It's not everytime you hear a story of someone who paid off their parent's mortage through saving and investing money from their EMA, anyways I dont want to give too much away.
Hi Andrew, Its great to finally have you on YHP, how are you doing today?
I’m doing great. Thank you for the invite.
Before we move on, could you quickly give us some background information about yourself so that the YHP audience can get to know you better?
I’m a 24 y/o LSE graduate, currently ‘learning to build a business’ with James Miles & Justin Gibbs @ Liv-ex: The Fine Wine Exchange. I’ve worked in several fields already including financial services, internet start-ups and the media. In my spare time I write a lot, hit the gym and try to be a good son. I’m really passionate about internet start-ups, venture capital, good food, reading and travel.
So Andrew, tell me how you got into entrepreneurship, what was your motivation?
I haven’t really gotten into entrepreneurship per se but I do consider the New Entrepreneurs Foundation an apprenticeship in business. A reason that entrepreneurship appeals to me possibly boils down to personality. I was consistently a disruptive pupil at school, getting in trouble and causing mischief was the norm for me. On top of that I also had a big mouth and every parents evening was told off for speaking too much in class. It was hardly surprising that years later I would end up working for the BBC where I would be paid to use my big mouth.
What was your first business?
I haven’t started a company, although I manage one property on my own.
So you attended Queens Mary University? What was the experience like, a lot more people are deciding to go into entrepreneurship straight after school rather going to university, what made you realize that this was the right choice for you?
Queen Mary was an interesting experience, I learnt a lot at this place met some of my best friends and ended up spending more time doing journalism than actually studying for that degree. I must’ve done something right because I got a scholarship to the London School of Economics after graduating. I didn’t consider entrepreneurship at 18 and to be honest this wasn’t something I’d ever considered doing as an option after leaving formal education. At the time though I was very much set on going to University but I ended up spending far more time on extracurricular activities or media related work than study in my four years of study.
Were you involved in anything entrepreneurial there?
No, not at all.
I was mainly doing student journalism and freelance at the BBC. I did take part in lots of leadership courses and this opened up a lot of very powerful networks. An example of this was the UpRising Leadership Programme that I took part in my final year at Queen Mary. I was very lucky enough to be mentored be by a successful entrepreneur.
What would you say was some of the key things you learnt from that experience?
Being aggressive, gung-ho, a big risk taker or a maverick makes you more interesting.
During University you also wrote for the likes of the BBC, Financial Times and City Financial. How did that come about and how was the experience?
Most people who end up in the media tell you they ‘fell into’ the industry. The same applies to me; someone in my class (who I owe the start of my career trajectory to) introduced me to an editor at the BBC. This led to several invites as a guest speaker on their student panel and after showing a lot of enthusiasm I managed to impress the team and I was offered work experience and subsequently some freelance work. I still have a contract with the BBC so I wouldn’t rule out doing something with them in the future.
The Financial Times was a result of lots of networking. I met a very kind editor who took me for coffee and I managed to convince that the media was what I wanted to do. He managed to help me secure an internship (minus the interview) which was very lucky for me. My internship was on the U.K Companies desk and I managed to get several articles published in the paper and online. It was a brilliant experience from eavesdropping on the Lex Column, grilling CEOs on their quarterly numbers and lastly meeting Lionel Barber at the Monday Meeting. All in all this was a brilliant and memorable experience.
After graduating from the London School of Economics I ran straight into the City and I ended up at a boutique investment management company – City Financial. Much of what I did here was actually M&A/Corporate Development so buying up asset management companies in the UK and Europe. I learnt a lot here in a very short space of time but ultimately I believe working in M&A is not the best way for a smart graduate to spend their early years with the view of these ‘magical exit opportunities’ people talk about after you’ve paid your dues as an analyst. The problem here is many people from the LSE get sucked into this whirlpool and churned out of the City after 2-3 years. I didn’t want to end up that way and for most of my peers they realize very quickly it is a bad trade off. Of course this isn’t a universal statement I have many friends and family working in front office positions at banks who are extremely good at what they do and enjoy it. Although, saying all of this I actually met a CEO of a very prestigious bank who admitted that ‘The City is not the real road to glory.’
After several months working on very similar things I realized this was not what I wanted to do with my career. It was at this point I really got super interested in venture capital and internet start-ups something that had been building up for me over the past 12 months.
So after City Financial, you decided to go and work for Groupon, why Groupon? Why didn’t you just start a company, I’m sure you probably had a lot of ideas running through your head for businesses at the time?
I’d followed Groupon since after its first year (they grossed $200m in sales by that time) so they’d began to dominate the technology press. I also thought it was an interesting business model so I sent off an application and received an interview invitation. I was interviewed for a position in the Strategic Planning team – these are the guys who broker the deals, set the price point, capacity limits, what cities a deal will/can run in etc and essentially run the company. This was my first brush with what a start-up looks like and the only word to describe it was – chaos.
As for starting my own thing, I’m in no rush to do it and I believe in doing something once and then doing it well. I don’t want to run lots of little experimental companies in the hope one hits it big. So right now I’m focused on developing strong skills and industry experience.
How was the whole experience working for Groupon? What would you say you learnt from that experience?
My role here involved a lot of research and analysis. I built an e-learning platform compiling the best deals over the past 18 months and broke down into minutiae detail how a given deal should be structured which was used by our sales team as a reference point. I also did a lot of presentation material work for the infamous Samwer brothers (respect to anyone who can flip a company after 5 months for $250m+) which was sent out to all the international directors for Groupon International. A few of the processes I managed to put in place are still being used by the team at Groupon. I also learnt a lot about how most of the consumer products we purchase every day are priced and structured which was pretty illuminating to see.
I also managed to source a deal that generated $1m+ in revenue for the firm but unfortunately, I wasn’t able to get a cut of the commission as I left shortly before the deal went live. (Painful lesson from 2011).
Before we get into the NEF, I learnt that you paid off your parent’s mortgage - in full? That’s really cool, they must be so proud of you, how did you manage to do that at such a young age?
At 16 I really found it practically impossible to find a job and the economy was booming at the time. So I took a long-term view and just started learning about investing in equities and how this all worked. Once I got to sixth form I was actually lucky enough to be eligible for EMA something I didn’t bother spending so I saved all of it instead. I spent a lot of time reading about investing and stock picking and decided this was far more useful than spending money frivolously on consumer goods.
I did well enough at investing by locking up my capital in an ISA stockbroker which at the time was giving me 3% per month – remember we were in the middle of a boom I even saw some ISAs were giving up to 7% per annum.
I’m not going to lie, I lost A LOT of money doing this as well through naivety and not enough research and possibly not being emotionally mature enough to know when to hold or sell. I did this all throughout sixth form and University and through a mix of luck and skill managed to amass enough capital over 5 years to pay off my parent’s mortgage.
Tell us about NEF, why did you decide this was the next step for you, what was the process?
I received an email from FreshMinds in Feb 2011 about the scheme and decided to apply. It was a VERY lengthy process involving:
An application form
A telephone interview with FreshMinds
A first round interview with FreshMinds
An Assessment Centre
After the Assessment Centre I received an offer to join the programme but the interview process had not finished and I would need to find a company to spend the year with. This meant two interviews with three different firms. So all in all, I must’ve done around 10 interviews for the entire NEF process.
What company are you currently working with and how’s the experience been so far for you?
I’m currently placed at Liv-ex where I’m working on mainly all the core operationally focused areas of the business: operations, finance, logistics, product development, data and research.
So far, its going really well. I’m learning a lot here and I get a lot of contact with all the senior people in the firm and the training has been pretty good so far. The best bit of the whole programme really is the level of responsibility I’ve been given and the number of things I get to work on.
What are some of the key things that you’ve learnt so far from working for Liv-ex?
From what I’ve observed and this is generally about what determines the success of a firm. The founders matter so much as well as their ability to focus on the right things and get them done. You also have to be very ruthless about priorities and its mind blowing the amount of decisions the founders have to make without really having an idea which one is going to lead to your success or give you the best trajectory.
I’ve also learnt managing your cash flow and having a strong cash position matters so much to the life of a young company.
What has it been like working with James Miles & Justin Gibbs at Liv-ex?
I work more with James to be honest who is really helpful and brings me to a lot of high level meetings, I get to sit down with him and go through my work and what I’ve been working on with him regularly. I also get to work across all arms of the business so by the end of the programme I will have a very strong understanding of how marketplace/electronic exchanges work.
Is this something that you would recommend to other aspiring entrepreneurs? What’s the value in it?
Yes completely but realize that its apprenticeship where you’ll still come in as an ‘entry level’ person but get to work directly with the senior people actually running the firm.
The real value I believe comes in several forms:
A) You are part of a group of 30 incredibly talented young people who are passionate about the same things as you are
B) You get training from several top multinational companies so you get credible training to compliment the work placement
C) There is a speaker series once a month from a panel of top business people in the U.K so the networking opportunities are brilliant
D) The type of work you will be exposed to is something that is usually reserved for director level and upwards
What would you say has been some of the key things that you’ve learnt along the way?
Key things that matter that I have found when starting a company:
A) Access to capital
B) A BIG market problem that is widely accepted that you can validate
C) A clear solution to this problem [could you explain it in 140 characters]
D) Many great businesses are hunches
E) If you take capital from investors you’ll be working for them on some level. Make sure you communicate with them regularly and select people who can help your business over the long-run
F) Great companies need great founders and a great team to execute
G) Great mentors are needed to help you along the way especially when things go wrong and things will go wrong!
What would you say has been some of your most memorable moment so far?
I wouldn’t say I’ve had one but the learning curve is very sharp, the responsibility plentiful and the autonomy wonderful. I don’t think I’m the type to accept micro management at all and I’m glad Liv-ex offers me an environment that gives me plenty of autonomy to tackle lots of different projects.
What advices would you give to aspiring entrepreneurs looking to start their own business?
I’m pretty reluctant about this and I don’t want to try sell everyone on bring entrepreneur. For most people it’s not the answer.
I don’t think I’m qualified to give advice but I’ve found the following useful:
1) Figure out if it is time to earn or time to learn (Mark Suster, VC GRP Partners wrote a very good blog post on this)
2) Do you have life’s ability to try ie no responsibilities, no dependents, no need to earn a minimum salary per month
3) If you want to start can you validate that there is a need for your product – it is not a business until someone sells something
4) Find good mentors to help and support you
5) Build a network and do it early as possible. One coffee meeting a week is 50 meetings per year, think how much you could achieve if you did that?
6) Read a lot and travel widely
7) Go do it!
So now - what’s next for Andrew?
I would be happy to stick around at Liv-ex after the programme. In the long-term I’d either like to do my own thing or join an early stage venture capital firm after I’ve got several years in start-ups. Two years after leaving University I’ve worked for two very successful internet companies backed by Angels and Silicon Valley Venture Capital firms so I think I’m on the right track. In the mean time I’m focusing on developing a lot of skills, learning about early stage companies, investing and developing strong relationships for the future.