Episode 62: From raising over £200m to becoming a VC and trying to solve the “pipeline” problem with Ezechi Britton Principal at Impact X Capital and Co-founder of Neyber
In this episode Philip sat down with Ezechi Britton Principal at Impact X Capital and Co-founder of Neyber to talk about his journey so far. From growing up in Lewisham with his parents who were teachers to finding his way into investment banking and later as a co-founder to a startup that would go on to raise £200m. Ezechi touches on moonlighting Neyber while still working as an engineer at an investment bank and why he believes entrepreneurs should keep cashflow coming at all costs until they can transition out and work on a project full time.
You know, I went from living by Lake Zurich to spending the next year and a half living in my parents spare bedroom in lewisham back in lotion on no income right building this product building this business. And you know, if you fast forward from where we were where we started as three co-founders me building the technology doing maybe for loans and our first year to where we are now five years later.
Hey guys, welcome to start up hand-me-downs the podcast that passes insights from Founders and thought leaders down to the Next Generation. I’m your host Phillip consumer and thank you so much for giving me your time. I promise it will be worth it.
today I had the pleasure of interviewing as a cheap Britain who is the founding member and principal investor at impact X? As you remember I interviewed Eric Collins, who was the CEO and founder of impact x capital, which is a VC fund focused on investing in diverse found. Is that she had a super interesting story starts in golf as an investment banking technologist to then co-founding neighbor, which is one of the UK’s most well-funded fintech startups.
They raised over 200 million pounds from the lights of the UK police force pension fund to Goldman Sachs and a number of. High-profile top-tier investment Banks and this episode we cover a lot of ground talking about as edges early career working at Lehman Brothers as an investment technologist, which is quite interesting for him watching the whole financial collapse and the.
Demise of Lehman Brothers to building the technology while still working full-time at credits with before eventually transitioning out of a full-time role on going full-time on neighbor super great episode loads of insights loads of honest truths about his ecchi. So sit back relax and enjoy the show.
Thank you so much for coming on the show today
when you are out and about how do you introduce yourself to people?
I usually say I my name’s as a cheap Britain, but everyone calls me as. the automatically give them your name. Yeah, always do just makes life easier back. Absolutely your own that that’s that’s the whole point.
All right, because. It’s funny growing up in the UK. I got called so many different things as a cheesy cheesy key as a guy as each. Yeah, exactly. Then it just got shortened overtime down to two heirs. Okay, and then next I guess what follows is so what do you do is actually yeah that’s less brilliant question.
Up until now. I’ve really had a hard time answering that one because what what is it that I do? So I do so many different things but now I introduce myself as a principal and founder and CTO. Sorry, I introduced myself as a principal and CTO and residents for impact x capital. So a hundred million pound Venture Capital fund investing in underrepresented entrepreneurs.
Yes, we had your. Colleague know podcast last week. Absolutely Eric the illustrious Erica Lindsay illustrious, Eric Collins. Yes, but I definitely want to get you on because I think obviously you two have very different backgrounds. Yep. So I thought it was very very useful it. I thought it would be very useful rather to have you on the show.
So before we get into impact X some of the great work that you guys are doing and going to do talk to me about like early career because as you said, you’re the ctOS, obviously. An engineer by trade, I guess, you know, you’re a Founder your serial entrepreneur, you definitely downplayed your intro, but that’s fine.
But I knew you were going to ask. Yeah, that’s just leave it for you there. Yeah, so talk to me about early career. So you’re from London originally, correct? That’s right. So I grew up in lewisham South East London. Poof. No. No, it’s off area. Flick identifies. Absolutely absolutely coffee shops in a tea shops.
Yeah, there were no coffee shops back then maybe the occasional Bakery is it was a cool area lots lots going on really but. I didn’t really go out that much. I didn’t party that much. I think it’s more what I remember in my youth is more the schools that I went to so I went to I won’t name it but the school I went to was not a not a great school.
It was in the south east of London as well in the lewisham bar. But you know, this was a school that got a 5/8 see pass rate of 14% were one for yeah, exactly. So you can imagine didn’t have the greatest experience at GCSE level for various reasons, and I was Keen to get out of that school as soon as I could.
So as soon as I had the opportunity, I talked my way into an a-level College because I’ll be perfectly honest. I hadn’t quite achieved the GCSE grades. I wanted to because at the time. I was smart, but I didn’t have the the learning habit because at the school that I went to learning wasn’t was an interesting wasn’t cool wasn’t it?
Wasn’t what you did and I guess the teachers weren’t pressing you as well. But to be fair, I don’t want to be harsh on the teachers the teachers did what they could within the environment they were in but you know. This was a school where there were kids in my classroom in our hearts, and I’m absolutely honest with you who when asked what do they want to do when they grow up the answer was I want to be on the door?
Right that that’s the kind of school. I went to have a American listenership. So can explain to them. What is the doll? So the Dole Is welfare. So at the school I went to some of these kids greatest aspiration in life was to be on welfare. That’s the school. I went in you wonder why. Data, 14:5 a to see GCSE past wrote and I think that was like the highest it’s been for about 10 years.
So yeah, it was an awful school. I did not enjoy it didn’t want to be there and as soon as it was over, I was happy to get out but I wanted to I wanted to succeed my parents had instilled into me the value of Education from an early day both my parents were teachers. My dad actually ended up being illusion counselor for over 20 years.
So I had strong desire to succeed just not necessarily the peer group within which to do it, but that’s important is it is it really is? Absolutely and you know, your what Your World is only as wide as a people inhabit. All right, you vocab is only as strong as the words that you know, and if you you’re if your horizons are so small and so narrow.
It’s very difficult to see beyond that. Yes, and you know that that’s a lesson I learned over and over and over as I went through my career, but after leaving that school and then went to a sixth form college and I thought I’d learned my lessons, but I hadn’t and by that point, you know, I did a maths physics and computer science a levels, but unfortunately.
I messed them up. I failed I spent more time playing video games and training karate trained martial art since I was 13 years old, but I spent more time doing that and I did studying and I ended up failing my a-levels and then I still remember being up in my bedroom over that summer can remember ones ones.
That must have been 1996. No. 1998. It would have been and my dad coming up to see what was on because I hadn’t been downstairs for ages. It’s like you just been hanging around in your room or week what’s going on and said well, you know, I failed my a-levels and I remember my dad looking at me and I’m sat there thinking, you know, my dad’s teacher.
Yeah, trust me. It’s not going to be happy about this. He just turned and said to me look, what are you going to do about it? And that was it. Those are the only words he said and often joke that I wish I could say that I got off my bed put on my Superman cape ran downstairs cracked on my levels didn’t quite work out that way, but I did realize look I need to do something about this.
It’s no longer enough of I can’t keep using. The school I went to as an excuse for not applying myself such a waste of talent failing my levels when I know I can do more than that. I just realized look I really need to do something about this. I need to make some effort. I need to make some Headway and I need to think about what’s coming next.
So I went back to my college talk to my way back into my a-levels convinced. My my physics teacher was one of the toughest teachers in the school. To let me back in and that heat the thing is is that he knew I was capable. He knew I was smart and he had said to me the year before your problem is you’re too smart.
But you lazy all right and physics and maths know exactly exactly, you know, you can do it exactly so he knew I could sew but he wanted to see and me that I was going to do the work and you know, we talked and talked and talked and in the end as I look fine do it, but I want to see you apply yourself and I did and I did okay and then do.
But I did enough to get to the next to get to the next step and I realized at that point. I really really need to figure out a way to deal with my poor track record now, right because in the world of work, especially at the early stages, it’s all about proven track record. All right, and I knew I didn’t have a good one.
So I had initially wanted to go to Manchester University. That wasn’t going to happen. I then started looking at well. I want to do a year industry. So an industrial placement year as part of my computer science degree. So I wanted to do Computing because actually what I wanted to do was get into video game design video game programming and eventually set up my own video game Studio.
That was that was a vision when I was a teenager as either get into prep video game programming. Or become a vet those. That’s a nice and mighty Choice. Yeah, I know right. I wanted to be a vet because I just add a real thing. I loved animals man. I’d cats since I grew up and I loved animals and I had a choice I said, what do I do so I decided to do.
A work experience placement at a vet and hated it this this was this was before it was while still school. Okay, cool, and I hated it and at that point I realized now computers are the way for ya and I’d had a love for videogames ever since playing Double Dragon in Saxon Saxon Crown lady well bars, and at that time, I remember my parents were.
I’m worried about letting me play them because it was very much a case of well, you know, it’s addictive it’s this it’s that and I always joke my dad, you know, you didn’t want me to get into computer programming right?
Sometimes you got to do what you feel is right for you right always listen to your parents are Fountain of Knowledge Road, and you’ll miss it when it’s not there but. Ultimately only you can live with your life decisions. Yeah, you impact other people but it’s you who has to live with it. Right?
So you’ve got to back yourself, you know, these are all things that you pick up over time. So then you finish this so you read you a levels. Yeah you doing this pet internship or part time job you you like this is dead and then. You eventually go to university, right? Yeah. So I selected the University of Kent Canterbury at the end because it was a university that was well renowned for computer science and add a year in industry.
And at that point. I really kicked into high gear really applied myself. I was doing really well. And in your third year, you have to pick you have to find yourself an industrial placement for a whole year because my thinking was well, it should be a lot easier for me to get that as part of my computer science degree.
And by that point I’ll have a Year’s worth of experience and that will override my proven track record right now. I was right to do this. I didn’t realize how rights I was at the time that University was a son campus. So it was a Java campus son partner. It was known for computer science by the end of the year.
I was one of three you still didn’t have a placement. I’d failed to get into Microsoft IBM son core design. Eidos at the time all sorts of organizations companies are applied for just no one was interested why because of my my a-levels and my gcses. So I made the right decision, but I still haven’t gotten over that hump and then out of the blue.
I got a phone call at Lehman Brothers and say look would like you to come in with the Investment Bank saying we’d like you to come in for you know, we got your application. We’d like you to come in for an interview and I remember thinking. Who’s I had a Lehman Brothers? And when I was leaving Brothers boys and Investment Bank, and when did I apply for this?
And I remember going to my placement coordinator and she’s a said to me look. Yeah, you did. I remember you doing it. You should absolutely go for it. So now I’m a kid from lewisham. I didn’t know anything about investment banking. Closest I’ve been to a bank was Barclays turned, you know, China withdraw some money, which I didn’t have very much at the time.
And so I spent that whole weekend just learning everything I could about what investment bankers in this was before Wikipedia and the rest of it. So you had to really hunt no searching on their website as downloading reports as finding broken Links of doing all this stuff trying to figure out what is an investment bank now went in for the interview.
Oh man, that was an experience. Is it when leaving you sweat broke out Circle? And again remember I’m this kid from Southeast London didn’t have a clue about the corporate world. And I remember turning up this interview thinking I look really smart and I had this black shirt on Silver tie.
Interview Adam Investment Bank thinking I look at all the people must have been going. Who is this kid walking across but you know I had and I walk into my my interview and it’s with three men who it turns out were all the senior management team of the Prime brokerage team technology team that eventually joined and I had this interview with them, but what was amazing was whilst I was one of the final three in my in my year to get a placement.
It was right before the exam. So that’s how close to the wire. It was. I mean, this was right towards the exam period but I’ve been actually applying myself so I knew more about my course and I did it at any other point in the year. So I smash through this interview, right and at the end they are so do you have any questions and I was asking them about their shared position.
I was telling them about broken links on their website. I was doing so that all this stuff I was properly giving to giving it to them and then. You know, I remember I finish the interview. I went home. I got a phone call that evening. Saying hi. You know, this is Yasmin. How did you feel the interview went and I said, well, you know, I thought it was really good.
Thank you. I really enjoyed meeting the team. So fantastic Well, we’d like to offer you the role as I wow amazing and then she drops a bombshell on me. Don’t wear that shirt again. Well, there was that. I think I’d already learned that lesson then she went yeah, so that would be 500 pounds a week.
So it’s about 26,000 pounds a year and bear in mind. I was a kid. From lewisham, my best paid job had been like six pounds an hour. My parents were teachers and all sudden. I’m being told as an undergrad. I’m going to be paid 26k I she asked me do you need any time to think about it as like no,
I’m coming out. Thank you very much. And then I ended up doing my year at Lehman, which was just an amazing time the prime brokerage technology. And not in set me up for the next stage, which is well, you know, they expected me to come back and join the grad scheme. Yeah, I’m like no I did but I do want to join as a grad but not yet.
I said well what you’re going to do, so I’m going to go traveling. I did a year traveling well spent three four months during a season Whistler learning to become snowboarding instructor. I then spent some time in Thailand learning how to scuba dive. And Lucien to pesky away exactly illusion there real quick.
Well, nothing. You know what I still remember. I still remember I wanted to go straight back into work immediately. Yeah, once I stopped when I started at leaving and I remember talking to a bunch of people who doing this traveling thing and going skiing and doing all the stuff on like I’ve never been skiing or snowboarding before and I went and I thought this is amazing.
Now why I live I you know, I’ve always wanted to try but I never had the money. Yeah, right. My parents were teachers. We didn’t have we had nothing. I still remember. My dad’s got his foot. My dad had a job as a Salesman at one point. My dad’s kind of person to go into. Sell a lawnmower and end up buying a car and both my parents struggled to find jobs, right because.
My mom was Nigerian. That’s my dad spent time as a teacher in Nigeria. My mom was a qualified teacher from Nigeria. But actually they really struggled to find work when when we moved back. So I was born in the UK then went back to Nigeria for a couple of years then came back to the UK and was in UK from about Age 2 3 onwards and the move to South East London.
Well move to South East London the Downham area and then the Lucia Mary when I was about 4 and my parents really struggle to find work. The government wouldn’t accept my mom’s teaching qualifications. So she spent the next few years working as a cleaner whilst retraining to become a teacher. This was while selflessly having a young child in me and then she had my sister and then eventually my brother as well and it took my dad a few years before he was able to start teaching so, you know all the stuff I’m doing now.
I look back on when I grew up and we had nothing right, you know, we live in the council house. Yeah, which our parents were able to buy. But no we had very little so when I had these opportunities these opportunities meant a lot. I know it comes across bougie now, but these things were huge for me absolutely huge.
So, you know when I heard all this stuff about traveling and snowboarding I thought I’ve got give this a go, but ultimately actually what it was was my boss at the time at Lehman. I asked him, you know, do you have any regrets? You guys yeah one actually there’s one thing I’d love to do which is travel down the Amazon River and spend you know, a few months down South America.
I’ll sing. Well, why don’t you because well, you know, I’ve got a good job got a career. I’ve got a family who I love but these are things I wish I could have done and if I had the opportunity I would at that point. I realized you know what I don’t want to live a life full of regrets, right if these are things that are important I want to go and do them.
Yeah. Still remember man trying to explain to my mom that I was not going to get a job immediately and I was going to go traveling. She’s like, why don’t you want to get a job? Well, why don’t you want to work? I had uncles calling me up from Nigeria right? Thanks. There’s a what is this nonsense?
So we were five years five years up until the trash. You know, we were the team the price the first CDO squared in Europe. So I was well aware of a lot of the stuff that went on your problem. Hey, man, look we cuz we know how right. Well, I’m gonna say this we’re gonna say is the systems that we built with telling people.
What was going on with giving people the right numbers you can program they told you to say that. Hey, if Traders want to ignore the numbers that’s entirely up to them was what their until the crisis happened spent a year with Lehman and PWC in administration helping wind down the business from a technology perspective and during that time actually.
Try to build my first startup idea which was around protein shake vending machines. Hmm didn’t really get off the ground first time attempt at doing something middle of the credit crunch. But we had you know, the likes of Maxi muscle speaking to us to produce powders Fitness verse for talking to us about distribution.
Well, we had a company called Durant MC talking to us about potentially building machine, but trying to launch company like that cost about 400 K and there was just this because of the technology technology building up prototypes everything. It was just not going to happen. So this was around what 2009 around 2000 after the crash people probably risk averse to invest massively.
Exactly this milkshake. Yeah, exactly. I didn’t even know anything about raising Capital. It was no information about how you didn’t have all the YC podcasts and all this kind of stuff going on how yeah exactly. So I want to do something else my I had an agent at the time as a as a consultant as a as a potential contract to come reach out to me and so look, I know you’re interesting Contracting.
Would you be interested in going to Switzerland our time I thought to myself, you know, what hadn’t really considered Switzerland and no one really in the UK did at that time Zurich was not the kind of place you went to if you worked in technology, but I thought well, you know what let’s give it a shot.
So I took a Gamble. Went out to Zurich at the interview ended up getting a role as a contractor in an equity derivatives risk and pricing technology team with credit Swiss. Yeah, and I spent the next five years out there and at this point you completely like through the milk the protein. I know that that that that was done I even how did that go, by the way, did you actually make anything?
No, no, nothing just like a business. It was just yeah a plan spreadsheet. Come conversations designs few thoughts design some pretty weird actually gone pretty far with one of the manufacturers in how would we get this machine together? Which as I said Maxi muscle were had gone as far as saying look, if you do this, we’re happy to provide custom hoppers for your product so that you can fit into your machines Fitness verse originally was saying yeah would be happy to distribute they then so to backpedal on that but really it was about getting the cash and we just didn’t have that capacity.
That didn’t happen. So yeah, I gave up on that. But your first taste of course my first taste exactly like younger back to the bank. Yeah, honey. You need to make money you need to make some money. So and I always felt that Contracting was the first step to Independence as a developer. Right because one of the things people got people ask me about is you know, how should I start my company which my first steps be should I jack it all in and be a start-up and my my advice is always if you’ve got a stream of cash flow that is a really bad idea.
Right cash is King cash is absolutely vital if you’ve got a way to keep bringing cash in and you’ve got the capacity to build something on the side do it on the side. Right develop the idea developed the concept all the best people I know are climbing multiple mountains, right? Everyone needs the hassle that little bit harder.
It’s absolutely fine. But at the point where the two things cannot go inside anymore, you can’t do them together. And you’re at a Breaking Point. That’s the point when you need to really think okay now do I jack it all in and that’s the stage. We’ve got to think we’ll how much runway do I have how far develops my concept am I able to raise any money?
Am I potentially able to build a team? And I think where we were is definitely a case where it was time to end that Journey. Yeah, take step over. Let me initially met a year or so ago and you remember the story you were at Credit Service? Yeah, but you were Moonlighting on neighbor. Yeah, exactly.
Exactly. So you’re doing yep, so it’s not setting your soul on fire. Basically. It’s like you’re making good money. You’re on Switzerland. Yeah, you know, but. There’s always been that thing in me as I love wanted to do my own thing. I wanted to create something and I think fundamentally as a technologist in a bank you can make really good money.
You can have a fantastic career, but you’re never going to be in charge. You’re always on the service side of things and. I just didn’t like that. I if I was going to be on the server side of things, I’d rather run my own business providing that service right then be providing that service with in someone else’s business.
I just always struggled with this the challenge of the technology team versus the business. I really dislike that and so I always had this idea that I wanted to do something and actually before I start working on. Myself and some members of my team and start working on a concept around it’s not the sexiest title in the world, but also escalating online notifications for banking systems.
And you know, we were starting this was based on some things. I’d done whilst I was at Lehman Brothers and it was a really great little concept didn’t really get anywhere because. You know, I realized at that time that one of the key lessons in Switzerland is don’t try and build a product of Tech Guys in the winter because they’re all off snowboarding great.
And so that just didn’t really get anywhere but I learned a lot about trying to build something commercial on the web for the first time using open-source Technologies and all sorts of things because. Boss the banking environment and you know, we had fantastic opportunities to build interesting stuff within the bank.
You’re always within that safe space of the in the corporate intranet and things like security. I’m just don’t become a concern also things like ux/ui. I’ll just not at the Forefront of your mind your purely focused on functionality function over fashion. Exactly. Absolutely. So having to do that forced us to pull force me to start thinking a little bit differently about new things and it was shortly after that started to not really go anywhere that my.
Co-founder neighbor contacted me about this idea about building as peer-to-peer lending platform, which is where we were at the beginning. Yeah. So yeah, that makes me a good segue into this area.
So he came up with the idea from neighbor for those who don’t know what neighbor initially was it somewhere. There was absolute. What was the initial concept and how you guys yeah, so to be clear as my co-founder Martin who came to me with the idea. And I remember actually it’s quite funny because he came to me with this concept of building.
This wild peer-to-peer financing platform while style still working on this other idea and I’m like Martin I haven’t got time for this only thing what you’re trying is create is just crazy and there’s too much of it and there’s only the two of us and we’re not ready for that. He was okay and he went away and to his credit.
He spent the next six months thinking about it some more. And then came back to me and said I know that he’s nothing if not tenacious so is okay thought about what you said. I’ve scaled it back a little bit cut it back a little bit. What do you think about this and that that point the idea was very much to be a peer to peer lending limit borrowing and savings platform for employee communities.
So the whole idea was, you know, What we would see when we’re out and both of us come from Nigerian have Nigerian backgrounds. He’s fully Nigerian. I’m half an hour during have this idea of Susu where of collective savings. Yeah. So it’s like the old woman in the village a hundred percent looks after all the money.
Yeah all the money into the pot and then every month someone gets a little bit out of it can. Like once you’ve taken that money, you can’t be like I’m not in this anymore. Exactly. And if you’re in it for life, it’s like a sauna system. Absolutely and my mom had exactly the same things partner with Nigerian women’s group.
She was a part of and these things help people in so many different ways, right because it’s very informal. So it’s an informal Credit Union. Yes, that’s what it was. Right and what we’ve both seen Martin, During our times in the investment banking world. So me and Martin both knew each other from our time at Lehman Brothers and then he’d moved off to Goldman Sachs and I’ve got a couple of other places and what we were saying was wealthy Traders lending to each other because they run out of money they’d spent it or whatever but they knew how much each other was getting paid thinking when they were getting paid so they were happy to take that risk.
So in essence they were doing a form of under righted salary based Lending. And we thought why can’t we bring these ideas together and why can we digitize that concept so initially what we were looking to do was a peer-to-peer system, whereby we would lend money to employees on the behalf of other employees and that we would then create that holistic Circle that that real nice circle of borrowing and savings within a within an employee community.
And it would be very simple because we’d be able to know exactly how much people getting paid with no the notice period so it’d be able to create simple deduction files and assign the other and build a very simple system around. And at the time it seemed very very durable seemed like a great idea.
So I thought to myself. Yeah. Well, let’s do it and I’ve learned so much just trying to build this previous startup concept. That’s what okay, I think I can give this crack. So I came on board as co-founder and CTO. We then brought on Monica Collier as our other third co-founder and chief strategy officer, but started coding the platform whilst I was still.
Working credit Swiss in my spare time. Yeah in Zurich. This was part of the reason why I wanted to become a contractor, right, you know, the flexibility and the flexibility of the rights as well. Your employment rights are very different when you’re a contractor versus exactly special compared to when your perm and obviously you earn more.
So you can start to build a bit of a war chest and have some cash in the bank so that if you want to go and do something you can and that was absolutely critical for me. So I initially coded the system the initial platform that we built and then eventually realize that no, I can’t do this all myself.
I can’t build a complete peer-to-peer platform where the lending on my own whilst doing a full time role just doesn’t work. So I ended up using and this is why I say having a cash flow is so important I started using. It’s a lot of money. I was learning from my time at Credit Suisse to pay a couple of offshore developers and India to help me along and I was almost like our first team as we start building this and so on to used dotnet I was a.net developer at the time.
So using.net and Microsoft Azure, so Ash initially was building it to be a fully Cloud first platform. This was back in 2013. So I was building the first platform that I lay down the first lines of code in July 2013. Before way before we established we officially start of think it was January 2014, and then we actually spent probably the next six months building that out and went live with are sick, but Martin’s sixth form College as our first client base and with the idea of lending to the teachers as a proof of concept to see if we could prove that prove the idea.
And it’s fascinating as a VC. Now when I talk about traction and growth and metrics are we looking for but then I have to temper that with my experience as an entrepreneur because for that first year and when we launched we probably did maybe for loans. You probably lens out about 10,000 pounds in total.
That was it. I was nothing that’s great. But that’s a lot if you think about it for Mike 0 to 10,000 from a part-time job exactly working on this thing was I was still doing it. So what we’ve done was proven that in our spare time. I’ll say over the course of the year. I probably spent somewhere in the in the realm of 40,000 pounds on development right maybe a bit more because you know that over the whole year.
I’ve lost six months. No, no was including my time over those six months. I would say probably close to about. Probably wants Martin put money in. Yeah, so both of us put money in. I was primarily paying for development. Martin was looking at legal costs and the rest of it isn’t stuff. Yeah, exactly.
So we very much had quite clear delineation. Zuv roll. Mine was very strongly focused on technology. And then yeah, I think the key thing is that for us. It just proved that we could build a product we could launch it and we could sell that product. Whilst the revenues and the were nothing to write home about we proven those basic concepts and that actually gave us the confidence to end up speaking to police Mutual.
So please Mutual for those who don’t know is a financial service company that sells Financial products to the police force. And interestingly to be a serving board member. I believe you also have to have been a serving police officer. So it’s by the police for the police, but they didn’t have a credit product at the time and they were very interested in some form of consumer loan, which they could provide to their officers so that they could use the fixed income Ritz.
Well the interest of the loans to provide. Part of fixed income proportion of their ISO products. So in essence what they were looking at was our whole borrow and save idea and saying that how can we bring us all together? So they wanted to kind of like white label your Tech. Yeah, in essence that was the idea initially that then morphed but this was really what started that whole pivot right?
So over the course of the year. I think we had our first pitch with am not still remember it was around January 2014. I’m still in Zurich. Now the time Martin calls me often tears as I need you to cut his mic on a Saturday night. I need you to come over to London on Monday. Why well, we got a pitch to police mutual and Litchfield.
I’m thinking to myself who are please Mutual where’s Litchfield and how did you get this cover? So we had to spend the whole weekend putting the pitch deck together and really working on it and it was horrible pitch deck right horrible, and I’ll be honest. They said no to us. After that first pitch, but what they liked about us was the the thinking behind it the idea and also the flexibility the fact that we’re willing to work with them and allow them to help us shape the product.
And that really got their buy-in and we then spent the next six to eight months talking to them about this idea going back and forth subsequent pitches refining refining refining use it in your full-time job, and I’m still on my full-time job. Although I’d started to down Sout downsize my hours.
And this was again another great advantage of being a contractor and I was able to go from being full-time to three days a week. Yeah, and I spent three outside literally be spending three days and zero. And then the hope the two days in the weekend and London and I’ll be flying back and forth. So yeah, I mean, it sounds like a slum but that’s a bit like I love that part that whole.
Yeah, exactly like proper. I want to do this. I’m giving it a hundred and ten percent. I’m going to work 1500 hours a week. I don’t care. Yeah, and I don’t. Recommend that so bloody of time yet for a short period of time it’s fine. Yeah, right. It certainly shouldn’t be seen as the way to scale your business, right but there’s always that period of time when you do anything.
Yeah for the first time or its early stages where you’ve got to put a lot of time and effort into it and bear in mind. I was as you said I was full time as well by this point. I was part time. I was working in Switzerland and building this at the same time. And then by around June 2014, we got the go-ahead from police Mutual that they wanted to run a pilot with us at that point.
It was really and this is what I talk about make-or-break moments. This was the time when I was not right it no longer works to be doing this part time. And that was the time when I made the decision that and it was a real tough decision that I would move back to the UK and we then spent the next, you know, I went from living by Lake Zurich.
Spending the next year and a half living in my parents bedroom in lewisham back in lotion on no income right building this product building this business. And you know, if you fast forward from where we were where we started as three co-founders me building the. Doing maybe for loans in our first year to where we are.
Now five years later. We’ve got over 80 employees. Yes. It’s we’ve partnered with over 300 companies and we’ve lent out over a hundred seventy million pounds and you raised somewhere in the region of 200. Yeah. So the likes of Goldman Sachs with some major players and their as well as for backup.
Yeah, you skipped a lot there. I skipped a lot of I’m sure you bring back sure. You bring back a few points. Please make sure I like where in mmm. So, do you guys decide to go and raise money at this point and like how do you raise your first amount of capital? I get asked the question a lot from early stage early early career programmers who are super smart saying should I quit everything and just build my first startup because obviously everyone’s hearing about all the new startups that come not everyone’s heard about, you know, the founders of Snapchat Airbnb.
Facebook drop it cetera cetera, right? Well, you know college dropouts Bill Gates and everyone wants to do that, but we couldn’t have built neighbor if it wasn’t for the network and the skills and the experiences that we had established over collectively between myself Martin Monica 20 to 30 years of investment banking experience, right?
So you are squared off initial money came from a lot of it was friends and family, right and I’d say about two to three hundred K was probably. Brought in from either our own personal cash flows from our time working in the banking space or through friends or through family members. And that was how we just bootstrap the business really initially was us then was friends and family and my first real round was from a family office.
And again, that was through Network. Yeah, so as family offices, they don’t want anyone to know who they are. Absolutely. Let help ease their just low-key. Absolutely and I think this is something that a lot of Founders really underestimate is how important network is and you know, we’ll get on to it later.
But that’s why impact X exists, right? You know, we’ve created our own Networks. And we want to be able to open those doorways for people who traditionally have been unable to gain access to Capital before because of it, you know, we were able to do what we have done because of our time and experience in the industry.
Not everyone has got a great idea has that ability to do that? All the time or the opportunity. So for us it was an interesting journey to raising we didn’t raise any from any VCS or anyone for some time. Actually. It was primarily through high net wealth and family officers initially because again, it was all about working the networks and we’re doing a year in a year and a half in and in order to launch formally with them.
They insisted we get an audit done. And that would it wasn’t just any old it was an audit by KPMG I was going to say so so because that’s public sector money exactly where we were a year and a half start up getting a full audit KPMG. That’s great. So that was one hell of a baptism by fire into that space.
I remember we potentially had a large investor come in early days who is really interested in the UK and investing in companies here and they wanted to date her it wouldn’t even have one what’s data room. So we had to then go and figure it out and we lost out on that investment, but you live and you learn you live and you learn and I think that’s that’s a key thing for me is, you know, you’ve got to be prepared to take those chances and I’ve taken some big bets on myself and big risks.
But I’ve always backed myself to achieve it and I do that because not because I know everything yeah not because I believe I’m blessed or I’m lucky but because I have faith in my own ability to learn right and through learning to overcome and to avoid the mistakes that I’ve made and it’s only through that love that through doing that that you can really grow and it’s that growth.
I always focus on OSL. Well, I don’t want to spend the next five years doing what I spent the last five years doing. That’s good it on a t-shirt. I should you know, and it’s really interesting that my career is actually followed that my first five years. I was a full-time developer at leave. My second five years.
I was a contractor for credit to us in Switzerland. My next five years. I was the CTO and co-founder for neighbor. Now. I’ve moved on and I’m set up another organization, which we’ll talk about in a moment, and I’m founding member. Principal and CT on residents for impact x capital. So I’ve now moved into the VC space.
So from developer to co-founder and CTO to venture capital D life in five years. But yeah, so I’m really interested to see what the next five years because I just want to delve into a bit more kind of like the the startup learnings from that time. Salute Lee five years Sprint. Yeah, and that’s critical right?
Scary Chris Paul. So you went from part-time job. Hustling on the side Moonlighting 80 people 200 Millions raised hundreds of million dollars like giving out in terms of loan. So the product works, right? It was a pivot from the initial idea. Yeah, which we didn’t really talk about the original idea was peer-to-peer P2P lending, but because of the introduction of police Mutual they said look we want to be able to lend that money, right because it’s important to our model with taking that return and Power.
I putting it back into our ISO product. So in essence we then add to Pivot from being a peer-to-peer platform to being a institutional lender. So that’s a you know, that’s a big pivot. Right? So now he shows as a start-up you need to be adaptable absolutely helps him. And actually we I’m so glad we did it because.
As you’ve seen a lot of the peer to peer companies are struggling now. Yes heart. I don’t want to make any call outs. But now they have been real problems in that space plus the regulatory regime the essay is never been a hundred percent comfortable with it. I’m sure there will be more more regulations coming into that space.
So you see a lot of kind of peer-to-peer platforms, especially like the real estate or property space. Yeah, absolutely like London vessel. Yeah, all these guys they initially started off as Pittsburgh as well. And then they pivoted. Well, that’s the other thing almost every organization that started off as peer-to-peer has had to go to the institutions for scale up Capital.
Yeah, almost all of them, right so for us it was just. This place Mutual doesn’t want us to the peer-to-peer. Peace. They want us to be institutional trying to do both the same time as an absolute Nightmare and actually breaches a lot of the rules around what peer-to-peer is from a regulatory standpoint.
You can’t do it exactly but then The Regulators aren’t happy about it. So, you know what, let’s just let’s go all in on this. And again, that’s another thing you have to go when you make that decision. You got to go all then write test the waters. Test the waters and then make a decision right and then go for it.
And then if it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work and you learn from that mistake and you move forward, you know, one of our greatest strengths is people’s ability to have hindsight and it always seems like our you know in hindsight that was a great idea. But it’s that hide inside the teaches you what you did wrong and it’s only from making those mistakes that you grow and you move forwards.
So yeah, so. Got to give it a try Give Me A Try So, how will you guys kind of scaling so, you know? One customer did that kind of snowball into everybody kind of reaching out to you guys because like I said, you have 300 organizations writing out of here right now, yeah, how will you guys scanning how will people hearing about you and what was some of the challenges that you guys face as you were scaling?
Yeah. I mean, I think it’s important that I do stress that for the last year or so. I’ve been a non-executive director for neighbor and an ambassador. So I haven’t been operational in the organization for you and I say this because. I don’t want to take credit for what people have done in the last year the team have done an amazing job, right?
I’ve been there been supporting but for the last year I’ve been involved in in other areas, but I’m still very much an ambassador for the company, but those early days what you’ve particularly alluded to first year or so. We were just focused on police Mutual right single client. Single product and that had its advantages and its disadvantages.
There are other mistakes. We were we were completely in stealth mode for a couple of years right completely our first 30 people as joke. That is we hired without telling them what we did. I’m not joking, seriously because we were so nervous about some of the other big players out there potentially stealing our idea.
We just didn’t want to tell anyone about what we’re doing in this is a huge mistake and I always tell people secrecy is overrated, right? Yeah. Get out there talk about yourselves talk about what you’re doing that wait. I want to know what do they apply to you then? Well, we would always tell them.
Yeah, it’s a great question. Do you tell them to do on day one? Well, here’s the thing right? I think. To get involved in a start-up at day one. You’ve got to be a little bit crazy. Anyway. Yeah. So these are telling people not having people who join you simply because they believe in you is probably one of the biggest endorsements you can have right and I think what we sold to people was us and we sold the team we sold the concept we’d only tell them we were working in an Innovative way.
In financial services technology and it was a lending product in tell me anything else, right and that was enough, you know, we would interview these people and I just think they really bought into us as people as a team, you know, as a diverse founding team of different approaches different ideas.
And yeah for the at least the first 30 people we didn’t we didn’t tell them what we did, right? So it was very much stealth and. Like I said for the first year or so we were completely focused on police Mutual which had its ups and it’s Downs allowed us to be laser focused on single. But then it can be very painful moving away from that one product line one client to becoming a client based organization, right that works with multiple partners.
Not only just it’s not just sales. It’s onboarding its partnership relationship management. Yeah, we weren’t a white label platform. We were a multi-tenant to platform but you’ve now got to ensure that your architecture can cope with that and can scale with that as well. And then you’ve got all the.
Due diligence you get different clients and different organizations wanting to do with you. So your organization’s suddenly has to grow quite significantly because when you’re in that narrow strip and our vertical you can fool yourself into thinking well, this is all we need right we’ve done this great.
Okay, we can just add on we can just add new clients, but now you have to build an entirely different organization to deal with that. And again, that’s an area where people really underestimate and I think one of the other things we really. Believed very strongly beginning was from a marketing perspective or you got to capture Channel.
We don’t need to worry about marketing. And I see this mistake all the time and startups who say well, you know, what we’re going to scale up through viral marketing. Good luck with that. Good luck with that. They say, oh we’re going to make a video. Yeah, we’re going to make a video and do some Facebook ads a little bit of Instagram going to talk to a few influences.
And you know, we’re going to go viral and people just going to bias and know how about your business development team. How about your sales strategy? How about your marketing strategy? How much are you spending on? Yeah, exactly exactly. So it was that was a really interesting challenge.
We have to read. For
some other challenges, maybe some technical maybe some product-based challenges or maybe just yeah teething problems or growth problems. Right? Well, we almost had to we made a decision quite early on which was to in essence build an entire new platform to on board all our new clients, right? For various reasons we built the original technology because a I was a developer right didn’t really know much about offshoring Outsourcing or buying platforms or any of that jazz.
It’s funny I speak to ctOS now and that’s why there’s so much more you need to know than just being programmer. Yeah, you know, like, how do you deal with procurement? What do you have to look for in a contract? These are all skills that are absolutely critical, but you just not aware of it at the time and now we built the original technology because it was a peer-to-peer platform.
You can’t just go out and buy a peer-to-peer platform in 2013, but when we decided to Pivot away from that and we were looking at right we need to build out collections. We need to build out all these other pieces. We want to look at multiple score cards, etc. Etc. We started to think well. Always just building commodity here now because we’re no longer peer-to-peer.
We don’t need a lot of that specialized functionality and we need to bring on certain functionality as well. So we made a decision fairly early on to actually transition away from that and into building well into taking on a new platform which we then made the mistake of heavily customizing, right?
Do not do this don’t buy platforms and then customize the hell out of them because it’s just making the same same mistake, but I’d say yeah, the challenge was in. Trying to the standard problem of trying to have a legacy system and a new system and trying to onboard new clients on to your new platform whilst maintaining client a climb on the old platform pooping them happy and that that was a real challenge.
Thought say honestly the biggest the biggest mistake was not going public right when we went public that really. As in as in coming out a stealth mode not know I’d be doing yeah be clear but when we came out of stealth mode that really lit a fire and the reason why we did that ultimately was also because we had a key competitor come onto the landscape who started talking about how now they’re doing it first because they were the first to talk about it.
I’m not going to say. But because they were the first to really start talking about it, but we’ve been doing it for the last couple of years. All right, but we haven’t told anybody and all of a sudden we were in a race just to establish our legitimacy, which is ridiculous, even though we’ve been first Stewart.
So you’ve got to get out there and own your own story. Otherwise, someone else will do it for you and but by doing that a sense of urgency really grew and everything, you know, everyone became hungry to really get this thing going. And all of a sudden became apparent look we do need to launch other clients, which I think was something we were reluctant to do at the beginning we knew we wanted to we knew we needed to but there’s always that sense.
We’ve got to focus on police Mutual because there are anchor and the problem is is when one client is responsible for hundred percent of your Revenue that becomes a real problem and it’s a scary move to move away from it, but. I really strongly believe in having anchor clients because they help you grow and they help get you that initial traction those metrics attract investors, but once you’ve got over that hump, you need to grow Beyond them as quickly as possible because when one client dominates your Revenue, they dominate all your decisions, right?
It basically have a board position and that’s no not through their own fault right naturally. What they’re trying to do they’re trying to do what’s best for them. It’s not necessarily what’s best for you interestingly. They also became an anchor investor in your organization as well. So ironically for them the best thing for us was to find other clients, but they didn’t really realize it at the time I did that come about again about the my series a or like or I’d say, it’s sea level.
Okay, Min fairly early. I can’t remember if it was seed or series a they have a they they came in with a fairly significant investment. And again, it was great great thing about stuff. That’s another story. Yeah, exactly exactly. But it was just brilliant validation. Yeah for what we were doing I’d say to be honest the biggest mistake tends to be around people.
Ryan Focus I would say those are the key mistakes that startups making that we made when you see people in terms of like just hiring the wrong people or kind of getting the right people in but you’re not using them right? I would say not letting go of people early enough, right? And it’s really tough at the beginning because when you build a company and you’re basically 10 people in a room just working working working like a family.
Yeah, they were for the first 20 30 people you’re still a family never has named style exactly. But then as you start to grow beyond that challenges start to creep in a hierarchy starts to build skill set start to become more more focused growth. Becomes more important conflict conflict starts to rise and the challenges are different and the people who are great at fighting fires might not be the people who are great at putting in following process and process is critical once you trying to scale your organization up so you can’t keep running.
Unless you’ve got a money making cash machine like Google, right? You need really strong processes as you grown. It’s just not the right Organization for a lot of people we held on some people for too long and also sometimes it can be hard to admit that you hired the wrong people and. You don’t want to be a bad guy you want to be nice, but sometimes you gotta let people go and it’s better to do it early then to do it late.
Right because they can become toxic. They can really damage the organization. So I would say those are some key mistakes and on the focus piece. It’s really easy to want to grab every low-hanging fruit that you see and you end up trying to do everything. And before you know, if you companies just all over the place things to all people exactly.
I think it’s so important to be laser focused on what your key proposition is. The key value proposition is understand what that thing is why people buying you and really dominate in that space so you that you don’t think it’s a case of like saying yes to everyone even though you know, your burn rate is a hundred k a month.
You current doing 60k month. Someone wants to give you 40 k or something, but it’s like we don’t do that, I guess like so this is probably the worst case scenario ever. But in that situation is kind of like do we need to do right? I think at the very beginning do what you need to do, right?
Because the irony is is the reason why police Mutual wanted to work with us in the first place is because everyone else was saying we don’t do that fine. It’s only because we show that level of flexibility that we got police Mutual, right? But once you go down a certain certain pathway saying yes to everyone is just damaging to your organization.
You’re unable to service anybody. So and the problem is once you’ve got too much breath in your offering you need people to be able to service that you need. All sorts of you have to spend time building out plans estimating work delivering on it supporting it. You’ve got recruitment channels that need to support all those different so your cost us escalate.
And actually you don’t necessarily take any steps further. See if your business isn’t actually doing any better. It’s just across a broader platform which can be great. But often more often than not actually just need to cut a lot of that way and focus on really being good at what you do and driving in that channel and then acquiring more customers and once you’ve got your certain position certain level of dominance, then yeah sure start to add more strings to your bow strings to your bow, right?
They you’ve really got to be really odd say at the beginning. It’s all about Focus. That’s a absolute critical one. You know, I thought you agree. And so, you know five years or five years Sprint at neighbor. Yeah, you decided to transition out now, didn’t it was that because it was that due to burn out or so, I’ll be honest.
There are a number of things I’d say every customer every company particularly startups have a company life cycle, right and people are. Suited for different stages that life cycle and I think I’m particularly well suited to the startup phase right there taking an idea thrashing it around working really hard at it figuring out what it is.
You want to do getting it off the ground and making it real and getting people involved and getting people excited about it. You know, that’s the stage. I think I really Thrive and add a lot of value as you start to scale up your organization. You have to really assess. What value do you bring to that organization?
What skill sets and to my mind whether other people who are better served to actually operate in that capacity. So there was a level of that. So there’s a level of just self self reflection. Also, I felt know as a company is Naples growing was becoming less focus on technology and more focused on Partnerships and relationship management because the tackles are really kind of yeah, exactly.
So the key challenges that were interesting to me just. One there anymore and they’re just I didn’t see there was much space for me on any any any other area of the business and then ultimately yeah, massive burnout massive burnout, you know weird really worked hard on this thing for five years.
I’ve spent a year and a half living with my parents on no income. We were working all day all night weekends and then on a more personal note. My father had cancer survived it my mother had cancer and didn’t so I made a decision that it was time for me to take step away and I spent about a year in the wilderness of.
You know if London it’s like a win anyway, didn’t you not again? No, let’s be fair. I did do a little bit. I did a bit of sailing. Yeah friend of mine is a very good Silas has been little bit time with him and the river road trip over in the US and everyone does that at one point I three weeks of driving around and just gradually finding my feet and my energy again.
I’m trying to focus on what it was I wanted to do next and I was a real tough decision. I was on what do I want to do? You know I’ve done this I’ve done that. Where do I go now? And what was interesting is I’ve found myself at neighbor very much speaking about the value of diversity the value of inclusion.
Let’s talk about the founders Journey the fact I believe that technology is real game. In the space. Your laptop doesn’t doesn’t care about the color of your skin your sexual orientation. Your gender anyone should be able to go to companies house and set up a business. If you’ve got the technical skills.
You can write some code get it hosted on AWS and you got a business your company and then in five years time, you can get it bought right? So a lot of those glass ceilings are being shattered. Yeah, I’ll be at these conferences and the sounds really cliche, but it’s absolutely true. I’ll be saying all these things and the only people or the only yeah, the only people in the room who I found look like me or like you were serving drinks and canapes and I said get really uncomfortable with this as I well what’s going on, where are all the diverse and underrepresented Founders and that that was the point where you know, the Cog started turning and as I’m thinking is there something I can do in the incubator space.
I figured that’s not going to work just yet because you need a lot of money to do that and I thought to myself so what can I do within my current capacities and constraints? And actually what was happening was my dad retired as a counselor for Lucien. I was at the their AGM where they announced they give out, you know certificates of service and it was the new mayor of lucian’s inaugural a gem guy called Damien and I got talking to him and his team about some my thoughts around how you.
Increase wealth creation in an aerial illusion because it’s interesting. They all everyone talks about bringing wealth creation to these inner city deprived areas. And now it’s going to create jobs going to do this and I will hell yeah with what you know, there’s one do know. It’s not a lot of its service industry and that money is going somewhere else right getting a job.
And the spices is great. It’s great. You’ve got a job, but you’re not generating wealth for the region and you know, so we go into that conversation and I decide talking about startups and thus any other what I’ve been doing and you know, they were very interested in the ideas and the concepts and that whole conversation really morphed into.
What became code untapped and the whole idea initially we were looking at training developers from under very underrepresented backgrounds and then sourcing them out technology companies, but again fill their a lot of training companies out there at the moment and we can get into the whole debate around code camps versus University another time, right?
That’s a whole ocean whole of conversation, but. Eventually, we moved into this idea of look for us. It’s all about the network. It’s about opening those doors. So what can we do to open the doors and bring these people through and give them a platform from which they can show what they can do, right?
And that’s where code that’s where code on Taps came from we figured. We’ve got the network. We know all these different organizations. We’ve got the skills. Why don’t we just start running these these events? Whereby we can bring underrepresented technologists and give them a platform where they can show their voice in technology, right?
So we run evening coding workshops and we’ve done some in react Alexis kills all sorts of other technology skill sets and we run one day. Product workshops or hackathons or startup bootcamp days. Yeah, and what’s important is we then host those events with our partners who are organizations who are potential have potential roles are hiring managers in technology.
So that gives our cohort the opportunity to showcase what they can do in front of hiring managers and it gives those organizations a chance to see a more diverse cohort of technologist. And the chance to increase their profile within that space and potentially attract more people because when you talk to companies they always say.
About the lack of diversity they go. Well, you know, it’s two problems. Well, what’s that first ones pipeline? We’re not getting any pipeline. Really? Okay. Okay fine. Yeah. So tell me about the pipeline tell me about the data tell me about your numbers and
that well. Okay, cool, so what if we could find a way to increase that Pipeline and they go yeah, okay, that’s great. That’s great but then the other problem is we don’t want to lower the bar right that’s why we don’t want to lower the bar and you know, wow that is again start slapping people exactly I mean that’s just you know, it’s condescending right the most fun it’s just ridiculous said yeah, he said you needed to lower the bar know you don’t but tell you what how about we increase the pipeline for you and we give you an opportunity.
To see these people in action, right because I guarantee you hate your recruitment process as well. Right and you always complain once you’ve got these people in the door turns out they can’t do the job or you don’t like them, right? So how about we give you a space where by you actually get to see a more diverse group of people you get to see them in action across the course of a day exactly and on top of that your guys your developers can come along as guess coaches and work alongside these people over the course of the day.
Not only getting more exposure but for a lot of them gaining potential mentorship and Leadership skills. They don’t get in their day-to-day job, right that’s code untapped. And today we’ve run well over 11 events. We’ve got over 500 people in our cohort. We’ve placed at least five. On the dots fast-track 50 program with Google.
So those individuals have now got mentors and connectors from the Google from from Google itself. We’ve got we’ve worked with but you know next month. We’re running in events with the department for Education. Yeah, we’ve done events with CGI Solutions 80,000 personal Global it consultant see. We run events of cancer Central which is a charity trying to help provide more resources for people suffering from cancer.
So we’ve run all sorts of events and that’s really been our Focus. This year has been building a product building the cohort of individuals and developing a team. So we’re a for-profit. But currently we’re not focusing on Revenue generation. So all our coaches who work with us or all volunteers.
Yeah doing all the goodness of their hearts and opportunity to pay it forward because our big thing is as I said, It’s one thing to open the door. It’s another thing to pull people through it. Yeah, right and that’s really what we’re focused on doing. You know, that’s that’s awesome. And I remember we were talking about kind of untapped.
I was like, yeah, this is like I see how this ecosystem can work in terms of like get people through the door, then it’s not all recruitment services and then you can actually train people on how to get better and it’s just that those are the growth stages that you know, that’s. That’s what we like more of a hundred percent.
That’s what we need more of other. Well the next stage that for us. I mean, this is all part of the early stage of the plan, right? This is about building a business. So he’s able to let me let me go back a step often get asked, you know, this sounds like a social Enterprise sounds like a charity.
Why aren’t you a not-for-profit? My thing is look there are plenty of Charities out there. Yeah, and I do fantastic work. Yeah. But I want to build a scalable organization. I want to build one that can help more people tomorrow than it helped yesterday, right and to do that. You need to be able to generate Revenue you need about support yourself.
You need to be able to grow. He’s our kpi exactly. You need to be a genuine need to be a genuine company. And on top of that what we’re looking to do is build a stream of Revenue so that we can Empower incubator for the business. Yeah taking the incredible diverse talent that comes through our door and.
Helping them set up companies within our incubator space powered by the code and tap the revenue machine. That’s what we’re looking to do. And ultimately I think. You know, you wouldn’t tell another recruitment company to become a charity. No, so why is it the fact that you have diverse Talent?
Yeah, and it’s Talent exactly. Why should why should that be hundred percent guarantee? Exactly didn’t and I think also when it comes to anything around DNA, I think it’s really important to for organizations to kind of. Shift their mindset dni is not a charity. No, like we’re basically saying there are a ton of great people exactly you are being overlooked and it’s your responsibility to make sure that you are aware of that.
You see that and all we’re trying to do is bring you this high-level service hundred percent. And and clearing your blind spots, which you should really be charging a premium for helping you find the best people exactly right because it’s not a charity. This is not a real business a real business a real problem because everyone says I want to hire the best people but then you narrow your field of vision.
It doesn’t make any sense and you know, people ask me this and I say well do you think it’s because of institutional racism ill and I think know there is an element. I mean there is no of course. Yeah, let’s not deny that. But humps But ultimately hiring people with hard building teams is difficult.
So the first thing people do is I go what does good look like now look in them. Yeah. Exactly exactly. I look in the mirror and I go well me and when I say me, they’re not looking at their skin color or their height or whatever what they’re looking at is themselves as a professional I’m going.
What have I done what jobs have I done what roles have I done? What companies have I worked for what education of I had and the thing is when you live within a homogeneous society such as ours and people don’t think it is, but. The beams are black Asian minority ethnic population. UK is only 14% of the population right in London and major cities is skewed significantly higher and even within that been three percent of black exactly motive is made up of Asians exactly.
Right? So in fact, if you ignore the concentrations within the city’s to step out of the Cities, there’s probably less than 1 in 10 chance that you’re going to meet someone who’s not white, right? So we have a very homogeneous society outside of the city. So chances are if you’re looking for someone who’s had a very similar track record and background to yourself.
Guess what the probably gonna look like you as well. Yeah. Now that goes straight to the whole diversity Challenge and you know people ask me why do you think diversity inclusion the portent we can talk about social good and the rest of it as much as we like but from a business perspective look if you want.
Innovation you need people can think outside the box when I say think outside the box. I mean who think differently to the people in the room currently, right? So you need people with different backgrounds different schools of thought different ways of looking at a problem. You can’t think outside the box if everyone in the room has lived inside the box and it’s the same box.
So you need different types of people for Innovation, but innovation without relevancy is a waste of time right you need to build products are relevant to your audience. Your audience is society that you live within right? So your organization needs to reflect that in fintech. We often talk about financial inclusion.
Now we’re going to solve the problem of financial Financial exclusion behalf of people have never been financially excluded. And yeah, so how do they know how to solve that problem? That’s good. Right? So Innovation and relevancy next is access to Talent you want the best people but you narrow your field of vision.
Well, actually Talent knows no borders, right? You need the widest field of vision as possible but a way to filter out and get the best people from it. So you want the best people you should be looking everywhere not just people who look like you so. Innovation relevancy access to talent but finally it’s retention.
There’s no point bringing these people in if when they get there, they don’t feel welcome. I don’t feel included. They don’t feel like they belong they’re not going to stay and that’s when you lose diversity people talk about difference between diversity inclusion. Diversity is a metric. It’s a number statistic inclusion is a sense of belonging.
Yeah. It’s about being made to feel like you belong there. You’re welcome there and through creating. Diversity flourishes now if you can show me a business where Innovation relevancy access to talent and talent retention aren’t important. Well, I’d love to see it. So right there there’s a business case.
It’s easy fun. Been a long time coming. So you’re really see your role is the one I’m looking for activists when it comes to diversity and inclusion. I never set out to be right. Yeah, and you’re talking like you’re tackling it in the right way. You’re looking at the pipeline problem from early on what kind of yeah, I got on tap address is now you looking at.
People further down the line and creating wealth hmm Venture Capital investing and empowering people from under arrest. Yeah, underrepresented backgrounds and helping these businesses grow. So, you know, you are, you know, it’s a different fight now it is yea guys have graduated every you know, Decade yeah, every single decade there’s a new fight.
It takes a new look. It’s a new face. And right now we are fighting the lack of funding for black canvas. Absolutely. I didn’t I’ve never articulated that way by like the way that sounds yeah, so. Talk to me about impact X. How did you get involved with Eric? I know the vision for the fund. Yeah and talk to me about your role.
Right in fact X. So yeah, I won’t I won’t reflect on the vision of the fun because I think. Obviously no one can elucidate that better than Eric did and he did on a two-hour couple weeks ago. If you haven’t heard it because you know, Eric’s one the smartest guys. I know he really is, you know, his background is experience is second to none.
So just the opportunity to work with Eric and this is made it all worthwhile and I try to only work. Wisdom for people are genuinely respect. You know, I’m I’m a dyed-in-the-wool entrepreneur. We are notoriously difficult people working for you as you know film. Yeah, right as you know, but at the same time people are often joke, I’m not a good person to have working for you, but that’s right way to look for it to look at it right because you know, Whilst I don’t like being caged and told what to do and force them to process and rest of it.
I spent over 20 years in my life doing martial arts and being be stood by my coaches and taught to do this do that do that and getting on with it and you know at some point when you work in you need to listen to other people, right you need to take on board their lessons and their life experiences and go.
You know what I actually respect to this person saying to me they’ve got the best. Outcome in their mind for me right now. I need to shut up and get on with it right and learn from this experience. But the point when that stops happening, that’s when it’s time to take a little step forward. And I think that’s where people struggle with very entrepreneurially minded people because it’s weird the Segway and completely martial arts today, you know, you get people to certain level and you expect me to stick around forever.
Back in the day, you’ve got people to a certain level of capability and you’d expect them to go off and find new Masters. Yeah, and then they’ll come back to your school in 10-15 years and then they teach you and your students what they’ve learnt but in our day and age we all want people to do that because hard hiring them.
It’s been a lot of money getting them there. Yeah. It’s been a lot of time training them. Don’t you dare leave but entrepreneurs at their heart want to try a new challenge? Right and they want to have the opportunity to think for themselves. And that’s the biggest problem. I think you find with a lot of organizations.
But how did I meet Eric? So I was busy trying to build code untapped and this comes to the heart of my whole point about be out there and talk to people tell people your story and I was talking to everyone. I was literally everyone I could speak to talking to them about code on tap. And through that expanding my network and finding more people talking to more people and I got invited to the black power list last year.
So terrible, so I went along as a fantastic evening. That’s an incredible organization absolutely love what they’re doing and they have the after party afterwards and I got speaking to this guy called Eric. Okay. Hi Eric, how are you? And we had a really good conversation about. What I was doing with code untapped a little bit about my background with Lehman and Credit Suisse and most importantly neighbor and he said to me well, you know, can we can we grab a coffee?
I really like speak to you some more about all this and I thought yeah brilliant. Let’s do that. I had no idea that he was he was a who Eric was sure and I’m always happy to go out for a coffee maybe but I always try to do that. Take that step right and meet people you just never know what’s going to come from a conversation.
And we are we met up for a coffee a few weeks later. And we’re again we’re having this conversation has asked me all these strange questions around my thoughts on ctOS versus cios versus VP of engineering but in insult insourcing versus Outsourcing and build versus buying alone as its why is this guy asking questions about all the stuff?
I’m talking talking talking and we talked a little bit about code on top as well and then. He starts telling me about impact X. I’m like, oh, you’re the impact X guy because someone had spoken to me a little bit about this and that like you need to speak to impact X. This is a new thing that’s coming along all along is going to be amazing Okay cool.
So I’m having this conversation Eric. I’m like, okay. Yeah, and he’s telling me all about this vision for impact X and supporting underrepresented people and in particular entrepreneurs of color as well, but across all different Stripes, right? And I was like, wow, this is amazing. This is kind of like the next step for where I want code on tap to be and I was like, wow this incredible and then he turns around says to me look as.
Well, actually he always calls me as I choose as actually I really like what you’re doing with code on tap, but I don’t think it’s for VC. I don’t think it’s for impact X and like yeah, you’re absolutely right. I had no intention. Yeah, right, you know. Yeah, I don’t think it’s right for us. I’d really like to talk about you.
And would you be interested in joining us in a in some kind of capacity? But I had to think about it and I will in what way would you would you like me to be more involved? Because obviously I have a financial background, but I’m not a financier. Yeah. Yeah, and I’ve had significant experience with investors, but I’ve never been an investor and it’s like well, you know.
We believe a lot of our pipeline is going to come from supporting tech companies and there aren’t enough VC funds that really understand technology. And I really want someone with your skill set background caliber to be part of that team to help us with that process. The initial conversation was around being CTO in residence for the fund.
And what was fascinating about our conversations how far ahead Eric already was because I don’t know if you know but diversity VC. Release their piece of research here on this year about the state of diversity in venture capital. And one of the shocking statistics was at eight percent of UK VCS have startup operational experience.
We spoke about that. Yeah percent as a joke 4% have technology experience yet. These are the companies who are investing in the technology companies are the future. It’s absolutely crazy is like less than one percent of that money goes to Black found. Absolutely. Into percent of VCS of black like this.
So shout out to diversity VC and check on everything that they’re doing and I think the most shocking statistic was the number one prerequisite become a VC in Silicon Valley was that your dad was a VC. Yeah, right and all these things are just absolutely ridiculous. So impact X where the 1% of the 1% of the 1% right, you know.
So Eric was really Keen to get me to join as a technologist and I thought about all this time trying to build code untapped and do I want to take time to do this as well. And I had a real think back in my back there to my early days at Lehman when I was working with my friend and my protein the protein shake concept and he actually ran one of the sales desks the Lehman Brothers and he offered me the opportunity to join the sales.
It sounds I’ve always had that kind of I’m not a Salesman. I’ve always had that salesy Slants. I’ve been interested in the business from the financing side. I didn’t take the opportunity and these chances don’t come up very often and the chance to join a VC without that kind of prerequisite private Equity or banking financing background or the Consulting background.
Do not card. Especially if you look like me right now, I just do not come along. So I thought about it thought about it. I said to myself look both of these things support each other exactly. As you said Phil code untapped is all about pipelines all about Talent. It’s all about nurturing those individuals impact X is all about that follow on and supporting them as they grow.
And I figured can’t do both of these things cannot be involved in both the same time so that then morph to be coming on as a principal and founding member of the fund so now yeah, I’m a I’m a full founding member of impact x capital along with 20 other founding members. I’m principal alongside Yvonne working along working with Eric and Paula and Erica to Source deals analyze companies and really kind of get to know.
The founders from a technology perspective as well as well as a start-up perspective having been there and done that see what I think of them and their ideas and their Concepts and also we provide a lot of support. So a lot of our conversations start off from there. I need money perspective, but then actually turn into what may be VC is not the right kind of money for you.
Well, maybe we’re not the right Organization for you right now. The what support can we give you to help you get to that position is it introductions to other Angel Investors that we know or as introductions to our Network or as introductions to advisors? I’ve personally connected a number of our startups with advisers who are friends of mine and colleagues and people I know through my journey who have been able to give them significant value add and support and I will has been at least one particular success story in that.
Which I’ve been really really happy about so for us it’s all about that that whole ecosystem. Yeah, we’re building. It’s not just about money. We’re not just another VC is coming along and saying yeah, we can provide all this value add and you actually don’t you just actually cause problems. Yeah, seriously.
Yeah. Yeah tell you stories, but that’s that’s really when Eric came to me and said those things I thought to myself, you know. I’ve got to do this and it’s been absolutely amazing. It’s been hard work for what I’ve really found fascinating is how code on tap conversations turn into impact X conversations and impact X conversations turn into code and tap conversations.
So yeah really about building that ecosystems to see you know, in five ten years time when we see I went to code untapped. Yeah, and then I went to like here. And then I reached my cat says that you and I started this other thing and now, you know, our first 10 employees came from code on time.
Like, you know, I guess the things that you’re doing. Well it’s when you know, we start hearing about global technology companies who started in the code untapped. Yeah incubator who came through the codons at program within funded by impact X. That’s that’s when we know we’re seeing. Real impact and that’s the day I can’t wait for ya know it sounds as though you’re trying to create some I guess, you know were in Founders Factory right now.
Yeah, ultimately you want to create the founder of factory the founders Factory for. You know under representative II people you know what I think that’s very much what we are doing and I think there’s space for so many of these different organizations because there’s so much support that’s needed one of a statement that you know, and I use it a lot.
I’ll borrow statements from all sorts of people, but I’ve got to give credit to Yvonne so my co principle of on Bocelli for this one, which is that ability is evenly distributed. But opportunity isn’t right. It’s a good t-shirt saying it’s another one man. I’m going to be reading them all day long.
Take that one anything. Yeah. Yeah, is that as we should just do a line and meaningful sayings and t-shirts and that’s really what code on tax or not coat on top but impact X. Is all about right and once we start seeing more and more companies growing from people who had the ability, but just not opportunity.
That’s when we we’ve really done what we said.
The vision of impact ex Eric earlier by guess we do. What kind of companies are you looking for? The Rockets are doing more kind of like the deal sourcing team. Yeah. So you’re one of The Gatekeepers before you get to meet the mr. Eric. Mr. Eric Collins. So yes, yes. What do you want to see? Oh, when is the right time for people to kind of reach out to you?
Yeah, and are there any kind of particular products or Industries or services that you’re really interested in seeing at the moment but mean as a fund as I’m sure Eric alluded to we’ve got three key verticals which is the creative and entertainment industry particularly with straight streaming creative products or creative technology style platform.
As the health and lifestyle space. So this is an area where entrepreneurs of color typically gravitate to whether its media products. Whether it’s sorry whether it’s someone has Beauty health and wellness beauty makeup skincare haircare fashion. So there’s a strong focus on that that only only from a technical perspective like a no I’d say it’s a product product perspective as well.
But it’s a difficult one to support from a venture capitalist effective and that’s part of the challenge. Yeah, exactly. And there’s a lot of challenges there. From Brand marketing products development scale and and even for those that are on that Journey even right at the beginning minimum purchase orders all sorts of things.
You got purchasing inventory. So infantry risk becomes a problem. So it’s an area we really want to support but it’s a difficult one. I’d say the most natural fit for me is obviously technology and digital Pipeline and what I think has been absolutely astonishing for me. And I say astonishing in a good way but also in a bad way because it really does upset me how little focus in the UK particularly in the UK press technologists get particularly in the startup world.
I felt I saw all this myself right where the technologists behind the people behind the technology. Come second to the people who came up with an idea, right? So you see the CEOs the the cfo’s COS getting a lot of focus and the technologists get nothing. All right, and what I’ve been so impressed by is the quality of the technical Founders who we’ve met so far.
These are guys in guys and girls. Sorry either in. Drone technology machine learning medical science technology Diagnostics tooling data science and virtual reality robotics such just every type of Technology satellite power Satellite Systems Technology as well every type of tech you can imagine we’re seeing founders of color.
In that space right and strong technologists. So that’s just a bit of segue. But in answer to your question, what kind of organizations we look for? I think ultimately what we’re looking for are companies where we can believe in the founding team not because of their education but because of who they are what they can do and the a 2-degree what they’ve done but also the.
What we see them capable of doing right the promise in them, but then in terms of the product, it’s really is this a how far they got along their journey of building the product, right? Is this a product that is likely to scale? And is it going to scale globally? Yeah, because we’re still Venture Capital fund.
We still need to generate returns. Yeah, is it something that we feel we can provide value add to. Right because there are so many different VCS out there part of the reason why we get around the table and we get included is because of what we can do not just the mission that we have behind us. So I’d say my sweet spot definitely on the tech side.
Whereas fintech ensure Tech legal technology. If you if you got any strength in that space, you naturally going to get an audience with me, right? There’s an invitation guys, so. Primarily seed and series a but we do look at some proceed as well because we think that’s important because a lot of our key demographic are focused on that area because part of the challenge for people is friends and family.
It’s Phil is the friends and family around as to elude it before they can’t get that far, you know say well go ahead and raise a hundred thousand pounds and friends and family. Well, good luck, right if you’re young lad from Stratford. That might not be that easy. However or Lucien right? I mean that mushroom these days maybe you might have a baby changes, but that’s not so easy.
However precede is the riskiest form of investment because right 60% of deals six percent of companies don’t go on to raise the next round, right that doesn’t mean they will fail but there’s a high percentage chance that they do. So and also the ticket sizes are a lot smaller. You know, if you’re building a hundred million pound VC fund is only met so many fifty two hundred thousand pound checks, you can write within that time period so it’s a difficult one for us.
It’s one that we want to support and we have done some precede and we’re always interested in producing companies, but you really do have to come in with an outstanding story because it’s so hard for us to be able to do what we need to do. That level we’re primarily focused on those companies who have managed to get a standing start going getting a little bit of pace but now struggling to find other VCS to come around the table.
So we’re there to say look. No we can help you take that next step. But obviously, yes, we do still have to look for certain metrics. And the thing is is that. I’ve heard the question once what’s the difference between different species? You know, they all look at the numbers. They all look at potential for growth.
They all look at some might have a particular interest in biotech or deep deep Tech or whatever, right? But ultimately what it comes down to network who knows them and who do they know. Our big thing is we are looking for a very specific group of individuals and we are trying to open the doors to them.
And I think someone said the statement to me the difference between you and them is you don’t say no because. That’s the big difference. We’re not going to say no to you because you’re an entrepreneur of color write that as part of the reason why we’re going to you’re in the room with us, right, but we will still look in the metric not going to get investment from us just because we’re person color.
We’re still trying to build real businesses that can scale that can grow that can generate revenue and build returns, right? So it’s a very broad question. That’s quite Meandering answer. And yeah, I hope I’ve given you some level of closure to the question. Now you have a sure sure is that you want to work towards wrapping up now?
I. Set of questions I ask all people that come on. Okay, rapid fire dancers are kind of trauma, but you can imagine when I done this with Eric. They were not ready for travel. But Erica still shot Eric. Yeah. Okay. So like what has all who has been your biggest inspiration my mom and dad. They’re the ones who pushed me to make sure I went to University in the first place and if it weren’t for them given where I grew up given the school I went to I don’t think I’d have.
Favorite podcast favorite podcast. Well now it’s Phil’s show right now. I thought I’m having me down. I think before that probably I’m snow is tried. It’s a cliche answer but 20-minute VC is really good. It’s a really good show you listen to it and you learn so much just listening to that show.
Yeah, and I’ll give a shout-out to Reggie Yates is show as well. Have you listened to ya my my girlfriend loves listening to it? So we’ve always gone on in the background. I haven’t actually checked it out though. I’ll know it’s worth listening to favorite blog. Honestly, I don’t have one. I don’t spend that much time.
I’d say I read across different materials different people different organizations. I don’t really have an answer to that question. Okay favorite book. I would say Gardens of the Moon by Steven Erikson favorite Instagram. Honestly, I don’t spend that much time on Twitter. UK black tag. Okay, cool.
Always go interested. Oh, yeah. Yeah. Absolutely. It’s out to David. What do you wish you could do that? You can’t really can’t do give more quality time to my friends. I’d say I’m so busy. I’m trying to do so many different things spending time my friends and family is probably the area where I failed most and one of the lessons I’ve learned is for everything that you’re doing all the good that you’re doing in the world your friends and family is still the people who always going to be there for you.
Yeah, so you need to be able to give some back to them because they’re the ones are going to support you when you’re down. Yeah, that’s really really true the advice you would give to your 21 year old self. Honestly the advice I’d give to the 21 year old self is just keep going keep doing what you’re doing.
You’re going to make it in the end. You’re going to get their life is always challenged, but you know don’t know keep backing yourself and I’d say no your value right? Remember that always know your value and if you don’t know what it is go and find out what it is. If you had a hundred dollars a hundred pounds in your favorite City.
What do you spend on? Probably bear. I like to go out and have a drink. I like to enjoy myself. What’s the one thing? I know you mentioned this earlier, but maybe it’s a different answer but what’s the one thing startup should ignore the early days? Wow, that is a really hard question to answer doubters when I say ignore what I mean is listen to them.
But don’t let their doubts in their fears override your ability in yourself. Mmm, right everyone comes at comes at a problem from a different angle with different experience. There’s might not marry with yours, but some of the lessons I’ve learned along the way may well be relevant. So don’t allow other people’s fears to stop you from what you need to do, but do pay attention to the lessons.
They’ve learned. Let’s go. And finally, what’s your vision? I guess this is this might have two answers. Hmm because what’s your vision? I guess your vision for one neighbor because obviously I know you’ve left there by obviously, you’re still a co-founder. So you still have still cheerlead still.
Yeah. Absolutely. What’s your vision for the company? And what’s your vision for the company for my vision for for neighbors for it’s become an established name right known as a company that helps employees. Gain, Fair access to finance and reduce the debt burdens, right? It’s of course, you know, I would love to see it become x million in valuation and you know do all the other great things that startup supposed to do but neighbors fundamentally set up with a social mission in mind and I want to see it fulfill that mission.
That’s what I want to see. In regards to impact X. I want to see I want to see companies coming through on a see them growing. I want to see the next thing. I want us to be a Powerhouse in that space. I want impact X to be the fund that not just underrepresented Founders come to but other Founders come to maybe they get turned away, but they but they come right I want us to be, you know, right at the Forefront of creating and Building Wealth of developing that industry and I want us to be a leader.
In that space, I think that’s important. It’s not enough for us to be good enough to be in the engine room. Right? We need to be in the captain’s chair as well. I firmly firmly believe this. Yeah, that’s good. It’s actually as yeah. Thanks so much for coming on the show bill. It’s been a pleasure if people want to find you if you’d like to be found.
Where can they find you? Well, you can find the most easily probably through Linkedin. Yeah. I’m very easy to find just type in as a to Britain. Or neighbor or impact x capital or codon tat you will find me right if you want to find out bit more about code untapped join our meetup group. So we’ve got a code on tap to meet up and come to one of our events and that’s the easiest way to meet me in person.
Awesome. Thank you so much for coming on. No problem. Thank you for your time. Just want to say another massive thank you to is actually for coming on the show and sharing his story with us. And again another massive thank you to Founders Factory and more specifically Winnie who keeps hooking us up with a space.
Thank you so much Winnie. We appreciate you. So that’s it guys as always thank you so much for tuning in. And if you haven’t already, please subscribe and leave us a review. They honestly do go a long way. Okay until next time keep grounded.