me in.

Looking back, I moved to London at 18 and all of a sudden I was almost 200 miles from home! I learned a lot academically and a lot of life skills too, which was really good; I couldn’t cook for myself or do the washing, so it was a steep learning curve. The people I met came from all over the world, and it was great to meet people from such different backgrounds and cultures. I’m still in touch with many, they are lifelong friends, and many more are still acquaintances that I am connected with on social media.

What did you do next?

I interviewed for jobs in a couple of major banks in London but I was not successful, so because of the extortionate rents in London I decided to move back to Yorkshire. I actually then went to study an MSc Information Management at The University of Sheffield, which was a one-year course, and whilst I was there I dabbled in e-commerce on marketplaces to supplement my student income.

So I spent a year doing that and then I started work in the Marketing & Communications department in a local government body. I stayed there for seven years, it was very corporate, and I learned a lot about marketing and communications. From there I progressed to my current business.

What is Vendimia Lighting Co.?

We are a leading manufacturer of vintage inspired lighting. We sell directly to customers, trade and through retail partners and work with architects, restaurant designers and hospitality workers. We sell our products all over the globe, and we’ve been in several publications and appeared on TV. We work in particular with bars, restaurants and commercial lets in Yorkshire and have done work further afield like at the Other Palace Theatre London, where we provided the lights for the booking office and restaurant, and for a few other London restaurants too. People have probably seen our lights and never even realised!

If you’re still not sure what we do, it’s the same lighting as those trendy bars in London which have old school lights in cages hanging from fabric. That’s what we produce. We are always focussed on the future and are thinking maybe of branching into homewares or tables and chairs that can accompany our style of lighting.

It’s a family business? How did that happen?

So as I said I dabbled in e-commerce as a student, and at this time my brother was doing a business degree at Sheffield too. He had been doing a range of business things, and had been in property development, when he came to me with this idea for vintage-inspired lighting. I could see the potential for growth and the competitors were doing well. He asked did I want to join? Yes! I jumped in because I was getting very sick of the 9-5 corporate world. So we jumped in three years ago, along with our other brother – it’s a real family affair!

The name is Spanish for vintage. We have a family villa in Spain and spend a lot of time there, and just thought the name was cool – vintage is the vibe.

What’s been the biggest challenge?

Right now personally it’s getting enough sleep! My son was born 5 months ago so not to be a zombie at work is the main challenge. Otherwise I’d say it’s spending quality time with my family. It’s hard to switch off when it’s a family business and you’ve got your work email on your phone, it’s hard to get that work/life balance.

Coming from a corporate background now to work in to warehouse with an office in the corner, and spending much of my time picking and packing orders on the warehouse floor – it’s literally a different world! Getting my hands dirty I feel like I’ve done a hard day’s work! I’m also dealing with a much wider range of people, because the clientele includes tradesmen and is a lot less corporate and more relaxed.

Do you have any advice to pass on?

Don’t be scared to jump out of your comfort zone. Looking back to when I went to University I was 18 years old, which seems so young now – it was a massive thing but at the time it didn’t really seem like it. You just go for it! If you have a passion or an interest and want to do it, just do it! You can spend all your time thinking what if, especially about leaving your corporate role, but it really frees you up and creates that flexibility to form a better work/life balance.

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

Favourite place in London: Other Palace Theatre
Favourite holiday destination: St Lucia on my partner’s family yacht
Must-check every-day website:, Shopify and our social media pages
Dream travel destination: China, we have suppliers there and I’d love to see the country
Cheese or Chocolate: Chocolate

Find out more on their website and follow on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest and Instagram.

Stonehenge Heritage & History

Alumni Stories.

Alumnus Neil L. Thomas (Engineering, 1951) has written a number of books about the prehistoric landmark Stonehenge.

The second in the series, Stonehenge Heritage & History concerns the history of the ancient monument in southern England and the people who built it.

This book explains how arithmetic, geometry, linear measurements, geometric principles were well established and consistently employed in the design and construction of Stonehenge and its contemporary surrounding ancient monuments over a wide area. Neolithic Stonehenge Age buildings tallied both Sun and Moon calendars, the ability to forecast the next lunar total eclipse cycles every 18 years and 11 days.

An apocalyptic event about 2240 BC caused several decades worldwide climatic change. Communities eventually recovered by 2000 BC with the inauguration of the European Bronze Age. Ten million bronze axes sourced from Wales and Cornwall were marketed for millennia across the length and breadth of Europe.

Stonehenge architectural traditions embraced an application of the progressive arithmetic series usually named the ‘Fibonacci Series’; the core design criteria was the series 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55, 89, 144, 233, 377, 610, 987, 1597; first number plus the next becomes the third. Stonehenge is integral with Cursus ancient monument to the north. Stonehenge can rightly be termed the world’s first university. Its design successor is Parliament House in Canberra, Australia.

For more titles from Neil, please click here.


Neighbourhood Foodies

Alumni Stories, Cass Business School News.

dubbahood trioMarcello Giannuzzi (MG) and Kartikeya ‘Kat’ Shukla (KS) (Both Executive MBA, 2014) and Finn Callaghan (FC) are the team behind DubbaHood, a company that connects home cooks with people looking for freshly prepared meals in their neighbourhood a la ‘Airbnb for Food’. We chatted about entrepreneurship, belief and, of course, a lot about food.

Tell me about your time at Cass!

MG) I had a great experience. I remember the first day, when I came in for the introduction and I was wondering what the hell I was doing at Cass as London was such a different experience from my background – but step-by-step I discovered how much I would enjoy the people and being around that environment. It was a fantastic adventure and it really opened my eyes to new possibilities.

KS) I could not agree more; landing in the middle of London was quite an experience! You have to figure out the rules. There are so many people from different parts of the world and you all have to try to get on, which was a challenge at the beginning. But then sometime along the journey you end up forming life-long relationships.

KS) I think that’s a little bit of what the Business School is about. Marcello is from Italy and I am from India, and we met in London and decided to start a company together. Cass played a big role in that but we mustn’t forget Nancy (O’Hare) either, and she’s from Canada! So many people come together and met at a place called Cass, in London, where many of us had never been before. This international aspect is an important part of our company’s story.

What did you do after?

MG) It’s been about three years since we left. We finished at Cass in 2014 and didn’t go straight in to this. I’ve been working in Switzerland in the meantime. I clearly remember being on the New Venture Creation module, thinking that’s definitely not me! But the concepts were in the back of my mind, so when Kat and I talked about this idea a couple of years later it really turned a light on in my head. I realised that this is what I want to do and is right for me.

How did DubbaHood come about?

KS) My background is in business development and sales in the technology start up space. I have travelled 200-250K miles annually for the past 10-odd years, which has taken me around the world. Many people find that tiring but I enjoy it, meeting people and eating good food wherever my work took me. It just so happened that during my MBA I ended up living in Surrey in a very white neighbourhood, without many international food options or restaurants, so if I wanted to eat authentic food from somewhere like Brazil, then I would have to travel in to London.

So I was thinking, how do I get authentic food? Where do I begin? I went to Vietnam for an elective in Hanoi and the food places there, wow! I went to a place recommended to me for chicken by a local friend. It was the most authentic, delicious BBQ chicken cooked along the side of a road and over the course of the week we were there for the elective, I took several groups of friends and they all loved it. Marcello was one of the guys I took there and we ended up bonding over this amazing barbecue chicken and potatoes done in the Vietnamese style.

We talked about life and work and food and that’s when the idea really came together – we realised that what brings people from around the world together is a love of food and music. Well, we decided to focus on food! It was in Autumn 2013 that we had the idea, and it took from then until 2015/16 to say we need to do this; the world needs this. Once we started working on it, Nancy stepped in to help us and then we approached Finn to join the team to lead marketing and growth.

Where does the name DubbaHood come from?

MG) The name for me is about discovery. In DubbaHood, the first part of the name comes from the Dubbawallas in India. Dubba is the container in which fresh home cooked food is carried by these food couriers from your home, through this incredibly complex transport system, ending with the delivery of the meals to the right office where you work. That means they offer something that you don’t get elsewhere, the ability to eat home-cooked food, and to help communities get together, and this is where the “Hood” comes in, as we are connecting neighbourhoods through great food. We are trying to marry the concept of authentic and fresh home cooked food within neighbourhoods and brining people together using that hook.

What does DubbaHood do?

KS) We are a tech company which helps connect people who cook great food with people hungry for great food. We want people to connect with each other in their neighbourhoods. Nothing brings people together more than stories about food. It’s about the passion for fresh and authentic flavours; we’ve had enough of fast food and ready-to-eat. For this generation, it’s all about finding out what say, Marcello is cooking, what Kat is cooking, what Emma is cooking and how do I get a portion of that food for my own meal tonight. If you know the food is good (and our ratings and review system helps you with that), you will want to get your food from there, and that also helps the cook make a little money, as well as make new friends and connections along the way.

MG) Behind any recipe there is a story to tell, and it’s that connection to other people that you just don’t find everywhere. Those memories that home-cooked food brings and the story that is behind each meal is something not on the market today.

FC) It’s convenient too. Perhaps on a Monday night the last thing you want to do is figure out what you’re cooking. So what if you could meet with someone who has already done that for you so you don’t have to cook tonight? You find the person in your neighbourhood, take a short walk to pick up the food and it’s job done! And having someone in your neighbourhood who would cook you a fresh meal when you’re entirely focused on starting a company and don’t want distractions… that would be heaven to me right now!

What’s been the biggest challenge?

MG) Really for me it’s been to get out of my shell and stretch myself. I live in Switzerland and I work in the regulatory department for a big corporation. Even though you can definitely be an entrepreneur, building your own company requires a different and a more flexible and resilient approach to work.

KS) The biggest thing for me was to get the idea – and now we are moving to the execution stage in the journey. Execution of the idea is key and it requires incredible focus, resilience, and belief in your team and yourself. We are constantly looking for people who love the problem we’re trying to solve and want to come in to start contributing, and making a real difference. HR and organisational behaviour problems, these are the biggest priorities for us right now – it is critical to have the right culture to enable growth.

FC) When you’re a start-up, you could be the tech person one day, the customer service person the next and the marketing person the day after that, depending on your current list of priorities and deadlines. You have to make sure that you don’t let something important slip through the cracks or it could have a knock-on effect on other areas. It can be incredibly daunting to learn everything you can, about an area where you have little experience, in as short a time as possible. As Marcello said, it certainly forces you out of any comfort zone you may have. But it is truly exhilarating when whatever piece it is that you’re working on is successfully completed.

Do you have any advice to share?

MG) One word: Belief. You need to really believe in your idea, even if it’s a stretch and not within everybody’s grasp. Believe through the ups and downs, and it will become reality.

KS) Communicate. Good communication is key, whether internally for good or bad news, or externally to investors and people you are hoping to get interested.

FC) Patience. Working in a start-up is an entirely different experience to an already established company. In a company, there are processes in place and established roles and responsibilities. In a start-up, there is no structure, you’re figuring it out as you go along and success doesn’t happen instantly, so you need to be patient. Yes, you will have setbacks, you always do in a start-up, but you’ll have many more if you’re not patient with yourself, with others and with the journey.

So you’re looking to hire new people?

MG) One of the things at Cass that is very important is access to talent. The journey just started for us and we want to tap into the Cass network to say we are here with this great opportunity, get in touch with us if you want to find out more or of you think this is a business you’d like to be contribute to!

KS) Hiring is critical and so is putting a good Advisory Board in place. We’re a growing company so it is critical to put the right team together including getting the right investors on board.

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

  Marcello Kat Finn
Favourite place in London: Tate Modern Borough Market Tate Britain and Modern
Favourite holiday destination: Cambodia or Vietnam Hanoi Palau
Must check every-day website: FT News sites in particularly Tech Crunch Twitter (for multiple news sources)
Dream travel destination: Myanmar Alaska Vanuatu
Cheese or chocolate: Cheese Chocolate Cheese

Find out more about DubbaHood on the website.

A Phoenix Rising

Alumni Stories.

 A firefighter from the age of 18, Clifford Thomspon (MA Narrative Non-Fiction Writing, 2012) has dealt with his fair share of disasters, now he writes about them. Here Clifford talks about his debut memoir Falling Through Fire.

 Can you tell me about your time at City?

I was at City from 2010 to 2012. I studied part-time on the MA Creative Writing (Narrative Non-fiction), led by Julie Wheelwright. The course was brilliant.

The object of the course is to write a complete book in two years – a daunting challenge. I had originally made the decision to do the course back in 2009, and so had given myself a year to prepare. The course was really well organised but there was lots of reading – twenty books in the first year for one module which made me anxious. I actually made a start on it before the course began.

What happened after you graduated?

As part of the course we all gave a presentation to agents and publishers, including reading a sample of our books. The course really was a jumping-off point for me to go into the industry and I got two calls from agents, and two more from those who had read excerpts in our anthology which was sent out to them as we graduated. The publishing industry takes the course very seriously – the course is consistently producing writers who are ready to be published. My book is pretty much the same book as I wrote on the course.

Tell us about the publishing process?

After I graduated I had several meetings with agents, and some second meetings – this process took well over a year as it takes time to submit sample chapters, for them to be read, and then discussed at meetings that may – or may not lead to representation.

I also pitched to new agents – but only ever two or three at a time, and making sure I submitted my manuscript in accordance with their requirements. I had a rolling series of pitches, meetings and feedback – and I also met another four agents at events who agreed to look at my work after a brief chat. I never pressed them – but I always mentioned City, and that led to a business card being offered to me which in itself was a real confidence booster.

I met Kate Johnson the UK agent with Wolf Literary Services in New York at a function for London Book Fair in 2015. But I didn’t submit my manuscript until October 2016 and shortly after she decided to represent me.

In 2014 I was awarded a short scholarship by the Norman Mailer Center in the US and spent time at the University of Utah to develop my writing with Lawrence Schiller, Mailer’s collaborator and Beverly Donofrio the author of Riding in Cars With Boys. I started a new project and I had another round of submissions to new agents. I continued going to London Book Fair every year. The seminars aimed at writers are excellent, and there’s also the opportunity to meet publishers from smaller and independent companies.

About the same time I pitched to Kate, I also sent my manuscript to Mirror Books whose editor invited me to a meeting and said she was going to recommend my book to her sales director on the strength of seeing only three chapters. Then everything fell into place: I had an agent and early in 2017 was offered a traditional publishing deal. It was five years since I finished the course and then suddenly it all came together.

When did you realise you wanted to be a writer:

I think I was one of those people who thought I wanted to have a go. Working for the BBC and having my name on the by-line of online stories helped me massively. I thought ‘could I do this?’ So I went along to an open evening and met Julie for the first time. I read one of the stories from the anthology and it just fell into place. I went home and that night wrote what was to become the prologue of the book that is now on the shelves.

Where did you get the idea for Falling Through Fire?

In the early part of my career I worked as a firefighter. I was 18 years old when I started. Then in 1991 something happened that changed my world and I didn’t go back to work for a few years. When I did, it was as a TV Journalist for the BBC. I covered the Paddington train crash and other disasters and noticed the similarities between my two carers.

In my book my two careers came together in a way I never really expected. That’s the good thing about Julie’s course and the creative writing department. You don’t go and write a biographical account, you are compelled to write narrative non-fiction. On the course you’re encouraged to think and write in a literary way and that’s a lot more colourful. I realised I had a lot of experience of being directly involved in disasters both as a firefighter and as a journalist, but I was also able to reflect on growing up and becoming a man.

What has been the biggest challenge?

Getting the book published is still the biggest challenge. The industry is shrinking and genres go in and out of favour. Keeping your belief that you’ve done the right thing is hard. You start to think ‘should I discard this and rewrite the whole thing?’ You have to have the confidence that what you have written is worth being published.

What has been the most rewarding experience?

I think it has to be being published. I can walk into Tesco near to my house and see my book on the shelves. It is weird when you see your own book, especially being able to go and buy it in a supermarket but it’s a huge sense of achievement. It validates everything I’ve done for the past seven years.

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

In terms of the MA – think really seriously about whether or not you want to be a writer and be prepared for it to happen. Stick at it and just assume the first words you write could go on to be in your book when it appears on the shelf – albeit after much editing.

In terms of pursuing a full-time career as a writer – it’s still early for me. I’d say have a plan b. Have an insurance policy to fall back on – just in case.

Falling Through Fire is now available at Waterstones, WH Smith, major branches of Tesco and Asda and online. 

 You can listen to Clifford talking about his book and the issues it raises on BBC Radio 4’s PM:

Contact Clifford on Twitter: @Cliff_Thompson1  


Developing your CSR

Alumni Stories, Cass Business School News.

An advert at a bus stop convinced Akash Ghai to study NGO Management (2013). Now his company, Development3, helps growing companies build their social responsibility legacies. We skyped him in New York to find out more.

Tell me about your time at Cass!

I applied for the NGO Management program after I saw the course advertised at a bus stop. I studied part-time and that was a godsend, to be able to do it part-time as I was also trying to establish myself in a new professional role. You don’t usually get that level of flexibility at high calibre Universities like Cass; you might get online learning at Stamford or MIT, but you don’t get that full-on experience. It was interesting because at the time I was working at The Commonwealth, helping to improve the back end coordination of international development. The course taught me a lot about what happens on the front end and helped me to have a complete understanding of how the aid and change sectors work.

When I decided to see what it was like and give it a go, I ended up on the wait list. I was doubting myself, thinking am I too young? Inexperienced? But once I got on the course, it gave me a strong foundation and enabled me to bring a more entrepreneurial approach to the projects I was working on. The results of my education were immediate – I could see them every day in my job. Cass is not just a name brand, it genuinely pushes talent and career progression.

Cass helped me get clarity on the niche I wanted to fill in the sector and triggered me to set up Development3 to help mid-sized NGOs, who in my experience were the agents best equipped to truly move the needle, to become more competitive and functional. Cass taught me all about business structure, framework mapping, advocacy, and positioning.

When sector novices ask me how to navigate the sector, I always refer them to Cass. My time there shaped my thinking and the way I am as a person. At Cass, you can identify what your end goal is a bit earlier than at other Universities, and the immediate application of your learning sets the program apart. I didn’t want a theoretical understanding, I wanted the hands-on knowledge so that I could be part of a working solution.

What did you do after?

I studied part time and kept working at The Commonwealth and spent hours talking to people from the NGO world to understand how I could apply what I learned at Cass. That led to setting up Development3, which initially focused on international development, sustainable development and social development. We worked with 20+ NGOs/non-profits in 5 different countries. We worked with our clients to build their back-end: marketing, finance, and HR, leaving them free to focus on helping their beneficiaries.

In 2014, my then girlfriend, now wife, a native of New York was selected to do her PhD in the States. So, I packed up my London life and moved. I didn’t know anyone in the US and didn’t know how to navigate the US as an immigrant or professional.

How did Development3 fare in the US?

First, I went and got a corporate role and got to grips with the American way of working. I decided to keep Development3 working in the background until I could get a true sense of how it would work in the USA. I spent 2014-15 in this corporate environment and then I found my value proposition: how can I help companies pursue corporate social responsibility (CSR)? I also found a niche: mid-market companies.

We pivoted our focus in 2015, where previously we focused solely on the NGOs, now we are striking a balance of working with both NGOs and mid-market companies. Currently, we work with companies in the US, Australia and the UK. Multinationals are sometimes rigid in their CSR thinking because of their scope while start-ups are just looking to survive which leaves mid-market companies. Companies that are growing, have a stronger risk and creativity appetites and are at times led by founders or CEOs who genuinely want to have a social impact.

I brought in Annie Agle as a partner at the company. Her strong cause marketing and international development background means we can not only develop and implement CSR strategies but also help communicate their results as well.

We are now on track to grow our business in the US. It’s been a lot of work! It’s been an interesting experience to shift the culture from London to New York. In London, I found the ways-of-working to be very systematic and process driven. When I got to New York I realised there are many more opportunities. That’s when my entrepreneurialism shone through.

What’s been the biggest challenge?

At the start, it was being in a new culture and working environment, but I’ve got that down pat now! I’m now finding living in New York as normal as being in London, which I think means I’ve truly become accustomed to it. Now, we are looking to California, which seems to be leading the charge in terms of bringing innovative ideation to the aid sector and CSR spaces.

The challenge now is getting in front of more mid-market companies. We are building visibility to aid business development, and we all know this doesn’t happen overnight, but since the election, strangely enough, companies have a strong sense of urgency to become change actors. We have done our best to make ourselves available to any and all companies interested in whole-heartedly making this transition.

Do you have any advice to pass on?

I’m naturally introverted, which is something I am very comfortable talking about. Back when I graduated I found it difficult to assert myself, so I spent time building my knowledge. Then I moved to the USA and learned to not be afraid. The climate of idealism here really does rub off on you over time. Everyone here is trying and not afraid to fail.

I think if I’d learned sooner to really open myself to discussions that would have allowed me to grow quicker. I find it odd that I had to go to the USA to find that out. In the UK, I feel the attitude is different, there are more set ways of interacting and approaching problems. In the US, everything goes back to collaboration and productive feedback.

Finally it’s the quick-fire question round!

Favourite place in London: Streatham Common
Favourite holiday destination: Hawaii
Must-check every-day website: Shapr. Quick plug, Shapr is one of our clients. Our friend Ludovic and his team developed an app that enables people to connect with likeminded professionals through their phone.
Dream travel destination: Singapore
Cheese or chocolate: Chocolate!

Find out more about Development3 on their website and join Shapr here.

Digital Disruption

Alumni Stories, Cass Business School News.

Andrew Carroll (MBA, 2010) formulated his business plan whilst finishing his MBA and his business, Yocuda, offers digital receipts to customers and data insights to retailers. We popped into his office for a quick chat.

Tell me about you time at Cass!

My time at Cass was pretty intense. I turned 30, got engaged and went back to University, all within about 3 weeks! The next 12 months were then spent in the inferno of fast learning that is the full time MBA!

My whole reason for doing the MBA was to formalise my business knowledge. My first degree was in History which, whilst fascinating and great fun, was, in my opinion, not training for the world of Business (compared to peers who studied Law, Accountancy, Economics). Actually, my favourite subject at school was Chemistry, which in some respects I regret not continuing, who knows, maybe I will go back to University again!

When I finished my undergraduate degree I worked for Betfair and I was, I can’t remember exactly, employee number 30 or something like that. I missed out on the stock options but I gained experience, seeing the business grow to more than 400 employees and I found the whole concept of the Network Effect fascinating.

When I joined Cass my plan was always to pursue an idea that I was hoping to have whilst I was there. Thankfully I did!

What did you do after?

I went straight in to this. I wrote my business plan for eReceipts as a part of my dissertation on entrepreneurship, with the wonderful Sionade Robinson as my mentor. That was September 2010, by January 2011 we were officially incorporated and we had raised seed finance by that Summer of 2011.

How did you come up with the idea?

The idea came about when I was sitting in one of the brilliant Julie Verity strategy lectures. She was talking us through a case study on Danish company called Metax who were smashing BP and Shell by stripping costs out of the forecourts but also by using data, collected through issuing digital receipts, to better serve customers.

The idea that payments were an entirely digital process ending with a useless piece of paper started to look pretty absurd. Shouldn’t all receipts be digital? So that gave me the idea, or at least my dissertation topic!

What is Yocuda?

When I first started the idea was that as a person I could have somewhere to keep all my digital receipts alongside things like loyalty points, discounts and offers, promotions and coupons. Whilst this is still our long term ambition, we obtained limited traction with retailers.

Today Yocuda helps retailers understand their customers better. Our largest clients include Argos, Debenhams, Halfords and array of fashion retailers from French Connection to Monsoon Accessorize who now all offer their customers our digital receipts; eReceipts. On average roughly 20% of a multi-channel retailers’ revenues are generated through their websites leaving a whopping 80% still transacted through their stores. When a customer buys through a retailer’s website the retailer obtains a lot of information on that customer: what they buy, what they looked at, their location and more. But retailers are often blind to who their customers are instore. To date we have helped retailers identify in excess of 40m unique in store customers and digitised over 600m receipts.

We also supply additional services to retailers helping them make sense of their transactional and customer data through our analytics and marketing products. Hence why we re-branded from our former name eReceipts to Yocuda, which stands for “Your Customer Data.”

It’s all about the data!

Going back to my longer term view on data I strongly believe that customers should own their own data. Individuals are, in my opinion, still very naïve in regards to what happens to their data and are probably not even aware of the data they are giving to third parties.

With the arrival of GDPR next May I think this is a kind of an inevitability. Arguably shopping data is the most valuable data that a person should own. Liking a handbag on Facebook is one thing but actually purchasing that handbag is far more actionable data. It’s going to be a fascinating two years whilst customers, banks, retailers, technology companies and the like wrestle with the new world of customer data and its legal implications. Suffice to say GDPR is a huge opportunity and I feel a lot of companies are just being compliant rather than looking at it as a competitive advantage. In any event I think it plays well into our growth plans!

What’s been the biggest challenge?

I would say there have been two things: talent acquisition and the sales cycles to big retailers. On the hiring side there’s been the bubble in tech world. When we first started we were hiring engineers at £35/£40K per year these engineers now command £70/£80K with the same skill set. It’s just supply and demand; there are roughly four jobs out there for every developer. I also naturally want to believe in people and will take what they say at face value. This is not ideal when hiring sales people, they are always so good at selling themselves!

The sales cycle to retailers is long and lengthy. It’s hard to find the decision maker and then retail churn means that you get to a certain stage, that person leaves and then you have to start all over again. It’s taken a lot longer than I hoped it would to get to retail adoption but thankfully we had the finances to weather the storm. Now it’s the network effect we have got working in our favour so it’s harder to be pulled out, but that first bite took much longer than expected.

Do you have any advice to pass on?

Be more confident in what you think you can achieve and give it a real go! One of the things I found sad about my MBA cohort was that many of them wanted to go start their own businesses or transition into another job, but when push came to shove and they finished the MBA a lot of them dribbled back to their previous field. They might be better paid now but that’s not really the point of doing an MBA. So I’m not sure if it’s a confidence thing or what.

The MBA is such good learning and a great platform. After, you understand so much breadth. You learn about markets, hedge funds, corporate finance, marketing and you can pretty much sit in a meeting with any professional and have an understanding of what they are talking about.

Finally it’s the quick fire question round!

Favourite place in London: Lords Cricket Ground
Favourite holiday: Skiing in Val d’Isere
Must check every day website: Retail Week
Dream travel destination: Maldives
Cheese or chocolate: Why would you choose rotten milk over chocolate!

Arrange your Brazilian Evex in Style

Alumni Stories, Cass Business School News.

Silvio Regis studied MSc Masters in Innovation, Creativity and Leadership (2016), known as the MICL. He’s transforming the events booking space in Brazil with Evex, and we skyped him to find out more.

Tell me about your time at Cass!

It was great to study at Cass, even better than I thought. When you look for a Masters you have an idea of how it works and what it will be like but the MICL surprised me! I also tried to get in involved in extracurricular activities like City Starters and the City Spark workshops. I tried to enjoy every moment as much as I could when I was there.

What did you do after?

I delivered my dissertation and graduated in September 2016. I spent one more month in London and then I moved back to Brazil. I actually had the idea for this before I graduated, and as a result I did my dissertation on it. The development started during my degree because I recognised the potential of the idea and invested some time developing it as well as developing partnerships whilst I was still in London.

One key partnership was with a company in India which was in charge of the software development for the platform. That all meant that I could start growing the business straight away when I landed in Brazil. Well, first I met my family and friends! Then my business partner and I just continued working on the idea.

How did you come up with Evex?

When I applied for the Masters I already had big dreams and some ideas. Then when I was new in London as an ordinary Brazilian I was looking for people to play football with. I found an app that matches you with other people who also want to play. So I asked myself, why is this sort of thing only for football, can’t it be for other things like events, and other non-sporting activities?

Then I remembered a previous experience where I had to organise a Christmas celebration in Brazil and I had trouble finding a venue and it took a really long time. Putting these two together I realised the problem I could help solve. So I decided to do the prototype as my dissertation and found there was a big potential for this concept.

What actually is Evex?

Evex is a booking platform for venues and services for events in Brazil. You can go to the platform and enter information like the date, the type of event, and the number attendants and the platform returns to you a list of good venues for your specific event. Additionally you can also find services like a photographer, videographer, sound equipment hire and production. Our aim is to reliably find you everything you need for your event easily and quickly.

What’s been the biggest challenge?

There have been many challenges, day in and day out! At the beginning the challenge was to develop the product. It was hard to find good professionals here where I live and in general the process takes lots of time. When things move slow patience is required. It took us a long time to get a good product because we were concerned with the design and functionality and wanted to test all the details before launch. We launched it one month ago and we’re very proud of the product result.

The next challenge is commercial. Initially we did a good job but there are two sides here, the suppliers of venues and services on one side and on the other side are the event organisers. It’s been challenging to connect with suppliers to bring them to the platform before we even launched, to get them to trust us. We currently have 40 great suppliers under contract with another 90 in the process of listing. Next up we have to work on how to bring event organisers to believe in us and see us as reliable partners and that Evex is a a better way to organise events. We don’t charge fees to the organisers and we’re doing marketing and commercial campaigns to make this happen.

Do you have any advice to share?

If I reflect and go back to those decisions I made related to MICL and moving to London, I’m really happy with all those decisions. If I had to choose again I would choose the same, and I feel very lucky to have done it. I’m always very excited to talk about my masters and my one year in London. My advice here is to be out of your accommodation as much as possible meeting people, going places and and experiencing the unique life moments the UK offers.

With the business I’d definitely do stuff differently now. Maybe I would make different decisions around product development to speed it up. Actually, my partner and I have a vision of doing this not just for events but for making ideas come true. Thus we are about to launch our second product related to creative experiences in Salvador and we did the prototype in only two months because we learned such a lot from the previous process.

From a business perspective I’d say to focus on designing the minimum viable product (MVP) rather than creating a lot of features, so that you can start out and test the idea. We’re doing this second product with minimal coding focussing mostly on design and functionality in the first instance.

What does the future hold?

Talking about our current goals, the plan was always to use Salvador, which is a big city in Brazil, for the initial kick off, but the end goal is to spread to other different parts of Brazil. We want to launch our second version of Evex in three or four months with the functionality that venues and service providers can list their offers through an online portal without our input. That will mean we can scale up faster and better. We are also launching an app on Apple and Android, so we’ve got a second push coming soon to start to spread over Brazil.

Hopefully I can also come back to London to meet up with Cass and keep in touch with people from the MICL. We have a WhatsApp group and it’s good to maintain those relationships. Two months ago I came back for graduation and I visited the City Launch Lab and spoke to Alex there and other people doing start-ups. It’s good to keep in touch and exchange ideas, so I want to keep doing that.

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

Favourite place in London: Southbank
Favourite holiday destination: Slovenia
Must-check every day website: Nowadays to check the best venues and services for events in Brazil. I like Endeavor too for entrepreneurship content.
Dream travel destination: Maldives
Cheese or chocolate: Can I choose both cheese and chocolate? Plus a glass of wine and good company!

Get your Brazilian event arranged with Evex. You can also join them on Facebook and Instagram.

Backstage at Stagedoor

Alumni Stories, Cass Business School News.

It’s all about who you know – a couple of chance encounters led Michael Hadjijoseph (left in photo, Investment Finance and Risk Management, 2011) to start Stagedoor, a theatre discovery and booking app that puts all of London’s shows at your fingertips.

They are raising their second round of funding now. We chatted about the theatre community, building sticky products that people love and finding your role post university.

Tell me about your time at Cass!

At Cass I found myself in an environment with a lot of very driven individuals and it was the first time I actually took academia seriously. I was determined to get a first and the environment of driven friends and caring teachers really helped me achieve that. I made some lifelong friendships at Cass and six years after graduation we still meet up all the time.

I studied Investment Finance and Risk Management and like everyone else in our cohort, I was expected to go into banking. I had done internships at a hedge fund and an insurance brokerage and I was interviewing with various big banks. It was around that time that I stared realising that I while I really enjoyed following the financial markets and investments, that perhaps my personality and key competencies were best suited to something more creative – something more purposeful.

Some close friends who I consider my mentors really helped me make the decision of not going into banking and embarking on journey in tech start-ups. I really loved how practical the course was. That really enabled me to get my job as soon as I’d graduated because of the analytical and Excel skills I acquired through my degree.

What did you do next?

A few weeks after graduation I made the decision to join a freelance marketplace start-up called The founder, Xenios Thrasyvoulou, was and still is a mentor of mine. I started working there as a business analyst and whilst there I made the move towards product management. In that role you’re essentially the person who owns the KPI’s and the responsibility around a certain product. It’s a great role which combines commercials with engineering and design.

After almost two years at peopleperhour, I went back to my home country to test the ground but realised I felt I had a lot to learn. So in April 2013 I moved back to the UK and started working for, an upscale, high touch Airbnb as a Product Manager. That’s where I feel I really became a proper product manager. Onefinestay was a brilliant experience which enabled me to see how things were run at a different scale. I stayed there for two years and in the meantime I also started Stagedoor – working on it early in the mornings and at night.

How did you get the idea for Stagedoor?

While I was in Cyprus, some common friends introduced me to two people that were running a theatre company, a brilliant director called Paris Erotokritou and Yiannis Gavrelides, a tech entrepreneur and investor. They were both very knowledgeable of London’s theatre industry. He described how there was nothing really bringing all of the theatre information in one place and that it’s quite a full time job staying up to date with everything that’s currently on. There wasn’t really anything making it easy for theatregoers to decide what to see.

Myself and Co-founder Alex Cican together with Paris and Yiannis decided to group together and work on solving this problem. Alex and I being proper product geeks, started immediately designing different solutions taking inspiration from other discovery apps like Vivino (wines), Foursquare (bars/restaurants), TripAdvisor (hotels/restaurants), and Artsy (art).

A couple of months later, following a lot of research and user testing sessions we had a working prototype so I decided to move on to working at it full time and to start fundraising. By January 2016 we had raised our first round of funding from angel investors raising €230K.

What is Stagedoor? Tell us a bit about where you are at the moment!

Stagedoor is the first social theatre discovery app in the world. It’s an app to help theatregoers find the best show to see. It does that through analysing their personal preferences and adding in recommendations based on their friends. Users can discover shows, add shows to a smart wish list and follow their favourite actors, writers, directors and venues. It’s simple to stay up do date and we’d like to believe we are making it easier to visit the theatre more. The next stage in the development of the app is to add the ability the book seamlessly.

Since our first funding round closed in January 2016 we have grown to a team of six. We now have tens of thousands of users and developed our prototype into a fully fleshed product that’s sticky and that theatre goers love to use. We see a lot of engagement, with many hundreds of reviews being posted every month. We were featured by Apple on the App Store as one of the best new apps in 2016, which is something we’re really proud of. We’re also very proud to have just been approved for a EU Innovation grant for €135K which gives us an excellent boost and that extra bit of credibility to attract new investment.

One of the biggest successes so far though was being the official app for two of London’s biggest festivals, Camden Fringe and Vault Festival. That was really cool and helped us get a lot of visibility.

The really brilliant thing is we are seeing a community forming and that’s meant we can facilitate offline experiences where our users can meet up, watch a show together and then grab a drink to discuss about it. Stagedoor has a strong, passionate community around our product, something every early stage start-up dreams of.

In this next phase of the company we will be focussing on commercialising the product, growing to 100,000 users in London and be ready to launch in NYC. To do this we will be opening our second round of funding raising €400K. Currently we are speaking with a lot of strategic investors and angel investors who are passionate about theatre. We’ll also be opening a small part of our investment round to our passionate user base giving them a chance to own a piece of the company. It’s going to be an exciting and challenging year ahead.

What’s been the biggest challenge?

One of the biggest challenges, which always gets underestimated, is building a good product. There’s a lot of digging, researching and listening to our users involved to make a product people love and find easy to use. It’s a constant learning experience for us when it comes to understanding the user’s needs, iterating and improving the product.

Another big challenge is tapping into the theatre industry networks, understanding the politics and positioning ourselves in a way where all industry stakeholders look at us positively. For venues and theatre companies we act as a new channel to reach more people and sell tickets to their shows. For actors we are a place where they can build a following and lastly for theatregoers we are a community and a tool through which they can discover amazing new shows. As you can imagine, positioning ourselves in the middle of the ecosystem bringing everything in one place has been complex.

Do you have any advice to pass on to students at Cass?

Advice is a strange word because everyone is different and what worked for me might not work for someone else. I think people learn as they go and unless they experience something themselves, it, it won’t really mean anything to them.

I’m happy with how my career played out and one recommendation I’d give to any students who are aspiring entrepreneurs would be to invest the time working for other start-ups (perhaps a small one and a slightly bigger one) before starting their own. Unless you feel ready, go for it! You’ll know soon enough.

Some other recommendations:

– Always surround yourself with great people and have mentors. These people have been where you are before and will guide you
– Listen to the signals and try different things: keep an open mind. Trying something is the only way you’ll find what you like and what you’re good at. You have nothing to lose.
– Network: Opportunities won’t just land on your door. Be out there and create them for yourself. You never know how the dots are going to connect. That’s the way I met my co-founders! I was organising an entrepreneurship conference and they were attendees. We chatted and it led to Stagedoor. Being out there is very important.

Finally it’s the quick-fire question round!

Favourite place in London: The Gibson (cocktail bar) or Ain’t Nothing But a Blues Bar
Favourite holiday destination: A Greek island, probably Mykonos – or maybe San Sebastian in Spain.
Must-check every day website: Our KPI’s page for Stagedoor.
Dream travel destination: LA, I’ve got a friend out there who I really must visit!
Cheese or chocolate: Cheese! With wine. Followed by a little chocolate.

Download the app, follow Stagedoor on Twitter or participate in their next funding round here.

Header image features L-R Alex Cican (Co-founder & Chief Product Officer), Niki Campbell (Head of Content), Michael Hadjijoseph (Co-founder & CEO)

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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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