Jake went from working in an online record label (MudHut Digital) twice a week in his first year of university to staring up Going Social. He currently works with Alex Kelleher at Cognitive Match as part of the NEF program.
Jake talks us through his journey so far in the latest interview from the NEF interview series.
Hi Jake, Great to have you on YHP, How are you doing today?
Good thanks. Love this winter sun.
Can you give us some brief background information about yourself before we dive into the interview proper?
Grew up in London, and then I studied ‘The History and Philosophy of Science’ at UCL. It was a great marriage between Science and Philosophy, thought I was going to end up an academic. However, I started a business while I was there, and that propelled me in a different direction.
So Jake, tell me about yourself growing up? What was your ambition? Were you the entrepreneurial - making a quick buck type?
Yes and no really. Wasn’t driven hugely by entrepreneurial stuff, in fact I used to always talk about living in a cave in Tibet (which is not off the agenda just yet). However, there were flashes of it when I was at school, coached Poker and ran Poker Tournaments for clients and had a few cheeky businesses on the go here and there. I’ve always been a hopeless optimist, I think that helps.
When did you get your first taste of entrepreneurship, what was your first business project?
When I was about 6, I convinced my little sister that it would be a good idea to set up a stall outside our house. The enterprise was not a success. Turns out people don’t like buying chalk wrapped up in sweet wrappers. I tried to push the business on and sell “fresh” rainwater, I was front of house while my sister was left catching droplets into old Orangina bottles.
You graduated from UCL, tell us about your experience at the university?
I grew up in South London, so by going to UCL I was able to experience what it is like living in central, north and east. That was cool. The course was great, got heavily into philosophy of physics went a bit crazy while doing a dissertation on ‘backwards in time causation in quantum mechanics.’
What would you say was some of the biggest lessons you took away from your university experience?
For some unknown anthropological reason, if you join sports team in university, be prepared for a bizarre cult-like obsession with drinking games.
I know a lot of people are choosing to go straight into work or starting their own business instead. What would you say to anyone contemplating between going to university and going straight into work?
You’ll never get 0% interest loans again, if you can get on a course you will enjoy go for it. Don’t force yourself through a course you don’t enjoy because you think it will help you later.
During your time at university, you also founded a startup - Going Social, tell us how the idea came about?
From enternships.com I took a job twice a week at an online record label (MudHut Digital) in my first year of university. Their business model promoted artists using social media and take a cut off iTunes. I thought I could do this for SME’s on some scale; I did some consultancy, made some contacts and then got a great team together.
What is Going Social?
My elevator pitch was – “Creativity combined with analytics.” It was a digital agency, that offered a range of services for cheaper than all the big names. We picked up the guys who didn’t have the big marketing budgets but desperately needed to communicate effectively online. It worked.
Tell us about the early days of turning it from an idea to what it is now, what challenges did you face?
Going Social actually is no more. I was intending to hire a load of people and take it to the next level but then I got into NEF, which is ironic but I thought it would be a good idea to learn more. Also, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to be a social media agency. I saw that space was crowded and more and more tools were becoming available to brands to keep stuff in-house.
How were you able to balance school and running a business?
Quite a few essays were late in my second year. I got a 2:1 but you have to take some hits. I was getting very good at writing 3,000 words in two days.
How were you able to fund it?
It was a fairly cheap operation, some of the team put some money in but the first client saw us through.
So how did you get involved in NEF? How did you find out about it? How did you know this was the next step for you?
I read it in the paper, and a few people sent through the link to me. I thought it would be a good opportunity to learn some more about different industries and how people run things.
What has it been like working with the founder - Alex Kelleher at Cognitive Match?
I knew Alex from my Going Social days. Now I know how busy he is, I appreciate those times where he met me to talk through my own business. It is good to work with him definitely, he’s a smart guy.
What are you personally trying to achieve from working at the company?
I don’t really have a personal agenda, I think it is important to go with the flow, stay flexible.
Learn as much as I can and add as much value as I can. You will have to ask Alex about the latter but I have learnt a lot.
What would you say has been some of the key things that you’ve learnt so far?
Display advertising is an industry I did not have much exposure to before. Cognitive Match are revolutionising this sector since they change the online experience for both brands and consumers by eliminating generic ads and creating content that is tailored to individuals. On top of that, the results you get from a relevant display campaign are very useful since the insights can inform all your advertising efforts. Knowing that one particular ad is attracting the most interest with people in NW1.. using iPads.. when it is warm outside.. on Saturday afternoon.. is the kind of information advertisers crave.
What would you say has been the most challenging part of the whole process?
Turning off after you leave work. It is very important. You can find yourself bashing out emails at 11pm but it can be counter-productive.
To anyone thinking of joining the programme, what value can they expect to get from it?
Everyone who is on the programme this year is great, which makes the training even more enjoyable. The content of the programme ranges from financial training from Deloitte all the way to how to think properly! For example, one time we got in and we had to make, market and pitch our own new brand of chocolate to a deadline.. another time we had the Mclarren Innovation Team come in and explain how they operate and maximize results. It is a great range of activities.
What has been your most memorable moment up to date?
I was on a sales pitch in New York which was pretty cool. I remember thinking ‘wow my British accent makes me sound so clever!’ It obviously didn’t apart from in my smug head.
After NEF, what’s next for you?
I’ve got loads of plans, but I’m sure I’ll end up doing something I never planned for.