By Gareth Lippiatt, Founder of ‘Fan Offers’
There surely could not have been a more appropriate way to complete my 8 months with Accelerate than to hear from Vernon Hill, a man that has built (and sold) a multi-billion dollar company in the US and is now well down the road to doing it again with Metro Bank in the UK! The vision, the passion for his brand, the focus on turning customers into fans of that brand, and the sheer drive to do this all over again was inspirational and sets the bar incredibly high for all of those ambitious entrepreneurs who were present. His graphic illustrating that in terms of American CEO’s generating returns to their shareholders over the last 30-odd years, Vernon was one place below Warren Buffet demonstrates the scale of what he has achieved!
In contrast to the title of Duncan Bannatyne’s book, in terms of building a business to that scale, it’s fairly clear that ‘Anyone cannot do it’! Reaching that level of success takes fanaticism, obsession, and dedication that the majority of people cannot muster within themselves. So anyone that is attracted to the life of a startup, seemingly this contradiction of creativity balanced with focus and a journey of unparalleled highs matched by the depths of the lows, I commend the challenge of Accelerate Cambridge to you.
Since starting my own journey at the tail end of last September I have found this to be a well-grounded programme that is intense and rigorous, yet inspiring and supportive in building your concept into a meaningful business. There have been a number of highlights: sipping a glass (or two!) of champagne overlooking the London skyline from our benefactor, Sir Paul Judge’s penthouse flat was memorable and possibly contributed in no small way to the whole-hearted support I have from my wife! Though it feels a million miles away at this start-up stage, this amazing experience was perhaps a timely reminder of just what the size of the prize may be for those few that enjoy such a magnitude of commercial success. The many hours that I’ve spent with the diverse range of expert mentors is a unique feature of the Cambridge Accelerate programme. Sharing in the experiences of the other ventures has contributed in the shaping of my own. In fact, as I look back, I’ve loved every moment.
Personally, I haven’t been surprised by the exceptional standard of my fellow Acceleratees or the quality of their projects and I look forward to seeing their progress in the coming years. As I reflect on what I’ve learned, I’m so glad that I applied for this programme and pitched my idea to Hanadi almost exactly 12 months ago; Hanadi is someone who definitely ‘gets’ entrepreneurs and their idiosyncrasies! Having already spent two years at the business school on the Executive MBA course, my experience of Accelerate is that it seems to be the junction where the Cambridge culture of world class academic input, high expectations, and rigorous programmes meets a pragmatic course for entrepreneurs, led by experienced entrepreneurs.
From the initial ‘entrepreneurship weekend’ with Simon Stockley, to the gruelling workshops on our value propositions, the marathon ‘mentor days’ and pitching our business ideas in (what at the time seemed like) the lions’ den… I’ve enjoyed every second of Accelerate and on behalf of my colleagues may I take this opportunity to thank Hanadi, Luther, Sayara, Maeve and the incredible team of coaches (particularly Chris in my case) and mentors that give up their time. It is greatly appreciated. A year ago I had an idea and 12 months later, with Accelerate’s help, Fan Offers has a refined product with a clear value proposition and funding strategy.
I conclude with my two main takeaways from Vernon Hill’s message to us, which were that firstly, having a great idea, concept, or business model in itself is not enough; the success of my project depends 100% on me as it’s leader. That’s a salient point definitely worth further reflection over the summer! Secondly, that as an American Vernon feels that the British are far too shy in asking for money, so taking that point on board, all readers of this blog are very welcome to join my team on our journey as early investors, as we are now live on a crowdfunding platform!