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The Career Mastery: Where do you see yourself in 5 years?

Careers, Cass Business School News .

denizDeniz Sasal (Executive MBA, 2013) currently works for PwC Consulting, and has started his own careers blog that will “share valuable insider information that most hiring managers wouldn’t share”.

We have been allowed to publish extracts from the blog. You can read more on

What a stupid question to ask… It really is…

Interviewer: Where you do you see yourself in 5 years?
Me: Well, I am going to tell you that I see myself at your company at a role where I contribute to the organization’s success… and you will not believe that I am genuine but then I will say that anyway because this is the only answer I know you are looking for…

In an ideal world, if you are interviewing with a highly professional company and highly professional hiring managers, they may not ask you this question; where do you see yourself in 5 years…

I hope they won’t. It’s meaningless and encourages the candidate to lie. It serves very little purpose. There are way better questions to understand a candidate’s commitment and loyalty.

But here is the thing… We are not living in an ideal world, and the chances that they will ask you this question is very high.

In fact, unfortunately, I was asked this question even when I interviewed for PwC Consulting 5 years ago. Worst of all, this question came directly from the partner himself. And no, not partner in charge of HR. But the partner in strategy consulting!

As I said, we are not living in an ideal world…

I am Deniz Sasal. I am a manager with PwC Consulting and for the past 10 years, I have been interviewing thousands of candidates as a hiring manager. At The Career Mastery, a blog that I own, I help change some of the notions when it comes to interviews and hiring.

Whatever you hear from me represent my view as a hiring manager. I am not HR, never been, nor have any intentions to become one at any point in my career.

Alright, let’s continue now…

First things first, here are what not to do when they ask “where do you see yourself in 5 years”

Don’t try to be funny for God’s sake. I remember at least 4 candidates who said they saw themselves in my position in 5 years. The funny thing is I didn’t ask where you see yourself in 5 years. I merely asked about their future plans and whether they’d like to stay in Dubai over the foreseeable future. After all, this is an expatriate-oriented city with high expat-turnover. Plus, this is probably the oldest joke in the book. Where are they learning this from? Who’s that guy teaching them that it’s okay to say such an awkward, obnoxious, not-even-funny joke? Please don’t do that. It’s not funny and also not even logical. If I am interviewing you for a junior consultant role, it will take you a lot more than 5 years to become a manager… Just don’t shoot yourself in the foot.

You don’t need to necessarily talk about your ambitions for future when asked this question. Start from today. After all, we are interviewing you to fill a current role. Not necessarily a role to fill 5 years in the future. We are not going to hire you to train you for “that” role for 5 years. Don’t talk about your life story. Ever since you started grade school, you always wanted to be a management consultant… Be Realistic.

So, I will give you 2 approaches to this question.

First, I will share with you the conventional safe approach. And once it’s out of the way, I will share with you, my way.

The first approach is the safest one. It’s what everybody uses and it is what I call “Bullshit” answer. Your BS answer may tick the box and prevent you from taking any risks. But, at the end of the day it’s BS. To craft your perfect BS answer, you need to hit certain triggers.

The way I see, they are the following;

– You need to show them you are committed and not a 2-year jumper – which most of us suffer from.
– The reason you are here is not to find a quick solution to your unemployment. But rather, you are thinking of us as your last destination in your corporate career. Simply, you are not here to wait for the next best offer. Then, off you go. From hiring manager’s perspective, this is a big challenge. Finding the right candidate consumes too many valuable resources from the company. Time being the most important one. Show your loyalty and commitment to the organization.
– Ambitious and assertive characters are in high-demand for certain roles, especially in sales related positions. So, feel free to clearly state that you are looking to grow with the company, learn from the best, and ultimately, when you are ready take on more responsibilities.

So, a safe BS answer may look something like below;

I am really determined to achieve my and company’s goals. I’d like to deliver to the best of my abilities while learning from the best. Having said that, I see myself 5 years down the road growing into a managerial role and demonstrating my leadership capabilities.

Or another one,

I am really looking forward to spending the next five years in an organization where I feel I share all of its values, especially when it comes to [some values]. I would love to have the opportunity to demonstrate my leadership capabilities when the time is right, hopefully within 5 years and contribute to its growing success.

Alright, as you see from above responses, they are safe answers but not necessarily something I would say.

This is especially true if I am interviewing with a hiring manager. The hiring manager will most probably be your direct line supervisor once you get the job. Do you really want to start that relationship based on lies and BS?

I don’t…

And I didn’t… When I was asked this question 5 years ago, my answer was something like below;

Me: “Hmm. Let me gather my thoughts for a second… [Yes, I literally took my time to think. You should try it too…] Judging by the fact that where I saw myself in the past and where I ended up, it’s really hard to say where I will be. The only way I can see the future is by looking at my past, right?

“And if you asked this question to me almost 8 years ago when I was working at Standard & Poor’s as a financial analyst, I’d tell you I wanted to be an investment banker, then 5 years later I was a project management consultant, then sustainability consultant, and now here I am interviewing for a management consulting role which I can confidently do very well.

“So, as you see, where I wanted to be almost never happened and it’s really hard to say now where I will be in 5 years.

“But I guarantee you one thing. I will do my best in this role and try my best to have a wonderful career at PwC with your team and with your leadership. And when the times comes, I will assume more leadership roles, hopefully easing some of your intense work load.”

When I gave this answer, something incredible happened… Partner was definitely shocked hearing my answer and I could tell he wasn’t expecting this. But… He was incredibly impressed…
I could see it in his eyes.

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#Cassat50: Steve Richards, 1976

#Cassat50, Alumni Stories, Cass Business School News , .

SR_5Steve Richards studied BSc Management and Systems from 1973 to 1976. He’s been living in Australia for 36 years but hasn’t lost his Welsh accent. We caught up with him for the first in our #Cassat50 series.

Why did you come to Cass?

I wanted a generalist degree, I didn’t have any vocation in mind when I was doing my A-Levels, but knew I’d end up in business, possibly the computer industry, which was developing and seemed interesting. I also wanted to live in London. The then Department of Systems Science offered the BSc in Systems and Management which offered a broad-based, systems-thinking course which covered a broad range of subjects. It fitted the bill exactly. Amongst my A-Levels was one of the earlier Computer Science courses and I knew that City University was strong in, as we knew it then, computing (“I.T.” hadn’t been invented!). And in London to boot!

What was your experience of studying at Cass?

I had a ball. The degree course has one of the heavier class hours load but the variety of subjects was really enjoyable so I enjoyed the research and the study, especially getting away from a lot of rote learning we did at A-level. The social life was awesome, back then everything was paid for by the (Swansea) local council. I loved Uni life in all regards, you could pace yourself, study and have a lot of fun. I met a load of people from all sorts of backgrounds, which was great.

What is your favourite memory from your time at Cass?

The social life, especially the bands that came to play – Bill Haley and the Comets, The Troggs, Manfred Mann’s Earth Band amongst them. The Uni Bar was a good hangout too, I worked behind the bar sometimes. Also the President’s Ball, which was THE big night of the social calendar. Oh, and one final memory … the day one of the other London colleges (Imperial?) stole the big uni carrot mascot. I was there that day and hung onto the back of the van they put it in. It didn’t help, they got away as I recall and extracted a ransom!

How did studying at Cass change your life?

I guess it gave me the start to my career, predominantly in the I.T. industry. I emigrated to Australia three and a half years after graduating and landed a programming job on arrival which set me on a course that I have generally been on, in or around I.T., ever since. The manager who hired me asked to see my degree certificate – the only person who ever did! It couldn’t have hurt. Over the years I stopped doing real I.T. things and progressed into management where I remain to this day. My generalist degree and the systems thinking it taught has definitely been an asset.

Entrepreneurship Made Easy

Cass Business School News , .

_MG_7272_WEBMartin Andersen studied MSc Real Estate Investment 2011, moved to Spain and now runs his own business, Easyoffer, which he founded with his brother. We caught up over the phone.

Tell me about your time at Cass!

It was an intense year! It was extremely full of learning and I met lots of good people. The networking side of Cass was fantastic and I’m still in contact with a ton of guys.

Study-wise it was extremely good too. I did it my MSc directly after a four-year Bachelor’s degree and in the one year at Cass I learned more than in those four years combined! There is a high level of teaching and learning at Cass; it’s a really amazing institution in my opinion.

I wouldn’t change my time at Cass for anything!

What is your favourite memory from Cass?

Um, there are many… I don’t know where to start! Five years down the line my favourite memory is probably the cohesiveness of the students. They are so multicultural and international. Most people didn’t come to study at Cass as part of a ready-made group, most people came alone, and they were so open and willing to make friends. Within the first couple of days you had already made friends.

What did you do next?

When I graduated from Cass I moved to Madrid in Spain, and started to look for roles in Real Estate and Finance. This was in 2011 at the heart of the crisis, and I didn’t even know Spanish but it was never a problem to find a job then, and that success says it all really. Cass is fantastic thing to have on your CV.

I started working at Jones Lang LaSalle (JLL) with a six-month internship in the Capital Markets division as a Junior Analyst. When this ended I moved to Catella Corporate Finance in their Real Estate Finance division for a year and a half as a Senior Analyst. I left because I was headhunted back to the division at JLL in a Senior Analyst position. Then I decided it was the right time to leave and to found my own company in March 2015.

So tell me about founding your company!

I have long had the idea and ambition with my brother to start something together. First though, we believed it was important to get some professional work experience post-graduation. Then we came up with the idea for our own business.

What is Easyoffer?

It’s an online marketplace for lawyers and accountants who can be matched to clients’ needs. The clients are provided with three free quotes. For example, if you need a divorce lawyer, within 24 hours you will have three quotes from three different lawyers, and you are free to choose which one you will take forward. It’s a pretty well-known model which we took and focussed on the two verticals of legal and accounting. We started just my brother and I in March 2015 and now we have 20 employees. We are growing rapidly and our goal in the next 12 months is to double the workforce to 40 people and hopefully the revenue follows!

What’s next for you?

We are thinking about opening internationally in other countries in 2017 – there are a lot of things to learn with your own business and being your own boss. You can’t study for it, it’s an intense journey. We are taking it one day at a time.

What’s been the biggest challenge?

I would probably say the biggest challenge has been working out how to manage people and learning where the soft spot between motivating and cracking the whip is. It’s difficult to find equilibrium between being harsh and not getting anything done.

The Danish work environment in general is much more liberal and free, which works well in Denmark, but in Spain it’s very different. You need to be stringent and much more controlling about everything. Freedom and responsibility don’t work the same here and the biggest part has been learning when to be tough and how to be a motivator.

I hadn’t thought about these differences before! I’m learning day by day because when you see that the way you manage or the lack of it can cost you thousands of Euros, that need to change pushes you to learn and do things differently. Before at JLL problems were solved by themselves but now there is nobody to do that for you. I’ve had to grow a lot.

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

Post-graduation we are all super ambitious and can’t wait to climb the ladder. Studying at University and working in the corporate world are two different things! It’s so difficult that most people get a reality check. The best advice for this phase of your life is to be patient and be ready for a handful of years where you work really hard with low pay. Then it gets easier; we are not in the heyday any more, the financial industries are back to normal.

In terms of starting out in business on your own I’d say don’t worry about the idea, it’s more the execution of the idea that matters. Also, don’t overthink it, just do it. If you have an idea and a business model that works in one place, the chances are it will work elsewhere too.

It’s very easy to focus on the negative side and end up not doing anything. Have the balls and throw yourself in. My brother and I founded our company and we are basically a lead generation company with attached telemarketing department, in essence sales and marketing. We had no idea about online marketing and sales – we just had an idea that worked in other countries, and then we went for it!

Finally, it’s the quick fire question round!

Favourite place in London: Marylebone, I loved my time there. I always lived there even before Cass because I went to Regents University as well.
Favourite holiday destination: I would probably have given a different, more exotic answer a few years back, like Mauritius or the Seychelles. Now since it’s 11 years since I moved away from Denmark I love going home!
Must-check every day website: I’m a sports fanatic so I read pretty much all the big sports papers online every day. I also check Techcruch every day.
Dream travel destination: Canada
Cheese or chocolate: Cheese!

The Airbnb of Meeting Rooms

Alumni Stories, Cass Business School News , .

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

Tell me about your time at Cass!

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

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

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

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

What did you do next?

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

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

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

How did you end up at Bird Office?

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

So, what is Bird Office?

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

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

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

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

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

What have been the main difficulties?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Finally, it’s the quick fire question round!

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

Next Generation Entrepreneur

Alumni Stories, Cass Business School News , .

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

Tell me about your time at Cass!

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

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

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

What happened next?

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

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

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

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

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

And what is the idea in a nutshell?

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

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

So what is VEVA exactly?

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

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

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

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

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

App Shots_DiscoveryApp Shots_Social

How do you connect with friends?

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

How did the development go?

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

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

What has been the biggest challenge?

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

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

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

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

What’s next for you?

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

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

Download VEVA from the app store here.

Cass MBA Alumni Club in London

Alumni Stories, Cass Business School News .

meetupCass Alumni Ambassador and MBA alumnus (2015) Doug Markey sat down for a chat with fellow MBA alumna (2004) Kal Atwal about MBA networking events in London. Here is what he had to say.

Q: There have been rumours about regular monthly socials in London for Cass MBA Alumni, tell us more …

The monthly socials were an idea put together by some of the recent MBA Alumni cohorts. We recognised people from different years socialised in different parts of the city. We wanted to connect a wide range of people from different backgrounds together.

Q: You are the Alumni Ambassador for the UK, what drove you to step up?

I believe that our MBA Alumni network is extremely valuable. It’s mutually beneficial for everyone to stay involved. Even if you only engage once or twice a year, you never know who you could meet or what path it might take you on. For me the Cass experience didn’t finish when my coursework finished. I’m always happy to step up to whatever extent I can help out locally or elsewhere.

Q: What is your hope for the future of Cass MBA Alumni?

Long after I’ve moved on, I’d like to see a vibrant active alumni community not only here in London but in every major city around the world. We’re starting out with MBA Alumni in London where Cass HQ is based and would like to link up with other areas too. So no matter where Cass MBA Alumni are travelling to throughout Continental Europe, Asia and the US, they will have people to reach out to. As well as having activities and events that are specifically for Alumni.

Q: How can MBA Alumni benefit?

One of the benefits of the MBA is being surrounded by people from a lot of different backgrounds and sectors. Once you’re back at work again, you’re likely silo’d within a specific industry dealing with a core set of problems and issues. Reaching back out to a wider network allows you to experience having conversations again with people with different perspectives and experiences. It’s mutually beneficial for everyone to stay involved. Even if you only drop in once or twice a year, you never know who you could meet or what path it might take you on.

Q: How can MBA Alumni hear more?

If you’re based in London, visit London or just want to be kept in the loop, here are 4 ways you can get connected:

1) Engage with us on Social Media. Our LinkedIn Group and Facebook pages are up and running. Here you will find out more about upcoming events such as the monthly informal socials.

2) Stop by the monthly informal drinks on the 1st Tuesday of every month, even if only to say hi.

3) Reach out to your fellow alumni and help us spread the word, meet up with them at the socials. One of the most important things for us right now is to get the message out to as many of the Alumni as we can. This would really help us expand our reach.

4) Keep your details with the Cass Alumni Relations Team up to date. This will help us invite you to events we will be putting on throughout the year specifically for MBA Alumni going forward. Click here to update your details.

Find out more about Doug and the other Ambassadors here.

Innovation + Creativity + Leadership

Alumni Stories, Cass Business School News , .

workshopsMila Kayukala (centre in photo) studied MSc in Innovation, Creativity and Leadership (2014) and has now applied everything she learned to form her new venture, OffWeGo, promoting creative and innovative thinking, through workshops in unusual locations and special team challenges.

Tell me about your time at Cass!

The Masters in Innovation, Creativity and Leadership (MICL) was an amazing choice! When I came to the degree (I still remember the night when I first read the course description and could not sleep because of excitement) I had tried lots of different industries. I did a BSc in Teaching English and German and I had lived and worked in countries like Belarus (where I’m from), Russia, USA and Singapore.

I needed a new turn in my life and career as most of my cohort (MICLers) who eventually set up their own companies, launched successful Kickstarter campaigns, joined great startups and got promoted in their companies. I am grateful for my MICL network influence and my course content which motivated me to get out of my comfort zone and start my own creative business. That was a big shift in my mindset and an overall amazing experience.

I studied full time, which was certainly an immersive experience. My course included modules at The City Law School, Cass Business School, the School of Arts and School of Social Sciences, the School of Mathematics, Computer Science and Engineering and studying at five schools at the same time was mind-blowing! For example, we were writing film scripts and short stories, facilitating creative problem solving workshops, designing new apps and analysing IP court cases all in one semester! It allowed me to “taste” each discipline and bring everything together in my research project.

I developed an Innovation assessment tool for highly innovative companies and applied it to 3M, Virgin, Samsung, IBM, Castrol InnoVentures and Barclays. Cass gave me the necessary access to big companies. It was really challenging to analyse those companies’ innovation through interviews with the Heads of Innovation, R&D departments and report back saying “You’re great but you can still improve this and that”. I needed strength and nerve to do that and my supervisor and advisor supported me throughout my ambitious journey. I was trembling but I did it. Half way through the project I realised that I was acting as a consultant and that gave me more confidence and valuable experience which is at use now.

Do you keep in touch with any of your MICL cohort?

We do and not only socially but professionally as well. We meet almost every month for our MICL Innovation Hub where we do presentations and share experiences with each other as we have common interests, plus we support each other and ask for help or even do joint projects!

I understand you need a visa to stay and work here?

After completing this course, for the first time in my life I considered working for myself and established my business. I’m very fortunate to have been put forward for a graduate entrepreneur visa, which needed to be endorsed by the university, so thanks to Ben Mumby-Croft, who believed in me. I’m now in the 2nd year of my visa, and thanks to Alex Elkins who supported my visa extension, I’m the first student at the University to do this. I have just 10 months left to prove that my business is worth of getting a full-time entrepreneur visa! I’m under a lot of pressure but I’m looking at it as a creative trigger to push me forward and make me achieve my goals faster.

My visa, new knowledge and skills, business opportunities, unique MICL network as well as a free co-working space and mentor sessions – I have gained all this in doing my course at Cass and City University so I am very happy with my ROI of £20k – which was a big but 100% worthy investment, which changed my life as I aimed for.

How did you come up with the idea and why creative thinking?

The idea came directly from my degree: we had several modules on creative problem solving, using art for business, creating a climate for innovation. So I decided to combine it all together and make a ‘package’ of workshops and challenges. I believe people can be happier plus more efficient, and businesses can succeed faster by using creative thinking more often and applying it to various aspects of life and work. And I am proving it with my OffWeGo services.

Also, I strongly believe everyone is creative. There is no need to be in arts, or the start-up world to be a “creative type”, it just requires belief and wish to try new out and implement creative ways of doing usual tasks more efficiently and pleasantly.

My approach is that I kick-start new thinking with ‘Out of the Office’ workshops. At museums, galleries, and parks there are no post-its, no whiteboards, no walls, basically, no room for traditional thinking and teamwork, we are constantly on the go – hence the name, OffWeGo. I use museums and art in a new way to inspire new thinking and to learn about ourselves.

Usually, workshops are combined with bespoke creative challenges for teams to stimulate gradual changes. And outcomes differ from team to team, for some – creative approaches implemented in working processes, for others – creative problem solving skills gained, or internal and external communication improvements, or team climate shift.

Where next?

I think OffWeGo has great potential. Some companies offer creative workshops in traditional office setting or rented museum boardrooms, but nobody is doing it my way at the museums on the go.

You have to have energy and charisma to do this job, which is challenging, but when people appreciate themselves and their colleagues and art in a new way it is rewarding. It’s been an interesting journey so far! I don’t really know where I’m going! Currently, I’m focussing mainly on universities and hotels, but my workshops can be used in various contexts. There have been many changes from the initial idea as I tailor my workshops to each team. This project is like a new little child who keeps growing and changing and I keep on adjusting and improving, looking for new opportunities and new partnerships with museums and galleries.

I’m also looking at developing a longer programme, probably together with my MICL network. It’s ok to be working as ‘one person company’, but joint effort is much better. My fellow cohort has such a variety of expertise, skills and knowledge that I want to tap in and create extended programs together.

Another direction I want to focus on is offering more online services. At the moment, there is only a free seven-day Creativity@Work challenge sent to the subscribers by email and it is a taster of what team challenges could look like. I am planning to prepare ready to use team challenges so that leaders can purchase online and then proceed with customised versions and ‘Out of the Office’ workshops.

What have been the biggest challenges?

Overcoming my inner “gremlin” who likes to discourage me, doubt my capabilities and goals is the number one challenge. I keep on shutting it up and I’m getting better, as now I have a couple of great mentors, peer support in my co-working space and positive feedback from OffWeGo participants, some of whom have gone to become my ambassadors and “angels”. It’s very encouraging. Actually, keeping on doing it no matter what helps most to strengthen my confidence, especially as I have no business pedigree or business education apart from my Masters.

Recently, I started to attend more female entrepreneurs’ events – ladies have similar struggles. While many men tend to project themselves as superheroes and their businesses as the best ever, most ladies are timid when presenting their business ideas and sharing successes.

Developing OffWeGo on my own is challenging as well. I keep on talking to myself aloud when making decisions as I’ve nobody to bounce ideas off and I suspect with a co-founder I could have moved faster. So attracting a like-minded person is a possibility I am considering.

Do you have any advice you would give?

I wish I had a business partner next to me all the time! So if you are by yourself, a mentor or a coach is of great help and moral support.

Also, I’d advise you to talk to as many people as possible, sharing what you are doing not asking for approval or feedback, but just sharing what you are working on, what challenges you have. Speak up and ask for advice. If you don’t ask people don’t know what you are looking for that. There are opportunities in every chat, event, presentation or seminar.

I would also say, just get going and start up! I’m still developing my product and to do this I’ve offered 10 workshops for free, to both large and tiny groups. Before, I wasn’t ready to realise this awesome thing, but now I’ve spent six months on development when if you get input and information from others you can really speed up the process.

You can be an ‘average specialist with an average product or service’ and be very successful because you have spread the word about your business, you let the world know about you and how helpful you or your product is. Marketing is everything, as well as self-belief and confidence.

And the last bit of advice: accept the fact that your success and happiness is you’re your responsibility. Once you fully understand it you would start acting and believing more in your own capabilities.

Finally, it’s the quick fire question round!
Favourite place in London: Hampstead Heath, but I also like to explore new parts – Harrow-on-the-Hill is my most recent find.
Favourite holiday destination: Mexico, I truly enjoyed learning about the Mayan culture in Yucatan and visiting their ruined cities.
Must-check-every day website: Tim Ferris podcasts
Dream travel destination: To explore other ancient civilizations and countries in South America like Bolivia, Peru, Colombia, Chile
Cheese or chocolate: My autopilot response is chocolate, as I have a sweet tooth, but I’m trying to reduce carbs so I’ll choose cheese, especially if it is goat’s cheese!

More details and sign up to Mila’s workshops.

A Rising Star

Alumni Stories, Cass Business School News , .

IMG_9713-1Sonya Barlow studied Business Studies and won Mentee of the Year 2015 – she has now moved in to the world of media and has been shortlisted in the 2016 We Are The City Rising Stars Awards. We chatted about how everything has happened so fast!

Tell me about your time at Cass!

I studied Business Studies with a year abroad in Italy in my 2nd-3rd year. I didn’t major in marketing or finance but in the 3rd and 4th years I was drawn more to communication and technology (modules like strategy for business, virtual organisations), more than the accounting and business modules.

I found my first year quite overwhelming and it was hard to settle in, but by the 4th year I really found my feet. I’d studied abroad and created two societies (including the Erasmus Student Network Society), found a mentor and won mentee of the year 2015 – my mentor also won mentor of the year!

Cass is not an easy university to study at – academically the courses are tough. Recently, I was out for drinks, and I met someone who learned I’d studied at Cass and they gave me a round of applause!

At the beginning I was stuck and didn’t know where to go – but then I found myself. Finding your personality gives you confidence that you can do it, you just need to work hard. I think you just need to work hard and exploit every opportunity. I went to networking events and M&A talks to understand the University and see the path ahead of me, and I also had one-to-ones with academics and went to alumni events – so that I could start to mesh real life with the university experience.

Working life is different! I want to study more, and I want to inspire and give back. I could end up teaching! Cass is very finance based, and there are more males – and like it or not we were encouraged to go in to a banking or corporate environment once we graduated. I’m not super corporate, I’m more marketing savvy and when you go in to the City it’s all males males males, so I’m thinking – how can I as a female do something extra to inspire and encourage?

How did you get nominated for this award?

The lady who nominated me for the We Are The City award, I actually met her through the Sprint London, a joint mentoring initiative for female students between City and UCL. She was a guest speaker from RBS who presented to at one of the events. I liked her story and was inspired by her so I kept in touch through LinkedIn. She sent me a message to say she really liked my progression and that I’m an inspiration, and that even though I am just out of university she would like to nominate me for this award. She said don’t feel bad if you don’t get shortlisted because you’ll be up against lots of people who have been in the field for years – whereas I am just out of uni. But I ended up getting shortlisted! You can vote for me here.

Who are We Are The City?

We Are The City is pretty focussed on finance and Cass is a finance school, which I think helped with the nomination. The City is still really a boys’ club so We Are The City was founded as a network for females in the City (it’s expanding across the UK and in India also now), focussing on technology and finance sectors. These awards are to celebrate female achievements but I don’t think it goes far enough.

What did you do next?

When I graduated, at the start I was afraid when I was applying for jobs at the likes of EY and KPMG, but after the six-month recruitment period, I reached the final stages, which was a real confidence boost.

I got all my offers from my applications, and rejected all of them, including EY. The partner who gave me the job offer said “if I were you I wouldn’t take this because you have too much personality to be in an office doing audits”.

Then I panicked! I went travelling for a week and came back to no job! I knew I wanted to go in to relationship management, not strictly media but to be comms based – so I went to a recruitment firm. After a week of looking for roles for me they wanted to hire me for their own vacancy – they had cherry-picked me. Unfortunately I was mis-sold the job as it turned out not to be about a brand partnership or relationship building, but instead was cold-calling, which did not sit well with my ethics. After five months I decided I couldn’t do it any more! I’m worth more!

Then in the summer I met with another recruiter and ended up being offered an account management job straight away after the initial interview. The problem was that it was with a start-up and it turned out they didn’t have the budget to hire me. Then the same recruiter got me in touch with dunnhumby. The interview stretched across two days and they gave me a media role in account management straight away.

So I quit the recruitment firm job, went travelling to Japan for two weeks and then started at dunnhumby. It’s a great company that’s really people savvy that lets you take the initiative, and ideas are encouraged. I never knew I liked numbers so much, and need data and insight. After six months I understand the positive and negatives of the company. I really enjoy creating media content, especially researching and writing blogs, and social media. I think I’m heading towards being a digital champion– in this day and age you have to conform or miss out.

What have been your challenges?

They are always the same for me. 1) Thinking I’m not good enough 2) Not having the confidence 3) Not knowing my values. These are the three things I’m firm on now. I know my values – the things that make me me, and I make sure that my job aligns with this. If you don’t have confidence in yourself how can someone have confidence in you?
When I went to Thalia at the Professional Mentoring Scheme, she said “you’re so confident, why do you need a mentor?”, but I was not really confident in my ability and I needed help and guidance.

Sprint London is for ladies to support each other and it’s taught me to have a plan, to know myself and to keep in touch with others. Everything is a learning experience, and for getting ahead at work, interview practice is key. Know why you applied for the job role and what you can bring and you will be happy.

Can you give any advice to others looking to follow in your footsteps?

Know your values and stick to them – this also makes saying no a little bit easier!

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

Favourite place in London: Spitalfields Market or the South Bank
Favourite holiday destination: Italy! But I’m biased
Must-check every day website: LinkedIn and the FT
Dream travel destination: If I want to go somewhere I’m usually very spontaneous and book it. I’d like to go to a spiritual retreat though!
Cheese or chocolate: Cheesecake with chocolate!

A Charitable Enterprise

Alumni Stories, Cass Business School News , .

minuMinu Batish studied MSc Mathematical Trading and Finance, 2009 and met her husband at Cass. She is now a mother, and Minu’s solution to juggling a career and parenthood has been to set up her own start-up –, which she hopes will become the number one place to find your next charity role. We sat down to find out all about it.

Tell me about your time at Cass!

I studied MSc Mathematical Trading and Finance from 2008 to 2009. Previously, I did a BEng in Electrical Engineering as well as an MBA and MSc in Computer Science.

I had a wonderful time at Cass and got the opportunity to learn from world-renowned professors such as Professor John Hatgioannides, Professor Giovanni Urga, Professor Ales Cerny, to name a few. I also made some lifelong friends including my husband! I can never forget the first day of our course – the same day Lehman Brothers collapsed! It was definitely an interesting time as we witnessed the unfolding of the credit crisis and its subsequent effects on the world economy. As a result, the course was also restructured and professors talked at length analysing how the crisis could have been averted and how the markets were reacting to the debacle.

Some of our classmates had already bagged jobs but the rest of us were pretty gloomy about our job prospects. Many of us didn’t have any way to stay and sustain ourselves in an expensive city like London, and some even moved back home.

What happened next?

After the Masters course at Cass, I worked for an Italian oil giant and then moved to Credit Suisse. I took a career break after becoming a mother. Before joining Cass, I had worked for investment banks UBS and JP Morgan and some technology companies and this time none of the plush jobs really excited me. I utilised this career break to take a step back and contemplate what I wanted to achieve. My husband encouraged me to explore various start-up ideas. We had numerous discussions around the ideas however I could not zero-in on that ‘lightbulb idea’ which fitted my objectives.

The market is saturated with just about every idea and solution, so really it meant taking a share of someone’s pie and wriggling through the noise to be heard and basically challenging the status quo. I explored a couple of start-up ideas that didn’t work out. When you have run a couple of start-ups and had failures, you learn how and why they fail. I’ve burnt my fingers and learnt that way.

How did Charity Appointments come about?

Finally, the idea of Charity Appointments dawned upon my husband. I had no idea about charities and so I carried out my own market research before starting out, looking at the current market for charity recruitment. There are about 170,000 registered charities and societies in the UK, plus other smaller foundations, community groups, social organisations and non-profit groups. On average, there are 6 out of 10 people who are not satisfied with their current job and are looking for a change. The estimated charity income market size is roughly £40 billion alone in the UK.

I found out that existing competitors charged too heavily to advertise jobs plus they don’t provide the complete strategic end to end solution for recruitment. Working with the premise that the charities want to cut-down on admin costs and improve their social presence and logistics, it was easy to work out a need-gap analysis and how Charity Appointments will fill a clearly defined business need in the current charity job market.

How did you get it off the ground?

Initially it was difficult, as most charities who advertised their roles with competitors did not find a compelling reason to switch over to my venture. It was about building trust and giving a face to the company. I was learning my own lessons as the site evolved as not just one strategy works in its entirety. You need to optimize your strategies and keep experimenting. One formula that works for one company may not apply to another.

As a start-up entrepreneur, at times you feel like things don’t move as you want – you need patience and perseverance. In comparison to a retail shop, an online business does not give a complete picture of the demographic profile of your customers or a face-to-face interaction about their perception or how they evaluate your brand’s value.

Would you return to investment banking?

Not really, don’t get me wrong, I loved the job while at investment banks but I didn’t want to grow old thinking I have sacrificed my best years of life working on something which wasn’t my dream. It’s better to take a pause and understand we are not going to be younger like in the film the Curious Case of Benjamin Button. I wanted to be challenged and to see how far I could go, so I decided to just work on my dreams.

Also, at an investment bank, there is not much scope for the continuous learning and experimenting that a start-up provides. I launched the site in September 2015, which was not a very conducive time for hiring as recruitment was very slow in charities across the UK at this time, but I got the chance to learn on-the-job and experiment with lots of strategies. I decided to spend the time building my network, understanding the challenges of running the start-up and reading books and HBR articles.

The start-up has given me an all-in-one complete perspective while multitasking on so many roles such as HR, admin, sales, communications, research even a DIY handyman! I try to think of innovative and cost-effective solutions to save money and increase my brand presence. Gone are the days when bankers used to be masters of the universe. Now technologists and the new band of start-up entrepreneurs occupy that coveted slot.

What’s been the hardest part?

Marketing and managing social media are the most important thing in this digitally connected world. Marketing is no longer about the stuff that you make, but about the stories you tell. No matter how innovative and worthy your idea and product is, if it doesn’t get to the target segment, the entire idea is useless. Finding the best and the most cost-effective advertising channel can be a bit daunting. When you’re in an investment bank everything is taken for granted – the brand’s name, the office space, your laptop, desk, the teammates to share the job responsibility, even your job scope is pretty much as per the job description. However, a start-up is all very different from my previous roles in Maths and Finance!

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

For me, patience is key in the start-up business. My advice for other women who are thinking about a start-up is that the best way to do it is to DO IT! Don’t worry about your start up having no money….it never has in many cases. And don’t wait for your children to grow up, they will benefit from your multitasking anyway. But you must be fully prepared to work hard, you need to have determination, patience and the willingness to sacrifice a bit of family time for yourself.

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

Favourite place in London: Docklands. I’ve lived here since I graduated from Cass
Favourite holiday destination: I always fondly remember going to Mussorie in India as a child, and Copenhagen
Must-check-everyday website: BBC and FT, TechCrunch, WIRED, Reuters and Bloomberg Business Weekly
Dream travel destination: Greece – Santorini, and also Venice
Cheese or chocolate: Chocolate!

A Fashion Story

Cass Business School News , .

passport pic nicoNicolai Schumann (Full Time MBA, 2009) and his sister have taken a leap together away from the corporate world and found their own fashion label, Alice’s Pig. Nicolai also guest lectures storytelling as a business tool at Cass to MBA and MSc students. We sat down to chat about it all.

Tell me about your time at Cass!

I did a full-time MBA finishing in 2009, and officially graduated in 2010. Before that I had founded a business in the movie industry, specialising in scripts and story development. I bought out my share because I wanted to internationalise my career. I decided to come to Cass to study because I wanted to spend a year in Europe, specifically London, and I was also very interested in strategy and Cass is very highly ranked in this. I loved a) the location and b) the international appeal.

The foreign electives were great, I went to Dubai and Shanghai and it was just great being in a super international environment. Now I can pick up the phone and call buddies from my MBA cohort in 25 different countries!

What happened next?

After Cass, I worked at the BBC doing mobile strategy for the World News and then on to Deutsche Bank and then I worked for Charter International/EASB in M&A. After that I decided to enter the entrepreneurial world again and founded the fashion label Alice’s Pig with my sister. On the side I also lecture in storytelling for Cass, Queen Mary and Goldsmiths as well as running corporate workshops.

I enjoy combining storytelling and business – storytelling is highly important for senior management, it’s one of the best leadership tools – in fact, storytelling is everywhere!

How is it working with your Sister?

Painful!! She just had a baby, and I became an uncle a couple of weeks ago, so she’s off on maternity leave at the moment, which I have to say I am enjoying. It’s good though – my parents are also involved. The good part of being in a family business is that they are a bit more patient compared to companies that are private equity or investor funded – and see more long-term. That means we can build more slowly with a good foundation, which is working well.

Our expertise is in totally different areas, she did straight fashion and does the product development and I do all the front end marketing and branding.

How did you become a guest lecturer?

When I was working for in M&A, ironically my company itself was bought by an American corporation, and their offer was to either take the leaving package or to relocate to Baltimore. An easy choice!

I had always had a strong storytelling background and worked on many screenplays and I have long since tried to find that interface between storytelling and business. So I did some research, designed a module, and Cass took it! I lecture MBA and MSc Management students, and it’s great to combine my two passions. This approach is becoming also very typical – I thought I had something new but now you find it quite often nowadays.

Teaching is so rewarding, giving students what you learned, and at the end I always ask them if they will apply what I have taught them, and they always all say yes! It’s rewarding to realise I am helping further their career and also their life – storytelling is also a great life skill. We think in stories, we plan in stories, we dream in stories.

How did you get the idea for Alice’s Pig?

My sister worked at Puma in Hong Kong when I was at Charter International, and we both decided to get out of the corporate world and try something together as we had so many complimentary skills.

Where did the unusual name come from?

In Alice in Wonderland – this episode is in the book (Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland) not the film -and Alice has a baby crying in her arms. It turns in to a pig and jumps off and vanishes. She said something like – this nasty little baby has turned in to a handsome pig, and from that I took to mean, that beauty can be in everything – wonderland is everywhere. We are British and vintage, striving for beauty, and so Alice is our mascot.

What has been the main challenge?

Getting the brand off the ground in the first place was the main challenge. Creating something from scratch, it’s almost like giving birth! You have to bring it up, name it, nurture it.

I still remember our first customer! She was from North Carolina in USA. Getting our name out there is really the hardest part, people don’t know you, they don’t trust you, they don’t see you.

Trust and brand awareness are very hard to gain – and there’s ten thousand other things to worry about too, like the supply chain, quality control, forecasting etc.

We came in with a lot of enthusiasm but it’s not an easy business! If I’d known how hard it would be and how competitive maybe we wouldn’t have done it, but it’s good to be naïve sometimes. Otherwise you can just keep analysing and being cautious and you will always find a reason not to do something!

Do you have advice you’d like to go back and give yourself?

Oooh, good question! In a way, your experience is the sum of all your mistakes, and it’s good to make mistakes.

Something I probably would do differently is to spend more time in brand and product development before going out with the product, spending that time making sure everything is ok. We totally over-produced our earliest collection and we were just not ready really, if it had been more “us” it would have sold better. Ultimately, in hindsight, if we had spent more time on product development, it would have been better.

Usually it’s good to get a prototype out there as quickly as possible, but we’re talking volume here – not like an app where you can put it out there and then pivot change and review in a learning cycle. We would rather have tested before, but you have to get it out there and see how it performs. We learned how to make our collection more consistent because the first one was so hit and miss. But I always say never regret!

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

Favourite place in London: Brixton
Favourite holiday destination: New York’s East Village – I love urban areas
Must-check-everyday website: I have to say, the BBC
Dream travel destination: Mars
Cheese or chocolate: Definitely chocolate! I have it daily! In fact, every day I have a coffee and cake in the afternoon!

Check out the latest collection by Alice’s Pig here. Nico also writes about storytelling here.

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