I’ve been quietly following the work of Matthew Stafford through Twitter for a while now, watching him start so many interesting projects, his latest being Collider12, I thought it was about time I got him on YHP to share his story.
Hi Matthew, Thanks for doing this. How are you doing today?
Not at all –I’m very well, thanks – hope you are too.
Can you give us some background information about yourself?
Sure – in the last couple of years I’ve worked at Pembridge Partnership where I’ve been able to help startups get investment and last year I set up Collider12, the UK’s first ‘B2Brand’ accelerator, which invests in startups with smart tech to help brands sell more products. The startups get £100k each and a year’s worth of support, mentoring and connections to brands and investors. There’s more on that here – http://collider12.com
Last year I also set up Student Upstarts – http://studentupstarts.com - with my co-founder Christian Jakenfelds. Our investor is Nick Wheeler who started Charles Tyrwhitt whilst at university and thinks that being a student or recent graduate is the best time to start a business. Nick invests up to £15k for an 8% stake and Christian and I help the startups set up and grow.
The networking group 9others – http://9others.com - that I also co-founded last year helps with the above as I run good meals with 9others to discuss the ‘business of business’. This is done twice a month in London and now we have good people hosting good meals with 9others in six other countries.
I love the startup scene in London – I managed to get Y Combinator Harj Taggar to come to London when I created YCLDN – http://ycldn.com.
Finally I also help out at UCL on their MSc in Technology Entrepreneurship.
I have a degree in Software Engineering from Durham University and an MBA from Imperial College.
Tell me how you initially got into business?
I always liked business and trying to make money – hustling I guess. I rented out videos to other pupils when I was at school because my parents were one of the few to have Sky TV at the time. I also started a t-shirt company when I was 19 to embroider logos onto t-shirt, mostly for pubs. After that I got rather side-tracked by working for corporates – I got into IT around in 1999 and did my bit for the Y2K bug. A lot of it was good fun and enough to make me want to study for a degree fulltime at the age of 27 in 2003. After that I became less and less satisfied working for larger companies and I did a part time MBA at Imperial College to hopefully give me some direction as the appeal of entrepreneurship was still there but somehow I (wrongly) believed that I should be an investment banker or management consultant.
After the MBA I took a job at Pembridge Partnership, which at the time was made up of four partners and two staff, of which I was one. Pembridge is a very entrepreneurial place, having been set up by entrepreneurs to help others achieve their dreams and through this I learned a great deal about the ‘business of business’ and had the chance to start Student Upstarts and 9others.
How did the idea for Student Upstarts come about?
Since I studied Software Engineering at university I’ve believed that the talented students in computer science departments could start and grow some amazing businesses if they had a bit of money, a team and some help from a good network – I would certainly have benefited So this idea stuck with me and I wanted to start an accelerator for students after my MBA. Around that time I met Christian (Jakenfelds, co-founder) who wanted to do similar – Christian had already met with Nick Wheeler and convinced him to invest in students so we started Student Upstarts together and targeted good student teams across London.
Tell me about the early days, what was the hardest part of getting it off the ground?
The legals! Investing in students is obviously quite risky so we had to get the legals right from the start – this took longer and cost more than we hoped but now it’s all done it runs pretty smoothly.
What is Student Upstarts? And what are you trying to solve with it?
We want students and recent graduates to realise that they’re absolutely capable of starting their own business right now – they do not need to wait and a corporate graduate scheme certainly won’t help them prepare!
What kind of traits do you look for before investing in a startup? And what kind of advises can you give to any student looking to raise funds for their startup?
We look for an amazing team – are these really the guys to execute well on their idea. It’s much better to have the best team with an average idea (that may well change very quickly) than an average team and a great idea.
9others sounds like a great way of getting entrepreneurs together over a good meal, why did you decide to start this, or how did it all begin?
We (co-founder Katie and I) wanted to do something high value for entrepreneurs to come together and discuss the business issues they were having. We love eating out so combined the two.
What are your plans for it?
Well, in the last year or so it seems to have been useful for entrepreneurs in London where we run the dinners twice per month. In this time almost 250 different people have been to the meals. We wanted to be helpful to more people so asked good people to host the meals in other cities. So far we’ve had dinners in Barcelona, Singapore and New York with dinners planned for Hong Kong, Berlin and Riga. We believe that business issues are best solved over a good meal with others and our mantra is that, “Your success requires the aid of others” so we should be doing more good meals in 2013.
You’re also one of the co-founder of Collider12, tell us more about this and what you hope to achieve with it?
Collider12 is a ‘B2Brand’ accelerator where we invest in startups with smart tech that helps brands sell more products. We have some great brands involved including BBC Worldwide, William Hill, Bosch plus investment from Unilever and Bauer Media.
The aim is that all of the startups get trials with major brands by the end of the 13 week ‘Collision Phase’ then we will continue to support them throughout 2013 (and hopefully beyond) to help them raise their next round of investment.
What would you say has been the highlight of your entrepreneurial journey so far?
Back in September 2011 I created YCLDN - http://ycldn.com - and managed to persuade Y Combinator partner Harj Taggar to come to London for the event. This made me realise that I was capable of having an idea and executing well to make it a reality. YCLDN was the catalyst for the many other things I’ve done since.
What should we be expecting from you for the rest of 2013?
More student entrepreneurs! Student Upstarts is now delivering Startup Loans for young people to start and grow their own business. This coupled with equity investment, another ‘Collider’ later in the year and many more good meals with 9others will make it a great year.
The next Student Upstarts meet-up is on Tuesday 19th February and all entrepreneurial students should signup here ->> http://studentupstartsmeetup2.eventbrite.co.uk
Lastly, what three pieces of advice would you offer entrepreneurs starting out today?
1. Get going and sell something – don’t be distracted by investment – treat the business as a project to begin with and just get going to see if someone will part with their money for the product/service you’re offering.
2. Be helpful – when times are tough people remember their friends
3. In the words of Seth Godin – cause a ruckus!
On Saturday 9th March we will be hosting, alongside Brightside, ‘Get Up Start Up‘ where you will be able to apply and be approved for a Startup loan of between £2,500 & £10,000 to help you get your business started!