Andrew: Hey there, freedom fighters. My name is Andrew Warner. I’m the founder of Mixergy.com, home of the ambitious upstart, the place where I do deep interviews with entrepreneurs about how they built their businesses.
Now, imagine this. Imagine you run a business and a guy comes up to you and tells you that his company could build better partnerships than you could, and his company could get more sales than your team could, and that you should hire his firm to do all that for you. What would you do?
Well, that’s pretty much the business model that today’s guest used to launch this company. Freddie Achom is the founder of City Business Partners. He launched that company in 1997 as a business development agency and sold it three years later. I invited him here to talk about how he built and sold that company, and to talk about his current business, Rosemont Capital Partners. It’s an early stage venture capital firm.
And this whole thing is sponsored by HostGator. Later in the interview, I’ll tell you about how I just used a simple webpage to woo my wife before we ever started to really date. If you have an idea, you should launch it online with a website, and we’ll talk about why HostGator is the company to use. But first, Freddie, welcome to Mixergy.
Freddie: Thank you very much, Andrew. Thank you for having me on.
Andrew: Oh, it’s great to have you on here. How much did you sell the business for?
Freddie: We sold it three years after we founded the company for nine million pounds.
Andrew: Nine million pounds. What’s the best thing that you are able to do because you sold your business and had nine million pounds? Well, you didn’t have all nine million pounds yourself, right?
Freddie: No, I didn’t.
Andrew: What was your share in the business?
Freddie: I owned one-third.
Andrew: You’re also dealing with a lot of taxes because it was a British company, wasn’t it?
Freddie: Yeah, that’s correct.
Andrew: All right. So then, what was the greatest part of having had this exit? What were you able to do?
Freddie: It provided me with choices.
Freddie: So I could really take a step back and take stock, and really look at what I believe my passion to be and what direction I wanted to go in life. Because prior to that, working was mainly a lifestyle business. So you were sustaining your lifestyle. But after that exit, I was able to basically take stock and decide in which direction I wanted to take my life actually
Andrew: Did you get to do any fun thing before you took that direction?
Freddie: No, I was pretty much straight back into it.
Andrew: That’s it.
Freddie: I did invest in certain businesses that were a labor of love. They didn’t really show me any return.
Andrew: Like what?
Freddie: A friend of mine was a music addict, so I invested in his music company . . . record label, I guess you could call it. And that didn’t show me any return, but it was fun . . .
Freddie: . . . being around more creative elements. And that was really interesting to see people working really with no end motive other than simply to create and to deliver what they believe to be their passion. That was really nice.
Andrew: Before we started recording, you told me about this story that made you feel like, “Yeah, this is the business. I can do it.” And it was you walking into whose office?
Freddie: I walked into a chap called Peter Charles[SP]. I had called him out of the blue. He owned a company that was much larger than the company I was working for, and I kind of understood that they were A pretty refined company, etc. They had multiple offices in the UK. So I called him up and managed to get through the barrage of PAs, etc., and explained to him that I had a proposition for him, that I could really add to his business, which he didn’t feel that was the case. He told me on multiple occasions that he didn’t think I could offer him anything.
Andrew: You mean you just kept calling him up and saying, “Hey, can we have a conversation?”
Freddie: No, it was one call.
Andrew: Okay, and he just kept telling you no.
Freddie: During that one call, he just kept saying, “Look, I really appreciate the call, but I don’t think that you could help me or I could help you.” And I said, “Just give me 20 minutes of your time. Anytime you want, I can come and see you, and I’m sure you’ll be happy to listen to what I’ve got to say.”
So in the end, he gave in and said he’d give me 20 minutes, etc., and gave me a date, sort of two weeks’ time or whatever it was. Because he was based predominantly in the north of England, I think it was. And so I arranged to come down and see him. That morning, I woke up, and for some reason, I understood that that was . . . I don’t know why, but I just knew that was a very important day in my life. And I knew if I basically accomplished what I felt I could accomplish within that meeting, that things would change drastically for me.
So I woke up super early. The meeting was around 9:00 in the morning. I was up by like 5:00 or 6:00, making coffee, ironing my shirt. And just ironing the shirt, I remember being totally focused, almost forgetting that I was ironing my work shirt. Obviously, I turned up at the office. I arrived, announced myself, and waited patiently to see him. When I saw him, he was pleasantly surprised looking at me. I’m relatively articulate, quite bold. I guess maybe I sounded older. So he was surprised to see this young guy sitting in front of them. He thought I’d probably be in my 30s or something.
I admire a lot of entrepreneurs for their open-mindedness and their willingness to see beyond certain stereotypes. As surprised as he was, he didn’t show it too much anyway. Anyway, I went on, explained to him I knew a lot about his business. I had done a lot of research and I gave him his numbers, and he was quite impressed. He said, “Okay, yes. Fine. Thank you.” I listed some of his clients, etc.
And I then gave him my plan, which was if he invested in me, he could increase turnover by X amounts. And he thought, “Where did I get these figures from? How did I come to these conclusions?” I said, “Well, this is what I’m doing in my current place, and I know I don’t have the resources you have, etc.” And I said, “I just want to prove my worth and prove that I can add to your business.” I said it will cost you nothing. The investment would be very minimal, that he would just cover my overheads and pay for my staff, allow me to form a small team of agents and we would try and get on some new business for his company.
After about half an hour . . . the meeting went on for possibly about an hour, so he did give me more time than he said he would. And in the end, I think, personally, it was more about he liked the goal and the intensity and my unrelenting steel.
Andrew: Because he had an office of people, right? How many people are in his office?
Freddie: He had 30-odd people. It was probably more.
Freddie: I calculated about 30 people, good senior management team, etc. etc.
Andrew: And you were saying, “I can grow your sales, maybe even beat this whole team . . .”
Andrew: Working out of where?
Freddie: I remember his office was based in Central London, very swanky. And I said, “Look, minimal investment. If I could take an office in East London, some sort of back streets, I don’t mind.” Because I wasn’t that interested in the sort of façade. I just wanted to get on and show him what I could do. And so he agreed, because the investment in the project was quite minimal. And I told him within a year or so we would sit down again and I would show him my numbers. And he would be gauging my numbers over a period, but within a year, we’d sit down and decide whether or not I was delivering as I promised. It didn’t take a year. Within I think it was about six months, he called me in one day and said, “Look, I’m in London. Come and see me.” I went to see him. Because he’d been monitoring my numbers . . . and he said, “Look, you’ve delivered. I’m very impressed. I want you to take over my office.”
Freddie: Was I surprised? No. I wasn’t surprised because I knew my abilities. I knew what I was capable of. I knew I just needed some time and the resources to be able to prove it, so I got him to sort of step up and invest in me. And it paid off for him because the moment we took over the office, I took his office and I streamlined it. I reduced staff and increased his revenue.
Andrew: And this is after he’d let you come in and run the office.
Andrew: When you were working out of that smaller office in East London, just scraping by to figure out how to get his numbers up . . . first of all, what did the business do?
Freddie: It was a business development agency.
Andrew: No, his. Sorry, the one that you were growing his business.
Andrew: Oh, he had a business development agency. I see. And what business development agencies do is they take on the sales of other firms. They create partnerships. I see. And so you said, “Hey, from this little office, I can grow the partnerships for your clients.” Were you doing it as an employee?
Freddie: Yes, I was.
Andrew: You were. Okay, so you just basically said, “Give me a job and I will amaze you so much that you’re going to do what next, we’ll figure it out,” but it ended up being you running the whole show.
Freddie: It was basically a satellite office of . . .
Andrew: I see.
Freddie: . . . what he already had.
Andrew: You say you missed you those days, the days when you could walk into somebody’s office with that kind of proposition. What is it about those days that still, today, gives you inspiration?
Freddie: It’s the belief that you have in your abilities. It’s the almost naïve and innocent unrelenting conviction that one has. Today, you’ve got accountants and lawyers telling you you can’t do things. Back then, you didn’t have that. But today, if we’re looking at propositions, there’s a lot of analytics that go into whether or not you’re going to invest in a business, whether or not you’re going to be partaking in the business. It’s very different now.
Freddie: It’s quite raw. Let’s just say that.
Andrew: Right, almost empty ambition. Not empty ambition, but empty confidence. There isn’t a track record that shows you can do it. There isn’t any formula that says, “Look, as long as I just do this, say, set of stuff, I will be able to grow your sales.” It was just ambition or belief in yourself because you believed in yourself. Or was there more to it?
Freddie: No, I believed in myself. That’s one thing. But there is a talent to opening doors. Not everyone can approach a company or an individual unannounced. You have to be very bold. You have to be very thick-skinned. So I’d already earned my stripes within that sector. So approaching him, I certainly knew I could open doors and attract more partnerships and more businesses for his business. But the ability to formulate, to keep a team together, to structure an office, that’s almost an addition, something that was relatively new to me. The security was no longer there that you’d have been a bigger organization.
Andrew: I see.
Freddie: I pushed the boat out.
Andrew: Okay. All right. And then because you did it for him, you’d said, “I can start my own company.” And by the way, I should have said this earlier. Can you just tilt your camera up a little bit? I think we’re cutting off the top of your head just a tiny bit. There we go. Yeah.
One more thing before I get into what you did. You are one of the coolest guys I have ever met. We’re doing it on Skype, so people can’t really get a sense of the office, of your style. Where did that come from? I saw an old article about you where I see you in your space. Do you know the one in The Independent that I’m talking about?
Andrew: Where is that office space? I wish that we could shoot live video in an environment like that. Is that your space?
Freddie: Yeah, that’s my home.
Andrew: Oh, that’s your home.
Andrew: So do you have that style naturally, or is it something that you hire out?
Freddie: No, naturally. My mother always asks me, “Where do you get your taste from?” Because I have different homes and they’re all completely different. It’s quite an artistic . . .
Andrew: That’s the other cool part. They asked you, “Where do you live?” and you said, “I think I live in London.” And then you said, “Well actually, I think maybe the home in France is the one that I consider my real home, in Paris.” It was just cool and swagger. And even the shirt that you’re wearing in the photo . . . maybe I’m making too much out of this. But you’re just wearing jeans, a shirt, and a jacket — same thing I’m wearing exactly now — but dude, that looks great. And the photo behind you and the art behind you . . .
Freddie: Thank you.
Andrew: I’m only saying that because I wish that there was a way for us to communicate more of that in this interview. And I think that that also helped you when you walk into someone’s office, when you have that sense of confidence that comes from like looking like you know what you’re talking about, from ironing a shirt because you need the details to be right. I think that comes across. Am I right?
Freddie: Yeah, certainly. I am a stickler for detail, but I do love fashion. I love creativity. I love interior design. I love anything that involves the intricacies of a design, like I like cars. I collect vintage cars. I love the detail in the old vintage cars, so I have to fine-tune that. It’s almost like a hobby of mine.
Andrew: Yeah, that’s Keith Haring on the wall. Is that an original Keith Haring?
Freddie: Yes, it is.
Andrew: I’m looking a little too carefully at this, because I’d like to just take an interior designer and say, “Copy this guy’s place.” All right.
Freddie: Thank you.
Andrew: So what did you do? Do you have an example of what you did to grow that . . . what was it? Charles’ business?
Freddie: An example?
Andrew: Yeah. What do you do? So now you have your office. Now, Peter Charles is saying, “I trust you. Here’s your office. I’m going to give you some money so that you have a budget in order to grow sales.” What do you do that makes you so different, that allows you to close sales in a way that other people can’t?
Freddie: At that point, we analyzed his business. And we felt his business . . . they would cast a wide net and then reel in new business. But what we aim to do, and what we did do in the end, was to be really target-driven and client-specific. And we offered a service where we would nurture the customer. He was dealing with established businesses, so we decided to approach new businesses that needed to grow. And so that became our angle, just dealing with the very small SMEs, small to medium-sized sector.
Andrew: What’s an example of a business that you went after that he wouldn’t have gone after?
Freddie: Just a small advertising agency . . .
Andrew: I see.
Freddie: . . . for instance, that, for them, they felt their client base maybe could not be expanded as quickly as the company could deliver.
Freddie: But we would nurture a company, deal with not only just bringing in new business. Sometimes we would recommend financing. Sometimes we would recommend the company expansion. So even though we didn’t have the expertise, we would work with them in order to have the business grow along with their client base.
Freddie: I felt that that was the slight niche that we had to his larger organization or his larger office. And so my sense is you were saying to yourself, “Look, I helped this guy build his business. I grew it from that little office that I had. And then I helped run the bigger organization, which meant that I had management skills. I knew how to run things.” And you decided, “I’m going to start my own business.”
Andrew: Okay. And it was going to do essentially the same thing.
Freddie: Yeah, we were going to do exactly the same thing. But again, from my experiences within the organization, I felt streamlining your client base and working really closely with the customer hand-in-hand in helping the business expand not only in the client base itself but also helping the business grow as the clients were accrued was our specialty. So we almost became partners in the businesses that we worked with. Some of the businesses became very close to us in that three years that we were working with them. So for us, I think it was actually ingraining ourselves within the companies that we worked with and almost being another director on the board, although we weren’t. We were simply in business development, but we really worked very closely with these companies.
Andrew: So let me see if I understand this. Does it take more than just an office and phones in order to launch a business like that?
Freddie: Yeah, [inaudible 00:17:51].
Andrew: It does. What else goes into it? It’s now you and it was two other people. You said, “We’re going to get together. We’re going to launch our firm. It’s going to do business development. That’s what our agency will do for other clients.” What else do you need beyond an office and phones?
Freddie: We put in certain partnership structures in place. If companies required financing, we were able to connect them directly. We had relationships already built. If companies wanted, I guess, marketing to market their services in a different way, we had those relationships. So we were able to sort of plug-and-play . . .
Andrew: I see. So it was an office. It was a phone, but it was all those relationships that you developed that allowed you to bring to a new client some added experience, bring to a new client financing, and so on.
Andrew: Got it.
Freddie: I think, for me, as in most companies, you can’t always start a company straight away regardless of your idea. Sometimes it’s the connections, it’s the relationships that you built over time that allow you to avoid the pitfalls of growing a small business or a startup business.
Andrew: All right. And you were 23 at the time, right?
Andrew: What did you do to stay in touch with people? Do you remember one of the . . . ? Like here’s an example of what I would do. If I met someone, as soon as I left them, I would pull out my device, whatever I happen to have with me, and I would put a note into it about what the person especially liked. I remember there was one guy, he liked tablets before the iPad. And I just wrote it down. And then when I wanted to send him a gift . . . I found a tablet that Microsoft built and I shipped it out to him. And it was like $1,000, which was a lot of money to send over to someone who you were doing business with. But he was stunned, and he ended up doing tons of business with us. He ended up doing hundreds of thousands of dollars, so that $1,000 was nothing. Do you remember something like that that was that was like vintage Freddie at 20 some odd years old?
Freddie: When I was 23, I’d heard in the past that a lot of the corporates did a lot of the business around the golf course. I didn’t play golf, but I would never say that at meetings.
Freddie: And in the end, I remember enrolling in some sort of . . . it wasn’t a crash golf course, but it was golf training. It was close to my home. It was in Regent’s Park, and I would go twice a week in the evenings and practice with a pro golfer for several months, just to be good enough to . . . so then I would take clients to play golf because a lot of business is done on the golf course. So that’s one of the things I would do. And I found that most companies, as soon as you offer them golfing as a sort of weekend was perfect. So that’s one thing I did that I didn’t think I would do. Just to get more ingrained with the corporate world, I needed to play golf. And anyone who’s involved in banking or corporate finance today understands that you do a lot of business around the golf course.
Andrew: Are you a good golf player now?
Freddie: No. I wouldn’t say so, no. I can play golf and I can do a lot of business on the golf course.
Andrew: I see. You know what? I’m so lucky that in tech, people don’t do that. After I sold my first company, I took some time off for myself and I said, “You know, people seem to love golf. Let me take up golf.” And I signed up for lessons, and I took this class and I was going to it. I had tons of time so I would go to it three or four days a week, and I was so bored. I couldn’t keep up with it. I said, “What is it about this thing?” For some reason, I couldn’t connect with it, and I went back to running and cycling, which felt good. But unfortunately, they’re much more loner sports. It just didn’t work.
Freddie: No. I can’t [inaudible 00:21:46]. But I did take my then girlfriend at the time with me, and she had the unusual knack at being good at golf, so that spurred me on.
Andrew: That would help.
Freddie: She’s Japanese Canadian, and I’m not sure if they have some sort of knack for golf. Because her mother, she told me, was very good at golf and never had any lessons. So when I took her, she was always amazing with her strokes. The instructor would continuously pit me against her, so I had raise my game. I have to say, I probably think, ’til today, she’s better than me because she was such a natural. It was amazing. I guess that’s why I stuck at it because I needed to be better than her. I’m quite competitive, so . . .
Andrew: All right. And I get how in the early days, golf would have helped you out. What’s one other thing that you did that you brought to sales that maybe the rest of us wouldn’t have thinked to do. What’s your relationships?
Freddie: To relationships?
Andrew: Yeah, were you a gift guy? Do you send a lot of gifts? Do you do something else to warm people up?
Freddie: I’m pretty good at the corporate entertainment.
Andrew: Okay. What is corporate entertainment for you?
Freddie: For me, I was pretty sociable, so for clients to go to a pretty cool bar, pretty cool clubs, good restaurants. I built up a very good network. Some of the best restaurants, I’m pretty well known. I’ve been going there for years, so that really helped me. So in that, I’m pretty good. If you were in London ’til tomorrow and you said, “Oh, I’ve heard about this great restaurant. Can we go?” We wouldn’t need a reservation.
Andrew: How would you get in?
Freddie: I’ll give you a scenario. So I had a business contact last year, came over from Kazakhstan, and she said, “I’ve heard of this restaurant. It’s amazing. It’s very difficult to get a reservation.” It was Le Caprice restaurant in London. And I said, “Okay, no problem.” I said, “Let’s go.” And she looked at me and she was like, “What do you mean?” I said, “Let’s go right now.” Because we were just finishing our meeting and were sort of having drinks afterwards. And so we arrived at Le Caprice, and immediately the door opened. Paul Stebbing [SP], who is the maître d’ there . . . and he saw us, immediately sort of, “Hi, Freddie. How are you? Wonderful. I didn’t know you were coming tonight.” I said, “No, no. We just decided like five minutes ago.” And he said, “Oh, would you like your usual table?” I said, “Yes, that would be nice.” And we sat down and she was totally amazed.
Andrew: I’m amazed. Why is it? Is it because, I guess, you go to these restaurants often enough and you own clubs yourself? Is that what it is?
Freddie: Yes. Now, yes. But prior to that, the relationships I built with the restaurants and bars were simply because I understood the caliber customer. I carried myself, I guess, in the correct fashion or in the correct manner. And I’m pretty able to get along and to hold a good conversation with people.
Andrew: I see.
Freddie: As well as that being my job, socially, I’m extremely entertaining. I’m very engaging, so going into most restaurants, I usually don’t go to a restaurant that I’m not known in.
Andrew: I see. What’s your thing for engaging people in conversation and being interesting?
Freddie: I’m pretty knowledgeable. So if we’re talking about something, I will have an opinion on it. I wouldn’t simply just allow someone to run away with the conversation. I certainly would partake in the conversation, even if it’s a subject that I’m not well versed in. I read a lot, so I’m perfectly capable of having a conversation about almost anything.
Andrew: I get that.
Freddie: So I think that helps me, but corporate entertainment really does help. I know a lot of people talk about it, but I guess we did it in a much more trendy fashion. We didn’t take you to the corporate restaurants, boring. We would go to fun places. And if you have fun with a customer, they’ll never forget you. And they will remember that, and they will always look forward to meeting with you again and hopefully doing a meeting. And usually at the end of meetings, back then, it would be like, “Oh, can we go somewhere tonight?” You got to remember, I was young, so these guys were much older than me. And so to go with a younger guy who knew the younger girls, who knew the scene, it benefited me. Although I didn’t realize it at the time, I think it really did benefit me.
Andrew: It’s amazing how much fun plays a part in business decisions.
Freddie: [inaudible 00:26:31]
Andrew: You would think that they would just do nothing but rational decision-making all day long. But if they have fun with you, they feel more connected to you. They want to work with you.
Speaking of engaging conversations, I should quickly do a sponsorship message for HostGator. And I love having conversations, too. In fact, when my wife and I went on one of our first dates, I took her to this dinner party. And immediately, one of the things that I do . . . here’s my thing in conversations. I go to the personal, like when people first had sex, and we all start talking about it. I go into the personal. Like if someone got into a divorce or something happened bad with their company, I want us to talk about it around the table. It makes for a very engaging conversation.
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The next day, I bought the domain name dictionharry.com. I quickly copied from dictionary.com what their page looked like for déclassé. I put it as the homepage of dictionharry.com with my photo on it, and I emailed it to her. I said, “Hey, did you see dictionharry.com?” She clicked it. She saw a page that looks like a standard dictionary page with the word “déclassé,” which she threw in the conversation, which . . . who does? And my photo next to it and we had this big laugh over it. And the reason I was able to do it is because this kind of stuff just takes a few minutes and a couple of bucks.
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Freddie, I saw that you are giving me this look when I said, “And we talk about the first time we have sex.” Is that déclassé? That’s inappropriate for corporate conversation. Am I right? That’s a little over.
Freddie: It depends on what point during the evening. That’s probably 3:00 a.m. when you’re trying to put somebody in a taxi. It can come up, but not very often.
Andrew: It’s the kind of thing that you only talk about with people who you know really well. And so if you have that conversation with someone early on, then it feels like you know them really well and there’s a bond.
All right. That’s not the way you would do business. Here is one of the ways that you did business. One of the sons of the founder of WHSmith — that’s a huge stationery store in the UK — had an idea. What was his idea?
Freddie: The idea was some time ago, and that was about 1997-ish. He had looked at and analyzed the student accommodation, university accommodation, and felt that there was a gap in the market to install laundry services for students. Because I think a lot of students back then, the accommodations were very basic. So his idea was to get laundry services installed in as many university and student accommodations as possible.
Andrew: Okay. And so how do you find out about this to try to get him as a client?
Freddie: Back then, I believe he was a friend of one of my partners or an associate of one of my partners. And so we arranged to be with him and we went to see him. And it was two of them actually, him and his partner. And it was really to see what the business model was and how viable, and if we could actually add some value to his business and create partnerships for him. And in the end, it was a pretty good business plan, a pretty good business model. We opened a lot of doors for that business, got him into several universities all around the UK.
Andrew: Your pitch was, “Look . . .” What’s his name?
Freddie: I forgot. I believe it was Andrew Smith.
Andrew: Okay. So you say to him, “Mr. Smith, I will go out there and build the partnerships for you with the universities. You focus on the business. I will go out there and get you the clients.” And you call the universities and you got them to pilot it. Who else would you call up?
Freddie: Initially, we’d drawn up a list of businesses because he focused mainly on the student accommodations.
Andrew: I see.
Freddie: So we felt, certainly that was the place first place to start, but the business could branch out into hostels and various other, I guess student-like accommodations within the city center . . . city centers from Birmingham to Manchester, and in London as well. But we started with the North. We started with Leeds, Newcastle, Manchester, Birmingham, and then we did London. We started with Surrey, a lot of accommodations down there for students. And we plugged him and that business grew. Because don’t forget also, they don’t retain us continuously. So we worked with that business for about a year and a half, and after that, the business continued with ours.
Andrew: So if a company hires you to do their business development, aren’t they really outsourcing a key part of their business? Aren’t they outsourcing something that they should be doing inside because it’s so important to the business?
Freddie: Yeah, I think today a lot of business internalize that. They have a team. They have a business development department now or [inaudible 00:33:34] business development manager. But 15 odd years ago, most founders have focused simply on their concepts and on their business, on their services that they’re providing.
Because when you look at advertising, etc. etc., it’s all changed now. Before, you had huge advertising agencies or advertising sales agencies. So it’s a similar thing where companies would look [inaudible 00:34:05], but they didn’t factor in their business developments going into and looking at other avenues and potential avenues to increase revenue. So we would come into a business, look at the business, see what their target market was, and we would just throw at them other potential target markets which they may not have considered. And we would strategize how you would approach them and what we felt was their best solution for that particular business. And today, I do believe that a lot of business, a lot of companies, and even small to medium-sized sector, do have or employ a particular manager or somebody within their senior management structure to head that sort of department.
Andrew: I see. You sold the business, you said, for nine million pounds. It was to ECG group.
Andrew: How did you connect with them?
Freddie: One of my partners had been speaking with them, and eventually, they had proposed an acquisition. And she had to come back and explained that that was a proposition that was on the table. It was a little bit surprising for us because today, you start a business with the hope of exiting the business, but we hadn’t ever really thought about exits. We were simply focused on creating a business that was sustainable and would sustain our lifestyles. So for us, it was six of one and half a dozen of the other. We weren’t quite sure if it was a good thing or a bad thing. But in the end, obviously, it was a good thing.
Andrew: This is the New York firm, the marketing agency.
Freddie: No, it was a company based within the UK.
Andrew: Okay. Are they a marketing agency?
Freddie: EGC? No.
Andrew: Oh, okay.
Freddie: It was a business development agency [inaudible 00:35:56].
Andrew: Oh, I see. Okay. Then I’m looking at a different EGC. You sold to them. You said you had some time to really explore your options in life. What option did you pick?
Freddie: At the time, I went on to invest in some media companies, some startups. And then in the end, we invested in some clubs, invested in an investment company. And then from there, spiraled into starting our own investment group, which is the early stage VC, which is Rosemont Group.
Andrew: Okay. You mentioned before we started one of the clubs that you bought, The Scotch. What was it before you bought it?
Freddie: The Scotch was probably the last club that we invested in. And prior to us revamping that club, it was a gentlemen’s club that had been there for like 20 odd years.
Andrew: A strip club.
Freddie: Yes, it was.
Andrew: Okay. All right. And it was run down at that point? Is it weird for me to have said that?
Freddie: Yeah, it was a rundown club.
Freddie: The owner have had it . . . he owned several. He owned about three or four strip clubs, and he was sort of getting on a bit. He was in his late 60s, quite notorious in London. He was quite well known, but he wanted to exit the business without anyone really knowing, so he didn’t really put the properties on the market. So we didn’t approach him. We approached him through an agent. And we saw the venue and it was interesting. I like the small space. And upon doing our research, we realized it was a very well-known space back in the ’60s. And it was called The Scotch of St. James. It was where Jimi Hendrix had been discovered.
Andrew: Oh, wow.
Freddie: It was where Elton John had played. It was where Stevie Wonder actually met Paul McCartney. So it had a lot of history. The Rolling Stones had its permanent table there. The Beatles had a permanent table there. So there was a lot of history. And upon doing my research, when I mentioned it to people who’d been around in the ’60s, they all seem to know this place. So we embarked on sort of a revamping project, trying to bring it back to what it was in the ’60s.
Andrew: Your clubs had a membership model, right?
Freddie: That club? At that time in London, it’s quite well known that a lot of the top clubs are membership-based. But we wanted something that was a little bit more . . . sort of turned our nose up at that. So we called it like a friendship club, so you had to be a friend of ours to get in. So that was a new concept. So people would always ask, “How do I get into there?” I said, “You just need to be a friend of ours.” So you needed to know one of about five people associated with the club in order to get in. So it was a slightly different concept. And again, a lot of membership clubs in London are you need to wear a shirt and a jacket to get in. We were the complete opposite. If you arrived at the door with a shirt, you weren’t allowed in.
Andrew: Shirt with a collar.
Freddie: Yeah, shirt with a collar, sorry.
Andrew: A T-shirt would be okay. A sweater would be okay?
Freddie: A T-shirt would be okay. If you’re wearing a nice sweater, you’d be fine.
Freddie: But if you came in a suit, you wouldn’t be allowed in. No suits was the policy.
Andrew: So what’s the membership part of it? It sounds like anyone who’s dressed well and looks good who waits in line can come into the club, right?
Freddie: There was no membership, per se. You had to literally be on a carefully selected list.
Andrew: So you couldn’t just walk up to it or drive up to it and go in?
Freddie: You could, but you’d be taking a chance.
Andrew: I see.
Freddie: So if you arrived and the club felt you were appropriate, you were in keeping with what the club was trying to portray, then you’re allowed in. If you didn’t, no.
Andrew: Okay. But if you were a friend, then you could get in because you are on a list and you were okay.
Freddie: Yes. Can I give you an example of that?
Andrew: Yeah, I’d love it.
Freddie: A pretty funny one.
Freddie: So one day, I was at the club and the membership secretary comes over and says, “Oh, I’ve got Michael Fassbender at the door, the actor. He’s there with two men. They’re all in suits.” And she said, “I told him it’s not possible tonight.” So he stood out there for 20 odd 30 minutes asking her that, “Please, do you mind . . .?” And he was pretty gracious because he never said who he was. And she didn’t acknowledge she knew who he was. And his friends kept nudging him, saying, “Tell her who you are.” He just kept on saying, “Please, young lady. Would it be okay? It’s just three of us . . .” da da da. In the end, she said, “No, it’s not possible.” And she came back into the bar for a drink. After about five minutes, she got a call to come back outside. He was still outside. So he’d been there for like 35 minutes.
Freddie: And then he said to her, “If Cameron Diaz came down and got me in . . . could I get in if Cameron Diaz comes down?” And she looked at him with this look on her face and she said, “Look, if Cameron Diaz comes down here and vouches for you, I’ll let you in.” Then she went back inside. And she was standing with me having a drink. She told me who was outside. She wasn’t letting him in because they weren’t appropriately dressed. I said, “Okay, no problem.” I just went with her decision. And then, 30 minutes later, she was standing with me . . . some 10 minutes later, should I say. She gets a call saying, “Come to the door. Cameron Diaz is at the door.” And she walks out, and he looks at her and says, “Now, can I get in?” She says, “Yes, you can.” And him and Cameron Diaz and his two friends went in, and they had a whale of a time.
Andrew: How unreal.
Freddie: This is Michael Fassbender.
Freddie: Oh, so why wouldn’t you let him in if you guys know who he is?
Freddie: He just wasn’t appropriately dressed at the time. I think he . . .
Andrew: I see.
Freddie: He must’ve been coming in from an event or something, so he was in a suit. And his friends were in suits.
Andrew: I see, and it just felt a little bit too much.
Freddie: Yeah, it was a little bit too much. But that was an interesting, funny story.
Andrew: He’s about to be Steve Jobs, I think, in a movie.
Freddie: Oh, they’re making a remake of . . .
Andrew: Or the Steve Jobs book, I think, is getting turned into a movie. And from what I can see, he’s going to be the guy.
Freddie: Oh, okay. He’s a great actor.
Andrew: You told April on our team here that it requires a warm book to build this business. What do you mean by that? I looked at the notes and it says, “Some people can bring a warm book or a cold book which kept them busy.” And I have to ask you, what does that mean for your business?
Freddie: A warm book is a book of contacts, so contacts that know who you are, who will respond to you, who will give you the time . . .
Andrew: I see.
Freddie: . . . to introduce your customers. So that’s a warm book. Usually, in most industries, even in banking, you’re bringing a warm book of customers. In private banking, should I say, you’re bringing a warm book of potential contacts and clients as well. So that increases your value.
Andrew: Okay, so that’s what you need in order to launch your business, and that’s what allowed you to grow.
Freddie: Because we had the contacts, as I said earlier, through relationships that we’ve built over a period of time, so we were able to hit the ground running and generate revenue almost instantly.
Andrew: Today, you invest in companies like justgo.com. I’m on their website right now. And is it pronounced “granddad?”
Freddie: Yeah, “granddad.”
Andrew: Grandaad is supposed to be the LinkedIn for creatives, LinkedIn alternatives. What is JustGo?
Freddie: It’s a social media aggregator and a crowd audience management portal, so you can manage all your social media in one space.
Andrew: What kind of companies do you invest in? Is it all tech?
Freddie: Not always. But at the moment, we believe technology is a great space to be in, so we, a few years ago, embarked on creating a good portfolio of tech companies under our umbrella.
Andrew: How do you pick the companies to invest in?
Freddie: We analyze the companies quite carefully. The founders are very important to us as well. You have to work with somebody that’s open-minded. But generally, we look at the scalability element of the business and the roadmap to where the founders are trying to take the business. Recently, we invested in AppyParking. I’m not sure if you’ve heard about AppyParking.
Andrew: They allow you to find a parking spot, right?
Freddie: Yeah. And with that particular business, again, there so much scalability. You start off just looking for a parking spot. The next phase within that business is to then be able to pay for your parking spot, so in-app parking payment system. We are also able to offer a business-to-business element to that. You look at fleet companies. British Telecom we are in discussions with to have that app embedded in all their drivers. They’re talking about 200,000 odd drivers . . .
Andrew: I see.
Freddie: . . . using the app. So that app has got huge potential to grow.
Andrew: How did you connect with that founder?
Freddie: Sometimes it’s really interesting. I was at a friend’s birthday, and she’s in advertising. And in advertising, you sort of have a partner. They’re working at Saatchi. And I asked her how her partner was because I’d met him several years ago. We were at a birthday party together. And she said, “Oh no, he’s left to chase some crazy idea he’s got.” And I said, “Oh, okay [inaudible 00:45:50].” I didn’t even inquire. And she said, “Oh, you should actually look at him, Fred, because his idea’s pretty good.” And I knew he was a very intelligent, smart guy. And I said, “Well, what’s the idea?” This is literally a conversation at the end of a birthday party where we’ve had a lot to drink. And she said, “Well, he’s got this idea of a parking app. He believes that he can tell you if you can park somewhere or where parking spaces are available.” And I said, “Isn’t there a parking app like that already?” And she said, “Apparently not because he’s sort of putting all this energy into it.” And I said, “There must be.” So that kind of conversation stuck in my head. I said, “Oh, okay, I’ll take a look at it.”
So a couple of days later, I was sort of looking around for something like that . . .
Freddie: . . . [inaudible 00:46:32] I’d find it. And I thought, “Oh, that’s insane that that doesn’t exist.” And so I sent her a text message. I said, “Get Dan.” He was Dan Hubert. “Get Dan to call me and let me see what he’s up to.” So he came in to see me like a month later, or he called me and he came in to see me. And yeah, it’s so strange because ’til today, he says, “Fred, I spoke to so many people and you’re the only guy that I had this conversation and took a punt with me, as we say in England.”
Right now, we just raised another million for the seed plus round with institutional investors now and looking on to a Series A. And every time we talk about the amount that we’re raising now, he finds it funny. Because he says, “Fred, you’re the guy. I sat with you. You understood what I was saying and you just wrote me a check and just got on with it.” He said, “Everyone I saw would ask me a million questions, would almost want me to do all the work. And yet that was the reason I was sitting in front of them, because I needed the finances to do the work.” And I said, “Yeah.” I said, “I just liked your energy. I liked your vision I think you have a roadmap and where you saw . . .”
I looked beyond Phase 1 and 2. And I thought Phase 3 and 4, he was already on there. He could see the full picture of what could be achieved with starting off with just simply informing the audience about where the parking space is or the parking rules. From there, he was going on to deal with, like I said, fleet companies, parking the driveways. Because parking is a huge problem . . .
Freddie: . . . in most of the cities.
Andrew: It’s one of the reasons why we don’t own a car here in San Francisco. I can’t find a place to park it. It’s going to cost me more time and more money to figure out how to park it here than to just take an Uber or a Lyft, so I do that.
Freddie: Yeah. Again, since we invested in that company, that space has literally exploded. Like you talk about San Francisco, I think there’s a company there called Luxe that’s doing very well, that’s raised $20 million in the same space. Over here, we had the fastest crowdfunding raise was done by a company called JustPark. So the space is . . .
Andrew: People are starting to realize what you realized, that there’s large-scale in it and a big painful need there.
Andrew: As you were talking, I was just looking up what you were saying in AngelList to get a sense of the people who you were mentioning, to get a sense of the companies we were talking about. And I happen to scroll down to the bottom of your AngelList profile, to the section which I never noticed even existed on AngelList, called “Mentors.” And your mentors are listed as Pete Cashmore, founder of Mashable, and Vinod Khosla, founder of Sun Microsystems. An incredible investor, Khosla Ventures . . . what does it mean that these two guys are your mentors?
Freddie: Again, just what they display. I like Mashable like a lot of people.
Andrew: Do you actually know him and he’s helped you out? He’s mentored you [inaudible 00:49:30]
Freddie: No, not at all.
Andrew: Oh, I see. The mentor section is just who influences you. It’s not who’s getting together with you on a regular basis for phone calls.
Andrew: Got it, okay. The other thing that I noticed when I looked you up in Wikipedia is you were born in Nigeria.
Andrew: Why did you say it that way?
Freddie: No, no. Yes, I was born in Nigeria. So I think generally, it’s had a lot to do with my mentality, my . . .
Andrew: How? I don’t get to really, to be honest with you, interview enough entrepreneurs from Africa or with any African connection at all. So when you say that it’s influenced you, how has it influenced you?
Freddie: Well, entrepreneurship in Africa is a given almost. But in Africa, you’re not labeled an entrepreneur. You’re simply told or labeled as a businessman. So in Africa, the private sector is almost nonexistent. Coming out of university and getting a job is almost nonexistent. You would come out of university and get into some sort of a businessman role, which is connecting people, getting contracts, making things happen yourself. So my father was an entrepreneur or a businessman. So being a Nigerian, it’s really the norm to come out of university . . .
Andrew: He was an insurance broker. What did you see that was entrepreneurial in your dad as an insurance broker?
Freddie: How he became an insurance broker. He had no . . .
Freddie: How he became an insurance broker. He had no formal training.
Freddie: He married my mother, and my mother felt he had a great gift of the gab. And she said to him, “Why don’t you make some money with your smooth talking?” So she told him to get a job as door-to-door insurance man. So he sold insurance door to door, and he was apparently quite successful at that. And then she convinced him to act as his own agent. So they got a small desk within an office, and that was their company. And he sold insurance as a private agent, and then went to start his own company. And so from just a door-to-door salesman, he went on to start his own insurance company in Nigeria, and then went on to do many more things. He’s a shareholder of a bank. He’s in politics.
Andrew: The England Bank of Nigeria.
Andrew: And then also he’s a politician.
Andrew: Wow. How did he feel about your success?
Freddie: Yeah, he’s very proud. I don’t think he’s surprised, because as a kid, I would . . .
Andrew: He has always expected of you to have done this.
Freddie: Yeah, I had the entrepreneurial spirit when I was a kid. I’ll give you an example again. I remember I’m taking on several paper rounds when I was a kid when I’d come home from boarding school. And I would outsource them to the kids, and I would take a small portion of it from everyone. So in the end, I actually did do a paper around, but I got paid because I owned the contract to the paper rounds the kids were doing.
Andrew: I see. And they would go and deliver the paper. You’d pay them. You’d get paid, and the difference between what you paid them and what you got paid was enough for you to make a profit.
Freddie: [inaudible 00:53:04]
Andrew: Yeah, I see that in you. You have two brothers and a sister. Am I right?
Freddie: I have three brothers and a sister.
Andrew: Three brothers. Oh, I see.
Andrew: Oh, we should correct that Wikipedia entry then. I could do that.
Freddie: Yeah, because I have one half-brother. So I think that’s what . . .
Andrew: Oh, I see. Are they entrepreneurial like you, too?
Freddie: My brother is a lawyer. He has his own law firm. And my sister’s entrepreneurial. And she lives in the Bahamas, and she’s a photographer.
Andrew: Do the other two brothers hit you up, say, “Listen, to you and our other brother, he’s a lawyer. You’re an entrepreneur. Give us some cash. Help us out.” Now I’m getting into the personal stuff, huh?
Freddie: No, they don’t really do that. They work they both work for themselves. They’re sort of independent IT . . . one is a project manager, works for himself, and the other is an IT consultant. So they’re pretty set. But there is the odd occasion where I help them bridge . . . call it bridge financing
Andrew: Yes, I get it.
Freddie: Yeah, but it’s okay. It’s family, so it’s fine. But we’re quite tight-knit.
Andrew: I’d love to find a way to get more people to know you, frankly, personally. I don’t know you personally, and now I’m introducing my audience and hoping that they could find a way to get to know you personally. Your firm doesn’t do meet ups. I think you could be such a great influence on some of the entrepreneurs who I have in my audience.
Freddie: I do meet up. I have a small foundation, the Rosemont Group Foundation, but that’s really meeting up with the youth, meeting up with students . . .
Freddie: . . . and giving them some advice, seeing where they’re at, and helping them plot their path. So I call it The Future Leaders. I do do meet ups, but generally, with students.
Andrew: Younger than the people who are in the audience.
Andrew: Well, if someone does have a good reason to connect with you, I’m not even going to tell them how to connect with you. They’re going to find a way. If there like you were when you were in your early 20s and you got into the office you wanted to get into, if they’re that kind of person, they’ll find a way to connect with you. All I’ll do is just say it’s great to know you here in this interview and I’m proud to have you on.
Freddie: They can get in touch because we’ve just announced an initiative. Because as a company, we want to invest in 20 more tech startups . . .
Freddie: . . . by the end of 2016. So if you do go online, you will see that you are able to send us a pitch.
Andrew: I see that. That’s the online pitch thing never works, right?
Freddie: You think so?
Andrew: You guys actually check that? Aren’t you looking for more people who you get to know socially who you feel you trust, who you . . .?
Freddie: Yeah, but at times you will . . . well, we invested in a company called Vivid Technology, which is based in Pakistan. It’s a customer services app, and that was literally a cold email.
Andrew: I see.
Freddie: So it can work. Like you said, it doesn’t always, but it can.
Andrew: All right. Fair enough. I shouldn’t be such a negative person.
Freddie: No, the approach is important, because you do get random emails.
Andrew: What’s your ideal approach?
Freddie: Just to really on top of your professionalism, and be succinct and clear. And try and make sure your deck represents the product as best as it can. Because sometimes some of the investment decks are really not well-put-together, and that’s an indicator of the kind of person you’re dealing with, I guess.
Andrew: Yeah. That’s a good point, too.
Andrew: All right. You do anything on AngelList or did I just happen to find you on there? You got 24 followers on AngelList. I feel like you should have more.
Freddie: Yeah, I don’t do much on AngelList actually.
Andrew: No, some people are just mad for it, and other people happen to just be on it. I just added myself as a follower, of course.
Freddie: Thank you.
Andrew: Right. Now your life is about to change.
Freddie: I tweet a lot, too, actually.
Andrew: You what? You do . . .?
Freddie: I tweet.
Andrew: You do tweet. What’s your Twitter handle?
Andrew: All right. Easy enough. Thank you so much for doing this interview.
Freddie: You’re welcome. Thank you.
Andrew: You know what? Actually, one more thing before we end. We started about a half hour late and now we’re ending about a half hour late because I was pushing a lot. Now that we’re friends, be honest. What was it like to be pushed by me? Does it feel a little bit aggressive? Did feel a little bit much? I was trying to shape this interview.
Freddie: No, I like that. Because I’ve listened to some of your interviews, and you like to go into the crux, into the details . . .
Andrew: Yes . . .
Freddie: . . . which is good. No, I didn’t think you pushed too much. You made me try and recollect some of the stuff that I’d forgotten over the years. And even speaking to you now, I was thinking when I go back home, I’ll dig out some of my old files and look up some of my old customers or something. Because I haven’t looked at the business for some odd 10 to 15 years, whereas I should, really. Because that’s what is the foundation of where I am today. So yeah, I am going to try and get a bit more detail for the next Andrew interview.
Andrew: I’d love to do that. I’d love to have you on. I actually recently found old envelopes from my bedroom growing up, and they were full of things like newspaper cleat clippings that I would keep up on the wall for motivation. They had photos of entrepreneurs I admired, and I remembered how helpful it was. Today it feels dorky for me to even show my face on video, but going back and realizing . . . I admired certain people in a way that I want my audience to admire some of my interviewees that having that face, having that person there as a target, as a role model is tremendously helpful.
Freddie: Yeah, it does work.
Andrew: I’m touched with all the things that got me motivated, and it reminded me what’s important.
Freddie: It does work. But for me, I found that I was more motivated by the people I came in contact with. So reading motivational books, I didn’t really do that. I was more interested in reading autobiographies of people that almost set out with a different goal, and success was not the goal. More character building goals . . . like I love the Muhammad Ali autobiography, because it’s so strange. You don’t know if he ever really set out to do what he did. It just came naturally to him. Some people are totally special.
So for me, in terms of business and mentors and motivation, I was more motivated by the people that I came in contact with. So I’d look at somebody I’d see that . . . the determination, the way they maneuvered around people. Because my work at the time was based around interacting and integrating people together, so I really studied that a lot. So I needed to focus on the people that were right in front of me.
Andrew: I found that too, actually, that when I worked for Paul Sorbera in New York, I felt . . . when I worked for him and I told him what my vision was for my future and he didn’t laugh but encouraged me, that kept me going. When I would see him come into the office and see the way that he would do little things, like what he listened to on his earphones on the way into work, that taught me a lot. When I saw the way he took notes in conversation, that helped me a lot. He was a headhunter, and so he was so good at understanding people and remembering little details about them. That did teach me a lot. And I see what you mean, getting in contact with them in person helps so much, or connecting with them in any way personally help so much.
I was also looking at the Muhammad Ali book. I didn’t know that he wrote an autobiography, but now I do. “The Greatest: My Own Story,” that’s what you’re talking about, right?
Andrew: Wow. Whoa, that’s an old one. It’s even hard to find an Amazon. It seems it’s out-of-print, but it’s available on hardcover for 2 cents. I love that. I will be buying it now for 2 cents.
Freddie: It’s well worth the read.
Freddie: It’s really worth the read. It’s an amazing story.
Andrew: I never heard of it.
Freddie: What amazed me with his story was he formulated his own way of overcoming obstacles that almost everybody told him he couldn’t. So he was a smaller fighter and he wanted to fight . . . I can’t remember the fighter now. But basically, he’d come to the conclusion he couldn’t beat him one-on-one, which is interesting.
Andrew: Couldn’t beat who? Frazier?
Andrew: Not Frazier. Couldn’t beat . . .
Freddie: Who was the first guy who he took the belt from initially?
Andrew: I don’t remember. Okay, but he realized he couldn’t take him on directly.
Freddie: What he decided to do was to beat him psychologically.
Freddie: He wanted to convince the other fighter that he was insane, so he destabilized the other fighter’s focus by . . . Muhammad Ali realized that people are scared of the unpredictability of an insane man. Everybody’s scared of an insane man. It doesn’t matter how small he is. You think, “You don’t know what that guy’s going to do.” So he created this illusion that he was insane. And the other fighter really believed he was mad and therefore was totally unbalanced, destabilized by what this crazy man was going to do in the ring. He could bite him. He could [inaudible 01:02:45] him, so that’s how he beat him.
Andrew: Oh, that’s so cool.
Freddie: There was one moment where Muhammad Ali . . . because what he would do, he would follow him everywhere he went, camp outside his house and do all these crazy things that a sane person wouldn’t do. He was a boxer. He should go off and train.
Freddie: But he was following him around with billboards and calling him all sorts of names. One day, the fighter . . . I can’t believe it’s eluding me, his name. But basically, he was outside his house, camping outside his training camp saying, “This guy is going to lose. He’s got no chance. He’s crazy.” The fighter got so frustrated, he ran up to Muhammad Ali and slapped him. And for that one moment, he got slapped, Muhammad Ali said he was so scared he thought this boxer was going to kill him. And that’s the one time he doubted himself and he doubted his game plan, but he then pulled himself together and continued his insanity act. And it really worked. The boxer thought, “Look, this guy’s completely crazy. I just slapped him and he’s still not budging.”
Andrew: Oh, I never would have known. I can’t wait to get it.
Freddie: You should.
Andrew: I saw the documentary about the rumble in the jungle. It was called “When We Were Kings,” and you see how he’s psychologically playing George Foreman in there.
Freddie: Exactly. He was using the same format because it worked.
Andrew: Yeah, I never heard noticed that . . .
Freddie: [inaudible 01:04:04]
Andrew: . . . or I never thought of it that way.
Freddie: That’s what he was doing. He came to the conclusion, “If I fought this guy one-on-one with that guy having full conviction and me with full conviction, I will lose.” So he would find ways to put a chink in the other fighter’s whole psyche. And he felt that was the edge. So the moment you had doubt in your boxing ability or whether or not you were going to win, he felt he could capitalize on that at some point. And that’s exactly what he would do. And it’s an amazing strategy. So in life, if we could all do that . . .
Freddie: . . . create this illusion of pure confidence and look for the chink. Once you see the chink, you know you’ll succeed.
Andrew: What a good place to end it and what a good book recommendation for the end of the interview. Thank you so much for doing this. I hope I get to meet you in person sometime, but I’m proud to have you on the site. Thank you.
Freddie: Thank you very much. Thank you very much.
Andrew: Thank you all for being a part of it. And if you found anything very valuable here, guys, please subscribe to Mixergy in your favorite podcast player to get every episode directly delivered to you. And again, if you really like this, help me out with a review. I’m looking forward to reading what you guys say in the review in the iTunes store. Thank you, everyone. Bye.