Tell us about yourself?
I started out in investment banking spending nearly a decade with Morgan Stanley and Citigroup, very different organisations but both amazing in their own ways.
I then co-founded a Global Equity Hedge Fund with two colleagues, working on the investment side of the business. An amazing experience working with some unbelievably smart people investing in fascinating businesses from Cambodia to California.
Investing (to me) is one of the most fascinating jobs there is – watching how macro policy can impact micro decisions and how startups can disrupt 50 year old billion dollar businesses in 5 years. The advances in technology have changed everything from healthcare to mining, banking to running a sports franchise.
It was also while investing that it became increasingly obvious to me that the tools and guidance needed to invest were not available to the majority of people. Something we resolved to change with Upside.
What lessons has being an entrepreneur taught you?
Humility, patience and perseverance (or boneheadedness perhaps?). That journey from idea to product is rough, the devil really is in the detail and while exhilarating it can at times be quite lonely.
If you could go back in time to when you first started your business, what piece of advice would you give yourself?
I get asked this a lot. The honest answer is none. Part of being an entrepreneur is the required youthful naivety to tackle problems. If I knew much of what I know now, then, I’m not sure i’d ever have started any of the projects.
For sure it gets easier and so if you pushed me – I’d say refine your product so you can explain it – in 2 minutes – to a friend on the train, or while waiting for a coffee. If you can’t do that then you are miles away from getting users and further from getting money.
A lot of entrepreneurs find it difficult to balance their work and personal lives. How have you found that?
Lockdown changed everything. Work life balance – for me – was terrible while working in finance. Endless flights, early starts, late evenings. While there are dangers in remote working, it has helped me enormously.
Give us a bit of an insight into the influences behind the company?
The seed of the idea that became Upside started in 2008, the financial crisis. I loved investing, working for investment banks – yet overnight it was the one question you feared most. “What do you do….” – too scared of flying to be a fighter pilot, you had to answer the question.
It was in those moments that I felt a strong sense of wanting to explain that most people who work in finance (like any other job) are not bad – in fact most are hyper smart, curious and good people in my experience.
That seed merged with some data we noticed while running our hedge fund. We spent thousands of hours trying to work out who and how we could make better returns.
We started to notice that – actually – investment ideas (great ones) can come from anywhere. Armed with those two ideas, we set about building an easy to use investment app, that gives people the tools to invest, in their way – with as much or little guidance as they may need.
What do you think is your magic sauce? What sets you apart from the competitors?
The ability to build investment products – on the fly – in house using massive aggregate user data.
In English – this means we create our own investment products using the principles of superforecasting and wisdom of the crowd. Its a lot of maths and code, but what it does is allow us to provide a simple highly flexible investment app, which creates its own content and shares the economics with the users – a real investment eco-system.
How have you found sales so far? Do you have any lessons you could pass on to other founders in the same market as you just starting out?
Ha… we are B2C, but we started with a B2B model, and that was hard. A long sales cycle is a very different mindset to a B2C. B2C is changing. For us it is about making sure our LTV is dramatically in excess of CAC, which is obvious – but in implementation not so obvious.
We’ve had to work hard at a referral and word of mouth user acquisition. It takes time, a lot of effort and engagement, but is (to us) much more rewarding that SEO which gave us lots of strange churn data in the early days.
What is the biggest challenge you have faced so far in your business, and how did you overcome it?
In one of our early proof of concepts we assumed (dangerous!) that our user base wanted to get better at investing. That was true – but we misinterpreted that into “= willing to spend time in app”.
The lesson was, we needed to allow users to go on their own journey and that in the main, our customers were busy and time was their most precious commodity. We needed to simplify the app, make it more intuitive and hide much of the ‘cool’ maths behind the scenes.
What do you find are the advantages of operating your business in London?
Less and less honestly. I love London but lockdown has changed things. Our team work from all over now and while we do meet in London every week, the daily interactions have changed.
Are there any issues with having a London based business? Have you experienced these?
The tube is great but generally getting around in London is not fun.
How has the higher than UK average cost of living impacted your ability to work and live in London and how has this also impacted your ability as an employer?
London is expensive, and the longer this cost of living issue grows the more pressure we will feel on wages, which is brutal as a startup.
That said, we have made huge savings by working remotely, so net net, we are probably better off now that pre-pandemic.
If you had to relocate your business to another city in the UK, which one would it be and why?
haha – this would cause some debate. Brighton would suit me, but I also hear excellent things about Manchester. Honestly I dont know.
How has BREXIT impacted your business (if at all)?
It hasnt really, at the margin it may have made travel more painful, but that’s looking for problems.
What is your vision for your company in the next 5 years?
We want to be the default investment app for everyone. As inflation starts to bite and people realise their cash savings are collapsing in value, investing will become more and more important.
As we roll our across the UK, we want to expand into the US and Asia in the coming years which will be exciting (and a huge amount of work) – we also see opportunity to integrate other services into the smart investment app, creating an increasing one-stop-shop.
But that’s getting ahead of ourselves. First we need to execute on our UK growth road map, and help our customers invest in a more awesome way.