East and Lester has come a long way since showcasing their garments at a business show in Earls Court. I caught up with one of the co-founders of the company, Samuel Aderounmu to learn more about his journey.
The full interview is below
Hi Samuel, great to have you on YHP, how are you doing today?
I’m doing great, thanks for asking. It’s a glorious day with plenty of Spring sunshine, which always puts me in a great mood!
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?
Sure. I’m 23, Nigerian/British, and currently based in London where I live and work. I graduated from the University of Leicester in 2009 with a degree in Financial Economics, following which I completed an MSc in Finance and Investment at Durham Business School. I now work in an Investment Bank but also run a business with my friend Yemi.
So Samuel, tell me how you got into entrepreneurship, what was your motivation?
I’ve always had a love of business, which I believe that I inherited from my parents. Before I was old enough to remember, my dad had retired from his banking career to pursue several business interests. My mum was also very business-minded – producing hair and beauty products in Lagos, Nigeria. Growing up around such entrepreneurs certainly rubbed off on me. I would say my motivation has always been centred on my love for variety and a challenge. Starting and running a successful business is exactly the type of challenge that keeps me interested!
What was your first business, tell us about your experience running that?
My first insight into business was actually an eBay business, back when I was still in secondary school. The concept was very simple, import mp3 players from China and sell on eBay (back in the days when the iPod was only just emerging). The experience was not so straightforward however, I got ripped off a couple of times with suppliers sending items I didn’t order/counterfeit goods. As you can imagine, after that I wasn’t so keen to pursue that idea and realized I wasn’t ready to take on such a business and decided to focus on my GCSEs. I would say it was a great experience, in that it taught me a lot about the risks of doing business, and what factors to consider next time.
After that business, what else did you get involved in?
I didn’t get involved with any other ventures until I got to the University of Leicester, where I had the opportunity to revive a failing society.
So you went to the University of Leicester? How was the experience, a lot more people are deciding to go into entrepreneurship straight after school rather going to university, what made you realise that this was the right choice for you?
Going to university was probably the best decision I could have made at the time. I matured a great deal in the three years I was studying for my Bachelors. I also came to know myself a lot more, around what motivates me, and what I wanted to get out of my life. A major factor in deciding to go to University for me was that I saw a degree as something I could always fall back on….and three years at Uni would be a great deal of fun too!
At the time that I was deciding to go to University, I had a good idea of what type of career I wanted to pursue – although entrepreneurship was my long term goal, I saw a career in banking as a way to open many doors and prepare me with the skills I would need to be successful in business.
You became Vice-President of the Afro Caribbean Society in your second year of university, how did that happen? How was the experience running the society, especially reviving a failing society as you said earlier and some of the opportunities It brought you?
I actually set out to be Treasurer of the ACS, but as fate would have it, I ended up being the VP. The person running for President moved on to another Univeristy, my current business partner Yemi, got promoted to President, and I took his position as VP. That turned out to be a very fortunate turn of events for us as friends and business partners.
The experience of running the society was certainly very challenging, but equally as rewarding. When we took over leadership, the society was suffering low morale, even lower expectations, and had no money in the account. However, through some great ideas and the hardwork of the whole ACS team, we were able to turn it around to the point where we were nominated for Society of the year. Both Yemi and I would say that the experience of running that Society is what confirmed our passion for entrepreneurship.
Is this something that you would recommend to other university students?
I would definitely recommend getting involved in the running/leadership of extra-curricular activities at University, be it a Sports club or Society. Involvement in the management of a Society is a great way to challenge yourself, and you will learn a lot of practical business skills that you probably wouldn’t learn from the academic portion of University life. In the one year that Yemi and I were managing the ACS, we learned a lot about advertising, marketing, accounting, conflict resolution, people management, stakeholder management, resource planning and forecasting, the list goes on.
So straight after university, you decide to intern at Goldman Sachs and then a MSc in Finance and Investment at Durham Business School?
Correct – I wanted to gain an insight into whether my desired career in banking was anything like I was expecting. So I applied for several internships and was over the moon when I got an offer from Goldman Sachs to intern in the Global Investment Research division in the summer of 2009. The MSc was something I always planned to do even while I was still studying for my Bachelors.
Tell me about your experience at Goldman Sachs, what would you say were some of the key things that you learnt from that experience?
The experience was a very challenging one, which is probably why I enjoyed it so much. The long hours (typically 7am-7pm, often longer) would fly-by as the days were busy and there was always a lot to learn. The key things I learned from the experience would be time management, stakeholder (customer/supplier) management, and the value of integrity. In the real world, ‘blagging it’ is not an option. You must have the substance to back up any ideas you’re presenting. These are all lessons that we apply to the way we run our business now.
Why a Msc, I mean I’m pretty sure by then you were already buzzing with ideas for start a business? Why further your study?
In my final year at Uni, I decided to apply for MSc courses. Although I was already buzzing with ideas for business, I thought I would probably never want to return to education once I started working/business. I saw an MSc in Finance and Investment as an opportunity to develop a more robust financial grounding and acquire practical skills that I would be able to apply whether in business or the workplace.
How did you meet your co-founder?
I am in business with my university housemate and good friend Yemi. We met in our first week at the University of Leicester, both studying Economics, and quickly came to learn that we had many common interests, most relevant of which are entrepreneurship and men's style/ fashion (although neither of us would actually say we follow fashion!).
Tell me how the idea for East & Lester came about?
After Uni, Yemi interned with Ozwald Boateng on Savile Row. I was invited to Ozwald's flagship 25th year anniversary runway show at the end of London Fashion week. It was that event that provided the inspiration for us to launch our own men's custom/ semi-bespoke tailoring company. We identified that there is a large market for affordable, custom tailoring, because most people couldn't afford the Savile Row prices (typically upwards of £2000 for a bespoke suit).
What is East & Lester? Tell me more about the company
East & Lester is simply a company that offers made to measure / Custom made suits and shirts. We currently focus on men only, but we are working on expanding our products and services to women in the year ahead. The company has been around since the end of 2010, and we have seen a steady increase in clients and sales in the period we’ve been running.
Are you guys profitable?
Thankfully, yes we are. We have been profitable from very early on in the business. Yemi and I worked to a very strict start-up budget which, coupled with the unique business model, meant that we were able to start realising profits within 2-3 months of operating.
What kind of challenges did you face when starting the company and how did you deal with it?
As I mentioned, we were basically bootstrapping when we started the company. That was mainly because we preferred to build the company without any external investment, and we had experience in building up a profitable venture from practically nothing whilst at Uni. The major challenge we faced was that we had to learn to do practically everything ourselves. For example, our website www.eastandlester.com was designed and built entirely from scratch by Yemi and I. I spent a lot of time learning the technical aspects, whilst Yemi worked on things like copywriting and SEO optimisation. We were able to play to our strengths, which I think is key to our success.
How were you able to juggle running the business and studying for your Msc?
That wasn’t much of a problem as we started the business in September 2010, which was around the time I submitted my dissertation!
What are some of the key things that you’ve learnt so far on your entrepreneurial journey?
1. Don’t take no for an answer
2. If you can’t afford to pay someone to do it, invest in yourself and learn to do it yourself
3. Google is your best friend for all kinds of research/solutions to problems (the internet taught me how to build a website)
4. Surround yourself with positive, like-minded people. This is what I love about platforms such as YHP!
What would you say has been some of your most memorable moment so far?
Two moments stay in my mind:
1. The first time Yemi and I wore our East & Lester garments was to a business show at Earls Court. We received many compliments about them, and each time we told people our company made them, the look of disbelief on their faces (probably down to our youthful looks) was always quite satisfying!
2. Being asked by a soon to be married client to take on the duty of dressing him and his seven groomsmen. Not only is that the biggest single order we’ve undertaken, it is also humbling to have the opportunity to play such an important role on such a significant occasion as a Wedding.
What advices would you give to aspiring entrepreneurs looking to start their own business?
I think my advice to aspiring entrepreneurs would be the same advice Yemi and I followed. That is simply to work hard and persevere with their business ideas, until they become a reality. Coming up with ideas is often easy, but what makes the difference (and is more difficult) is being able to execute those ideas into something profitable. Obviously, plan, plan and plan some more, to ensure that you have all bases covered, and that the idea really is feasible and that your expectations are realistic, even if optimistic.
What can we be expecting from you and East & Lester in the future?
At East & Lester, we remain focused on maintaining the quality of our products and services. That has been, and will continue to be the foundation of our expanding client base (which has been driven solely by referrals thus far). We are now operating in two continents, but aim to have a presence across all continents within 5 years.
From Yemi and I, you can expect to see more products/services within the luxury goods/services space. Our mission is to redefine luxury because we believe luxury and expensive should not be synonymous. We have many more ideas in the incubator, all of which are founded on that same premise.