"We need more great entrepreneurs to drag the UK out of the economic doldrums" He said.
When Tom starts to speak about his entrepreneurial journey, you can sense and begin to understand how long he's been involved in the UK startup scene, although he might portray a more reserved profile than other entrepreneurs. Don't be fooled, he's pretty much, been there and done it all.
Tom Adeyoola is the CEO/founder of Metail, a revolutionary body shape and garment fit visualisation company which allows users to create their very own personal 3D body model from just two uploaded photos.
Hi Tom, How are you doing, great to have you on YHP?
It is great to have been invited. I am always supportive of all things entrepreneurial. We need more great entrepreneurs to drag the UK out of the economic doldrums.
Could you quickly give us some background information about yourself? Tell me about yourself growing up?
I’m half Norwegian and half Nigerian and speak fluent Norwegian. With working class parents I was fortunate to be smart enough to get a scholarship to St. Paul’s and from there went on to study Economics at Cambridge. I’m not to be confused with the other Norwegian-Nigerian from my year at Cambridge, the funnier and more successful Richard Ayoade. I’m in a different type of IT Crowd.
How did you get into business? Were you exposed to entrepreneurship as a child?
Entrepreneurship as a child – no. The closest I got to it was running a Young Enterprise company in my last year at school.
However, I’ve always wanted to achieve and make a difference in the world. Internships at banks failed to inspire having interned for Citibank whilst at University and I could never reconcile the rewards to what essentially felt like pushing paper and numbers around a spreadsheet. I trained as a consultant with ZS Associates after University and tried to set up an internet startup for e-greetings cards and gifts with a friend of mine from school. We managed to get ridiculous meetings, but felt that we were too late to the internet party, especially as a US competitor called Flooz with Whoopi Goldberg as their star celebrity was about to come to Europe.
We also on the side did work taking initial evaluation meetings for a VC (I still remember the seasoned veterans from Getty Images and Oracle trying to suppress their surprise and indignation of having to present to a couple of 21 year olds in a West End hotel…but then again their business idea ‘One little piggy’ was execrable) and gradually built a network in the internet world. It was from that and the ‘First Tuesday club’ that I ended up joining Sportal.com. From there I had a career of being the smart strategy guy working for senior management at Sportal, Hutchison 3G UK (which became the network ‘3’) and Marquis Jet Europe (working for my old CEO from Sportal as Head of Strategy), before taking some time out to reassess. I then spent some time managing my best friend’s band, Bussetti (go track the music down!), before taking on a blue chip job with Warner Bros.
It was utterly boring after years in start-ups and confirmed to me that start-ups were where I belonged and ones with new business models and disruptive technologies in particular. After debating doing an MBA I ended up joining Inspired Gaming Group and gaining the missing skills I needed to be ready to create my own venture. I learnt how to take a product all the way from concept to full realised and internationalised roll out, having built the Casino division, and most importantly gained the experience of how to manage a big team including people older than me. This last piece of the jigsaw puzzle set me up to have the confidence to create Metail.
Who was your inspiration growing up and why?
My Norwegian grandfather I guess. He had to leave school at 13 to start working as the eldest of 4 siblings after his father died and was someone who always did today what you shouldn’t wait until tomorrow to do. He built his own house and built that capability into his children (it seems to have skipped a generation as I am useless at DIY!). He made the best with what he had and had a full and rich lifestyle. My sister and I spent wondrous summer holidays with my grandparents growing up. I guess what I am trying to say is that the pursuit of money does not equal the pursuit of happiness. Instead you should be focused on making the most of your skills and time on this earth to make a difference.
What was the inspiration behind Metail? How did the idea come about?
It was a combination of two things: firstly a meeting with Professor Roberto Cipolla at Cambridge university and secondly my girlfriend’s (now wife) complaints about the pains and frustration of clothes shopping. In particular it was seeing Professor Roberto’s research work on going from photos of Anthony Gormley statues to 3D accurate models that stuck in the mind. Putting that together with the experience of my girlfriend having some clothes tailor-made in Hoi An, Vietnam, whilst on holiday in Vietnam it felt like the time was right to finally solve the problem of online clothing fit. That feeling got stronger the more and more I researched the market until I was compelled to leave my job and start Metail despite entering the worst economic crisis of our generation.
So Tom, what is Metail? What are you guys are trying to solve?
Metail is a revolutionary body shape and garment fit visualisation company that allows users to create their very own personal 3D body model from just two uploaded photos to try on clothes and see how they fit. We want to create and empower everyone’s online body identity, so that whenever they are involved in a social or transactional experience involving their body that experience would be improved and augmented by accessing their Metail body model.
What was your biggest challenge during the starting up phase?
Keeping going and solving the three challenges I set ourselves to solve to prove that we could have a viable business:
1. Could we produce 3D versions of people from just 2 photos
2. Could we digitise garments exceptionally cheaply and quickly
3. Could we solve the size and fit relationship between garments and people
How have you been able to fund the business?
Through networking to build up an investor group of friends, family, fools and high net worth individuals.
Raising money is always such a hot topic, how were you able to get such great investors onboard?
Network, network, network. Have a plan with milestones and objectives and work hard to deliver against them. If you do that then you build up credibility with your network, who then open up their network to you, because you become someone who does what they say they will. And on the subject of networking, meet and talk to interesting people, not people you think might be able to give you money.
Interesting people are people other people want to know and if you have a great conversation then they will remember you and the connection will pay back even if it might take a year or more until they meet that person that they connect to you who will have a positive impact on your business. My rule of thumb is to aim to have two good conversations at a networking event. If I manage that then I can leave, even if that is within 30 mins of arriving.
Also, ‘pay it forward’, i.e. connect people and do favours before they do so for you and remember that your life and career is about building connections, credibility and a reputation.
People invest first and foremost in people, so if they are going to invest in you, which is going to be at the very least a 3 year relationship, then they need to be able to know they can trust you and have faith in your ability to deliver and execute.
What are the most crucial things you have done to grow your business?
Build a great team of people to execute and deliver against our aspirations and plans.
Would you say the business has changed from the first initial idea?
The fundamental idea is the same, but the route to market and order of product execution has changed along the way.
What would you say has been the highlight of your entrepreneurial journey so far?
Convincing exceptionally talented and passionate people to come and work for me.
What can we be expecting from Metail in 2012?
Major retailer launches from the end of the summer and our new body and garment model technology release. We have had 5 PhDs working on the latest technology release for the last 9 months, so I am very excited by that and the new product features that will unlock.
What three pieces of advice would you offer entrepreneurs starting out today?
1. Network, network, network
2. Admit what you don’t know and find people to help you with those areas
3. Conservative is not conservative: everything takes at least 3 times longer than your most conservative estimates