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From Cass to Mykonos Holiday Villas

Cass Business School News , .

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Nikos Iatrou (MSc Property Valuation and Law, 2006) quit his 9-5 for a real estate job with a difference – luxury holiday villas Maera Villas in Mykonos, and a sideline of cold-pressed juices. We sat down for a chat about how it all came about.

Tell me about your time at Cass!

I came to Cass in 2005 to do a Masters in what was then Property Valuation and Law with George Herd. I intended to go in to commercial real estate. I really enjoyed the course, but to be honest I didn’t really know what I signed up for!

The law side was super challenging, but it was a great course – it certainly had its tricky moments! The content was very useful and I used a lot of it at work straight after; it wasn’t cheap to do but I felt it was money well spent, and I believe I’ve got a good return on my investment.

I’ve only got good memories from Cass and I still have many friends and work contacts from my time studying.

Where did you go next?

Right after finishing my degree I joined a real estate firm in the West End called Savoy Stewart, and it was really useful that I already had a good network of contacts from Cass that I could use straight away. I went with the aim of becoming a RICS Chartered Surveyor. I stayed for two years and qualified as MRICS. But I soon realised I don’t really enjoy a desk job, working 9-5 every day and that whole working format. And this is really where my story begins!

What gave you the idea for holiday villas?

As part of my final piece of coursework for the degree, I had actually done a project about the development of a holiday villa in Greece, so you can see I was already interested in things further afield.

How did you end up in Mykonos?

After qualifying as MRICS and some world travelling I decided to get into villa properties and hospitality in Greece – Greece has had a fraught time of things, but from a real estate point of view it is very interesting – I applied the principle that I learned from Cass to opportunistically find a good opportunity with potential.

I found Mykonos – I looked at others too – but here I went and looked all over seeking a builder or a developer in a difficult spot who I could buy property from to rent out.

What happened next?

I found the ideal properties and bought them and began to reconfigure them, as well as doing the marketing and promotion. Then when people started showing up I was also responsible for the hospitality side of the business. This was summer 2015.

The houses are really cool and brand new, and in the main one we did lots of additions, like a really cool secret disco built in to the rocks, and a custom-built hot tub.

VM2 HOT TUB AND KALO LIVADI VIEW copy 1100 JUL2MAERA VILLA 2 MYKONOS - VIEW FROM LIVING ROOM VERANDAH copy 1100 2JUL_DSC1795 copy copy 1100 2JUL

I looked to improve the properties in many ways – something I learned at Cass is to find your angle and add value to your real estate investments. The summer went very well, we had quite a few bookings and everyone was astounded by the accommodation. This summer it’s looking like it will be even crazier as more people get to hear of our villas.

Do you have any other projects?

I also set up a side company in Mykonos, a small-scale cold pressed juice company. I was living in New York for a while when the craze was really taking off there – you know, green juices for health, and cold pressing to keep more nutrients. So I put two and two together and decided to try it in Mykonos. It’s both a place where healthier-minded people go for a holiday as well as somewhere where people might overindulge and want to detox the next day.

Last summer I did an official one-month pilot to see how it went, and it was pretty cool actually, and we got lots of social media buzz. We offered the juices to yoga instructors, who sent us their clients, and through this we got to some Instagram celebrities who were staying on the island and it quickly became a big deal. In the end it went on for 2 months and we didn’t do any marketing and didn’t have a point of sale, it was all very successful and we’re certainly going to launch properly this summer.

Do you have more villas in the pipeline?

Yes we are actually in the process of doing up some new ones we recently bought so we have some new villas to add to the portfolio. I’ve also been asked to take over some other properties as well. Currently there are 9 villas now, with a few more to add, all similar in that they are high-value luxury accommodation.

Do you do all this alone?

Last year I had three people working with me, all from the US actually, and it was a great experience for the whole team. We lived together for four months and they all went off after – so I’m looking to recruit people to fill their positions. If you’re interested – contact the alumni team or find me on instagram @maeravillas.

Were there any unexpected challenges or problems?

Oh yes – what to pick!

Greek bureaucracy is very difficult to plan and deal with. In the end I got support from local tax and accounting (never my strong point) specialists and also I tried to actively understand the basics.

Dealing with the villa’s clients can be tricky at times. People are very particular on holiday; we always had the attitude that we can accommodate any request – but that led to a few difficult situations with people requesting unreasonable things, like one group who wanted a full meal prepared by a top chef within an hour’s notice – we scrambled but we managed to get it done.

With the juices we had a whole other set of problems! For example, you might not always be able to get all the ingredients so you have to find the right substitutes. Fine-tuning the recipes took a long time until we were happy with the taste basics and nutritional level. And from a business point of view it was a challenge to come up with a recipe that was not unprofitable at base cost. There were tons of marketing challenges too, because we were working on a tiny shoestring budget. Getting the Instagram celebrities involved came as a result of our initiative to have brand ambassadors, who were the local yoga and pilates instructors who we gave commission to for referrals.

Also, lack of sleep! I had about three hours a night for about three months!

What one thing would you like to go back and tell yourself when you were starting out?

I’d definitely arrange better accommodation for myself and my team. It was a smallish place and the lack of space and close proximity could cause a few fractious moments. Also sleeping pills!

What’s next for you?

The Villas we currently have are on a high-end scale and I want to expand and get more if the right opportunity is there. In Mykonos and Greece in general, the problems may have stabilised but they are still there so I’m working hard to find ways to safeguard against any volatility.

Also, from my experience in our summer accommodation I realised that summer-long rental properties are in short supply for seasonal workers. I’m now in negotiation for a plot of land away from the commercial areas, to develop small (2 person) units for people working in Mykonos in the summer. Again my Cass learning has come in handy here – I’ve already secured a rental guarantee from a landlord for five years, ensuring a good initial yield.

The other problem to solve, is what do I do in the winter? This winter I’m going travelling but in general I’m trying to find other stuff to do. I’m also looking at small refurbs of London properties, as I’ve got friends who have been doing that sort of thing for a while.

Finally, it’s the quick fire question round!
What’s your favourite place in London? Hyde Park
Your favourite holiday destination? Mykonos
Your must-check-every day website? BBC Football, especially Tottenham Hotspur’s page
Your dream travel destination? I’m actually about to start doing it now – Nepal before I go back to Mykonos, get all spiritual and relaxed
Cheese or chocolate? *big sigh* I like both! Chocolate!

Check out the villas at www.maeravillas.com/ and find Nikos on instagram @maeravillas.

Cass Alumnus Produces India’s Best-Rated Spirit

Cass Business School News , .

sIMG_0016Oscar De Sequeira Nazareth graduated in 2004 with a BSc in Investment and Financial Risk Management. He has since gone on to produce India’s best-rated spirit ever – the only Indian product to win the Gold Outstanding (top award) at the International Wine and Spirit Competition in 47 years of the competition – twice in a row! This product, Licor Armada, is now available in the UK. We corresponded by email to see how he did it.

Tell me about you time at Cass!

I joined at the time CUBS was renamed Cass and we got our lovely new building at Bunhill Row – an exciting time for me and the business school!

When I moved to London from the small city in Portugal where I grew up, I was overwhelmed by the sights, sounds, and all the incredible opportunities on offer. Being at a world-class business school on the edge of the City with experienced professionals as lecturers was the icing on the cake.

I absolutely loved my time at Cass, and tried to make the most of it – one of the highlights of my young life was captaining our University Challenge team and making it onto the televised rounds!

Did you stay in London afterwards – I understand you pursued a career in Investment Banking?

After graduating, I joined the graduate management scheme at Marsh & McLennan Companies (MMC), and then moved on to Deutsche Bank where I worked on the Equity Derivatives trading floor – both jobs made me grow in very different ways!

What made you want to change? How did you get the idea for Licor Armada?

Well, during Christmas 2011 I was on holiday in Goa, India – where my family is originally from – and I decided to try making an all-natural liqueur from an old family recipe that dated back to the Portuguese Empire.

When it matured, the results were outstanding – I’d never tasted anything like it in my life, despite a fairly wide experience sampling various tipples in London bars, courtesy of a work hard, play hard lifestyle!

I decided to play around with a spreadsheet and work out if I could make a viable business out of Armada; by March 2012 I had moved to Goa – the rest is history 🙂

What was the biggest unexpected challenge in implementing your idea?

Most entrepreneurs usually say that had they been aware of all the obstacles, they’d never have started their companies… and I’m no different.

I knew that starting a business in India would be harder than in the UK, but I had no idea how much harder it would be to deal with the Government.

Whereas you can register a company in 4 hours in the UK from the comfort of your home, in India it took me over a month to do the same – despite a rule stating SME approvals should take 2 working days.

I was also asked to make repeated visits to the state capital for an important issue with my application, made to wait for ages only to have a quick and meaningless chat.

My biggest surprise was that the official at the Excise Department did not know the difference between ‘liqueur’ and ‘liquor’, and refused to believe that liqueurs could be registered! “You can make whisky, brandy, or rum only”, he said, ignoring the copy of the Excise Act I had brandished, with the relevant liqueur sections highlighted.

Later on, more enlightened friends explained that it was likely I was being subtly asked for bribes – due to my density, this eluded me entirely and I’m proud not to have contributed to corruption in India!

What has been the most rewarding part of this experience?

I guess it’s the same with most entrepreneurs – regardless of success, the personal and professional growth is phenomenal. I remember enjoying summer internships with small companies because of how much I learnt, and entrepreneurship has taken things to a whole new level!

The recognition has been pretty nice, too – winning the top medal at the most prestigious spirits competition in the world (IWSC), two years running, left me speechless!

Thanks to our win we were able to export internationally – Armada is now available in the UK, and we’re looking for new markets to expand to!

If you could give yourself when you were starting out one piece of advice, what would it be?

Leap, and the net will appear. It may seem trite and clichéd, but it’s so true. When you’re stuck and need help, you’ll be surprised at the number of people who are there for you! The main thing is to get up, get going and get out there.

Finally, it’s the quick-fire question round!
Favourite place in London? The streets. It’s just so nice to walk around, take in the sights and discover all the festivals, fairs, tiny specialist shops etc – often in the most unexpected places.
Favourite holiday destination? Portugal. The food, climate, people, culture and heritage are fantastic – I’m glad the rest of the world is slowly discovering this too!
Must-check-everyday Website? The Economist. I’ve been a subscriber since my undergrad days!
Dream Travel Destination? It’s cheating a little, but I’d say a tour of South America. Machu Picchu, Buenos Aires, Mount Roraima, the Galapagos Islands, Brazil… what’s not to like?
Cheese or Chocolate? I’m a big fan of dark chocolate, but I’d pick cheese any day – the smellier the better 🙂

For queries about Armada, contact oscar@licorarmada.com; for UK orders contact nick@upandunderwine.co.uk. For students, staff and alumni, you can get a 5% discount on MRP using discount code CASS.

From EMBA to New Interactions With Things

Cass Business School News, Uncategorized , .

2015-09-05 20.24.56EMBA alumnus (2014) Patrick Beraud talks about doing an Executive MBA, life after Cass and the fast-paced world of tech start-ups. He is set to launch his first platform, Bemoir, at the end of this month. Patrick is based in Melbourne.

Tell me about your time at Cass!

I studied the Executive MBA, and what I remember most are the two initiation workshops in a fire service school, which was really immersive, and the international electives in South Africa and Vietnam. Those were eyes opening and really transformed me.

What advice would you give someone who is thinking about doing the Executive MBA or has just started?

I would say enjoy it while you are at it, because sometimes I look back and feel like, I wish I could re-experience some of those moments again. Although none of those moments I dream of are about submitting an assignment :=)

You’re based in Melbourne now – do you attend many Cass events?

Yes I am in where they call down-under, Melbourne, Australia. I travelled to the Monaco Alumni event in September. For me, it was an opportunity to reconnect with what an MBA has to offer. I really enjoyed meeting up with former classmates or new ones, hearing where they are now, what are they doing and how their stories have changed since they completed the MBA.

What did you go on to do after graduating from Cass?

Well, it was a roller coaster and it still is. I had a business idea well researched, so I started working on it part-time, putting the team together to launch the venture while in parallel I was working in a corporate environment. Then this year in January I moved to full time on my own venture and since then the roller coaster has been much more than anything I expected – I think the right words are, anything I could have ever imagined.

This new venture, it’s called Bemoir – what’s it all about?

Bemoir is an internet-based product using technologies such as NFC, Thinfilm and RFID to give unique digital life to physical objects. Our customers can use the platform to attach videos, photos, and audio to their prized possessions such as one-of-a-kind artwork or collectibles. By attaching thoughts and emotions to their items, our customers can increase the saleability of their products and perpetuate the product’s value.

Bemoir is a fully rich media digital platform with associated iOS and Android mobile applications. To use on a painting, for example, simply wave your smart phone over the painting that has Bemoir tag attached to it, you can reveal the story of the item, providing you a rich enhanced experience through the artist’s eye. Simply imagine walking around every artwork you come across, you can wave your phone at to discover more about it, or at a museum, or at your own family heirlooms.

Our beta platform is live and we are on track to officially launch Bemoir on Thursday 3rd December.

What’s your top tip for anyone looking to start their own business?

Settle in for the long haul, and expect everything to go wrong. But if you want to walk away from the 95%, as Jim Rohn once said, then that should be enough reason for you to start.

What’s next for you?

I have no idea – welcome to the tech startup world! But of course I will make Bemoir a success, so I still have three to five years ahead of me. We’ve given ourselves a big challenge, and that is to give everyone the power or the tools to express their individuality and uniqueness. And that is what Bemoir is for. It is to “be” and it is “moi”. So as you can see, what is next for me is to fulfil that vision. Remember we are just starting.

Finally, it’s the quick-fire question round!
Favourite place in London: East Dulwich Park
Favourite holiday destination: Portugal, from the south to the north
Dream travel destination: Croatia
Must-visit everyday website: I must visit all four at the same time, I don’t know why! They are time.com, guardian.co.uk, ft.com and bbc.co.uk, oh and sputnik news haha!
Cheese or chocolate: Cheese anytime!

EMBA Alumnus now PR Entrepreneur

Cass Business School News, Uncategorized , .

Simon Barker Barker CommunicationsSimon Barker (EMBA, 2008) has just embarked upon the entrepreneurial life and started his own PR business, Barker Communications, based in London Bridge. We sat down to talk about going back to studying, PR and the unexpected.

Tell me about your time at Cass

First of all, I was introduced to you through Rav Roberts, who was my MBA mentor and did a great job. We’ve met up regularly since then and he’s become a good friend.

Cass was many things, including being hugely enjoyable. I’d been out of a formal learning environment since graduating from Leeds in 1992 – so it was 14 years later that I embarked on my second degree! It wasn’t difficult to get back into studying though, and it was exciting to be in a classroom environment and learning new stuff. It was great to interact with the school’s faculty and to be part of a really engaged group of colleagues, and we generated plenty of good discussions. But being back in an exam room was a bit of a shock!

It was a full-on couple of years and there was a lot of cramming-in of work. I had a very busy role at a PR firm at the time and I was working on the MBA Monday – Saturday, including bashing the books on my one-hour commute each way into the City, but I made sure to have Sundays off (for the most part). When I finished I was sorely tempted to carry on learning – I still might pick up some of my free electives. My third child was born three months after I started the EMBA, and for at least six months after I finished two-day weekends felt like a luxury.

The location of Cass is a great asset, right in the City. It’s a brilliant calling card. When I was there the school was in the FT’s top 10 global ranking for EMBAs. Everyone felt pretty chuffed about that and the school was pleased to give us mugs to show off the achievement.

What about the EMBA trips away?

The very first weekend at the military base in Portsmouth was excellent. It was a case of being thrown in with your new colleagues who came from all across the world and just getting on with it. We went to St Petersburg in the first year, and most of us to Shanghai in the second year. Both places were fascinating and I stayed on for extra time in China.

I studied with a great bunch of people and have made some good friends from the group. Many went through difficult times during their time at Cass, with around a quarter of them losing their job due to the recession.

What was the best thing about your EMBA?

It’s hard to pull out a single best but I really felt that one of the advantages of doing an EMBA rather than a full time MBA was that most people on the course had at least 10 years’ business experience to bring to the party. I think the youngest person in my cohort was 29 when we started.

In the first year all the modules were compulsory, but it was great to be able to focus on your areas of choice in the second year. Most of my year two modules were around finance and strategy and I did my dissertation under Professor Laura Empson on branding elite tier professional services firms – and was delighted to get a distinction.

Do you attend many alumni events?

I used to go to quite a lot, but I’ve been so busy lately I’ve not managed to get to as many. I’ll definitely be making more of an effort in the future because they are a good opportunity to meet people and often learn new things.

How is your current venture going?

Doing the EMBA cemented in my mind that I wanted to do my own thing. I had been thinking about it for some time and the stars aligned making this year the right time to launch Barker Communications.

One of the reasons I enjoy PR is because it’s so influential. If you’re not knowledgeable about something yourself, or know someone well who is, then everything you know comes from what you read, hear and see, so the power of PR and editorial endorsement in particular can have a huge impact on building a client’s business and brand. It’s very rewarding to develop a portfolio of media outputs for clients, knowing that those articles will be read by many people in the client’s target audience; then reviewed online as part of the due diligence process for people or organisations looking to engage with them.

My first business trip since starting up was to Warsaw to meet a financial services company, which is now a client. I’d worked in Warsaw for a few weeks in 1998, and it’s changed hugely since then, following sustained growth through most of that time and managing to avoid recession post Lehman. Other clients include a legal services firm and Silicon Roundabout company, and I’m seeing opportunities across other areas such as consulting, energy and human capital.

My resourcing model is to use a network of highly experienced practitioners, so the pitch is that senior people do the work as well as advise, with clients receiving a better and faster outcome (and experience getting there).

What has been the most unexpected challenge in launching your own business?

To look at it another way, I always knew that it would be important to expect the unexpected and be prepared for that as much as possible. All sorts of people have been in touch and I couldn’t have predicted that I’d be doing some of the things I’m doing. It’s about keeping an open mind to opportunities, being flexible and building that into your business strategy. I never expected my first overseas trip to be to Warsaw, for example.

What’s your top tip for the communications industry?

If you want to get into this industry, be hugely interested in the media, how it works and its various channels. Clearly, social media is evolving quickly, but there is still an enormous role for traditional media because the journalists writing it are trained, experienced and masters of their craft and the demand for these people will always be there. My key places to go for information are the FT, The Economist, The Sunday Times and the Today Programme. And it might seem obvious, but in any service-based business you’ve got to be able to relate to people honestly, helpfully and directly.

What’s next?

Fundamentally, it’s about growing the business and doing great work for clients. The two are very closely linked as doing great work builds personal reputation and referral.

Finally, it’s the Quick Fire Round!

Favourite place in London: The British Museum
Favourite holiday destination: China
Must-check every day website: FT.com, the Economist Espresso app (and The Today Programme)
Dream travel destination: Pakistan
Cheese or chocolate? [long pause] Cheese

Cass Alumna’s Baby Inspiration

Cass Business School News .

Deniz & Basak
Basak Sen Sasal is a Cass alumna with her own business, Snapsights, which connects parents and their babies via remote monitoring, and via The White Stork, brings the extended family into a newborn’s world in UAE’s major hospitals. She’s also married to a Cass alumnus!

What was your time like at Cass?

I studied an MSc in Management with a specialism in Strategic Management in London, and I actually met my husband whilst we were studying. He was studying for his MBA in Dubai, and we’d interacted on LinkedIn, and finally met when he came to London for an elective and the rest is history. I moved to Dubai after graduating, and he’s been here for eight years and I’ve been here for three and a half years.

What are you doing now?

I am the co-founder and manager of Snapsights, a remote monitoring system for busy parents to keep in touch with their children. We are first in the world to provide such remote in-home monitoring services. Once installed, you get your own operations centre on your laptop, tablet or phone. We also offer a weekly “Happy Moments” compilation email where all the major events of the week are distilled for you.

Where did this idea come from?

It came from my own experiences, particularly my mother, who was a successful businesswoman with a multinational company, but she missed many of my first milestones like my first step, and found that success doesn’t mean as much when you miss out on these days that never come back. In the past, they weren’t even recorded very often.

Plus, one day, on the National Gulf News there was an unfortunate story about a nanny and a baby – putting yourself in the mother’s shoes, I felt so bad that evening! My husband asked, how can technology help here? And the idea was born.

What is your top tip for anyone wanting to start their own business?

The first thing is that you need a good idea that gives value to society. It’s good to be entrepreneurial, but adding value is the most important part. Snapsights gives peace of mind to parents, its corporate users, and recently the hospitals’ patients through our newly launched the White Stork concept where we bring the newborns to the screens of the family and friends living abroad.

The second thing is that you really need determination. There are lots of ups and downs and you need to find a way to keep going despite setbacks. You really need the passion to continue as without this you’ll go nowhere – you’ve got to convince yourself first.

What is next for you?

Snapsights next step is the White Stork concept where we facilitate ‘virtual’ hospital visits to the families and friends of the patients that are all around the World. We use our high-end surveillance system to bring the newborns to the screens of families. It’s received wide coverage in Gulf News, 7Days, Time Out Dubai and more. With 90% of UAE residents actually expats, and today’s globalised world, family ties are much longer and it’s not easy or practical to visit.

For example, my grandmother is 84 years old, and when I have my first child it will be her first great grandchild, and she’s too old to travel from Istanbul, but she would love to see that child. Parents initiate and facilitate the White Stork service through the systems we set at the hospitals and then can be left alone for bonding time, resting time both for mummy and the baby and to keep the germs away as the immune system of the little ones are so weak during the first couple of days. Plans are to expand into GCC, Europe, then the USA, and we’ve already secured some funding for SnapSights. We are part of region’s biggest Investment firm, Al Tamimi Investments.

And finally, the quick fire question round:

Favourite place in London? Kensington Gardens
Favourite holiday destination? Having been in Dubai for three and a half years, and my husband for eight, we miss nature, so our last holiday to Boracay island was just what we needed.
Must-check website? Facebook for social news and LinkedIn for business news
Dream travel destination? I just watched The Martian, and with Elon Musk and his SpaceX corporation being the inspirational leader in this field, I think it’s got to be Mars.
Cheese or Chocolate? Chocolate – absolutely, and without hesitation!

830

Read more Cass-related blogs here.

Cass Alumna Wins Prestigious “The Lawyer” Award

Cass Business School News , .

susan cooperCongratulations to CEO and founder of Accutrainee and Cass alumna Susan Cooper (EMBA 2010) on winning “Most Innovative Collaboration with In-House Legal Teams” at The Lawyer Business Leadership Awards 2015.

Accutrainee bridges the gap between graduates, the provision of training contracts and the legal profession, both law firms and in-house legal teams by providing training contracts and then seconding out the trainees. They took on their first trainees in July 2012 after a lengthy process with the legal regulatory body, which was necessary to approve their completely novel approach.

This idea came about when Susan was writing her dissertation on oursourcing in the legal industry. She found junior-level work was being outsourced to India, South Africa and a host of other places that could do the work for cheaper, and also that the limited number of training contracts on offer was leading to cohorts of graduates with no opportunities.

Until Accutrainee was launched, two-year training contracts with a law firm (or in-house legal team) were the only way of getting the required two years of on-the-job training to become a solicitor. This meant, and still means, that competition is fierce, and applications for these jobs can sometimes number over 1,000.

In addition, during the recession, many legal firms cut many of their training contracts, making it even harder to move from being a graduate to gaining a training place.

At the same time, in-house legal teams found their budgets squeezed, meaning that senior lawyers ended up doing more junior work. Add to this that it’s historically been very difficult for them to offer training contracts in general, because without a dedicated legal HR team the applications can soon become overwhelming.

Accutrainee brings one neat and elegant solution to all these problems, offering trainees a route into the profession. They offer the training contracts and then second them to law firms and in-house legal teams, whilst maintaining responsibility for the trainee’s development and regulatory requirements. Secondment could be for six months at four different places, a year each at a firm and an in-house team, or two years at a single firm. This means that trainees typically get a wider breadth of experience, and the companies benefit from the junior post. It’s an idea that seeks to alleviate the inefficiencies and regulatory burden of the traditional route, as well as some of the costs, to make this process work better for everyone involved.

This solution has proved particularly useful for in-house legal teams, who are now freed up to use their senior lawyers more strategically, overseeing the junior roles, with that trainee also gaining valuable experience. It’s easy to see why they won this award!

Read more Cass-related blogs here.

Smart Thinking with The Brain Exchange

Cass Business School News , , , , .

jeanetteJeanette Purcell is a Cass MBA alumna, graduating with a Distinction in 2001, and Managing Director of The Brain Exchange, an invitation-only problem-solving network for business professionals. She is also Managing Director of Jeanette Purcell Associates, a leadership and responsible management consultancy and a guest lecturer for Cass MBA and MSc programmes in London and Dubai. Previously she was the Chief Executive of the Association of MBAs (AMBA). She sat down for a quick chat about how The Brain Exchange came about, the problems facing leadership today, and cheese.

Tell me about your Cass MBA experience!

“Doing the MBA was an intense year where all other life interests had to fall by the wayside. I really threw myself into it, especially the group work. In fact, getting involved with the group was the key, making sure that it was harmonious and productive. We spent a lot of time together. All in all it was a life-changing experience – a brilliant thing to do in terms of all-round business knowledge, expanding my network and gaining inner confidence. It’s also much easier to exude that confidence in job applications when you can say you have an MBA from Cass.”

Do you participate in Alumni events?

“I have my own alumni network from my MBA and I have quite a few students that I keep in touch with from my guest lectures – in fact, one of them is now a client! I also go along to as many of the alumni events as I can.”

What gave you the idea for The Brain Exchange?

“When I moved on from my role as Chief Executive of the Association of MBAs (AMBA) and into consultancy work, I realised very quickly that I was missing having a team around me to bounce ideas off and to help with creative problem solving. Most people decide things by talking them through with people they trust and respect, and this is what The Brain Exchange does for people without that inbuilt work team. It provides a business person with a forum to discuss business problems.

“With a colleague I set up a trial event, inviting 10 business people from different walks of life, including accounting, architecture and journalism. At each Brain Exchange, one person takes the hotseat, putting their issue to the group. There is then a moderated discussion for an hour, sticking to specific ground rules, and at the end of the hour the person in the hotseat should have ideas, potential solutions and actions to go away with.

Of those initial 10 people, each invited 10 more each, and The Brain Exchange flourished, holding one event per month since October 2013. It’s just been launched as a limited company, separate from my consultancy business. From September 2015 there will be an increase in the number of events, and the Brain Exchange idea is also spreading to organisations, for example the event at Cass, and to a charity which has members that will benefit from this forum.”

What is the biggest leadership challenge for companies today?

“My immediate reaction to this question is change management. It used to be that companies could go through a programme of change and then settle into the same business practices for years at a time. Now change is constant and significant. Companies need to be flexible and adaptable to the changing environment and to new technologies, to stay on top of the developments, and most importantly of all, bring their staff with them as the change happens.”

What is your most rewarding experience?

“Apart from doing an MBA? For me, rewards at work come from a feeling that you have accomplished something and that there is a noticeable impact from that change. As an example, when I was at AMBA I had a clear mandate for change and a huge challenge to go along with that. My goals included a strategic review, a desire to change the organisation’s priorities, and the wish to expand accreditation internationally. I achieved complete success in all three of these areas. Looking back on such a gruelling, difficult and controversial time, I’m happy to be able to say “blimey, we did that!” – and that’s the reward.”

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

Favourite place in London: “Greenwich Park – it’s right by my house!”

Favourite place in Dubai: “The Old Town – it’s got a lovely marketplace and feels authentic.”

Must-check-everyday Website: “BBC News….or ebay!”

Dream travel destination: “Australia.”

Cheese or chocolate: “Can I pick cheesy chocolate – is that a thing?”

Read more Cass-related blogs here.

In conversation with Leo Castellanos, Cass alumnus and Co-founder of Comparabien.com

Alumni Notice Board, Cass Business School News , , .

Leonardo-Castellanos

Cass Business School was the perfect location to meet Leonardo Castellanos, Executive MBA alumnus who graduated in 2009. He told us about his entrepreneurial journey and business plans.

Leonardo, who is originally from Venezuela, arrived in the UK back in 2002. He was already working for Price Waterhouse Coopers, a big consultancy firm. In 2007 he decided to start his MBA at Cass Business School because he was really keen on making a change in his career. He said “Half way through the MBA I decided that I had enough of consulting for big firms. I have been doing it for nine years and, you know, I had a good career, it was a great school. I really thought that at the end of the day what I achieved, could have been achieved by someone else, it was just another project. That’s why I decided that I really wanted to go and head into entrepreneurship and venture capital, and started working within that space.”

How was the experience of working and studying at the same time?

“It’s a challenge, it was a part-time MBA and it’s obviously a huge commitment to have a full-time job and do well in your studies. There is course work, exams and your family. Your social life suffers quite a lot, but in the end is a commitment that you know that you’re making and it’s for a certain period of time, and so you just have to go through with it.”

Comparabien.com and Leonardo’s role during its development.

A few months after Castellanos finished the MBA, he co-founded his start-up called Comparabien.com, a price comparison website. He and his partner Alfredo Ramirez, also a Cass alumnus and originally from Peru, followed a successful model in the UK and developed it for the Latin American (LATAM) region.

“We agreed to the fact that Latin America had a huge potential and we wanted to tap into that. Obviously it was a personal project and, you know, we both had bills to pay, in my case, I had a student debt to repay as well, so we couldn’t just forget about all of it and follow that route. We had to keep our jobs while working on the idea” he said. After a few hard-working months they finally launched in Peru in 2010.

Leonardo’s role has always been developing the business and, most importantly, finding investment to keep it growing. He says “Alfredo’s skills and mine were complementary. His background is in technology so he was in charge of developing the websites, and mine were in accounting and finances so I took charge of the business and money raising strategy. In 2012 we started working on an expansion model and by March 2013 we raised a small round of over half a million dollars” This big achievement allowed them to expand their business to four new countries including Mexico, Brazil, Chile and Argentina.

What’s the future of comparison sites?

Castellanos knows that competition is inevitable, but according to him Comparabien.com has the biggest foothold in Latin America and will lead in the years to come. “We have two competitors we worry about. They are in two or three countries where we have presence in, but we certainly believe that, like in the UK, there will be room for four or five big companies aggregating for national products and we want to be really leading that pack” he said.

What are your business expansion plans?

“We will certainly be looking, not in the next 12 months, but in the next 24 to launch in specific regions within LATAM. That may include the Hispanic states of the US. We are seriously considering launching in places like Florida, California, New Mexico and Texas. There is also the idea of launching in my own country, Venezuela, which we are not doing due to the lack of clarity to do business, but we believe that that would be a good market to be working in. There are other smaller countries that are also presenting a good opportunity, but it’s a matter of focus. We really want to consolidate in the countries we already are. Doing what we are doing well and then go beyond that.”

What are the “must have” qualities of an entrepreneur?

Leo-Castellanos-at-Cass“Being an entrepreneur is about working with people, in my view. You have to try to be good at many things, but not try to excel at everything because it is impossible. I think that recognising things that you don’t have and assigning it to others and being resilient is very important. Sometimes, you have to be quite stubborn and always follow what you think is a good opportunity. Also, make sure that you bring people together and create a vision that they will follow.”

We finished our conversation talking about the Cass Entrepreneurs Network (CEN) and the very important role it plays at facilitating a forum where entrepreneurs can meet investors and connect with potential partners.

Leonardo said: “I think the next step for CEN is to facilitate the connexion between Cass alumni and Cass students that are passionate about entrepreneurship and also to provide a little more support. I think that it’s important to drive that community spirit and I am very sure that people like me, and another people that have been to Cass are happy to contribute to that.”

Find out more about Leonardo’s business: Comparabien.com

Cass MBA Alumni develop a great app for busy Londoners

Alumni Notice Board, Cass Business School News , , .

Lukas Linsbichler and Ash Bhadal met while studying the Executive MBA at Cass Business School in 2011. They both had a very strong drive towards starting their own business and that’s how Drinqsmart was born. After all their hard-work and commitment they will officially launched their initiative on Wednesday, and the event was held at Cass Business School.

Drinqsmart: An App helping busy Londoners to plan their after-work life

Drinqsmart-App

Drinqsmart app

According to Ash and Lukas their idea was strongly influenced by their busy and stressful life while studying for their Masters. They realised that people, especially in London, have hectic routines and also time constraints to their social lives and, very often, their private relationships suffer. Friends and family are overshadowed by work and academic commitments.

They thought that it would be amazing to have a platform that facilitated planning meet ups with friends after work in an easy and fun way. That was when the Drinqsmart app was developed. Drinqsmart’s vision is to “Give time back to smart Londoners”, to allow them to use their time better for activities they genuinely enjoy.

How does Drinqsmart work?

Drinqsmart is an app that allows you:

  • To discover friends and venues near you
  • To connect and invite friends, who are in the mood to meet up for drinks
  • To use a venue chat where you and your friends can get together before you meet and exchange venue ideas.

There are many other benefits to users, as the founders point out: “The benefit is clearly saving time and being able to meet friends more often. In a modern, fast city like London, people move very quickly and private or social life is only a residual after work. The Drinqsmart app gives people the chance to use this time more efficiently by being able to meet friends spontaneously, organise drinks easily and find the best venues. All in the one app to “Get your night started” whenever you like.”

Why is the app unique?

Ash says: “There is no other app available offering the same integrated functionality as Drinqsmart. There are many other apps using use geo-location to check people in and listing venues around you, and other apps allowing you to chat with friends, but all of them are doing it separately. The unique offering of Drinqsmart is to have them all in one platform and allowing users to create an exclusive network of friends around the concept of going out.”

How to get the Drinqsmart app?

The app is only available to iPhone users, at the moment, and you can download it by going to: http://ow.ly/xRTVu Android users will be able to download it after summer 2014.

Finally, Ash and Lukas told us how their MBA helped them to stay focused on their journey: “The MBA gave us the confidence to make educated decisions about our strategy, leveraged our network to hire our CTO and get great contacts for marketing. An amazing fact is that after an MBA you can actually run a company on your own. From formulating marketing plans to accounting, from legal to HR and so on. What we have also learned is it that a good portion of gut feeling and street smartness is needed to manage a start up in the given time. We strongly recommend an MBA to anyone who wants to create their own business; it definitely arms you with all the tools you need to succeed and a great network you can leverage.”

Find out more about Drinqsmart: www.drinqsmart.com

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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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