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Category Archives: Cass Business School News

One for All and All for Cider

Alumni Stories, Cass Business School News.

revenant quartetRichard Williams (Executive MBA, 2016) and three of his MBA cohort Paul Gudonis, George Foster and Lawrence Jewkes, have created Revenant Cider alongside their day jobs. We spoke to Richard to find out more:

Tell me about your time at Cass!

I actively looked for a new job when I decided to do an MBA and as it turned out, I started my EMBA and this job that I am currently in at the same time. My life changed rapidly in many ways and having multiple fresh starts at the same time was good for me. I was in a really fresh headspace and was really open to everything going on. We all do the MBA at a time of life where we’re trying to climb the career ladder, but you still have lots of drudge work to do, and you’re trying to buy a house or have babies. I actually had a baby shortly after handing in my BMP (MBA thesis).

Overall my time at Cass was very positive. The School itself has a different feel to it to other business schools. It was a lot more relaxed and less competitive and I really enjoyed that. There are world class professors teaching there, lecturers like Gianvito Lanzolla and Peter Fleming, those guys are world-renowned and it was exciting to sit and listen to them. It was a real honour to be part of a University with that calibre of staff.

A lot of people say you learn more from your cohort than your coursework and that’s very true. I looked at different Universities where the cohort size is 7-10 people but I’m incredibly glad I didn’t choose one like that. You get so much from the people you learn with, especially the soft skills. In the lectures you learn the theory and formula, and then with your cohort you learn how to implement those in a way that makes sense. With a large cohort of 30-40 people I worked with a number of different people through the year and that was very valuable.

You met your Revenant co-founders at Cass?

Yes, we were put together for our first group and we connected instantly and were inseparable from that moment on. We got quite a bad reputation for being too inseparable! With the four of us behind Revenant the friendship from day one was something I had not expected. It truly changed my life in terms of experience, direction and possibilities.

How did Revenant happen?

We are all really in to craft beer and I do a lot of brewing at home. I’m a coffee guy so I’m into flavours and tasting. One day we sat at the back of one of our lectures discussing the rest of our lives. Once we started talking brewing it snowballed and we realised the beer market opportunities were still there but it was getting harder and harder. Cider seemed like it had interesting opportunities and possibilities to do something cool.

All four of us still have full-time jobs. I’m a coffee trader at the moment with Falcon Coffee. We have a weekly call and use WhatsApp to discuss the day-to-day. We also meet once a month to talk things through but really it’s a lot of weekends, and a lot of stock in my garage. Everything else is outsourced so the launch was done with as little overhead as possible. We found a cider maker and we’re using their equipment and producing it on their premises. We spoke to a number of different cider makers and we had a clear idea of what we wanted so it was a case of ensuring that they could source the raw ingredients and process them in the way that we wanted it done.

When did Revenant launch?

We finished the EMBA in March 2016 and then we launched Revenant in December 2016. It was a very soft rollout. Once we had the first batch of stock for sale we started speaking to people we knew and would quietly sell cases to people who were interested. That’s still our approach; we haven’t had a big party or big media. The reason is to make sure the brand is properly represented in the right way and in the right places. We need to make sure that early adopters interact in the right spaces and come across the right way, so we’re going to continue to expand like this – slow and steady and managed.

What has been the biggest challenge?

Finances! We’re all still reeling from the MBA debt and managing the cash flow has been the hardest. It’s really tricky. It also took a while to get the look and feel of our brand sorted out but everything else we’ve come across so far has been really positive. There have been a few issues with getting payments in, but that’s just regular business stuff. Finance is definitely the hardest.

Do you have any advice to pass on?

Something I did notice during my MBA was around the people who really thrived versus people who didn’t. The four of us went in to the MBA looking at is as an opportunity to do as many different things and to learn as much as possible. But in contrast, the people who came in with specific end goal such as a promotion, they seemed to struggle more. There seemed to be a difference in their approach and in their motivation that made the day-to-day drudge much harder for them. I found these people to be more stressed, not get as good marks and were more specific about what they wanted to learn.

With an open mind, you flourish. If you’re going to do an MBA you have to want to do it, you can’t just turn up and coast through it. Those people get weeded out and don’t finish. You also need a good support mechanism; my wife ran my life for me throughout, so the whole household has to be on board, and you all give up something to get through it. Once you’re through it it’s amazing, definitely a life changing experience for the better.

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

Favourite place in London: Victoria Park
Favourite holiday destination: Morocco
Must check every-day website: The Economist
Dream travel destination: So many! I’d say Peru
Cheese or chocolate: Chocolate

You can find out more about Revenant Cider on the website and follow them on Twitter and Instagram.

Experience In My Pack

Alumni Stories, Cass Business School News.

nancy with bookNancy O’Hare (Executive MBA, 2014) has spent 20 years in the oil and gas industry travelling whenever she could. Now she’s ditched the day job and has published a new kind of travel book “Dust In My Pack” part how-to, and part narrative based on her travels. We spoke about this huge change and whether she could be tempted to return to a corporate role.

Tell me about your time at Cass!

I really liked the Cass programme. It was a mix of intense periods of being pushed and stretched, but I looked forward to the monthly getaways as the environment was refreshing and energising. The people I studied with made the experience dynamic and fun and everyone was really supportive. My classmates came from a very diverse background and that diversity was one of the reasons I picked Cass. I came from a financial background, working in the oil and gas industry, and the mix of people’s experiences and industries was something I really appreciated.

At the start, I was based in Geneva in Switzerland so the Modular Executive MBA worked really well. It fit with my work commitments. But mid-way through, my husband got a job in Nigeria. Soon after, I transferred to the Lagos office with my employer. That commute was not quite as easy! But it was good fun. I would catch the shuttle bus from my office at 4pm, take the overnight flight to London to arrive in the early morning and then go straight to class. I came to love the BA Arrival Lounge’s shower!

A couple of classes stood out for me. One was when we did a consulting project in Vietnam and we worked with a local tour company. It was a family business with growing pains. After living and travelling around the world, working with a tour company really appealed to me. We could apply our personal experiences as well as what we learned during our MBA program to give them practical advice to grow.

The other great class was Managing Strategic Change. It was relevant because the company I had been working for had been through a lot of change. It was a public company when I joined, then it was acquired by a Chinese state-owned enterprise so it became part of a huge entity and then there was just constant change after that with further m&a activity. But it was inspiring to see how, as a manager, I could affect the impact of those changes on the people in the organisation. How well it is managed really resonated with me and how I could make a difference going forward.

What did you do next?

Well, my husband and I love to travel. Getting away helps to clear my mind and see through big decisions. After I graduated from Cass, we took a holiday away to decide what to do next. We went to Rwanda to see the gorillas and then to Uganda for a nine-day trek to Margherita Peak in the Rwenzori Mountains.

By the end of 2014, I had spent nearly two years in Nigeria. We were ready to leave and do something different. We took time out to study Spanish in Guatemala and then continued across Central America and to Cuba for five months in 2015/16. After that I decided to write a book. At first I wanted to tie it to the energy industry, which proved difficult; it took me a while to get my groove. My husband also decided to leave the corporate world and to follow his passion for photography, which worked well for my book!

So…what’s in your pack?

My website’s theme is “in my pack” and my first book is called “Dust In My Pack”. The next book will also follow the “in my pack” theme. I’m planning a whole series, and I’d say it’s a new sort of travel book. It’s not just narrative but also not just a guide book like the Lonely Planet. It’s a mixture of how-to and stories that can bring the stay alive before you go and let you know what you can expect.

It was odd going from finance to a more creative role. I’ve had to get comfortable with marketing and cover design, which pushed me out of my comfort zone. I’m currently working with an organisation on the cover, which is a fantastic team with the artistic skills needed that I don’t have. Even getting an editor is more complicated than you might think because there are many different types – substantive, copy, stylistic – which was all new to me.

A big part of committing to this change was getting the structure of the book right. Coming up with the focus of my book took me a long time. After I decided to focus purely on travel, the stories poured out. Then it was just writing, reworking and reworking until it sounded right. I’d say getting the structure set-up was pivotal to moving forward.

I typically like change. I’ve always moved around, worked in different roles and sought out new challenges but switching from my finance career to write is in an entirely different vein from earlier transitions. I really enjoy it, especially how flexible my time is now. I have the support of the editors and proofreaders, but outside that I have the freedom to do what I want and fit in future travels. Actually, we’re leaving in a few weeks for three and half months of travel which I will use as the basis for a second book.

What’s been the biggest challenge?

There have been lots of challenges! I would say the biggest was the decision not to go back to a corporate role and to give writing my full focus. This was such a big change. It took a long time to figure out that this was what I wanted to do next.

A finance background may seem odd for a travel writer. But, writing also requires planning and structure. I did a lot of research on the self-publishing process and lined up my editor and cover designer upfront. Plus, I had travelled a lot with my work and on sabbaticals over the years to draw from.

Do you have any advice to give?

It’s a personal decision, but for anyone trying to find their own footsteps I’d say listen to yourself and what feels right. Be aware of the opportunities, but assess them for yourself, and push out others’ expectations. For me, my big test was an offer for a CFO role that came along. With my background, that’s typically the ideal role to target. It was with people I’d worked with before and it was a really good opportunity. It tested my resolve, but I knew I wanted something more flexible and something new. I look at it in phases, I had a 20-year career that focussed on the corporate environment and now I’ve turned toward a new phase. I don’t know if this will be for another 20-years, but I am sure there will be curveballs thrown in along the way.

So, I think my advice is be true to yourself, look at your skills and where you want to make an impact. That can change significantly over your life depending on what path you take.

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

Favourite place in London: The Artillery Arms where we used to go for a drink after lectures, and the Madison, a rooftop lounge overlooking St. Pauls
Favourite holiday destination: My most memorable was Oman, where we lived and worked for three years – the country really confronts stereotypes of the Middle East, the culture is unique and people were so generous; Cuba was such an interesting place, we loved staying in the Casa Particulares, which are like B&Bs and have only been permitted since Cuba’s 2011 reforms; and I’m really excited to go back to Bhutan – last time we did a nine-day hike in the Himalayas and this time we’ll be doing a 17-day trek called the Snowman trek!
Must-check every day website: The Globe & Mail, it’s like Canada’s BBC
Dream travel destination: Some places I’ll go to on my next trip, like Myanmar, but I think my top pick has to be the Simien Mountains in Ethiopia – its hiking sounds amazing!
Cheese or chocolate: It used to be chocolate but over the years it’s switched to cheese! I think it’s all the good European cheeses from living in Switzerland!

Nancy’s ebook can be purchased from most online bookstores including Amazon and iTunes. A paperback version will be released later this year. Find out more on her website.

Developing Partnerships, One Village at a Time

Alumni Stories, Cass Business School News.

Neil Kerfoot (MSc NGO Management, 2012) is looking to encourage more volunteers and donations for his radically different charity, Village by Village. Working in partnership with local communities in Africa, he stopped counting the number of villages helped when he hit 100. We spoke about the power of open accountability, trust and getting it right in the charity sector.

Tell me about your time at Cass!

I studied MSc NGO Management and graduated in 2012. I was working full-time at the same time! I was living in Dublin and working a lot of the time in West Africa, and coming to Cass to do the course part-time. I would fly in from Ghana, get a couple of hours sleep, and then head to the classroom on Friday afternoons. Then I would leave London after the weekend to go back to Dublin or Ghana, it was a killer! I only missed my flight once though, after a stressful weekend we had gone to the pub!

What did you do next?

I had already founded my charity, Village by Village before I came to Cass, but the course really gave me that validation to take it forward and develop it. After I graduated the charity grew 20% year on year each year.

So what does Village by Village do?

We are a purposely small international development charity. We are the disruptive backlash to a lack of confidence and trust in charities in the UK. We are so transparent we are almost see through! Traditional charities have had their day with their lack of transparency around where the donations go and their total control over projects.

Our projects are about human centred design. We work with the local community, ask what their problems are, and work holistically with them to work out what they need. For example, their major concerns are usually malaria, education, children’s health and crop outputs. We really spend time living in their communities and base ourselves in the village, hence the name. We’re not a focus group who show up for half an hour; we’ve been living in the communities for 10 years. That way you quickly get to know the good guys and the bad guys.

We try to build partnerships, to get everybody pulling together, but the big organisations don’t want to know. There are many other well-intentioned companies actually working at odds to the situation too. For example, a fibre optic guy wants to bring fibre optic internet to villages in poverty. But nobody ever asked for it, they have no electricity, and no clue what internet is, and they are more concerned with where their water is coming from.

Another time, we built a clinic in partnership with Ghana health service and when a big organisation showed up we thought, ok the big boys are here! They had a fridge on their truck. We asked if we could help, because we know everybody, and asked if they were aware that there was no electricity? Well, the fridge was paid for by their donors and so they unloaded it! And it became the most expensive cupboard in Ghana.

How is Village by Village different from other Africa-centred charities?

We are all about low overheads and high transparency. My pay is just over £30K because it’s linked to the average living wage, and in Ghana we have a quantities surveyor on £12K plus accommodation. Recently I’ve seen charities with very low overheads, like the Salvation Army, enjoying a renaissance, especially versus those that are hiring people on big salaries, the big boys who take in over £500M. They have affected things up for the charity world, and tarred everybody.

We invite our volunteers to come and see projects and be part of the solution. Everyone who comes has to raise £1000, and out of that we spend about £150 on collecting them and looking after them, and the rest goes to the project. We use devolved budgeting, and do things like asking a volunteer to take some of the money they raised to go and get cement, negotiating with the money. We get lots of returning volunteers, which speaks volumes.

If we had our way, after the purchase, that person would then take an image of the receipt and upload it to our accounting system, published to a free and open site where anyone can see it all: what’s in our bank account, what our salaries are – so everyone who has given us money can see where it’s being spent. Big organisations can’t do that. We are small, agile and disruptive.

How did Village by Village come about?

It happened when I turned 40! Back when I was 21 I drove a Land Rover from Manchester to Cape Town, through the desert, the jungle and three war zones. When I returned to the UK at 22 I thought that the last thing I ever wanted to be was poor! So I had a career and started a couple of businesses, including an internet business at the height of the first boom, and I sold it just before the crash.

At 40 I was the deputy CEO of an education company. I returned to the UK from New Zealand and was looking at the charity sector and decided I could make a bigger impact. So I went to a large, well-known charity and spoke to them about digging a well. Because I know about Africa and corruption I said I wanted to see the well being built, but I was told I couldn’t because of health and safety. I said in that case I wasn’t giving the money!

Eventually I got the email address of the local guy tasked with digging the well, and when I turned up for the ceremonial spade dig I asked the chief if I could stay. He put me up in a mud hut with little sanitation and water. There I stayed until they completed the well, which was a huge success.

That got me thinking that I can make a difference here, and I thought – what else can I do? As a white person in Africa I decided to find out what the locals want to learn about, and that was primarily crop output and stopping their children from getting sick. Then I learned about what other charities do in the area, and decided everybody needed the conduit of an information centre. We built the centre, and I chucked in my job! I wanted to help and support the local community with a suite of information, and we even built rooms for volunteers to stay in as part of the centre. That was the start.

What are you working on at the moment?

Our big target was 100 villages by 2016. This was a 10-year target, but we smashed it in two years, because the local communities got involved! We’ve stopped counting how many villages – it’s pointless!

We work with the countries that are most proactive, and ask how we can help. Then it’s their decision because it’s a democratic process. We don’t just say how we help, we ask representatives from all swathes of society. That helps us to work with the communities, rather than at odds to them.

For example, to communities that are in poverty – what is malaria? They think it comes when you work too hard (which is not the case), and when they are given malaria nets they find it is too hot and sticky to sleep under them in mud huts with small windows and no fan. We’re generally about 150 miles from the equator! So they don’t use them, because they don’t think they need them. There needs to be joined-up thinking, not just good will.

Do you have any advice for anyone?

Do what you love! I’m generous and open-hearted and enjoy working in remote villages and working with Africans. I’ve had malaria, typhoid and once even cholera. People who do it for pennies in heaven – that’s not right. You have to do it because you like it and enjoy it.

If you want to get involved, find a local charity, knock on their door and support where you can see your money being put to good value, and is in line with your value set. Village by Village is very focussed on our values and that of our donors. People say you shouldn’t push western values on developing countries but if they want what we want, then there has to be a change because they haven’t got there yet.

What’s been the biggest challenge?

Definitely the cultural differences between international development groups and the recipients. Once you get past ‘yes’ and ‘thankyou’ you can really get somewhere. I’ll give you an example. Imagine if a Chinese charity came to the UK to help deal with the old people crisis, and brought their values about keeping old people at home with them.

They offer to come and build you an extension to house your old person, and of course you say yes. But then you put the old person in a care home anyway, because that’s what your culture does, and you enjoy your extension. The point here is that how you do things in your own country and culture informs your plan and what you do about the problems on the ground. It’s about finding the cultural equality between getting the idea right, the recipient value set and the conditions of the aid.

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

Favourite place in London: Um, it’s Manchester!
Favourite holiday destination: The villages we work in. The majority of communities are so full of love and kindness, and I love what a difference you can make there. At an in inner city youth work project I worked for we would see 1 in 10 people helped, but with the same resources in Ghana it’s 9 in 10.
Must check every day website: Our homepage! I’m responsible for maintaining it, although some of our homepage content comes from Instagram from the villages showcasing our latest projects.
Dream travel destination: I’ve been to 72 countries! I think Bhutan, because I already went to Tibet.
Cheese or chocolate: Chocolate!

Find out more about Village by Village on their website or follow them on Twitter, Facebook or YouTube.

A Haus to Call Home

Alumni Stories, Cass Business School News.

Kaniyet Rayev (BSc Management 2016) graduated from Cass with dreams of starting his own business. Little did he know that his troubles finding somewhere to work were about to become Haus, an innovative network of workspaces available by the day (or longer!). We chatted at first Haus location in Holborn about how it happened.

Tell me about your time at Cass!

It was amazing! Especially looking back now I have a 24/7 job and those crazy exam periods are your every day experience. I had my birthday the other day, and I was thinking just how much life feels like the exams time. When you finish University you start appreciating it – you realise what a good time you had.

In terms of what we studied, Cass was pretty helpful. I studied BSc Management and that was really good for a broad range of subjects. I intentionally didn’t have a specialism because when you manage your own business you do it all: the marketing, operations, finance. So I’m using everything that I learned.

What did you do after you graduated?

I was planning to launch another company, based on my dissertation, which was like Airbnb for experiences. I was doing my research for it, and I found out that Airbnb were testing a very similar concept. So I stopped developing it.

That must have been a shock! What did you do next?

My idea for Haus came from being tired of the library! After I graduated, all June and July I was walking around searching for a place to work. I tried coffee shops, museums, but they don’t really work for me. They are too crowded and noisy, and you’re worried about stealing, so you can’t easily go to the toilet. There are lots of problems and you actually spend quite a bit of money living this way.

I realised there are so many empty places that don’t get used all the time. That gave me the idea. Restaurants and bars are often closed in the day and that’s useful space going unused. For example, this place is closed until 5pm.

The idea wasn’t really formulated in my head until I did some research. Schemes like this exist in other parts of the world but nothing like this is happening in London. I decided that if I found a restaurant I would go for it! I didn’t even have a business plan. Unfortunately my first contact fell through, but I started the search again and Haus was born.

What is Haus exactly?

Haus is going to be a network of workspaces around London where you can work alongside other early stage start-ups and freelancers. I hope that as soon as our members will meet regularly in one place, it will lead to a better collaboration and friendship between them.

Do you have any advice for others starting a business after Uni?

Speak to at least one person per day relevant to the industry you want to work in. I have a really limited network of people in this industry and I’m building my contacts at the moment. Just imagine if I’d spent the three years of University time doing this. I’d be in a much different position! In two months I have met more relevant people than in the past three years.

What’s been the biggest challenge?

Marketing. I think at Cass, marketing was different to what I actually use in real life. We didn’t learn Google Adwords, Facebook Ads, SEO, PPC and other digital marketing tools which are very simple, but they just take time to learn. These are technical – you know it or you don’t and that’s the challenge. If you plan to do business, especially in this industry, you should know how to do digital marketing in advance, it’s very important.

Finally, it’s the quick fire question round!

Favourite place in London:
Wallace Collection Café
Favourite holiday destination: Blenheim Palace
Must-check every day website: Facebook, it’s not just my friends on there, I also follow lots of relevant news outlets like TechCrunch
Dream travel destination: Macchu Picchu
Cheese or chocolate: Chocolate!

You can work at Haus for £99 incl VAT/month for students and recent alumni, or £150 + VAT/month for the general public. Haus offers trial periods and flexible options. Find out more on their website, and follow them on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

Capital Philanthropy

Cass Business School News.

Björn Stjernquist (MSc Finance with a Specialism in Investments) is the founder of and runs, together with two colleagues, Capital Smiles – a powerful crowdfunding platform for charities. Offering a fresh and discerning take on crowdfunding, alongside an interactive and exciting way to get involved directly with charities, they want to shake up philanthropy, put the next generations of supporters closer to the actual projects and enjoy a little innovating alongside their full-time jobs.

Tell me about your time at Cass!

My time at Cass was really great. Previously, I did my Bachelor’s degree in Economy in Lund, Sweden and that included a semester abroad in Singapore. Studying in Singapore gave me an interest in future studies in the international arena. So after that, I applied to Cass to study MSc Finance for the year 2011-12 along with my friend Anton, and we both got accepted. We moved to the UK together and lived in a great flat in Shoreditch together with a Norwegian guy who was also studying at Cass.

I had an awesome time with my Cass friends and enjoyed the rhythm of London and meeting people from all over the world. My Bachelor’s degree was much more academic, so Cass was great in encouraging me to assess different future career options, and meet alumni and make connections in the financial services. It really opened my eyes to new roles and interests.

I was also part of MSc diaries, which detailed my typical day at Cass. It was a fun year with a good mix of studies and great parties.

What did you get up to next?

I got a job offer quite quickly afterwards, with Ernst & Young management consulting in Stockholm, so I left London soon after graduating and moved there for two and half years. Then I moved back to the UK and joined the Strategy and Product Development Team at the London Metal Exchange. I was there for two years and actually the last year of that was right by Cass as they moved to Finsbury Square! Then at the beginning of this year I moved back to Stockholm to take on the role as a Commercial Lead for Santander in the Nordics.

At the London Metal Exchange, I worked with a fellow Cass alum and now that I’m back in Stockholm I meet up with Anton and other alumni regularly. Doing your Masters in the UK, you get to meet people from all around the world – people that you can meet up with when you travel, it opens up to world for you!

So what is Capital Smiles?

It’s an inclusive crowdfunding website for charitable projects. We put the projects through screening and due diligence to make sure we guarantee the charity’s goals and methods are realistic, then we add the crowdfunding effect, giving power to the people. After you have donated, you get a direct line to the team and can follow their progress, get photos and updates. You really know where your money has gone when you do charitable acts through Capital Smiles.

We want to make the process of donating more interactive, to offer the chance to support tangible projects, and to be more fun and inclusive. The vision is to have a global platform. We also want to support the exchange of ideas between the charities to share best practice, raise standards and give our projects the best possible flying start.

We are offering benefits to supporters and also to the charities themselves by bringing them in to contact with each other. Charities tend to work in isolation, but, for example, if one project looks to build a school in Ghana and someone else has just built a school in Nairobi, there is most definitely useful information and synergies that can assist the new project in realizing their vision.

Who is working with you on this project?

I have a friend, Mattias Wickenberg who is helping out with tech development, and I also met a great guy in the UK when we shared an Airbnb, Joseph Atkinson, who works with charity and education. We are the three drivers behind it, and we all have full-time jobs. We aren’t doing this to make a penny – although we do aim to take a small percentage for marketing, to help the projects and to run the platform in the future.

How did Capital Smiles come about in the first place?

I’ve always been interested in FinTech and start-ups and I have also developed a keen interest as to why people are hesitant to donate to charity and why the process of doing so is so dull! Scandals like the Red Cross raising millions and only building three houses don’t help either, and the sector in general is so shaky due to lack of transparency and under-performing initiatives or projects. Many charities are really struggling at the moment, especially in attracting the younger generation to give, when the feeling is that you get nothing back.

I wanted to hit two birds with one stone, seizing my chance to be in FinTech and to bring benefits to the charity market. Although charity and crowdfunding it is a tough market, and we will not earn any money, seeing many thousands of dollars being raised to important projects that will change the lives of people living under horrible circumstances is the best payoff one can strive for.

When I met Mattias and Joe, we saw that with our combined expertise and capabilities we have a good set of skills to create Capital Smiles and to go from the idea to start making an impact for people!

Do you have any advice to someone looking to launch their own project?

What is really important is to do something that makes you happy and interested. If you are interested in something you have the chance to also do it really well. Ensure that you work with people that give you energy – because it’s all about overcoming thousands of challenges and keeping on fighting. Good things are hard to achieve and worth fighting for, so don’t give up! Make sure you go from the idea to development, even if it is just trying out the concept in a small pilot, because it’s so easy to get stuck at the idea-stage.

What’s been the biggest challenge?

For us it’s a combination of getting our name out there and finding that balance between growing the number of projects, whilst continuing to ensure the quality and robustness of the projects we decide to support and list on our platform. We are still very small, but we are looking to compete in the market with the big boys like Kickstarter and Indiegogo, who basically list anything on their sites to increase the volume of donations and therefore their fees. For us, it is more important to ensure that each project we list is genuinely good and has the best chance of providing a high impact in its specific area.

And finally, it’s the quick-fire questions!

Favourite place in London: Shoreditch
Favourite holiday destination: Kite surfing in Sri Lanka
Must-check every day website: Reddit
Dream travel destination: Skiing in Japan
Cheese or chocolate: Chocolate!

Find all the Capital Smiles projects on their website or follow them on Twitter or Facebook.

Style and Substance

Alumni Stories, Cass Business School News.

Massimiliano Gritti (MG) (BSc Business Studies, 2016) and business partner Elliot Aeschlimann (EA) are men with an eye for style and craftsmanship. Their site, Bombinate.com, offers a curated collection of Europe’s finest niche brands, all in one place. We caught up with these dapper go-getters.

Tell me about your time at Cass!

MG) I was at Cass from 2013 to 2016 studying Business Studies. I spent the three years split between Northampton Square and Bunhill Row. It was a really great experience. I met a lot of very interesting and cool people and made a strong and close friendship group – even after we have graduated we are still close. My course was really useful, especially my dissertation, which took about three months to complete. It was really interesting to do a big project, a very good experience.

EA) And it was your dissertation that led to Bombinate!

What did you get up to next?

MG) We actually had the idea for Bombinate in Summer 2015 and started working on it in April 2016, before we both graduated. We were calling brands, testing the market, doing research, and generally getting some validation for the project. Because we started when we were students it was not too much of a challenge to find the time, and it gave us the momentum to do it full time after we graduated.

EA) It was good to have three months as a student when we decided to go for it, so we didn’t have to worry so much about money – we had a buffer.

So what exactly is Bombinate?

MG) It’s the first online destination for men where they can shop and discover high quality craftsmanship brands. It’s e-commerce but our criteria for inclusion are based solely on quality not brand recognition or the strength of the designer’s name.

EA) It’s a marketplace, so we don’t own the products.

MG) We showcase the items and sell them, so it’s a shop window. We also provide the brands with the marketing, PR and social media marketing skills to reach beyond their own borders and niches.

And Bombinate is a Launch Lab resident?

MG) It is! It’s pretty cool to be here, especially as we have got the space for free! Until recently I wasn’t aware of the lab itself or that what they could offer was so serious. I knew of the Hangout, because I’d visited in my first year – but there was not that much to see so it went to the back of my mind. Then I attended an event where I met Chris, another resident, and he told me about all the support you get at the Launch Lab, and that I should apply because there was space available. So we applied, we were accepted and since then we’ve been active residents.

EA) Every day we’re first in, last out!

MG) We moved in when the Launch Lab was at the Unruly campus in November 2016 and then the Lab moved here in January. It’s a lovely office – at Unruly it was a back room with no fresh air or view.

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

MG) It’s all about doing your research. You need to ask important questions of the right people, and take notice of industry experts because they have been there, they know what is happening. But also remember that because they have been in it for a while, they can overlook things, so you need to gauge what’s happening for yourself. Above all you need to go for it! If you see an opportunity – a gap – it can be done efficiently, so get going.

EA) You learn a lot along the way. Even if your idea isn’t the most optimal at first you will learn and improve and you will get there.

MG) It’s also an advantage to be serious and professional in the way you go about things. That also helps you to get those hard skills that are transferable to anything you do in the future.

What’s been the biggest challenge?

EA) Definitely the biggest challenge has been convincing the brands – for us that’s been make or break. At the start it’s just about sending out emails with basic documents, waiting for feedback, which was mixed at the start, and keeping up your motivation to continue.

MG) Then we started with phone calls and presentations. Brands can be very defensive in terms of their image, and they get lots of marketplace calls – but none of the other marketplace providers respect their image and their manufacturing process like we do.

EA) There’s a little bit of bluffing involved. If you’re talking to ten brands and they all tell you they will join if you have others signed up, you have to bluff a little. But at the same time, we respect their brands and their skill and we just want to tell their story. I think that comes through.

MG) Fake it ‘til you make it! You need to show that you are professional so that they can be secure in choosing to partner with us. We worked hard to create really professional documents that showcase what we are about in terms of content and design, and that’s what made them go with us.

EA) For us it’s all about credibility – and you don’t have anything at the beginning! It was just us…

MG) …with our documents, landing page and phone calls.

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

Favourite place in London: EA) The area from Troy Bar in Shoreditch to Hackney MG) Borough Market to the London Eye, along the Southbank
Favourite holiday destination: EA) Tarifa for kitesurfing MG) Tarifa too, but also the Swiss Alps, where we come from. When you go back it’s so refreshing!
Must-check every day website: EA) Hubspotmarketing MG) The FT, reddit and facebook
Dream travel destination: EA) Socotra MG) Bhutan is on my bucket list
Cheese or chocolate: EA) I can’t decide!! Ok, I’ll say chocolate because we live together so I could have some of his cheese MG) Cheese 100%, but being Swiss it’s a hard choice

You can find out more about Bombinate on Bombinate.com as well as on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Pinterest.

Prepared for Success

Alumni Stories, Cass Business School News.

Deniz Sasal (Executive MBA, 2013) has taken control of his own destiny, and wants to help you take control of yours too! He’s sharing insider hiring information at The Career Mastery and on YouTube, and helping you get further in your career at Landing Interviews Guaranteed. We asked him how it happened.

Tell me about your time at Cass!

Looking back at it now in 2017, it’s amazing to realise how much life can change in seven years. My time at Cass was full of ups and downs and in retrospect, I think I probably had more downs than ups. In 2010, during my second year, I was briefly unemployed. This quickly proved to be a major issue as I still had expenses to cover like school payments and rent.

I was the second youngest in my class and not only was I relatively younger than the others, I was now also unemployed. While many of my coursemates were already in senior leadership positions, I was finding it was difficult to keep up with their lifestyle. Even a $15-lunch was out of my league!

I tried to keep my difficulties to myself, but it was not easy. I’d be lying if I told you I never considered quitting, but my competitive sailing background had taught me to never quit and keep on going until I hit the finish line.

From an academic perspective, Cass gave us the best education possible. It was an intensive two-year programme which allowed me to learn what I didn’t know. Although this sounds trite, there is a major difference between knowing what you don’t know and not knowing what you don’t know. When you don’t know what you don’t know, then the opportunities to grow are very limited. You set the bar lower than your actual abilities just because you don’t know your potential.

After finishing Cass what was your next step?

Going through all these challenges during my MBA was a turning point for me because I realised then and there that I was going to be in charge of my own future. I never wanted to be dependent on anyone for my own fate.

So I decided I was going to own my own business. That was it. I just needed to learn a few more unknowns. To make it happen, I laid out my “very advanced” three-step grand strategy that would propel me to … Unlimited Wealth, Youth, and Prosperity! Step one was to get a job – any job – so I could start paying the bills as soon as possible. Step two was all about getting “the job” to leverage high income and save funds. The final step was to use that investment to set up my “own shop”.

Steps one and two were relatively easy to accomplish. After a few jumps, I was hired by PwC Consulting and quickly became a manager in the firm in my first year. The high intensity consulting environment was suited to my character, I was good at what I did, and my career flourished. There was never a dull day and my emotions regularly ran the full spectrum. Talk about the beauty that exists in volatility!

Finally, even though it was still going great, I quit in March 2017 to fully focus on step three. It was not easy. The third step took a few trial and errors. Not counting the days I sold fishballs in the wet market, my first real entrepreneurial activity was with Alphadore.

Alphadore was your first company?

Starting in 2011, whilst working full time, I worked night after night on Alphadore. It was a novel software solution designed to provide financial analysis for small businesses. Big corporations with their unlimited resources can afford to get best consultants, while mom and pop shops and other small businesses usually do not have such resources. So I thought I could create an amazing resource for them, a piece of software to run various simulations and show the health of their business. Not just that, but it could also benchmark them against each other. Well, it didn’t sell any… Not even my mother and father, small business owners, found any use for it.

After a year of working on it every single night, I gave up and sold it to another player in the market for the price of a nice coffee machine. They immediately renamed it, turned it into a QuickBooks Plugin, and made it a multimillion dollar solution within as little as three months.

But despite the seeming failure, Alphadore taught me many things about product development, product quality, adding tremendous value, digital marketing, guerrilla marketing strategies, and so many other essential skills that are needed to succeed as an entrepreneur.

When I heard about the success of Alphadore 2.0, I spent the next three months wondering whether I should be happy that my baby became so successful or devastated that I wasn’t the one who could walk the finish line. Of course, I made the right decision and chose to be devastated about it! Problem solved. I spent probably another four years hating entrepreneurship, entrepreneurs, and anything to do with being self-employed, and threw myself in to my corporate role.

Looking back, I was probably right to. Thankfully, I had a job in consulting that I loved immensely. I was sure that if I spent another three years with PwC Consulting, I would eventually become a partner. But then I remembered those days back in Cass again, when I was suddenly unemployed, and felt that lack of control over my fate. The idea that someone else could control my future just seemed so scary again. That was when I returned to that third step of my grand strategy.

How did The Career Mastery come about?

It started with a mission to expose some underhand practices in the jobs market. Specifically, I came across a few well-known multinational firms posting fake jobs online with job boards. This is a known but unacknowledged practice and happens for three main reasons.

Firstly, to trick financial analysts into thinking that the company is growing, because hiring means growth. Second, because the company bought bulk placements from major job boards anticipating growth, but then growth was slower than projected, so they put fake posts in instead. Thirdly, they may do this because the company wants to promote an internal employee but needs to pick a few bad apples from the external market to show that the internal employee is a better candidate.

I publicly named and shamed such companies during presentations at a few seminars in Europe. This was picked up by large media outlets and quickly turned into a big story. Eventually, one of those firms I named threatened me with a multi-million-dollar lawsuit. Of course, this only further triggered the interest of the public and Netizens had a field day searching about me! All of a sudden, my LinkedIn was exploding with connection requests.

It was then that I realised how hungry people are for valuable, differentiated content. Every marketer knows now that content is paramount. Yet, what everyone misses is that quality content is king. I realised I had some real quality content to offer, and so The Career Mastery was born, followed by my YouTube channel, and finally my free and paid training program Landing Interviews Guaranteed. Suddenly, I found myself truly helping thousands of people transform their careers.

People are hungry for value but we are in an unprecedented era of content overload. Everybody has something to share but the winners are the ones who truly care to add value and make a difference in their customers’ lives. That’s when the customers become followers and life-long advocates of your services.

I want Deniz Sasal to mean something to career aspirants. They know that if I share an opinion, it’s valuable.

Do you have a favourite top tip for jobseekers?

Yes, I do. Join Landing Interviews Guaranteed!

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

Be obsessed with adding value. That’s the single biggest unique selling point you can ever have as an entrepreneur or an employee.

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

Favourite place in London: Cass Campus where I met my wife!
Favourite holiday destination: The Philippines
Must-check every day website: Of course it’s TheCareerMastery.com and LandingInterviewsGuaranteed.com
Dream travel destination: I think I already visited all my dream destinations. But a dream project is to participate in Clipper Round The World race.
Cheese or chocolate: Cheese.

Get advice from Deniz at The Career Mastery, on his YouTube channel, and access free and paid training programs at Landing Interviews Guaranteed.

Producing Magic

Alumni Stories, Cass Business School News.

MBA alumnus Patrick Fischer (right, with business partner Richard, left) (Executive MBA, 2012) has added to his undergraduate film degree with MBA business know-how to form Creativity Media and its investment company Creativity Capital, combining film investment and post-production – with exciting outcomes. BAFTA-winning “Under the Shadow” was both part-funded and post-produced by Patrick and his team. We chatted about making it all happen.

Tell me about your time at Cass!

I had known of Cass for a while, probably because they did a film-centric MBA and I knew people who had done that. My first degree was in film and I had just met Richard and started our post-production company. I’d been looking at doing a full time MBA either in the UK or the USA, but then I started to consider part-time as the best option.

What I really liked about Cass was that the interview process was very British – we just had a chat! I said I was starting a company and that the modular nature really appealed to me, and at the end they said I should apply. I really appreciated that.

The way the degree is set up was brilliant. The other students in my cohort were so interesting and it was great to see people from all different walks of life. The film world is very small, a tight-knit bubble that sometimes takes itself too seriously, so it was great to meet such a range of people, and at different stages in their careers too. I still regularly meet friends from the course.

In general the teaching was good, especially the finance and economics. It was so well organised and put together, and the range of electives allowed you to gravitate to one area. When I could choose I chose modules that would help my business. For example I chose HR as one of my electives and then I took that straight back to Richard. I always did any homework on my company too, which really helped.

The MBA helped me to build a proper business – something I don’t really see in my film network because film-making is very much a cottage industry in the UK. I was keen to ensure that this company was not like that, and the MBA helped me realise that goal. It also made me comfortable with finances, numbers and investments.

During the MBA I started my film investment company and secured venture capital funding in 2012. Basically I made the presentation for Creative Media as my dissertation and one VC company said yes to investing, so my degree was instrumental in starting my second business. I had some seed money at the start but this (gestures around at the fantastic studios we are in) is all built by VC money from Schneider Investment Associates.

I was also able to set up Creativity Capital as standalone investment company thanks to my line of credit with them. It’s now grown to multiple sources of finance. I would not have been able to attract investment, grow and set up a company like this if not for my MBA.

And one of your films just won a BAFTA?

Yes, “Under the Shadow”. Babak (the director), Kit (the cinematographer) and Matt (the colourist, one of the Creativity Media team) and I all did our film degrees together. The film was part financed through Creative Capital, and Creative Media did the post-production. It actually got two nominations and it won the BAFTA for Outstanding Debut by a British Writer, Director or Producer.

How did Creativity Media come about?

It was the joining of two separate wishes. The first was to create a viable business in the film industry. The second was to have little ship, so I could say “let’s go here, and then let’s go there”. I didn’t want to be just me on my own setting sail across the vast ocean that is the film industry. Luckily I’ve known Richard for years and we both wanted the same thing and this has been a great partnership and we’ve been able to create our ideal ecosystem. To paraphrase our VC investors “It’s better to have a business selling shovels to gold diggers than to go gold-digging!” We help people make films, which is much more scalable thank producing them yourself.

I‘ve always had a wish to be an entrepreneur, to have my own business, and I really like making movies, although it can be really difficult. So it’s been my dream to be in a situation with a company that works in film and helps people make great movies because I love stories and the film process. It’s magical what you can create through storytelling, and stories affect you in ways you won’t forget.

What’s been the biggest challenge?

You have challenges all the time! Setting up the company you need luck. When we got our first film, it was Richard, myself and Alex (our sound designer) who set it all up. There was a film that needed post-production and one of my film investors said if I created a business that maybe he would support it. So we got our first film to post-produce in 2010, and next we had to try to get our second film. Luckily a couple of producers trusted us and soon we had our third and fourth films.

The first challenge is to get off the ground in the first year. Then the main challenge changes to growing and running your business successfully. It’s about the cash flow forecast, the profit and loss, the shareholders, and trying to create a great place to work for your team. A big part of my job has become the human element – making sure people are happy. We want our team to come and dedicate a portion of their lives to creating films with us, and our clients range from brilliant and affable to slightly more bothersome. So I need to balance all things.

Creativity Media is challenging like any small business, you have to focus on how to run and grow, but that’s a nice challenge to have. I’ve never had that OMG this is not what I want to do moment, but you do get the good and the bad, and have to be careful and prudent when building your business, especially in film.

We can have six amazing months and then in mid post-production a stakeholder can say “I don’t like it” and we have to stop and wait for the director to re-cut the film. We may wait three months to be able to continue and we never know if such a thing will happen from one day to the next. We don’t really want people sitting around, so you have to think on your feet and make sure you’ve got enough projects in.

Do you have any advice?

It’s ultimately about the people – all of it. The two biggest relationships in my life are with my lovely wife Annalena and with my business partner Richard. It’s no exaggeration to say that my relationship with him as my business partner is on equal terms with my marriage. Finding the right people is paramount in life. Once you’ve got that, even if it’s just with one person, you can build and everything else can come from that.

Second, don’t be afraid. People think that when you’ve got a doctorate or an MBA you’ll be given the magic formula and then you’ll be a success in life, business or work. Life is not that complex, and we don’t have that long to do what makes us happy and fulfilled. You need to treat your business and your professional career with the same respect and the same seriousness you would any other long-term relationship in life.

Also, try new things. We’re big on empowering our team. For example Jennifer started an intern three years ago, and now she manages all our post-production projects and just got funding to produce her first film. Don’t worry if you don’t understand or don’t know –just put up your hand and ask. Don’t be afraid to look silly just because you don’t know a term or how the process works. Ask and learn, don’t pretend and then fuck stuff up. If you make a mistake always own up to it immediately. You get fired for the cover-up, not the mistake.

Be open to things and to other humans. Everyone is afraid to go out there and talk, to make connections. But then be critical: is this someone you are just chatting to for 5 mins over cocktails, or is it someone you could make a real friendship with.

For me, there is nothing worse than seeing people work in a big company and they aren’t really happy but become accustomed to a good paycheque and then suddenly they are 50 and wish they could have done something else. I’ll be able to say at least we did it, we tried. Film companies come and go, and people say it’s bad luck but it’s part of the game. In fact, business is all one big game don’t get so hung up on it.

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

Favourite place in London: I used to live in a flat off Whitehall by Trafalgar Square, with a roof terrace and barbecue – so I’d say there
Favourite holiday destination: It changes! I used to go to Florida a lot but with all that’s happening over there… I’d say where my Grandmother lives in Baden Baden in South Germany.
Must-check every day website: BBC News and Reddit, but also I always look at my daily email from Finimize, a quick daily digest of all the main stories in finance.
Dream travel destination: Japan
Cheese or chocolate: Chocolate every time! I once calculated I’d eaten about 450kg of Nutella! I’m trying to cut down.

You can watch “Under the Shadow” on pay-to-view YouTube and Google Play, as well as other outlets.

Breaking the Money Taboo

Alumni Stories, Cass Business School News.

Emilie Bellet came to Cass as part of her degree at ESCP in Paris, and then moved to London when she graduated. She’s always been ‘good’ at earning money, but saving….less so. Her new company, Vestpod, is all about informing women about how to be smart with their finances. We sat down for a chat about it all.

Tell me about you time at Cass!

I studied at Cass for six months as part of my Business Studies degree at ESCP in Paris. I specifically came to Cass to study because of its fantastic reputation for finance teaching and I wanted to work in an investment bank. The finance classes at Cass are amazing! I studied corporate finance and markets. It was also great to spend some more time in the city and to study in London.

The summer before I came to Cass I had done internship at Lehman Brothers and that led to a job starting in London the summer after. So being at Cass was also really good for my network because I could start meeting people in the city.

Alongside my studies I also got to play field hockey for a local team. I had played for the French team in Paris – and had played for a year in Spain before too – and I played in the national division here for six months. That was a great experience. Basically, I shared my time between Cass and the hockey pitch!

What did you do after Cass?

I studied at Cass close to the end of my education, so I returned to Paris for six months to complete my studies and present my Master’s thesis. Then I returned to London to work at Lehman Brothers – this was a year before the bankruptcy!

What was it like at Lehman Brothers?

I was there for a year, and then the crash came in September the year after I joined. When you’re a junior in a bank you learn a lot anyway, but this was beyond anything I had expected. It was stressful, but I treated it as an experience and tried to learn as much as I could.

I got lucky because I was in private equity and my managers created a spin-off of the fund. We managed to get funding to replace the Lehman Brothers commitments, which led to the creation of a separate entity. Despite this, there were five months of uncertainty, and in that time lots of other departments closed and lots of people were fired.

Where did you go next?

My department at Lehman Brothers became this separate entity that was called Trilantic Capital Partners, and I stayed there until 2014. I worked for six years in the PE fund, investing in and managing mid-cap companies.

I had lots of fun at Trilantic, working hard on investments. I looked after a company in France, another in South Africa, and one in Turkey and my role required really broad skills encompassing strategy, marketing, finance, and HR.

And then you wanted a change?

I decided then that what I really wanted to do was something meaningful and to create something that could change people’s lives. I started a business before this one, called Seed Recruit, but it didn’t work out even though I got a round of angel funding. After a year and a half I closed it, but I had all that experience under my belt.

I turned to this nagging feeling I’d always had… “How do I manage my finances?” I always knew that I’m good at earning and good at spending, but not good at saving! I started to look at what I could do to address this and had a hard time finding financial advisors to work with, especially because they are expensive. So I turned to financial publications and the internet, and didn’t really find very much of use.

Money feels like a big taboo. I couldn’t find anyone to talk about it with, not family or friends and when you’ve been a banker you don’t want to talk salary! So I had no community to talk to about it with, and let’s be honest, it’s a pretty boring topic.

How did Vestpod come about?

I started researching, and realised I wanted to launch something dedicated to women and finance. The two main things that came out of my research were that more and more women are becoming the breadwinner of the family, and that by 2028, women will inherit two-thirds of the world’s wealth. In general, money can be intimidating, and many people are put off by the financial jargon. So I thought, how do I address this topic in a way where I can both engage and inform?

Of course, the banks are trying to modernise but they have essentially been doing the same for years, and they are still not really addressing women, who typically have less money in their pensions, less confidence in managing their finances, and live longer. So they need more help! And that’s where Vestpod comes in. I’m not trying to be patronising, I want to be straightforward in everything I write. I also regularly invite experts to share on my platform, such as people from the fintech world, as well as financial advisors, and in early February I did an event with the FT money editor.

What does Vestpod do?

My first product is a weekly newsletter. The tone is friendly and cool, and I try to keep it that way. I used to just send it to friends, and now I have several hundred subscribers. In particular I really want to help women who are just starting their careers to those who have 10 years of experience – so all the access to the content is free at Vestpod.

We also run events. At this recent event with the FT money editor we had 40 women who spent two hours listening and asking a lot of questions – there was lots of interaction. I think this is because we presented the subject in a different manner. I’m super exciting about doing more of that, covering topics like how to get a mortgage, information about choosing your saving products (ISA), investing your money and much more. For me, it’s about being informed and being in control. It makes such a difference to your life when you don’t stress about money.

What’s been the biggest challenge?

Really the challenge is starting. You can research an idea as much as you want, do interviews, talk to people and so on, but if you’re not launching your first product you’re just procrastinating. Lots of people have ideas that they talk about, but the upshot is that the execution is everything. Just do it. You’re never going to be exactly right the first time, but you can learn from your mistakes and iterate until you’ve got something valued and working.

What advice would you give to someone looking to follow in your footsteps?

Since I’ve dropped out of the corporate world I’ve tried to dream bigger. If you have something you are passionate about, even if it’s outside work, try to spend more time and energy on it. So many people complain about their jobs, but I say be a bit less dependent on what people think and don’t worry about them judging you. In the end it’s your life and your destiny.

What is next for Vestpod and for you?

Now I’ve launched Vestpod I want to do more writing, and I’m always thinking about how to scale the business. It’s just me and two freelancers at the moment, and I can’t do events every day – so I need to leverage technology as much as possible.

I’m also pregnant with my second baby, so it’s been a bit crazy at the moment. At least I’ve launched the business so I’m going to do as much as possible before the birth. I may need to raise funds by the end of the year to make Vestpod a bigger company and to employ more people.

In the long term I want to be really empowering women, whether in finances or in work or life. Why not creating a modern bank for women. So I’ve got lots of long-term projects!

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

Favourite place in London: Camden and Primrose Hill
Favourite holiday destination: Japan
Must-check every day website: (no hesitation) The FT
Dream travel destination: A round-the-world trip with my family, I’m sure I’ll do it at some point, take a year out and just go!
Cheese or chocolate: Chocolate!

Sign up to the weekly newsletter here and follow Vestpod on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn.

Brewing Up A Dream

Alumni Stories, Cass Business School News.

group shotTom Miller (TM), James Cartwright (JC) and Chris Mortensen (CM) studied their Executive MBA at Cass from 2012 to 2014. Now, alongside their full-time roles, they mentor Cass students, and over the past 12 months started up their own craft beer company, Elemental Brew House.

We sat down over a beer (obviously) to talk with the team about dealing with HMRC, their love of brewing and how they fit it all in!

Tell me about your time at Cass!

(TM) We all started at Cass together in March 2012, to do our Executive MBAs. We all came from different fields. James and I were in the same working group in our first year and Chris was in a group we worked very closely with. We were a very close-knit cohort who worked hard and played hard, and in doing so we formed very strong bonds which will last our whole lifetimes.

(TM) During our second year at Cass, we moved over to 200 Aldersgate and left Bunhill Row behind. Chris and I took modules in how to Fast-Track Ventures and New Venture Creation, because we had both always had the idea that we would want to launch a venture at some point. (CM) I also studied lots of strategy.

(TM) A lot of our venture creation coursework was so relevant. For example, we had to interview two similar businesses, one which succeeded and one which didn’t, and Chris and I chose coffee in East London – which is very relevant to the brewing industry but ahead in timeframe. I did lots of learning then that was useful for our proof-of-concept launch. We also created our business plan as part of a coursework.

(CM) I specifically enjoyed Fast Track Ventures with Sam Kamuriwo. We learned a lot about growth versus speed, pitfalls etc. The main conclusion I took away from that elective was you need the right team and the right mix of skills. It really sowed the seeds for our idea and our approach. I also learned all the marketing tools and methodologies such as customer segmentation and behaviours, frameworks and foundations and we used lots of the theory in our launch. Even getting our license we used a framework from Sam’s class.

You’re now offering MBA students a chance to work with you?

(JC) We have developed a very deep relationship with Cass, and we all wanted to open up the opportunity to current students to get their Business Mastery Project (BMP) underway with us for our new venture. Tom, Chris and myself have strengths in several fields but we are also able to recognise where our gaps lie. As a result we are offering a really great opportunity for a current student at Cass who wishes to learn more about digital marketing and launch strategies. Our BMP is focussing on a detailed analysis of the London based craft ale market, customer segmentation and profiling, along with the development of optimised launch strategies for our product range. You will also get to know the process of beer making along the way.

(TM) We love to give back – we all mentor current students – and lots of people don’t know what they want to do for their BMP. I was sponsored by my company so I did my project on them and Chris and James had ideas too, but not everyone does, so we wanted to offer something to benefit them. If things go well this year then we will no doubt come back next year and see if we can offer another opportunity.

What did you do after you graduated?

(TM) We all went back to our full-time jobs in different industries and are currently running the ‘Elemental’ business in our spare time. We graduated in June 2014, did our proof of concept in 2015 and had our official launch about four months ago in October 2015.

(TM) Chris and I were the original partners, but we always wanted James to come on board. He recently joined us back in 2016 so we are now all co-founders at Elemental Brew House.

(CM) I remember we started talking about this in October 2014 over dinner! We were all finished and back doing our normal full-time jobs – it was nice to have not so much to juggle. (JC) and then our flagship product won a prize!

Your beer won a prize?

(CM) Brewing has always been a real interest of mine, I’ve been home brewing for at least 10 years. (TM) And he got us interested, because we liked the idea of brewing beer for ourselves to consume! We brewed this particular beer at Chris’s house (CM) and in February 2015 submitted what is now one of our flagship beers, Pamplemousse, to this home brewers’ competition. There were about 380 entries, and we placed in the top 10. A prestigious judge said in a special comment that ours was his favourite and the feedback was that it was very highly regarded. It validated the product and created the ground swell.

(CM) I got Tom and James in to brewing in our first year, and after this we kept having conversations about the best things to make. We want to appeal to each person’s palate so we did a lot of testing. We went from homebrew, to thinking about what gives us an edge, to proof of concept from August to December in 2015. We were successful and last year started looking for brewing location. We chose a place in Edmonton in Spring 2016, then had to get a license, and started brewing there in October 2016.

(TM) We have been brewing commercially for over a year now, but we recently moved in to our current premises in Edmonton as this allowed us to step up in production scale from 150 litres to 850 litres. We recently completed our first brew at this new scale and all that remains is to label it and it will be ready to sell.

What’s been the biggest challenge?

(JC) HMRC! The taxation regulations and VAT all take so long. There are some helpful videos around but at a certain point you just have to grind through it.

(TM) Yes HMRC had obstacles! We had plenty of advantages from our fast track venture course but as a small business we’re struggling because there are no economies of scale, for example in negotiations with suppliers. We’re definitely trying to start lean and learn the business!

(CM) We literally have do to everything. We’d love to outsource but at the moment it’s cheaper to do it ourselves, although maybe not as cost-effective from a time point of view. We all work full-time so fitting it in can be tricky. Luckily we’re now licensed and when we move to even larger premises it will just mean an adjustment to our license which we can deal with when that moment comes.

(JC) When we were in MBA mode we would come and study and do our full-time jobs. Now we’re back to working full-time and doing this at evenings and weekends, so personally I’ve had to dust off those time-management skills again!

(CM) Yes I agree! And now I really enjoy the different combination of physical things – work is not just sitting in office. We have to move big grain sacks, and brewing is a physical process in general, which is part of the draw (TM) for all of us! (CM) It’s creative and a work-out plus when you add the financial management, marketing, sales and more, it’s akin to doing the MBA. It’s all good stuff, and great to have a good balance with the physical and the intellectual.

(JC) To create a batch we have a brewing day which means an early start to get water boiling and grain dispensed and after many hours of effort you have flavoured sugar water! Then you have to wait two weeks for it to ferment before you can package it up and then two more weeks for it to mature in the bottle or in the keg before distribution.

(TM) It’s all done by hand – the bottling, the labelling, we even hand-stamp the best-before date. It’s really crafty, there is no automation (yet!) and we even try to deliver it ourselves too.

What’s next?

(TM) Next week we’ve got tastings with buyers to talk about the tasting profiles and to make deliveries.

(JC) In the near term we are planning a formal launch event and we are actively working with various venue owners across London, so watch out for details of that coming soon.

(TM) We recently supplied to a photographer for an event, so we want to do more of that sort of thing. The complexity is in finding time to do it all and not to let it affect your day job. We all live and work in different areas of London, and brewing is in another location completely, and storage yet another.

(CM) Logistics is fun 🙁

What has been your most rewarding moment?

(CM) For me it’s definitely seeing someone drink a beer with Elemental on the side.

(TM) At our launch party for the proof of concept at Shoreditch BL-NK, at one point we had the Mayor of Hackney and our beer on stage and he couldn’t stop drinking it! The event was great, we got feedback on taste and also tested our market position with a choice of two labels by going person to person. It was really useful feedback and our biggest event so it was great to be there personally.

(CM) Our first brew for the proof of concept was quite stressful! We did an American amber called Ombre, which is the same as we’re planning for the launch this time.

(JC) Chris and I have Engineering backgrounds so as youngsters we used to build things and then take them apart again to see how they worked and that was fun, but we are both now at that stage in our careers where it’s all about laptops, meetings and sitting behind a desk. At the end of the brewing day you feel shattered but you can also see all the beer you’ve just created, and that’s very cool.

(TM) We have tried to develop beer that satisfies all our palates. It’s great when you do a taste test with people and you say, drink this beer let me know what you think – and they say well, I don’t normally drink beer but I loved it! It’s really rewarding! We try to make beer people like rather than (JC) something like cardamom and clove! (CM) Maybe for Christmas (joke)!

(CM) I personally like what we brew these days, I’m not interested in really hoppy IPAs wars with everyone.

(JC) I’ve been trying to get Chris to develop a rice beer, (TM) Chris is our Master Brewer (JC) because there is a growing trend in China linked to President Xi’s ambition for China to be a sporting hub by 2025. The connection between beer and sporting events is well documented but if you want to drink Chinese-style beer, the flavour profile is one dimensional. Therefore we have a chance to develop and augment rice beer and introduce more structure and complexity to a very popular product.

(TM) The challenge is that our passion is making beer and for us it’s all about producing high quality product, but we also need to sell it. Currently we’re also struggling with doing our HMRC returns!

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

(JC) I came to the MBA journey quite late in my career. I’m definitely older than Tom and I do have regrets about not doing it sooner. You have to have the courage to take that leap. If you feel something is not quite right, all is not well at work, do some quiet analysis and if the solution is to go back and return to study don’t worry about the cost – it will happen.

(TM) Planning but never actually doing it is textbook!

(JC) People get stuck in the mind-set that they will do it next year, but there is always something stopping them – look hard enough and you’ll find a reason not to make that leap. Change your perspective and look forward, invest your time and effort and you’ll get your reward.

(CM) For me it’s about belief. Get an MBA, further yourself and start to create. Then you can better contribute and believe you can actually achieve something successful. For me it’s all about valuing your own time and your abilities

And finally, it’s the quick fire question round!

Tom James Chris
Favourite place in London: East London, I’ve lived there for 10 years Blackfriars on a Sunday at 7am Richmond Park
Favourite holiday destination: Sicily SE Asia, particularly Shanghai & Hanoi Nepal
Must-check everyday website: Twitter for sports news Bloomberg NY times
Dream travel destination: South America The 5 mile radius around my home Everywhere! South America, specially the Andes
Cheese or chocolate: Chocolate. Chocolate coffee stout is my favourite! Cheese Chocolate

If you would like to order some Elemental Brew House Beer please contact Hello@elementalbrewhouse.com. You can also follow them on Facebook and on Twitter @elementalbrew.

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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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