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Category Archives: Cass Business School News

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: vendimialighting.com, 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.

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.

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 Evex.co 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 peopleperhour.com. 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 onefinestay.com, 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)

Nothing to Wherewolf

Alumni Stories, Cass Business School News.

the wherewolf trioThere are two Cass alumni in the trio behind Wherewolf, a shopping assistant app for searching items you can buy nearby. Uniting with your new must-have has never been so easy! They have just made it to the final of the Institute of Directors’ YDF Den, one of only five businesses reaching this stage. We caught up with MBA alumni (2016) Dhruv Bonnerjee (DB) and Ryan D’Souza (RS) and their co-founder Manavdeep Singh (MS) to find out more.

Tell me about your time at Cass!

RS) I was a lawyer and I wanted to do an MBA to broaden my knowledge base. Cass crucially offered a one-year course, which was really important from an opportunity cost point of view.

DB) My background is in media and entrepreneurship and I had been an entrepreneur in India for the last eight years. I wanted to see the world and learn about the wider market and I came to Cass because of the one-year format and the finance-leaning specialism.

RS) The year itself was fantastic. The cohort was really international with 73 of us from 38 nationalities. It was fantastic to learn alongside people with such breadth of experience. Not many of us had come from similar jobs so the cohort learning was very important. Also, Cass gave me a fantastic opportunity to travel and learn – a really entrepreneurial MBA.

RS) We were the first business school to go to Cuba, and we also went to Israel and Palestine, which was very unique. Dhruv went to China. We all spent a week in the army barracks at Sandhurst, which was a fantastic unique experience, and we also went to Iceland to try to climb up a glacier. The opportunity to travel and experience other cultures was really important to me.

DB) From the staff I spoke to before coming to Cass I got the sense that the Business School is very serious about building a start-up ecosystem. I wanted to get exposure to how UK businesses and starts ups work and Cass more than lived up to this. The finance course was great, the cohort was a fantastic mix and the staff were excellent. From the day of arrival there were events for start-ups and access to the incubator space here [at City Starters]. That led to this opportunity to form a start-up in London, which would not possible from Delhi. When I graduated I was able to get an entrepreneurial visa straight away thanks to the support from Cass and the Uni.

DB) I enjoyed fantastic support from the Cass cohort, for example with my business plan, evaluating the business model and bouncing ideas around with people from all over the world. I started to talk with Ryan about setting up a business in London and here we are – it’s a dream come true.

What did you do next?

DB) We handed our dissertation in on the last day of August and moved in to the incubator here at City Launch Lab on the 1st September! The market is here in London but the back end is in India and I’ve been developing it since the first day of my MBA.

RS) When I applied to do an MBA I planned to become an in–house lawyer or something, but the course has given me so many more opportunities. I ended up doing something completely different. I had no set ideas of what I wanted and now I’m an entrepreneur.

DB) Looking back, we’re all outsiders, we’re not from retail or fashion. MS) I’ve come from media, DB) I’ve come from digital and marketing. The MBA taught us to look at the market and be objective and how to quickly feel comfortable in a sector you’ve not been part of before through consumer trend data and numbers. RS) Looking at the data really gives you the confidence that you’re on the right path. Success is not guaranteed but we’ve had good progress so far, and raised plenty of funding.

What is WhereWolf?

DB) We call it a hyperlocal shopping assistant. It uses a shopper’s geolocation to help them discover fashion at stores around them. It’s the opposite of e-commerce, because you get to see what’s actually in a store. You can also save items to your wish list and next time you walk past the store and they have a deal on you get an alert.

What does the data say?

RS) There are four ways to shop – online only, offline only, offline to online, which is where you see something in a store but buy it online, and online to offline, which is how 84% of people buy things in fashion. You research it, then you go and find it – so you can see the quality and the fit. We tap in to that trend. With e-commerce sales the data shows that 51% sent back, either for being the wrong size or they don’t like it.

DB) Google research and Deloitte data shows that 70-75% of people who search online have the intent to buy instore, but there is no platform for visibility. And on the other side, at the end of the fashion season, around 20% of the stock is unsold yet all these items are in store and could be a match with shoppers who are in the area. The second big trend is this example graph I have which that shows a huge rise in searches for “shoes near me” for men and women. The rise has been especially large in the premium category where the price means you really want to be checking fabric, form and fit.

MS) Wherewolf focusses on fashion in the premium category. In the London market the revenue is 2% luxury, 40-42% premium and the rest value brands. Value brands are easy to buy online but a premium customer’s average basket is $500 and that’s difficult to buy online.

How did Wherewolf come about?

DB) I started it in India just before I left for my MBA. Manavdeep and I have known each other in India at CNBC and we started the concept by looking at how to let consumers know where sale is. After that we fleshed it out through speaking with consumers and brands. We learned that people want to step in to store but have no time for research. Then we did a very small experiment in India to find out if the brands would support it. In 15 days we had some big Indian designers sign up.

DB) As part of the MBA we covered consumer trends and then we spotted this opportunity. Click and collect isn’t growing anymore and London was the perfect market for our product because the retail offering is scattered all over the city.

How is Wherewolf going?

MS) The platform is available on iOs, android and mobile site and we have 50 brands live now. Recently we partnered with Harrow Council as part of the Mayor of London’s initiative to save the high street. We’re working with the team offline to support this, and Harrow Council supports us with advertising in shops and local trade magazines so that we can reach more people together.

RS) Harrow is in a business improvement district and that’s great in terms of business support. That we got in is a big deal. A quasi-government body takes a percentage of the rates from retailers and uses it for marketing and business support. It’s a really good place to be and we can scale quickly if we are successful.

DB) We now have over 2,500 users and growing by 30 new users every day. Our main growth drivers are upwardly mobile Men and Women between the ages of 25 – 35 with a 60:40 gender split. The time on site is an average of four minutes and that’s a great indicator compared to the UK e-commerce benchmark of one minute 52 seconds. We looking to scale up in the next couple of months. Our Campaign on Instagram went live two weeks ago, so we’re starting to see the pick-up now.

MS) In the course of one week we signed four brands. We were chasing this one brand and we’d met the store manager a while ago who was really excited to introduce us to the retail head. The next thing we know, the retail head was looking for a black dress to just understand the platform. She searched for one, got great results, went to the store, bought it and had already told 10 of her friends! When we went to meet her she was sold!

MS) Another time, we had this brand on the platform, so we did a demo in their store and searched for a yellow dress, and it returned the dress exactly that we were standing next to!

MS) From the meetings we’ve had with brands, retail is having a rough time, with footfall going down and rents going up. Getting by is difficult but brands don’t want to lose their physical presence. Wherewolf will increase footfall and get shoppers who are close by get to see your products and brand.

DB) It’s a big story for independent designers who can’t afford central locations. There’s market research around why people don’t shop independent and the results are usually that consumers don’t know where to go to differentiate between all the stores. In this case location becomes less important

What’s been the biggest challenge?

DB) I would say getting used to working across London and India has been very difficult. We have four staff here and eight in Delhi and a four-and-a-half hour gap with remote working is difficult to juggle. But it was surprisingly easy to get people on the board. We’ve got Valerie Dias from Visa Europe and Joe Middleton from Levi Europe, which has made the board very strong. This start up incubator really helped us from day one get up and running – one day we were in the MBA the next day we were free and doing this.

RS) One thing that sticks out for me is how hard it was to open a company bank account! We had the investment and just wanted to put it in to an account but banks were reluctant to offer an account to a start-up despite us having around £250,000, and despite being in London and having cash.

DB) I think the amount of due diligence needed was a lot because the money came from India and London. You hear so much about the different countries coming together and globalisation, but the banking system really has to catch up!

Do you have any advice to share?

RS) Talk to as many people as possible. From day one we met as many people as possible and wanted them to introduce us to two other people each. Not all our meetings were particularly helpful or relevant but it’s about who you know and this was a great way to grow that.

MS) We are really happy about our independent board advisors – people who can tell you when you’re not right and they don’t just say yes to you. Valerie and Joe mean a lot for us. RS) They are big players, very special and their back-up is very helpful.

DB) There are two things for me to really look out for: the proof of concept, and the proof of potential. Get both going ASAP! It’s a very simple framework but it also really helps that you have only these two things to work on.

Finally it’s the quick fire question round!

MS RS DB
Favourite place in London: Launch lab! Regents Park All the canals and independent coffee shops, especially St Katherine’s Docks
Favourite holiday destination: Gold coast Goa, it’s where my family is from Himalayas
Must check every-day website: gowherewolf BBC news My news aggregator Flipboard
Dream travel destination: Phi phi islands Brazil (but I’m going later this year!) Venice
Cheese or chocolate: Cheese Chocolate Cheese

Find Wherewolf at the App Store, Google Play and on their website. The final of the Institute of Directors’ YDF Den takes place on 11th September 2017.

Influential Entrepreneurs

Alumni Stories, Cass Business School News.

Fredrik, Fredrik, Didrik Three BSc Business Studies (2013) alumni have formed Tailify, an influencer marketing company. We caught up with CEO Fredrik Segerby (FS), CMO Fredrik Martini Andersson (FA) and CPO Didrik Svendsen (DS) at their new office at Old Street’s Silicon Roundabout.

Tell me about your time at Cass!

FS) When I moved here in 2010 I didn’t know anyone and I’d never been to London. I met Fredrik and Didrik quite soon after I arrived because we were all in the same class at Cass. In a class of about 120 people there were maybe 20 Swedes and at least 25 people from the Nordic countries.

FS) I focussed my time on entrepreneurial extra-curricular activities and found the Cass Tech City Society. I’d always had interest in entrepreneurship and technology so it made sense to take over the society. It was created by Axel Katalan and when he graduated, Didrik and I took it over. Actually, when we graduated we passed it on to my brother. It’s a family thing!

FS) We all lived together during Cass and still do, it’s been six years. We have always discussed different business ideas FA) and discussed them with our professors like Wane Holland and Peter Hahn too.

FA) We actually came up with the idea for Tailify first during the exam period. I have to admit that we spent time on this when we were supposed to be studying! DS) I remember we were working at the Bloomberg terminals looking at this Tumblr that inspired us, whilst others were doing proper analysis.

You were always destined to be entrepreneurs?

FS) Yes, we all did our dissertations on topics related to start-ups and entrepreneurship. When we graduated we got together that summer and really crystallised the idea for Tailify. We’d been through a couple of ideas already but we thought that this was something we could really make something of.

FS) Fredrik and I actually went to the same high school (but in two different locations) and that’s when we started to think about entrepreneurship. Business Studies was a great course for that and Cass was a good choice in terms of the entrepreneurial community, because there are lots of societies, lectures and competitions, the Cass Entrepreneurship Fund. The course didn’t just focus on finance, which is what a lot of people want to do. It had a broad scope so we could niche into our entrepreneur field.

FA) Even after we had left, people at Cass were willing to give feedback, and do things like help with job postings to the student network.

What did you do next?

FS) In a way we went straight to Tailify but it took around six to eight months before we were really committed to it full time. Didrik actually went to work in Bangkok in the meantime!

DS) I decided I wanted a role in a tech venture in Asia, so I did some research and found that the South-East Asia economy was good. I went to Bangkok and while I was still out there Tailify started gaining traction and I thought it might be going somewhere. Six months after we graduated from Cass we all met up in Stockholm at Christmas and said “OK, let’s do it”.

FS) We decided that if we were going to really do this we have to commit to it completely, and that meant that we couldn’t be all around the world. We knew we would have to be in the same place and do it full time, so we gave it another three months and then we all moved to Stockholm.

FA) There were small signs throughout the process that we should continue. For example, we won a competition pretty early on, before we went to Stockholm, which gave us £15k in consulting services DS) and office space. FA) After that we got investment from Scandinavia’s largest seed fund. DS) So that was really good that things kept coming.

What is Tailify?

FS) It’s influencer marketing. We connect people with a lot of followers with brands to try to see if they can do a campaign together. For example, you are a blogger with one million followers who talks about fashion – why wouldn’t H&M want to work with you? You’ve got a huge audience and an authentic voice to these people FA) and you can influence their consumer purchase decisions.

FS) We act as a manager for the influencer, so we are the person in between the brand. We found that the brands really want to work with people who have that influence and the influencer really wants money, but usually they don’t have the knowledge of how to take that forward. What we do it make the interaction more professional for both sides and make it easier.

How did you come up with the idea?

DS) When we were nearing our exams and dissertation at Cass I was showed this Tumblr for men’s fashion. They were nice things, and I wanted to buy them. I saw that someone with beautiful content had now inspired me to purchase something and I began to wonder how many others are doing this too?

DS) This guy from Tumblr, he had 100K visits a month so next I wondered, are brands paying him? When we found out they weren’t we realised that in Scandinavia, 100K visits a month would make it one of the biggest fashion sites! You quickly see that when hundreds of people do this and have this influence, it’s larger than traditional magazines and other advertising portals and much more powerful. They have lots of followers but nobody helps them work with the brands so we thought let’s structure it.

FA) The influencer economy is like the Wild West at the moment, with actors, managers, agents and people who just want to make money. We are trying to bring structure and transparency. When you look at the biggest brands and most powerful influencers, you don’t know how many people there are in between them, and it can be five different parties all being paid.

FA) We thought about TV ads and we wanted to make it as easy to buy influencer marketing as you can traditional advertising. We are getting closer! Currently we have a platform where we can create and distribute campaigns and measure the results. The influencer has the app and the digital manager packages up the ready-made offer from the brand saying when to post, the hashtags you need to use and all the other details, and you get paid instantly when the brands approve your content.

What’s next for Tailify?

FS) Recently we became a global partner with L’Oréal, who are the third largest advertisers in world with 500 sub-brands. Our primary customer is digital marketing agencies and global consumer brands. So we’ve focussed on that and a few other partnerships. It’s a growing market, and influencer marketing is the fastest growing. FA) After our seed second investment we’ve grown the team, committed the platform to selected partners and are planning to introduce it to a larger part of Europe later this year.

DS) We’ve had some big learning to do too. We have been trying to push technology on the advertising world and realised that we were trying to be too optimistic. We have been very enthusiastic but realised that the ad world moves a lot slower, and it needed to mature a bit. We can now scale with an unfair advantage because we’ve got that technology ready. For example we’ve just partnered with Europe’s largest affiliate marketing company. It’s still early on but with our technical advantage we can play with companies bigger than us.

DS) If anything we were a bit too early to the market. FA) Tailify has had two stages, the first time we went out to find out and learn as much as possible and fail plenty. When we first met, our focus was too much towards the platform itself and didn’t push far enough on the sales side. When we came back to the UK we changed the focus to speaking to clients and since then we’ve grown 30% each month for the past year. DS) People are now ready to listen to us.

FA) It’s been really good to get some of the largest brands to pick us as their preferred partner for large scale influencers. Our product has been validated so we can now be really niche on what we offer – we think we have really hit the nail on the head.

What’s been the biggest challenge?

FA) We worked a lot in small teams at Cass and that helped when we started out; the hardest thing is to create a company culture where everybody feels good and is as productive as possible. It’s still an ongoing experiment. We don’t have the answers, but during the past four years the biggest lesson we’ve learnt is how to get people together and to use their skills in the right way. You have to find out who is good at what, and to really get to know your staff. We didn’t have niche interests at Cass, DS) we were generalists FA) so we can work with customers, brands, marketing, and finance. It’s very good for us to have that broad background.

DS) We’ve been fortunate enough to do everything, and to work towards doing whatever is our strength. As generalists we’ve had the opportunity to figure out what we are actually good at and sharpen those skills.

DS) Looking back at Cass, what really helped is the way we were encouraged to enter competitions and at the same time to go about our work in a really academically rigorous way. At Cass it’s all about doing really good work, which meant we always deliver quality in presentations and competitions, so we come off as trusted.

FA) When we pitched for our investor we were 22 years old and didn’t have much experience. We took a really academic approach, because we knew what investors react to. DS) I actually did my dissertation on how people get cash from venture capitalists! FA) But on the other hand when you use that approach it takes time. On our journey we have generally tried to do things fast and not be afraid to fail; the truly academic way is not to fail.

DS) Studying Business Studies at Cass they teach you to recognise the opportunity, but we know now that 99% of the time it doesn’t have to be perfect. For example, your pitch to L’Oréal has to be solid, but the rest of the time you just have to get it done. I would say that Cass doesn’t teach that part.

Do you have any advice?

DS) It’s a long list! FS) The biggest thing for me I think is don’t be afraid to fail – we learned quite quickly it’s better to fail quickly and learn than to take the time to be perfect at the start. DS) It’s a cliché but it’s true! FA) We made a lot of mistakes before we came back to London, and at that point we listed them all in Excel to learn from them. The best way to become better is to fail.

FA) I completely agree! If I’m going to spend nine, ten or 12 hours a day at a job, in the end it’s not that difficult to succeed. People read about companies like Facebook, and how 99.9% cases of start-ups fail, but I think a smart person who works hard will always succeed.

DS) London is an ecosystem with so many accelerators and investment schemes it’s easy to get money. Large corporations have people who must try to innovate; if you have a good idea with value someone will buy it. You don’t have to be next AirBnB to get enough revenue, and certainly this path is not harder than trying to climb the ropes at one of the larger organisations.

DS) Just try something out and get feedback! At Cass you have time and long summers: the summer vacation is three and half months. You can use the summer to test out an idea – throw £500 at it and do it while you study FA) especially with the professors and great environment to help you.

DS) Reach out, the alumni network is there! Don’t think you need a summer internship, recruiters want to employ someone who has tried and failed in their spare time. People think it’s a risk but if you do it whilst you study it can be more valuable than anything else.

DS) And Tailify would love to have more Cass people on board.

Finally it’s the quick fire question round!

FS DS FA
Favourite place in London: This part of London around Cass Cass and the office! Clerkenwell
Favourite holiday destination: America The contrast to London of going home to Sweden Going home to my village in Sweden is the best way to relax
Must check every-day website: Tailify.com and Instagram, all social media actually Cass alumni! Forbes, Quora, Adweek, Tech Crunch and all social media
Dream travel destination: Manchester…ok Cuba Blackpool our South Sweden Cuba
Cheese or chocolate: Cheese Chocolate Cheese

Find out more about Tailify on their website or follow them on Instagram or Facebook.

Mapping Out The Future

Alumni Stories, Cass Business School News.

axelThe last time we caught up with Axel was when he was working at Level 39, back in 2013. He used his connections there as a springboard and now his indoor mapping company, Pointr, are busy fending off acquisition offers. We spoke about how it all happened.

Tell me about your time at Cass!

I moved here from Spain and it was a totally new environment. I did my Undergraduate degree here, BSc in Management, and for me it was a fantastic place to meet people from all around the world and really get comfortable with ambition. Everyone had plans, they were looking at places where they could innovate and build things. That’s why I started the Tech and Business Society, which is now called Cass Talks.

Back then my business friends had lots of good ideas but no technical know-how and at the same time we also knew there were tech students looking for business partners. We held events in 2009 and brought in speakers and that led to me volunteering at the London Web Summit. That was a huge start-up event where I met Eric Van Der Kleij, the CEO of Tech City (an initiative set up by the Prime Minister to turn London in to the next Silicon Valley). I pitched to him about speaking at our student society but his schedule was too busy.

What did you do next?

Two years later Eric Van Der Kleij started Level 39, Europe’s largest FinTech accelerator and I read about it in Wired Magazine. I immediately reached out to him and he invited me for a three-minute coffee with no expectations, which turned in to a four-hour chat and got me my first job! I eventually became head of the community there and I looked after 250 companies and investors.

Level 39 was the best place for anyone in start-up in FinTech – there were founders, investors and big companies like the banks to meet. It was a great place to learn and grow my network. We did over 100 events including speaking at Cass. We brought Eric and Transfer-Wise, then the leading UK start-up in Finance and now the first UK FinTech unicorn, to give a speech in the auditorium.

Through Level 39 I met amazing people including the Crown Princess of Sweden, who was on a tech tour of London co-working spaces to see how Sweden should shape its start-up tech strategy. They asked if they could have lunch on 39th Floor at Canary Wharf and could the head of community join in? So I had lunch with the princess, the prince and the Deputy Mayor; Boris Johnson had come in the day before. Another memorable event was when we had a hackathon with Jimmy Wales the founder of Wikipedia.

Working with so many start-ups I was headhunted to join a start-up called MyCheck, a mobile payment company just launching in the UK. I was hired as the UK manager to grow the company in the UK. It was based on mobile payments. For example, in a restaurant you could pay with your phone through MyCheck without having to wait for the waiter, which is a pinch point in a dining experience. It was partnered with MasterCard and PayPal.

Through my time there I met other entrepreneurs and met my Pointr co-founder serendipitously after nine months, which was three years ago. Again, it should have been a short meeting but we knew we had to work together once we met. Strangely, he had been invited to a Friday night monopoly game and asked if I would like to come along, but I declined and we met the next day instead. Straight away we started working which led to Pointr, which I now work on full time today.

What is Pointr?

Pointr is the equivalent of Google Maps for indoors, for example in large retailers and airports. If you’re at Harrods and you download the Harrods app you can search for a restaurant or a brand on the map and it will show you the way to it. The app also collects data around who is in Harrods, what they are searching for and how they move around. We’re bringing digital analytics like they have at Google and Amazon to the offline world. These companies know what you like, but this has not been done before in physical stores.

We took part in lots of start-up accelerators to verify and develop the concept and then we submitted to the global tender for mapping the indoor locations in London Gatwick and Dubai airports. We beat competition from Siemens and lots of other start-ups. Due to that success we got 280 articles written about us!

Today, we employ 34 people with a headquarters in London, and also have an office in Istanbul and Dubai. We received seed funding two years ago but now we fund ourselves through paying clients.

What’s been the biggest challenge?

When you get together with someone in a team, and form a team, in the initial days when you are setting the norms of the business there is potential for storms, fights and quarrels. You have to go through this and learn to work together in a more efficient way. Sometimes in the early days there is no money, and lots of pressures on everyone, and even simple things like paying rent, or getting a good meal are beyond you. That goes away but at the time you’re not sure how long for, is it indefinite? For two months?

The biggest thing is getting the first paying client. We got ours around six or eight months from launch and until then we were doing odd jobs, consulting, and weekend work until we started growing. Once we got our first client, the product was half ready so we had to really build a relationship so they would allow us the time and trust to work on it and eventually get it where it was supposed to be. So there were business challenges and social challenges. We made it but it was tough!

Do you have any advice to pass on?

Networking is my biggest advice. The majority of the things we have achieved have been because of the people who helped us. For example when we wanted to get into Ikea we went on LinkedIn and had a network of people who could introduce us in a vetted way, which isn’t something you can actually buy.

I literally spent three years post-gradation going to events and meeting founders and asking questions and you learn from those interactions. I built some very strong friendships and business relationships and in hindsight those opened so many doors. So my advice is go out and meet people everywhere. It doesn’t have to be just business networking but get away from your usual and meet people, from the bartenders to main speaker, and find a way to have that conversation.

Also, I realised when we were running the Society about the immense power a student has. You can call nearly anyone and say you’re a student at Cass and doing x, y, z. People would say it’s impossible, they won’t come, or you won’t hear back, and therefore lots of people fail to even try. But you can be bold with what you ask for. Friends have, for example, emailed random CEOs and got great results, like being invited to an internship. Your student years are the best time to try out stuff that might sound weird but it can open up so many doors.

What’s next for Pointr?

We are having to fend off multiple acquisition offers because we still see a huge potential. People are so used to taking out their phone and searching for the answer, and the indoor experience is the next logical step. For example, in the shopping mall you can give your exact location to friend, or you could go to Ikea and walk in and find the items you came to buy without getting lost.

Going forwards we have a new chairman Osman Kent, who has had multiple executive positions before. He’s a seasoned entrepreneur who we have brought in for the next wave. We want to grow to the US and hire talent there, and we want to be known as the leading company in the indoor location space.

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

Favourite place in London: The Piano Works, a live piano bar in Farringdon
Favourite holiday destination: Buyuk Ada, a tiny island near Istanbul in Turkey
Must-check every day website: Tech Crunch and Eater for restaurant news from all around the world
Dream travel location: Japan
Cheese or chocolate: Cheese

Find out more about Pointr on their website, and follow them on Twitter and Facebook.

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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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