Tom Blomfield: The Dark Side Of Digital Banking | E86 | Transcription
Transcription for the video titled "Tom Blomfield: The Dark Side Of Digital Banking | E86".
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Your heart drops is this it, is this the moment the company dies. Tom Bloomfield, entrepreneur, investor and founder of Monzo. I've never actually talked about this before, and just six months I just thought I can't work with this person. It's really damaging to me and my mental health, and so I resigned. And the response to that resignation, she called an all-house meeting and fired the entire company. If I knew then what I knew now, I would never have done it, really. If I knew what the amount of pain and heartache that would be involved, I would never have started, but I didn't know that. I cry quite a lot. Meaning, I'm not ashamed of that. For about three or four seconds, I'd forgotten what my life was. I was calm, and then three or four seconds later, all the memories came back and it was just like this crushing weight. That really was the moment I just sort of knew this is, this is no life. There were no other emotions in my life, really, apart from just anxiety. I mean, it was serious by the end. We would detect criminals and shut their accounts down. Customs would turn up sometimes with weapons, and they threatened to turn up with a bottle of acid and throw it in someone's face. That was tough. Tom Bloomfield, whatever remarkable entrepreneur. One of the UK's recent real success stories, and he and his team managed to disrupt the archaic, incumbent banking system at a time when nobody thought it could be disrupted. But man, his story is crazy. Absolutely crazy. And the reason why I started the Diaries CEO is demonstrated perfectly in this podcast. It has it all. Controversy, drama, business wars, depression, anxiety, resilience, success, and failure. And today you're going to hear a particular business story, one that's never been heard before. But Tom felt that today and here was the place to share it. If you're an aspiring entrepreneur and you want to get to the point in your life where you're running a 100 million or a billion pound company, today might be your warning. Because as Tom is going to tell you, all that glitter is in gold. And the true cost of entrepreneurship, the cost that nobody seems to talk about is sometimes greater than the reward on offer. This is one of the most emotional, raw, honest, vulnerable, brilliant, gripping conversations I've ever had on this podcast. And I can't thank Tom enough for opening up his diary and allowing us to look inside. Without further ado, I'm Stephen Barlet, and this is the Diaries CEO. I hope nobody's listening. But if you are, then please keep this to yourself. Tom, why entrepreneurship?
Journey And Challenges In Entrepreneurship
Why entrepreneurship? (02:52)
I made a very bad employee. I've never been promoted and I've been fired. I would guess two or three times, depending on how you count. Why were you fired so often? My first ever job was a consulting firm in London. I actually wasn't fired from this one. I wasn't promoted. And they said I was highly disruptive and not in a good way. Not in a sort of tech-founded disrupt industry, more in sort of annoying junior analysts, can't follow instructions. So I think I'm much better founder than I am an employee. Well, what was it about you that was disruptive though? I want some specifics. Whenever I see a problem, I think that this is in common with anyone who starts a business. I look at the way something's done and immediately start thinking of better ways to do it. Rather than just doing what I'm told, I sort of scratch my head and think, "No, this doesn't make sense to me. Why are we doing it?" This way we could do it in this other way, which is 10 times faster. I mean, one of my first ever jobs was to, with another analyst, go and count all of the jewelry items on a, like a massed jewelry website. There must be a thousand to do a tally chart of the price range. And this guy started doing it by hand. So I scratched my head and wrote a little Excel script to script, basically scraped the website and just tally them up and go, "There's your results." But they didn't want that because they were billing by the hour and had only taken an hour of my time rather than 20 hours. And so they could only bill me out for an hour and like, "No, no, no, no, go back and do it by hand." So that kind of stuff just drove me crazy. And I was always just looking for ways to automate, ways to do things better. I guess that's what led me into entrepreneurship. Have you heard about this idea of first principle thinking? Absolutely, yeah. My co-founder, Jonah, St. Monzo is just, I think he would say, first principle thinking at least once a day. Because that sounds to me like first principle thinking, you're looking at conventions, way of doing things and thinking, "Well, no, this is a much easier one." Yeah, absolutely. You sort of start from physics and build up from there, really. How's that bode a few in your personal life though? So because personal life is full of convention, marriage, school, follow this path. Do you know what I mean? Yeah. And I'm not married, but certainly when I was younger, I followed that conventional path. I went to a grammar school, I did my exams, I got to play to Oxford, even to the masters of Oxford. So I sort of, I was following that conventional path towards becoming a lawyer, I guess. But somewhere along the way, I started realizing it probably wasn't for me. But definitely in the early years, that was my path. You built this hyper-fast growing business, which was funny that you use the word disruptor, which was known as one of the UK's great disruptors, and still is known as one of the UK's great disruptors. Can you tell me why? Because when I speak to Shaq, do you know Shaq, Shikil Khan, about Daniel Akk? And when I think about your story, you both made the decision to take on just what many entrepreneurs would consider to be an immovable object. You took on the banking system. Daniel Akk took on this massive music industry that was seem to be immune to change. I was talking to Shaq about this last week. Oh really? He texted me last night about Harry's new fund. So I think that's why he's fresh of mine.
What made you want to disrupt an industry? (06:04)
What gave you the conviction and the confidence that you could take on such a mammoth industry with Monzo? I mean, arrogance, naivety in arrogance, I think, in no small part. I'd already built a company called Go-Cardus, which is a payment process. That sort of taught me that three young guys could get access to the payment system and actually move money around. And banking was a step up from there. It was more regulated, more complicated. But I had the background in payments, and I was an early NatWest user, or rather, when I was young and they were very old, I was a NatWest user and I was deeply, deeply disappointed. And I think like any founder, really a huge sort of dose of naivety. You look at a problem and think it's probably, I think if I knew then what I knew now, I would never have done it, really. If I knew what the amount of pain and heartache that would be involved, I would never have started, but I didn't know that. And so I had a huge amount of self-confidence, huge amount of naivety, and just assumed that I could figure it out. And I think we got a really, really long way. The company's still doing fabulously. So I'm incredibly proud of what we built. Find that point about naivety so interesting, because it almost feels like founders like yourself need to be deluded on one end in terms of their own confidence. Because if you look at the stats and all the odds, they're clearly against you. So founders like yourself seem to be, I deluded sounds like a negative word, but it's like, for me, I'm saying it in a positive way, almost deluded to the naivety, the stats and the probability of the success. But also self-aware enough to listen to feedback and not be blinded by their hypotheses. Listen to some feedback. A lot of the feedback I got in the early days was this is impossible. You can never do it. Go back to a day job. So I think you do have to be incredibly optimistic as well. But a little bit like investing, I'm doing a little bit of investing now, I think you, if you have a lot of experience, the downside is you've seen these ideas fail again and again and again. And it's really hard to then leave that baggage behind and look at a company. I looked at one yesterday. It's like, I've seen that model fail four times. Not my, I wasn't running it, others were running it, but to have a fresh enough mind to think, okay, maybe the timing's different, maybe the founding team's different, maybe the technology's changed, this can now work. So I think actually the benefit of being naive and even being quite young in your career is you don't have that baggage of knowing how it failed the five times before, which I find super interesting. When you're looking at founders in your investments now, from your own experience of being a founder, what are the attributes you're looking for? I mean, the really simple one is being technical. Being able to write code, I think is just a huge, huge leg up. And all of the founders who aren't technical, and there are many great ones, I think the biggest problem at the early stage is finding a technical co-founder. So that's just just an immediate benefit. And if I could talk to people in the age 12 to 18, I would basically just go and say, learn to code. You're going to have a really well-paying career for the rest of your life, and it's a great step into entrepreneurship. Are you technical? Yeah, I learned to code when I was 12 or 13, built websites. I mean, I was never, I studied law, not computer science, but I can code. There's still code I wrote probably in the Monzo code based somewhere. I think it puts the emojis into the push notifications. But yeah, so being technical, I think is just the easy answer. More fundamentally, I think just being really, really determined and resilient, seeing, as you said, an immovable object and either finding a way sort of round it or under it or just straight through it. And it's some that being in the tactical, basically, I think is the single biggest predictor of success. You strike me as someone that has great confidence. And I imagine that's come from, as you kind of alluded to with Go Cardlers, you've built evidence over time that you could do things. So I sometimes think of confidence as like a self-reinforcing, cycly that upwards or downwards. I think I was more confident when I was 28 than I am now for sure. And I think that comes with experience. I think you, you take enough knocks that you start to, and you realize you don't know, I think at 2728, I thought I knew everything. And now I realize, I, you know, I like to think I know a lot about a lot of things, but I realize I don't. And so my, I'm still a confident person, I guess. But if you put me in front of my 27 year old self, I think you would see two different people. Maybe less naivety. Maybe that would be a big stunt. Exactly. Yeah. I've seen the failures a few times now. Because I was saying that because there's a lot of young people in my, in my DMs that are dreaming big dreams like yours, but they would just never have the confidence or conviction to pursue them. So I was wondering, is there, I was trying to get to that, I guess, the crux of what made you so starkly different from every, all of the young people that have at least verbalized equally big dreams? I think I'm also just really impulsive. So I, I think quite self confident, but I was, I've taken quite big life decisions without very much reflection. And that's worked out really well. I'm, you know, I'm hugely privileged. I, I've grown up in the UK, which I think is enormous privilege compared to a lot, you know, people in my position, but growing up in, in rural Africa, and not going to have the same opportunities. I have great education. I had parents who supported me. And I knew I could take risk because if that risk didn't pay off, I've have, I have that safety net. And so, um, yes, I was confident. I think yes, I was impulsive, but I, that was enabled from a place of huge privilege because I could take the risk. And I, I actually think people in this country, um, with great supportive families don't take enough risk in general. I think, um, people go into, um, pretty safe careers in law or consulting or whatever. And I think they could, um, do more interesting things, have more impact, you know, make more money if that's what drives you by taking more risk. And I just don't think they do. And I, I think I put myself on the risk loving end of the spectrum. Um, and so I've quit jobs and moved countries, we know, with like hours notice. Um, I started go cardless with Matt Heroky because I quit my consulting job to go to a bigger consultancy. And in that gardening, if I just got bored, I had three months off and they said, let's start a website. And I said, yes. And then Y Combinator said, come out and interview. And we did. And we got the offer to do Y Combinator in their investment about three days before my McKinsey start date. So I just sort of said, ah, this sounds fun. I'll, I'll do this startup thing instead. Launch go cardless. You take that to a, I think a nine figure valuation. Uh, it's 970 million dollars at their last round. I believe that's what, what was reported. So not quite a billion. Um, okay. Ten figure money. We'll round up. I mean, that is, um, that, that is an achievement that most people in their lifetimes would, you know, would never go near, um, in of itself. You, you then depart your cardless. I left early. Um, I, we were 35 people. You know, it was a, the valuation was in the region of 30 or 40 million at the time. I mean, Heroky, my co-founder at the time, um, took on the CEO role and it's done a, just a phenomenal job. I mean, it's 10 and a half years old now it's, and it's, but it's been, that was not an overnight success story. That was 10 and a half years of really, really hard work and huge credit to him and Matt also who, who stuck around a lot longer than me. I was there for the first three years. I think I put something of myself into it, but it was, I was there for the beginning, not the, uh, not the middle and certainly not the end. Why did you leave? I wasn't really, I think it was a great company, but I wasn't really passionate about, um, B2B direct debit software. It helps, you know, um, lots of different, uh, suppliers collect money from their customers, um, in a sort of back office way. It didn't have a big consumer brand. It wasn't direct to consumer really. Um, and I didn't B2B sales, I found, uh, really difficult and frustrating and not something I was good at. And the tech kind of was built, um, and that had been my role. Uh, so I sort of, I went from there to join a dating site, which is like the polar opposite, you know, uh, all about brand direct to consumer. Um, really fun every day, uh, terrible business model. That was one of the ones I got fired from. Um, I was head of growth and we stopped growing. Um, it was bad. You're a head of growth and you stopped and the company stopped growing. Very self-awareness for you to admit that. Mm. And in fact, I saw the charts and it looked like a rocket ship when I was sort of interviewing there for crazy 40 hour interview process. I flew out to New York. They showed me some of their growth charts, really sort of hockey stick metrics. Um, and then it's all just started to plateau and I kind of ignored that. You know, so that's my job to come in, because it had flattened out and I joined to kind of re-reignite. Uh, and I didn't, I wasn't able to reignite it. We sort of plateaued along for about 10 months and then it fell off a cliff. Revenue declined 70% within about two to four weeks without any kind of macroeconomic. This wasn't COVID or something. This was back in 2014. The world was going well. The dating site just was no longer cool, I think. Um, so we rode this wave of popularity and sort of zeitgeist. Um, it was called group. It was a, it was incredibly sort of cool novel idea back in 2014. Um, and then people just got bored of it, I think. So the idea was, um, it was six of you, three, three guys and three girls or three guys and three guys. If that's your, your preference, um, or three girls and three girls. Um, but six of you, you and two friends would go and meet three other people. So you knew your friends and they knew each other and it would put the group together and you'd kind of go and have a wild night out. Um, rather than traditional dating apps, sort of one on one, this was sort of a group social experience. Uh, really, really fun, but, um, not a great business model. You got five? Uh, yeah, most of the company got laid off, actually. Yeah. And then you took how long off before you swung back into the next thing? Um, so I, uh, about two months, but only about two months. Um, because it was the US, I was on a weird visa. This is not interesting, but basically I couldn't take another job and I couldn't, as soon as I crossed the US border, my visa expired. Yes, I've, yeah. But whilst I was there, I could stay there for actually two years or something. Um, so I just spent a summer in New York chilling out and then came back to the UK. And I think about 48 hours after arriving in the UK, I met up with Ann Bode and at Starling and agreed to be their CTO within about, again, 24 hours.
Monzo & Starling rivalry (16:32)
And then there's a lot written about how, I mean, how your relationship with and transpired and your relationship with Starling more broadly transpired. What's, what are the key highlights from that, from that journey? Choose your co-founder really carefully. Yeah. Uh, I mean, there were 14 of us at Starling and 13 of us started Monzo. It was that Stark. Wait, say that again. 14 people at Starling and 13 of you started Monzo. 13 of those 14 started 13 of those 14 started Monzo. Okay. Including the chairman of the board. Um, the entire management team, the office manager, everyone. So one, one would say, well, you know, Tom must have ripped them all away. Starling. No, no, I just didn't want to work with Ann. Like really, I've never actually talked about this before. And there was, there has been a book. I hadn't read the book. Uh, the brief version is after six months, I got fired twice in six months. Um, I was never paid. I invested my own money, which is, I lost. Um, there was never any paperwork, which is my fault. Um, and after six months, I just thought, I, I can't work with this person. I just really, it's really damaging to me and my mental health. And so I resigned. And the response to that resignation, she called an all hands meeting and fired the entire company. Because you resigned. Yep. So I didn't, I didn't pull anyone away. She fired the entire company. That's not true. Two people happened to not be in the office. So they weren't at the meeting where they got fired. So they had to work two weeks notice because they weren't technically fired. But everyone else was fired. So we all went to this gin bar to kind of, it was called Ask for Janice on Smithfield Market. It's a great buy. You should go there. Um, we all went there to basically commiserate. I just think this is crazy. What's, what's just happened. And literally it, I think we were there for two days, basically in this gin bar playing, we, we all played speed chess. It was this very nerdy kind of four-player speed. We were playing lots and lots of speed chess, uh, just trying to figure out what we're going to do and eventually we're like, we can, um, we think we can do this ourselves. Um, so it wasn't a case of like, you know, me leading a coomie, pulling the company away. I quit. I was just like, good luck to you. I'm just, I'm going to sit on a beach for a while and in response, she fired the entire company, which is just, I think a reflection of the way she, she operates. I can't quite wrap my head around the idea of one person resigning and then firing everybody as a show of, I don't even know. No, it's not something I would do. Where did, where did that leave Starling though? If they only, if they had lost pretty much everybody other than the two people that didn't manage to make it into work that day and they also resigned the day after, yeah, to come and work with us. Um, she hired an other management team, another team. Oh, really? Okay. And it turned out that we weren't the first team. They'd been a previous team as well. Oh, wow. That she'd fired. Wow. And then off, so that's, that's crazy. So you started essentially, Monzo was founded in that Jinbar. Yep. Yep. Asper Janis. And it's still there. We go back for some of our reunions. Really? Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. And how did you feel? So you're, you're fired, you know, from Starling, you all convene in this Jinbar, you spend a couple of days there, you end up deciding that you're going to go again together. Yep. And I guess you feel pretty fired up and charged up to not only disrupt the industry, but also to compete with Starling, no? Um, it was unavoidable that feeling of fuck them. Kind of, but we didn't, I didn't really know that, that you know, Anne was going to rehire a bunch of people. It was over, right? And there was a big feeling of like, we put quite a lot of work into this actually, and like we've had to leave everything behind. So we can't do, you know, rewrite the code base, redo all our regulatory submissions, really from scratch, which was kind of like a, oh, I wish we didn't have to do this, but we did. Um, but in a way, it actually led us, we'd made the mistakes once the first time. So actually, that sort of rebuilding process was nice because it was on Freshground. Um, but yeah, it felt like a, I mean, initially we tried to negotiate with Anne and say, why did, you know, why did you step down? Why did, like, how can we, we don't want to throw away this site? For some people, they'd been there 12 months. Why are we throwing away 12 months of work? And that was a sort of very convoluted week or two, where we almost had a deal a couple of times and it just, similar thing happening, you know, huge blow up and we just walked away. Um, but no, we never, I think at Monzo, we never really thought about the competition actually. It wasn't a, you know, we weren't looking over our shoulder at Mevaloo's towards styling. It was, if anything, we were looking at the big banks, thinking, how can we take market share of them? Co-founders, when you started Monzo, you started with, was, was Paul repping your own co-founder?
Starting Monzo (21:23)
No, uh, there were, uh, and it was all, it was sort of weird, actually, because of 13 of us, like, how do you pick which ones are you all, they were all literally there on day one. Um, so in a sense, that was the founding team and they all got stock, like, not options are actually full, you know, stock. Um, but the, the arbitrary reasons, which I can't really remember, they were five. So myself, Paul, um, became deputy CEO and was a chief risk officer, he became deputy CEO because of Bank of England, looked at me and I was thinking I was 29 or 30 or something. And I said, you have, have you ever worked in a bank? No. It's like, and you're applying to be CEO of our newest bank. Yes. And they sort of scratched your head for a bit and said, how about this sort of very experienced guy next to you, this co-founder of yours, how about, they didn't say that. They said we'd like you to find a deputy CEO who's actually run a bank before, please. And I, you know, I said, Paul has won several banks. So, he became deputy CEO, Gary was CFO. Um, he'd been at a Ben Amro, uh, and his Zuho bank, I think, uh, there's a guy called Jason who is sort of more customer marketing and then Jonas, who is the only one left now was a CTO, really, really talented developer. Um, so he stepped into CTO role. How important is that you talked earlier about the importance of business partners and, uh, that being one of your big regrets, but how critically important is, because, you know, definitely one of the biggest mistakes I made in my career was when I was very young, just hired anybody, because I thought, you know, like, oh, you like, I remember being in selfages one day, there was a guy selling product bags. I'd be like, you can be a director, you know what I mean? Because you don't know what you don't know. I did do that. I was like 18. So, um, but I, in hindsight, I know it's the most, well, for me, that core team is the most important thing. Yeah. It's probably the single biggest determining factor of success will fail. I Yeah. So how, how important was it for you to, to assemble, um, that skilled co-founding team? I mean, it was, it was luck at Monzo because that was the group that was at starting and it was sort of like, how do we keep this team together? And it really was sort of, it felt like everyone's going to disappear into the wind. Um, there was a, you know, it really was a debate, are we going to really try and do this again? Or, you know, is this it? We just go back to whatever we were doing before. And so to keep everyone together, I think it wasn't a, and so I think we were really fortunate. We had such a great, um, different set of skills. Um, but it wasn't hugely, uh, sort of planned. I know I have a, another example of this. I started a company, um, when I was at university through young enterprise and on day one, there were like 14 co-found co-founders with this business, which is just a ridiculous way to start a company. And within about two, we had meetings and meetings and meetings and nothing ever got done. So within three months or so, three of us basically said, look, you 11, you can have it right on your sleeve. That's what you want. But you know, you're not really here to run a business. The three of actually are going to like work all summer. Um, one of them, uh, quit his job to do it. He just left to work at Deutsche Bank. And the three of us are actually going to try and run a startup here. And so figuring out that core team, I think is really, really important to get right and having a group of 14 is not the way to do it. Really. When you, when you started Monzo from that, I say from the gym, I wasn't really from the gym bar, but you see what I mean? That was the kind of, I guess the inception moment. Um, what was the driving force for you to go on that journey? Was it money? Was it the, the chance of, you know, moving an industry? What was it? Oh gosh. Uh, insecurity. I think for me, it was, I was much of the reason I started my business was probably based on deep and childhood and securities about wanting to be rich and. Yeah, like all of that, I think tied up into a bunch of weird sort of deep rooted psychological problems. Um, wanting to prove myself wanting to win or wanting to be seen to be successful, I think. Um, money played a part in it, not the driving part, but certainly there was a factor there. Um, a deep hatred for Nat West Bank. Um, why? They were just incredibly frustrating to use. Just every, everyone who just came to work at Monzo had one of these horror stories about their banks. You know, Matt, one of our early developers went 10p over drawn with a different bank and paid the 10p in, um, and then close accounts. It's like, I'm done with this, but he'd incurred the chart. He didn't know they applied the charge at the end of Monzo. It's like a five pound overdraft fee at that month, which then the month after and then after and month after it should have rolled and rolled and rolled and rolled and rolled and two up, you know, two years later, they came after him for several thousand pounds, because he'd been 10p overdrawn for a day. Um, it just, everyone's got those kinds of stories. And so a big part of it was a frustration at banking work like that. And it's sort of feeling that it didn't have to be like that, because we looked at apps like Spotify or, or Uber and they felt magical. You know, the I, the people who grown up with that technology, it's sort of normal now, but I remember, you know, I downloaded Napster for the first time. Remember showing my dad and my uncle, you know, think of any song you want in the world. Yeah, type it in and, and then it starts playing. And that's, that is magical. Um, but now it's so commonplace and banking for years has just been, you want to change some change your address down, I've downloaded a form filled in the form sign and had to post it off. This is for an online bank. Um, so we really just felt quite deeply that it could be the experience could be much, much better. Do you want to come in and watch this podcast live from behind the scenes? If you do, all you have to do is hit the subscribe button. And now that the world has opened up, you'll be behind the scenes. As many of our subscribers have been, I can't wait to meet you. And one of the other reasons you gave there as a driving force was wanting to be seen to win.
Wanting to be seen to be a success (27:13)
Yeah. Or you explain that one. Not to win. I think that's probably the wrong, I, I use that phrase, but I to be seem to be a success, I think, like validation. Yeah, kind of. Yeah. You know, that's to my family and my friends and my school and teachers and, um, you know, it's been a success they would go cardless. Did you know? Yeah, I had a bit, but go card a circa 2014, 2015 was still relatively unknown. It was doing well, but not, it wasn't a breakout success yet in the way it is today, I don't think. Um, yeah, on that feeling of wanting that validation from friends, because we can all relate to that. Like I'm, I'm playing devil's advocate, but I know exactly what you mean. You're on a TV exactly exactly. And I'm doing a pod guy with 17 cameras right now. Um, but just drilling down into that in hindsight, was that a feeling that you think could have ever been attained? Um, was it a mirage? I think I have attained it. Yeah. Oh, and I don't mean I'm the world's biggest success. That's not what I mean. I mean that like I've tasted what that feels like, that mixing my metaphors there. I felt what that, you know, I've experienced that thing, that sort of like being in the newspapers and that sort of, um, people using a monster card and that stuff. And it's somewhat rewarding, but it's not like, I, I, and I don't feel anymore. I, I think what I'm trying to say is sort of that need to prove myself has sort of disappeared, actually. Um, and so either I've realized it was a stupid goal to start with, or like, I got far enough along that I sort of like ticked that off the list and sort of thought, you know, that sort of, it was fun, but it's not my overriding purpose now. Um, and I'm not, I'm your next question is, what is your purpose? I'm not sure I have on it. Sort of more like living day to day and enjoying life. And I, I was never good at that. I've really, really driven from a very, very young age. So I worked incredibly hard for my exams and my, you know, through Oxford and starting companies, um, and very rarely pause to enjoy the journey, although, you know, the cliche, the small things in life that, you know, the choose your cliche, right? Like how your coffee tastes in the morning or the sort of the tweeting of the birds in the, in the trees. And that stuff now I'm spending more time kind of being more, I guess mindful and kind of living in the moment. Do you have to like reprogram yourself to get there though, because I feel like society, well, for me anyway, is, um, kind of conditions you to, to chase, climb, promote, move up, strive, and, and you're kind of deferring your happiness towards some future achievement accomplishment. Yeah. So how did you get to the point where you just enjoy it? What did, you know, life, what it is in the moment? Was every programming? Yeah, I guess. I'm like, you know, like you, I, I left my company, I didn't. And that was really, really hard. And that was not a, that was, um, you know, deep, deep anxiety, bordering on depression and, uh, like I, I wouldn't use the words rock bottom, but like it was not a happy time. And so then recovering from that. And I took a year off and, you know, travel around Europe, when kite surfing and the language and all this kind of, you know, cliches. Um, and that experience now leads me whenever I, I still get these like urges. Like, oh, it's sort of, um, the, my local MP passed away a few months ago. And there was a buy election. I was like, why don't I, why don't I stand for that seat? And I could be an MP and then maybe I could, you know, maybe it could be the prime minister. And then I'm like, well, but then what? Yeah. Yeah. Exactly. And, you know, I think like, I could start a company and then it, you know, what if it goes well? And then I end up running a big company again and that would be all. So, uh, yeah, just like a couple of sort of those brain cycles and I'm like, no, what am I, what am I thinking? Um, I quite quickly come back to like, I really enjoying my life at the moment. I'm lucky enough that I'm financially sort of independent now. I have a great group of friends like why, um, why do I want to go and make myself miserable again? Where does that voice that voice come from? So many people have that voice because it's funny because you're saying, right, I'm at, I'm at a stage of peace now. I wasn't before, but you still have that yearning or that voice that comes and gets caught on to it. Um, it's that, it's that sort of, I guess disruptive kind of, um, I see something that's not working and it's incredibly frustrating and I go, I could, I could make that work better. I'm, um, I'm, uh, reluctant. I've talked about this before. I'm working in the, in the, I'm volunteering in the vaccination program and it sounds like a sort of, um, I'm proud of doing it and it's like a great feeling kind of being part of a team that's, uh, hopefully helping kind of the country get out of this lockdown rubbish. Um, but even there, there are so many things that just drive me absolutely nuts. Um, and I think that's probably NHS sort of more broadly. I think the smart use of technology could really, really improve the way we deliver care to everyone, really medical care. And so I keep thinking, I just want to like, just give me, you know, I just, yeah, what, why can't I just come in and fix it for a, a, it's incredibly, you know, I struggled with a company of 2000 people, the NHS employees, I think a million and a half people or something. So, um, probably not for me, but there's always that, like your question, you know, what, what is that drive? It's the looking at something that's like clearly broken, at least to my naive eyes. Um, and that feeling that I feel like, along with a small group of smart people, I could make it better. Okay, quick one. If you've listened to this podcast, you know, I'm the biggest fan of fuel in the world. And last week, he'll released heals brand new protein powders. And I have to tell you the salted caramel heel protein powder, which only has a hundred calories in it roughly, and 20 grams of protein has become my go to drink. And you can, if you're watching this on YouTube, you'll see I'm going to open the, it's almost, almost nearly done. And I've had it for a week. Um, but I've been looking for a source of protein that is also low calories, and that tastes like heaven on earth. And I finally found it. So if I was to put my word to you next to a product, it would be heals, salted caramel, new protein powders, 20 grams of protein, 26 of your vitamins and minerals, in case you're not nutritionally complete or sort of getting all of your vitamins and minerals, and that 105 calories in a serving. And it tastes like heaven on earth. What were the good times at Monzo? The times you look back most fondly?
What were the good times at Monzo? (33:59)
Small team, so sub 100, um, being able to, um, go from a kind of an idea or a customer insight or something like a conversation with a customer about a problem to figuring out a kind of product feature to very quickly prototyping and building that and launching it and then seeing people use it, um, and then tell all their friends about it. That very quick iterative product development cycle I love. Um, and a lot of the brand and marketing stuff, uh, I, when I was at go Carlos, I didn't believe in brand, which is a ridiculous thing to say. Um, and I, you know, you as a marketing background, that's almost offensive, I guess, but I was like, no, this is, you know, this doesn't, this doesn't exist really people. Um, and then the day, well, I worked with the dating side that really opened my eyes to the kind of power of human psychology and brand and mission and values. And we really took a lot of that into Monzo and that it, it was just astonishing. Um, so we started out even before we had a product talking a lot about our mission and some of our values, like transparency and kind of community orientation. And that worked so incredibly well. Um, so yeah, it was working with a small team to build the brand, build the product, get into users hands really quickly and then see them enjoy it. I've talked about this a lot before that feeling of, um, standing in line at a coffee shop and seeing the person at the counter paying with a, the hot car on Monzo card and then having the bartender or the, the service, you know, I've, I've got one of those as well. And then listening to that conversation is sort of an anonymous bystander. That's just incredibly rewarding, feeling that you've had a hand in, in creating something that's, that people are enjoying so much. Let's dig into the point about brand then marketing because Monzo really was a UK stand up brand. I think everybody knew it. Um, even if they didn't use it, because of its disruptive values, because of it, it felt unconventional in everything it did. I mean, even the card was completely unconventional. Intentionally. Yeah. Tell me, tell me what the secret was to Monzo's branding success. Um, for simplicity, I think, um, it was, we had a couple of early marketing hires who didn't work out. Um, and they were very senior people from very, very big companies who came in and they were a lot older and came in a sort of like, you know, how, how the kids are going to think about this. And we were like, we, we are the kids. Um, so we had a very early community manager called Tristan Thomas who was there from almost in the first few months, uh, he just very recently left to start his own company. And he's now, he was VP of marketing, running a massive team with a massive budget by the end. But he was a 23 year old when he started, you know, 23, 24 year old. Um, and I worked a lot, Hugo, a head of design worked on it a lot. And it was, um, it was just an authentic representation of, I think, who we were and what we believed and more than anything. And we, we did want to be different from the big banks. We intentionally positioned ourselves as a part. So the hot crowd card, every other bank was, you know, blue or purple or kind of a shade of black, basically. So like, how far come from that can we get? And the big banks were very impersonal. You know, you never felt like you were talking to a human. And so we, everything we did was human and transparent. Um, we, we shared a lot of internal information that everyone, you know, we published our product roadmap. This is what we're going to be working on for the next two years, which people thought were with bonkers, but it, that was a way of building trust and humanity in opposition to these big sort of faceless banks. Um, these all sound like first principles. Yeah. We, none of Tristan had never worked in marketing before. His previous job was at a refugee camp in, in the Middle East. Uh, you know, I'd never really worked in marketing. I would have spent nine months at a dating site, but we, yeah, we, um, we came up, we thought about these principles. And it felt like the kind of company we wanted to run. And so, um, we did and it worked really well. Um, yeah, without any experience. Goes to show the risk of reading marketing books. Genuinely, I've always thought this because I've never studied marketing or did I agree? And, you know, our business was, was did really well in, in the marketing industry, but I think it did well because we hadn't read those books and we hadn't been sort of diluted or polluted by conventions idea of how. Yeah. I think this today, when I go, when I work in, go into these family offices and I'm working on the marketing plan, that the CEO often will want to hire someone who's done marketing in that industry for 20 years. And you immediately feel that that's the fastest route to not standing out at all and not having any point of difference. Yeah. Yeah. And it depends what you want to achieve. If you are a family office or if you're managing the wealth of, you know, generational rich families, then perhaps you do want to look trustworthy and like everyone else. If you're a challenger bank appealing to 21 to 25 year olds, you maybe you want a different approach. I don't think there's a right answer, but I think authenticity gets you a really, really long way. Whoever your target demographic is. I am one of the things, so we talked a little bit there about the, your best times at Monzo. And I wasn't surprised to hear that it was when the company was small because I've heard that before, but I also understand the feeling and your worst times.
What were the bad times at Mozo? (39:07)
At least enjoyable times. I never liked fundraising. We did that a lot. I mean, I had to, I think Monzo's raised something like 600 million and I probably did 400 of that. That was always tough. And you only hear about the really quick round, though, you know, the, yeah, and the, we hit a billion, the round where we hit a billion valuation was very, very fast and very competitive. So it was easy, but all the other rounds were real slocks. So fundraising was never fun. We had a weird time with the press where they spent the first three or four years almost not idolizing us, but certainly building us up, you know, in the new kind of the sort of next great hope almost. And we could almost do nothing wrong, which is not healthy. And then we got big enough and it flipped overnight. And just everything we did was we'd get like vitriol for in a way that I mean, I can understand it because it drives readership, right? And it's, there was a point in time where the telegraph would put Monzo in the headline at least every day, even if it was a story about one of our competitors, it would be Monzo competitor, Blah, doing just like, what, why? And I, I eventually sort of called out the journalist on this and took him for a beer and was like, look, come on, tell me what's going on. And he's like, look, every time I put your name in the headline, or rather, he's like, look, it's my subs who do it. I write the article, they choose the headline or my editor. But every time they do that, we just get way more subscribers. So, you know, sorry. But it was really the entire, from the BBC to the telegraph to everyone, it felt like a pile on in a way that didn't seem fair, really. And it's, I'm not to say that we never did anything wrong, we absolutely did. But even the good stuff we did got, got negative headlines. And I think that's a peculiarity of the British press in particular, sort of building something up until it's like big enough to tear down. And that was just so confusing. Yeah, that was tough. At one point, we had a BBC camera crew outside our office. And this was when we, we'd grown big enough, we had a small, a small minority of people using Monzo for financial crime, basic money laundering for scams. And we'd have to freeze their account and we weren't allowed to tell them why we'd throw in their account, we'd sort of send the money back to where, wherever it had come from, which is a very frustrating experience. And it's quite strict in the law that you have to shut the account, you can't tell the person. So it's a really bad customer experience. But watchdog, we're running a program about this, Monzo freezes accounts. And they brought us a series of accounts that we'd frozen over a series of several weeks saying, you know, this is, we've got humans. And we sort of brought the editor of the program and said, look, here is the, here's the criminal background of the person who's account we've frozen. You're really going to run a program about this. It's like, Oh, no, no. Okay. Okay. It's happened 12 times. And every, every one of the times we showed the evidence and like, okay, and on the 13th or 14th, like, that one's a 50 50. You know, we blocked the account, we stand by it, but we don't have cast iron proof. And like, great, we've got you. So BBC camera crew turns up and they'd commissioned a block of ice, an enormous ice sculpture with the frozen Monzo card in the ice. They dumped outside our office and put a camera crew there for the day to see if they could find anyone walking past it, or, you know, to watch the thing melting, which was like, what's going on? You know, I was like, I started this company to try and sort of build a better bank. And somehow the BBC is camped out of my office, trying to like, I don't know, I don't know what they're trying to do, drive, drive viewership. But that was deeply annoying. This whole press thing is I've heard this a million times and it terrifies the shit out of me because, you know, joining Dragon's Den, you join and was like, Oh my God, amazing. And then someone told me, I think it might be one of the other dragons that's been there for nearly two decades said, here's what's going to happen. Is they're going to build you up to a point where you're interesting enough to tear down again? And hearing you say the same thing terrifies the life out of me. And it happens in every tech startups. Yeah, I mean, Facebook's a great example of it, but it happens to sports stars, it happens to politicians, it happens to, you know, singers. Yeah. Yeah. What advice would you give someone that's don't read the good stuff or the, you know, just ignore it all, basically. I think it's all, yeah, just ignore it all. The hype and yeah, because when they're good, when they're writing good stuff, that's that's overblown as well. That's not real life. The bad stuff's also not true. So just I just ignore it all. And did that have an impact on your mental health, the worst parts of the press coverage? It didn't help. And I stopped reading it. Yeah, I genuinely stopped reading it. And I'd have friends sort of come and say it, you know, on a Saturday or Sunday, they'd read the weekend papers and it's like, are you all right? I'm like, I'm fine. What have I done? That's the worst. Because then you've got to justify to people you care about and make them not care. No, I'm fine. What? Okay, just don't read the times it's weekend. It's like, yeah, never read the times. That was annoying. But I don't know. So yeah, the press was not fun. Investment was not fun. Regulation got really, really tough by the end, because we were a bank and ultimately, if we fail, the government has to step in and refund everyone their money. So the rules there were very, very strict. And because we got so big, so early and weren't profitable, that got quite tough. And I'm going to go through a list of the bad things now. The I will stop on the final one, which was just organizational politics. When you get to, we were almost 2000 people. And when you're 100 or 200 people, you can know everyone and you can, you develop a really close culture, really the sense of team spirit. You know everyone, you can know everyone's names. You get to 2000 people and you don't and it, you get subcultures. So teams develop their own sort of internal narrative as to why they exist and what they're for. And sometimes you're like, we're saving the company from this other team over there. And it's, you know, becomes really not collaborative actually. And you get, especially with some sort of quite senior people, start building their little fiefdoms. And you get this just weird politics and rivalries going on that I'd never worked in becoming for. It was like, total, it was totally new to me. Especially when you're, this is unfair, not everyone, but sometimes when you hire people from big banks, they've grown up with that culture, toxic culture, frankly. And they bring it to a place like Monzo and everyone's like, what, what, that's weird, what's going on here. But it definitely changed. And that was having to deal with that was, was tricky. You talked about not being profitable. I've heard you talk about, you know, that being one of the probably in hindsight, one of the things you should have thought about more in the early days, which was like the commercial model, the business model of the bank. Yep. That fair. Absolutely. Yeah.
Was the business model of Monzo bad? (46:22)
And we, we'd thought about it for sure. I think what we didn't do was make the hard decisions to, to turn the corner earlier. Like we, we thought about it. And it was, this was not, it's not like we blindly ran into unprofitability. We took a series of actions. We knew they were loss making, but we did that in order to, to acquire users without paying. So basically we swapped marketing, we had no marketing spend. Instead, we ran like, like operational losses. So we'd give away features to customers that would cost us money to get more customers because it meant our marketing budget was zero. And we grew to five or six million people with, we probably spent less than 10 million on marketing total. That's an average cost per customer of £1.50. Right. So but that, that, that hides operational losses. That's, our real marketing budget was giving away things like ATM and Jules for free, for example. And we just didn't take the hard decisions to turn some of those things off when we, we got to a certain size and it costs us way too much. Free cards. Yeah. That's expensive. With that, it's like the long tail. It's, you know, it's the, the very small number of people are ordering 20 or 30 cards a year. Most people, they order zero to one. That's fine. But some people just lose their card every weekend and they get struggled. No problem. I'll just order another one and it'll be here tomorrow morning. And that's just annoying and costly. The other thing though, so we should have paid more attention to reducing costs and taking hard decision to drive revenues earlier. We consciously didn't, but part of it was avoiding those hard decisions. The other half of it though is weird. I've thought about it a lot. It's basically how you get almost self reinforcement from your invest. So you run a business a certain way. You get to a certain scale and you present it to a set of investors and the ones who are more or less the ones who agree with what you've done and think it's the right approach will invest. And the ones who think your bonkers will not invest and they'll go to someone else. The problem is that becomes self reinforcement because they like what you did before. So like, yeah, just do more of that. And it can become a bit of an echo chamber where you just get the group of investors around the table who are all big supporters who really believe in the model. And there's not really anyone being like, you know, you're running, you should really think about this other stuff. And a really, a really smart thing I've heard, which I didn't do. And I hope I will have the humility to do in the future is to sort of pick out the smartest investors you can. What smart is advisors or other other founders? And ask them why you think your business will fail. And then really try to think deeply about that. Rather than I think the natural tendency is like, ah, you know, whatever they don't know what they're talking about. I'll just, the people who think I'm brilliant, I'll listen to them. But that can become, I don't think you grow as much from that. So really finding the doubters, even the head, I'm not so much the haters, but the doubters certainly and interrogating them about your business and really trying to think through how you can solve those problems. I think that would have helped us a lot. Hindsight's a wonderful thing. Yeah. Now you have those, some of those answers in hindsight. And what were, what are those answers in hindsight that you wish you'd known sooner? So one of them's obviously, you know, getting to a profitable business model sooner, making those types of shots. Profible business model, cutting costs, driving revenue by taking hard decisions to sort of limit some of the free features and charges, some of the things we gave for free. I think we should have done that way, way earlier. That's the biggest. Any cultural decisions? I mean, there was a merging of the startup guys and the banking people, which I guess that's necessary, right? Yeah. I struggled to get the banking license without that. And you can see that at Revolut. You look at all their recent senior hires with the last year or two, and it's big wigs from the big banks because they're trying to get a banking license. So I think that's sort of inevitable. And you pay a cost for that. You pay the price. Customer service is always one of our investors who should name, remain nameless, was a bit of contrarian, basically said, the quality of your customer service is too high. And it's costing you too much. And it's going to be the, you know, it's going to be the weight around your neck for the next, whatever, 10 years, until you can slash it. And I'm not sure if he was right or not, actually. That's when I still debate. I've noticed Revolut's customer service has declined. Almost a month over month for the last two years, I've been a customer there and at Monzo, but Revolut, they've made it real significant. It feels like effort to either cut back on customer service costs or just because they've got more uses, they're struggling. But from when I joined Revolut, it was just amazing. And two years, almost three years on, it's just awful. Yeah. And I think Monzo, hopefully it's not awful, but I think it was amazing at the start. And I think it's now variable. I think sometimes it's really, really great. But sometimes you end up waiting a little too long. Sometimes it's a little too hard to talk to a customer service agent, arguably. I think I still think it's pretty good. But in the early days, it was spectacular. It was the number one thing our customers talked about was the service by far. You'd look on social media or whatever. It was just, and if we'd had the revenue to support that, I think we could have continued. It's not very expensive. It costs us about 12 or 13 pounds per customer per year to provide that. And I think the benchmark that everyone's aiming for is less than that clearly. And so the drive is always to automate more, to put chatbots in to do whatever. It comes a point in your journey with Monzo where you realize that you're no longer enjoying it. For me, in my business, it wasn't a point. It wasn't a day when I woke up. It was a compounding of several issues that slowly wore me down. Yes. Yes, it was that plus COVID. Okay. And then COVID is like knock out punch. But yeah, it was four or five, four or five six issues that meant for the last year or two, I wasn't having a good time really. And I talked to my board about it. I talked to investors about, I think hiring really good senior leaders was part of the potential solution. And we didn't do that fast enough. We got some great, great senior leaders in now. And I sort of wonder what would have happened if we could have got those people in a year or two earlier? Possibly they wouldn't have paid them enough. They wouldn't have joined. I did talk to Matt this. A TS on new CEOs, like if you'd have come five years ago, I would have joined five years ago. I was like, ah, go back in time. But yeah, it was four, five, six issues and then COVID. And that was just, I mean, for so many people in the world, that was horrific. For us, our revenue declined at least 50%, within about a week or so. The cost base was the same. Revenue goes down 50%. We were already lost making. So now it's sort of, we had a fund, we had a hundred million pound funding round lined up to close on the Monday. And on Friday, before London went to lockdown and all the term sheets got pulled. So again, retrospects hindsight is 2020. Everything has bounced back even though in the investment market, private investment and public investments, a stronger than it was pre-COVID. And so people just take these really short term decisions in a kind of, in a shock in a crisis. Destroy a ton of value for themselves. And you know, six, nine, 12 months later, everything's bounced back even harder. I just don't understand it. But anyway, COVID was definitely this draw that broke the camel's back. And about six weeks into that six to eight weeks, which is like, I'm working seven days a week. I'm not sleeping here. This is just, you know, I need sort of throw the towel in all this, you know, I need to, I need to be subbed out. Had you been thinking about that conversation for some time before you got to the point where you approached the board with decisiveness that this is really done.
Leaving Monzo (54:35)
I'm not even thinking about it. I've been talking to them about it for a year or two. Yeah. Not the whole board, but yeah, two members, our chairman and one of our lead investors, absolutely, we'd, we'd had multiple conversations about me not enjoying the role as it was then configured. And the answer was like, okay, let's reconfigure a role. Let's bring people around you. Let's, because, because we were growing so quickly, and the way that senior hiring works, by the time you realize you've got a gap, it's 12 to 18 months before you can actually feel that gap. And you know, mugging's here ends up doing, to be fair, all of my senior team were doing more than one job, trying to feel the gaps. But, um, that was the biggest problem for me that we didn't have the right senior leadership in place. So I was working several jobs. Uh, and so the conversation was always okay. Well, we'll fill these roles, we'll fill these roles. But by the time you fill that role, this other role of there, the person who was doing really well at 200, you're now 2,000 people, and the persons burn out or, you know, not doing well, and you have to replace them. And so, it was like Wacomol. Um, and I think that was the biggest contributing factor. But those are conversations I very regularly had with, um, board members and investors. You think those conversations were treated with, with urgency? No. From, from either yourself or the board? No, absolutely not. It was always like, oh yeah, we'll just hire, you know, we'll hire the person, it will be fine. Or I would just stick it out for another couple of years, and it'll all be fine. And eventually it's like, no, I've got a couple of weeks. Yeah. Um, yeah. I think a lot of them did a huge amount. I mean, Eileen, the, the, one of our investors from Passion, personally putting so much time to support the company and to support me. And I'm really, really grateful for that. But ultimately, um, yeah, we just didn't hire great senior people for us enough that if I can find one root cause, it was that. Do you think if you'd gone to the board with more urgency and decisiveness yourself, that you would have been taken more seriously? If you said, listen, I'm going to go next week if these issues aren't fixed. Cause I, I'm, I'm asking these questions, but for same reasons, as I said before, I went through the same thing where I approached the board and said, I've got some problems here. These are the issues. Can we fix them? And it was probably a little bit of lip service. Yeah. Until the day that I resigned. Yeah. I didn't know. I think a lot of people put a lot of effort into fixing it. Ultimately, it was like on meter fix. No, no one else is going to come in and hire a really top senior team for me. It's like sort of my job. So I don't know. I also, I do wonder whether you really could have got those great senior people in at a earlier stage. The analogy is sort of like a football team. You're starting in the, I don't know what the fourth division now is cool, but you know, you're there and you get promoted. And you want to hire someone for the third division, but everyone's like, oh, go and hire Ronaldo. It's like Ronaldo is not going to play for a third division team. You know, so it's a constant process of up, like gradually upgrading until you get into premiership. And even then, you know, you're, you're child's an athletic or something. So I just think it's tough. I don't, I don't think there's a magic bullet actually. Quick one. Since leaving social chain a couple of years ago, as you probably know, I've kept my options open. I've worked in a series of companies as a consultant, as a creative director, as an advisor, as an investor, but I've kept my options open. And that is about to change because I'm about to embark on my next chapter, building my next company. And I'm going to tell you guys about it first, but I wanted to talk about something related to that. When I'm building this new company, as I have been over the last three months, we need everything from websites to logos to editing work done to some sort of admin stuff done. And it's crazy that even me, even though I have a lot of financial resources, I still turn to five.com, F I V E R R dot com to help me with freelance services. For me, it is a godsend for your scaling your business. If you're looking to start a project or you're developing yours, try five a dot com. If you go to F I V E R R dot com slash CEO, pick a service, try it, and then send me a message and let me know how you found it. I'm going to be paying for five people to have their services done on five a dot com. So go to that website now links in the bio. And let me know what you think. You said you weren't sleeping. Working seven days a week, took me through those moments when you when things were.
Not sleeping because of the stress of the business (59:08)
Have you experienced that? I've Oh, definitely experienced anxiety and not sleeping well and an issue, usually like payroll or some kind of investor issue. Yeah, plaguing me for days and days and I'm then getting sick. Yeah. And why have I got a cold? I never get a cold. And then yeah, oh, cause because there's no fucking money in the bank. Similar things. We talked about a little earlier, sort of that depletion of emotional energy so that you have a, you know, there's a sort of a problem there. You need to take a decision about maybe it's like one of your senior teams not working out and you know you have to fire them basically. But like if I do that, that's going to cause a bunch of other knock on problems. I don't want to deal with yet because I'm just trying to close this like 100 million pound funding round. So just let me focus on that. And the realization was sort of when the round closes, when the money's in the bank and that wait lifts, you then look at all the other problems and they're very, very easy. Actually like you re-energize quite quickly and able to take those decisions. But while there's just too many things sort of resting on your shoulders, you'd, it piles up and piles up and piles up. And so for me, yeah, it was waking up at sort of four or five in the morning, often with, often with problems in the cold light of day are relatively easy to solve. But this, the conscious part of your mind gets turned off when you're sleeping. It's a sort of subconscious, like irrational part that blows the thing into a unsolvable problem. And then next morning, you can whatever you write it down, you come back to the next day and go, that's ridiculous. So why am I even worrying about that? So it's not a rational thing. It's much more of an emotional, or at least for me, emotional response. But because you're tired, you make worse decisions and because you make worse decisions, you end up creating more problems to yourself. And the solution, it's easy to say and hard to do, which is exercise more and, you know, stay off alcohol and get to bed early and don't have your phone in your bedroom and like turn off the computer at the weekends, all this sort of stuff you know you should do. But when each one gives way, the next one's harder, you know, you haven't slept well, so you don't want to go to the gym in the morning and because you look at the gym, you're blah, blah, blah, blah. So you can I think get into I think really good reinforcing cycles or very destructive kind of negatively reinforcing cycles. Because you knew your mind was going to do that when you fell asleep. Did you upon getting in bed and laying down? Presumably you knew that your mind was then going to run off with all of the thoughts and worries. Did that make that process just before you fall asleep? Quite unpleasant. Yes. And sort of going to sleep almost inevitably knowing you're going to wake up at 4am is quite annoying to say the least. And the it's a very depressing thing to say, but sometimes when I did sleep a sort of full night, wake up at 789 AM or whatever. And for about three or four seconds, I'd forgotten what my life was. Like I'd forgotten what I was doing, what my job was, all the pressures. And I was like, I was calm. And I was sort of, you know, not stressed, not anxious. And then three or four seconds later, all the memories came back and it was just like this crushing weight that that feeling was just terrible. And that really was the moment I sort of knew this is this is no life. You know, I want the life three seconds ago, where I can wake up and not be worried and not be stressed and not feel like just anxious the whole time. Like there would, there were no other emotions in my life really apart from just anxiety. That was a 10 out of 10. And every other emotion felt like it. So the volume had been switched down to one out of 10 because anxiety was just 10 out of 10. And that was no fun. How long did that last? Year and a half, two years, maybe? Fucking hell. I can imagine two years. Not fun. And I split up with my girlfriend as a result of it. It's like me, you know, my life's shit. What can I do about it? Let's like one by one try and change things. And rather than changing the job first, I changed the girlfriend first. And that was really tough. I left Monzo and within about a week or so, I was sleeping perfectly through the night. And it really just all went away. Yeah. And now, you know, I am I hesitate that work to use the word happy, but yeah, I happy like content, calm, relaxed. Like, I find things to do with my day that I find, you know, that I enjoy. And, and suddenly like the small, those like emotions that were one out of 10, when they're not being crushed by a 10 out of 10 anxiety, like sort of starts a balloon back, which is cool, which I like. It's his life. Yeah. I know what people feel. The girlfriend topic I find compelling because I I've also struggled in that department forever.
How was holding down a relationship while running the business? (01:04:14)
Yeah. How was it trying to hold it down a relationship whilst also this business just being this crushing force in your life? Terrible. And I really, we're we're good friends still, but she was a lovely kind, considerate person. And I was just not a nice person to be around a lot of the time, just like really short tempers, like in considerate and like intolerant, basically intolerant. There's something that was like tiny, tiny thing that a normal person would just be like, that's just a cute quirk. So irritate, you know. And so we just ended up not enjoying spending time together, sadly. And I think she was doing a lot to try to, you know, make our lives together. Wonderful. And I was just a monster because my primarily because my work was so shit, which I regret a lot. It's interesting. So when what I noticed about myself is when I had a girlfriend at the height of my, uh, pure bullshit, I would make her feel incredibly lonely even if I sat next to her because I, you know, I was selfish and self absorbed and I didn't, wasn't interested in anything, but my own problems. And I also didn't particularly want to talk to her about them because that was just, it felt like it would grow the problem. If I then went home and just, yep, rain dumped on her. Yeah. Yeah. Do you think it's possible for a CEO that's in a high intensity situation to have a successful early stage relationship? I mean, I never managed, but I believe it is possible. I've seen other people do it. And then I think, um, part of it is maturity and, um, detachment, but not in a bad way. And I mean detachment from your job, being able to compartmentalize. So Paul, one of my co-founders, a little bit older, um, and I think he had a really great ability to sort of come to work and be fully present in work and then to go home and just totally switched off. As soon as his head hit the pillow, he was asleep. He had, um, he and his wife run a lovely alpaca farm in the north of England. And he was just really good at having sort of, of comp, compartmentalizing his life. I think similarly with TS, the new, um, the new CEO, so he's an older guy, um, I think he's in his fifties, uh, and has run big banks before and is, you know, finds it challenging and exciting and a little stressful, but I think he's able to go back to his family and, and sort of switch that part of his brain off. And I could never do that. It was all consuming, uh, sort of emotionally that I would never, even on holiday, I could never switch off the nagging feeling about the work. Um, so towards the end, there was a little bit more detachment and talking to Joan as my co-founder as well. I think he took everything so personally in the early days and sort of six, seven years in, you, you, there's a bit of detachment. Um, and I think that's actually really healthy to realize that your entire person is not intrinsically linked to this company. And you can leave and the company will continue and maybe the company fails and you'll still survive. And that's sort of, um, and by the way, I think ones are doing incredibly well and it's not going to fail. Um, but just that emotional realization that you're not like the same being as your company, would have been helpful earlier on. I heard you had a red phone in your bedroom or something.
The “red phone” in your bedroom (01:07:47)
Is that true? Yes. Why was it red? That was more like a sort of, um, childish pink color, actually, right. The red phone is probably a dramatization. I think I did describe it as a red phone. It was a pink, it was an old Nokia. Um, uh, and why, because so the reason why, um, is first of all, because to help sleep, I didn't keep my own mobile in my bedroom. So I turned it off and had it charging out the whole way, which I think is, I encourage everyone to do. I think it's great. Because you know, the first thing I used to do when I wake up and sometimes I do still is like, you grab the phone and starts, and it's just not healthy. So not having the phone in your eye at the last night, not having the first thing in the morning, just charge it in another room. Um, that is a great step. Unfortunately, when there are really significant problems at three or four in the morning, and it doesn't happen often, but you know, it happened occasionally, you need to be able to wait the senior management team up and the CEO up to make the hard calls. Um, and so that phone was like the back phone. You know, if something went wrong, that would be the only one in my room. The only no one had the number. It was linked to our automatic alerting system. So at Monzo, if something went wrong, you sort of click a button, it would escalate. And if it got escalated far enough, the CEO gets woken up, but only that system had the phone number, this phone. And so if it rang, it was because the bank was down. Um, and that happened a handful of times, not, you know, not every week, but every two or three months sometimes. Um, what an awful phone call. Yeah. Oh, yeah. And it wasn't a person. It was a bot. You know, it's a robot saying like, wake up, they're an incident. You're required to blah, blah, blah. It's like, uh, yeah, that's horrible. Because we can see by your hand gesture, then how it felt. Yeah, the heart, your heart drops. And you know, it's going to be the rest of your week, if not your month is going to be ruined. And it's, you don't know if this is like the one that's going to kill the company. We had a few like that that's like, you know, is, is, and I think a lot of founders have like those moments like, oh, shit is, you know, is this it? Is this the moment the company dies? Um, and there's often not a lot you can do actually as a, you know, your engineer is running around and trying to fix a problem. And you getting stuck in is not going to help, help fix. So you're sort of almost like a helpless, uh, sideline observer. Um, you know, you have to make the phone call to the board and to the investors and sometimes to the regulators at four in the morning. Um, but yeah, it's been a pretty helpless situation. Yes, there was a red phone. It was more like a pink knock here, but it sounds better if you. It sounds way way way way of a mess. In the movie, it'll definitely be a red phone. Yeah. Um, it'll be in like a box with like a, maybe a code on it. Um, I find that what you just said, they're really, really interesting. So there's, because I've been through that, those key moments where you're not sure if your company's going to survive. Yep. And it feels like the answer or the, the contaminant factor is actually outside of your control. Yeah. So it's someone else's decision, whether your company survives. Yep. Did you have many moments like that where it felt like it was someone else's decision if your company was going to survive an investor or yeah, not loads, but a handful. So early investment rounds, um, it was binary. If we don't raise the money, we, we're folding the later rounds are more like the money's going to come in at some valuation. Um, uh, or some early outages. We had a really very bad, we were still a prepaid card at the time. And one of our suppliers, which connected us to the MasterCard network, went down, like really went down hard for about 10 or 11 hours. We didn't know it was going to be 10 or 11 hours. It just was down and we phoned them up and they were panicking and didn't have a, they didn't know when it's going to be back. And so, you know, we had about 300,000 cars at the time, sort of like, this could be two months, like all the cards could not work for two months now, or rather, it would take us two months to rebuild this thing. Um, and that, yeah, we're just sitting there thinking this is, we picked, it's our fault in the sense that we picked the supplier, but beyond that, like, they just fucked up, right? Then, you know, it, it was, it was totally ridiculous what had happened in retrospect. But, um, yeah, that was a real like, we can't do anything. We literally, yeah, we're sitting there on customer support. The entire company we pulled in on a Sunday to respond to all the customers and to proactively alert and all this good stuff. But that was a sort of, we don't know if this is even going to come back online. Outside of the business and the cost of the business, what was your life? At that point?
Balancing Personal Life And Business
What was your life like outside of the business? (01:12:11)
Um, fairly normal. Um, and we had a pretty good culture around sort of work-life balance at Enzo. Um, you know, most of the, I was working five days a week, unless we were fundraising, I guess. And I traveled probably a week every month, mostly for fundraising. Um, but I had a really close group of friends, mostly from, uh, you know, growing up, mostly from my secondary school, actually. Um, I lived with my girlfriend. We lived, you know, we lived in a big house with friends. We cooked a lot. Um, I took up pottery. I, I exercised a fair amount. It was very, very normal. Not really nothing extraordinary, but I wasn't working a hundred hours a week for sure. I was doing 45, 50, 55 hours. Um, really not a, the time pressure was not the problem. It was the mental, like, the mental, the inability to switch off outside those hours. And then boom pandemic. Yeah. Comes around, term sheets get pulled.
The road to leaving Monzo (01:13:06)
Yeah. You're sat there. You've ready, you know, it's by the sounds that you're really on the verge of, well, you really weren't happy with how things were going. And then that's the, I guess the straw that broke the camel's back. For sure. When you realized that you were going to depart and you knew there was a date, you knew people were going to know, you knew it was going to come out in the press, what were the range of emotions and was sadness, one of them? Yeah, definitely. Um, I mean, 80% was just like, I can breathe again. So it was overwhelmingly positive for me. I, I'm, I'm not afraid to say that. Um, and so I don't want to build it up and, you know, it's a sort of negative thing, really, but there were 20% things like sadness that I was leaving a team that I really, really liked overwhelmingly. Um, guilt that I'd recruited many of these people and some of them had joined to come and work with me. Um, and that I was leaving them to kind of fix the mess. Um, yeah, guilt, I think was more than sadness. Were their tears shed? Um, I cry quite a lot. It's what I cried as well when I, I went through a range of emotions. One of my first ones, I was angry a little bit because I, as I said, I'd been given a lot of felt, what felt like lip service. So I was annoyed at first, but then when I realized that I was actually going to send the email, it was like gratitude. Yeah. And some kind of like, sad or happy tears. Yeah. Um, I, uh, so I didn't all hands me, I announced it on a video call with like 1500 people or something. And I definitely welled up on our two points there. Um, in a gen, in a genuine way, but, um, what I have learned over the last few years is that, um, vulnerability is the best way to inspire, uh, is confidence, trust, sort of become a leader to show, if it's genuine, you know, you can't sort of, you know, just be a fake tears, but genuinely like showing your emotion and showing your vulnerability and showing your screw ups is such a powerful way to inspire followership. Um, and so I, what it doesn't, I wasn't, I wasn't afraid of that or embarrassed by it. You know, I was sort of welling up on a call with 1500 people, but it wasn't the first time I like practically cried in front of the company. Um, and that was, you know, I'm not ashamed of that. So. And then the, uh, the weightlifting. Yeah. Great. When you know one can fuck any email, you know, um, it was great. Actually, it wasn't, it was great, but then we were in the midst of a lockdown and I was, my house was having building work done. So I had to get out of my house with four housemates. We went to a farmhouse in Devon, which was idyllic, but everyone else was working. I had no job. It was in the middle of nowhere. It was pretty boring, actually, for quite a while. I think if, you know, if London had been booming and I could kind of go out and meet people and have fun, it would have been a great experience with actually that's, um, especially, uh, if remember sort of thinking back to April, May of last year, when everything was really hard to lock down still, April, May 2020, not a fun experience. And I think I am an extrovert. Um, I thought about this a lot. I really, I get energy from being around people. And I was with four people who just working all the time in the middle of rural Devon. Yeah, not fun. I mean, it's a lot to go from having such an intense overwhelming purpose and sense of mission every day to having pretty much none and waking up in the morning and thinking. You know what I'm going to do today? What happens today? It's weird because my time was, especially Monday to Friday, was scheduled from sort of nine, nine m till about seven or eight p.m. was scheduled down to the down to five minutes easily. Um, and you'd look at my diary, they would, you wouldn't find more than five minutes spare sort of in that block. So yes, having nothing to do was, uh, kind of weird. And so I, you know, I wrote a list of all the things I wanted to do. I've actually had this list of five or six years. So I started looking down the list for things I could do whilst in lockdown. Um, many of the things I couldn't yet do. So I started drawing. I spent two or three months drawing. I saw that, um, Hockney had started using his iPad. So I started drawing on my iPad, uh, which I, I only kept up for about a month or two. Um, but learning a language is on the list. I bought some kite surfing gear and did a load of kite surfing, which was amazing. Now, um, I'm training up to, um, a big offshore sailing race. So you kind of a yacht race called Fastnet. That's in August. I'm learning to fly. So I've had, I have a list. Um, so now my time is not as planned, but it's still, and I'm spending a couple of days a week vaccinating people, which is, which is very rewarding. Um, so I'm busy again, but each of it is like, not in consequence, I think the vaccination stuff is, is a great thing to do. But if I wasn't there, there would be someone else there, you know, doing the jabbing. Um, so each one, I could sort of walk away from pretty easily. So it's so it's busy, but it's low, low pressure, I guess. Yeah. And it seems like you're focusing on things that give you like in, in trinsic joy. Yeah. And learning. I really like learning. Um, and really anything. So the process of going from a complete novice to someone, you know, mediocre, uh, I love, and I'm angel investing. That's a, to keep a connection to the tech community. I'm, I've made seven or eight investments in the first half of 2021. I'll probably make another seven or eight towards the end of the year. And I'm helping out a few of the, or at least I'm going into bother the founders, whether I'm helping or not. I don't know. Tom's here again. Um, yeah. Yeah. Um, which I like, it's a weird, it feels like a job where you have to pay to go to work, you know. Um, but I like that a lot. Uh, like me and my co-founder went on, felt two very different things when we departed. We departed at the same time pretty much. And, um, he, because he didn't have anything to do, um, upon departing, I think he struggled quite significantly. You can, you kind of lose the orientation in your life. And you're right. When you're scheduled, you're so used to your schedule running your life, when there's nothing there, you get out of bed a bit later and then you, you know, you can, that's that sense of lacking purpose. You see it within Olympic athletes, like Michael Phelps, when he wins all the gold medals and then comes home, they call it gold medal depression. You don't have that thing you're striving towards or for that meaningful goal. Like can seem to lose orientation a little bit. Your schedule now is, is it as busy now as it was when you were working? No. No. I mean, the Dragon's Den thing is, is maybe I, maybe brought it close because it's like 7 a.m. and I get home at midnight. Yeah. But, um, Dragon's Den aside, no. And I've also, I mean, there's nothing, there isn't huge stakes. So even the work that I do do, the things that are in my schedule, I can just cancel it if I don't want to do it. Whereas before it was huge stakes, I had to get on the flight, where I had to be up at 4 a.m. to, you know, so, but, but, you know, both you and me, that there's still going to be that yearning to go back. No. Do you think you'll ever go back to starting a company and being the CEO?
The urge to go back (01:20:29)
I don't know. I have thought about this a lot. And people have asked me, and I don't know. The thought process goes something like, I love the early stage. So you get a few of your mates together, people, you've always wanted to work with perhaps, and you start something and one of two things happens. You fail and that, you know, now you're kind of relatively high profile founder who's onto his third thing, the third thing's flopped and like, ah, we all knew he was an idiot. So like, okay, that's humiliating. Or it's a success and you grow and it comes to 2000 person company and you're like, why have I done this to myself again? I hate running 2000 person companies. So the out, I like the journey bit, but the outcome either end. Don't lose lose. Yeah. Like, it doesn't seem there's much upside. I mean, it's financially like very remunerative if you do well, but it doesn't make my life happier. So, so in that sense, no. With some caveats. One, thing I've thought about doing, which I've not started yet really is the kind of run a studio. So you get four or five mates together with the aim of coming out with an idea, putting in a CEO or a founder or management team and kind of incubating it for properly incubating it for 12 months, actually like building the first version and doing the marketing. And but once it's at 12 or 18 months, putting a full management team in and sort of letting it go. So you retain a minority equity stake, but really it's the the CEO and the management team that's owning and running it. So you you were able to that first year, but then you're like hands off and then doing every year for five or six years. So you end up with a portfolio of, I don't know, six to 10 companies. So I thought about that a bit seems like a lot of hard work. I haven't done it yet, but I might do that. I think you'd probably end up getting sucked into the same problems. Yeah, I agree because I think the power law distribution of of startup success means that one, if you are successful, one of the 10 will be incredibly successful. And then they'll be like, oh, you know, the CEO is not quite doing as well as I would have liked. And either you think you should go in or someone else thinks you should go in and you're ultimately you're running a 2000 person company again. And that's the thing I'm trying to avoid. I know a guy that does that. How's that going? Yes, but he hasn't avoided the bullshit. So he's what he's he's a billionaire, he's a multi billionaire. And he says, oh, I'm not good. He when when press ask him, he goes, oh, yeah, I'm just not good at the operational bit. I know what he means is because I've spoken to him privately. He doesn't want to do the operational bit. He doesn't want to care about people's birthdays. It's what he says. I don't want to have to think about people's birthdays, right? So what he does is he comes, he'll have a passion in his life, say psychedelics. And he'll go and assemble a team, a CEO co-founding team, he'll go and hire the people. And then he'll handle the fundraising piece in a way off you go company. But I still know that when shit hits the fan and they've got funding issues, because he is the big name in the piece, he will be front and center of trying to solve those problems. I he lives a much better life than I think the CEO would. Yeah. And I think that's why like I wouldn't I'm not looking for a zero stress life. But I think, yeah, a lot of the people bullshit I don't like fun. Fun isn't fun, but I think I have done it enough now that I could do it again in a relatively stress-free way. But at 2000 people, it's not even remembering people's birthdays, right? Right in a calendar, like that's not, you know, I had a great assistant who would help me with a lot of that stuff. It doesn't come naturally to me. It's more like, you know, there's someone misbehaving, like at 2000 people, someone's done something stupid at the Christmas party and like it should be the chief people off to dealing with it. But maybe she was misbehaving. This never happened at Monzo. But for some reason, it ends up on your on your desk like, why am I dealing with these miscreants like fucking around? Like, this is not like on top of everything I'm doing, I'm having to sort out this HR issue. Or you know, this, there you have to because it, but I was thinking of one incident at Christmas party because you said Christmas party, I'm not going to. Me and my co-founder stopped like we would go until eight p.m. and then be like, this is not because it means for our column. Yeah. And when you're 50 or 100 people, you know each other so well that like people, I don't know, maybe we're just lucky, but people sort of respect boundaries and behave themselves. 2000 just law of averages like there's, you know, one in 1000 people's going to be doing stupid. So you have two of them now at 2000 people doing something stupid every every party that's like, they're going to get fired for. I know one incident, well, many incidents, but I mean, the crazy twists and turns of being the CEO and finding these things out. And we had someone who had been on doing, I think Silk Road on the dark web seven years ago, got arrested. They'd worked for me for three and a half years. I thought they're a great guy. Yeah. They got sent to jail for seven years. Oh my god. Nice. This guy in the company. And he'd done it when he was a student. Are you all kinds of things Christmas party? Someone's pushed someone into the toilet and kissed them. And these are the things that in fact, you do have to make the call on. Yep. Even though it's such, it seems like such a pathetic thing, but that is sexual assault. Totally. And you can't allow an incident like that to be mishandled, right? Because that is, that proposes an existential risk against your company. If that were to break in the press. Yeah. And it's the right thing to do, but it should be the chief people officer, right? That was my problem. There were periods of time when we didn't have a chief people officer, so it just landed my desk. And I'm fine dealing with a section of those, but when you're dealing with four or five people's jobs worth of that shit, then it gets overwhelming. So yeah, I think always comes back. You have an incredibly successful talented senior team and the stress becomes left because each you don't see, you don't deal with that. Your chief people officer says, by the way, this happened and I've dealt with it and you go, great. Thank God. I love those people in business. They deal with it and then tell, they come to you with it sometimes, but they tell you they've already dealt with it. No action required, Tom. It's really been solved. But just so you're aware. Yeah. And that's, but that is how a senior team should work, really. And at its best, it works like that. It is magical. Death threats.
Death Threats (01:26:57)
Most little transition. I'd never got death threats as the CEO of social chain, but I hear that you got a few. Not loads, but yes, and several of our staff as well. And we got people turning up to the office being, we had security full time, security at our office, and we still do now because customs would turn up sometimes with weapons, they threatened to turn up with a bottle of acid and their acid in someone's face. Yeah. And yeah, and come, there were sort of groups on social media who sort of try to find our addresses and sort of hand them around. Because, I mean, with 6 million customers, again, you'd sort of probabilities, if one in a million is bad egg, you've got 6 bad eggs. Because we were a bank, we dealt with people's money, and because we had obligations to detect and prevent financial crime, we would detect criminals and shut their accounts down. And the really pro criminals would just treat it as a cost of doing business, right? Like, fine, we've got thousands of these things. It was like the amateur criminal, who really thought we had a payday. He scammed some old lady out of her retirement, he's got 20 grand, you were like, no, shutting it down, sorry, sending it back. And it got crazy. Like, this was my big payoff. I'm going to come and fuck you up. And clearly, there were times when we blocked accounts incorrectly. If you're blocking tens of thousands of accounts, you absolutely are going to get it wrong occasionally. And sometimes it takes too long to get money back. And we worked really hard to get that time period really, really as quick as possible. But still the law gets in the way. You have to report it to the National Crime Agency, you have to wait for them to get back to you. And it can take four weeks. And they just don't get back to you. So it's like, okay, we'll give them the four weeks and then we'll refund you. So there are rare cases where you're sitting on a legitimate customer's money for four weeks, and they're going ballistic because they can't feed their kids or whatever. But a lot of the time, it's scammer who's like, they would phone up and they would have a record of a baby playing in the background. So, you know, I can't feed my baby. Yeah, yeah. So yes, it was never the professional criminals because they just created a cost to do business. And by the way, there were a ton of those and we caught way more than our fair share. We were using a lot of basic machine learning to track sort of weird patterns and shutting their accounts down. We worked very, very closely with the law enforcement to to shut a bunch of these things down. Some of them were like wild. There was a big ring, a couple of years, no, probably three or four years ago now, where if you could have fuel pump, you can basically put your you sort of pay at the pump. What it would do is pre-authorize a penny on your card. You'd pump your fuel and then it would try and then it would calculate how much fuel you'd actually spend and then then take the payment. So people get a Monzo card, put one P on it, swipe it and then go with a modified Ford Transit. So it's not like a 80-foot of petrol. The whole thing was a fuel tanker. So they'd put 10 grand of petrol into their Ford Transit and then just drive off. And the payment on the card would bounce and they'd go and use that to like they'd sell it to whoever wants petrol at hauliers, farmers, whatever. But they're basically scamming all of these petrol stations. So we spotted that pretty quickly and shut that down, which I'm really, really proud of. There were several people trafficking rings where they would bring in women from often Eastern Europe and then traffic them for sex, basically. And you'd spot patterns of behavior, like patterns of spend, which suggests basically someone is being driven around in an Uber or taxi to be pimped out. And we'd spot that and work with law enforcement to actually go and rescue people, which is amazing. That's an amazing, amazing feeling. But and those were mostly the pros who were like, "You've got us this time, we've got these other rings." So whatever. But it was mostly the amateur ones who get really, really angry. They'd scammed three or four grand out of someone and... Sounds like a lot to think about, Tom. Yeah. It's all of this hidden stuff. You think of Monzo and it's like the hot crawl card and some great branding. I thought it was just a nice colored card. I mean, it was serious by the end. Running a bank is serious. We were processing, I don't know, 100 billion pounds a year or something of payments. It's a lot of money. It's people's salaries. It's six million customers. You see their whole life. You see the great stuff, and you see the terrible stuff. Will you ever scared or threatened personally? Did you ever feel threatened personally in terms of your personal security? Was there ever a way you thought, "Do you know what I actually, I do feel about unsafe here?" I had security. We got a security firm to come and look at my online profile, look at my house and figure out how much of it I was in danger. That was a bit unsettling. There were times when, especially when we had customers saying, "We know who your office is, and you don't know who I am, but I'm going to come with a bottle of acid and I'm going to throw it in someone's face." As you left the office, there was a bit of a little apprehension there, certainly. But no, in general, no, it wasn't something I live with every single day, but it was on your mind, certainly, in a way that I think most people at most companies, thankfully, don't have to deal with that kind of shit. Now you're enjoying the small things in life here.
Enjoying the small things in life and relationships (01:32:42)
Maybe I should go back to therapy now and just make it even better. Yeah, there's small things in life that you're enjoying. What are they? Yeah. Walking in the park I heard. My housemates got a dog recently. That's quite fun. A lot of my friends have just had children, so not me, but I'm godfather to a couple of young kids. My brother has a young girl now. Disproportionate amount of kids. You're getting the same as me. I am the godfather to all of my friends, kids. I'm not sure I have any friends left, really, who are not either parents or trying to become parents. I'm 35, so I'm trying to find new younger friends now. Avoid that stage of my life for another few years. Yeah, I love pottery. I'm learning to fly. I'm sailing. I love to cycle. I kite surf. A lot of active outdoorsy stuff. I'm growing plants on my roof. My courgettes have just cutouts, which is great. What about your relationships? Are you single? I'm dating. I am dating. I've always been intrigued by dating apps. I worked at one. I've written about 20% of a book on one, but over the last 12 years it's not going to get finished. So I've been intrigued by that whole scene for a while. Yeah, and I'm dating and having fun, but I'm not not good at settling down. Maybe I've just not read the right person to settle down. I really enjoy meeting new people, but after six months or a year or something, I'm sort of like I didn't know what it is. That's sort of like deciding to commit to each other and spend the rest of your life together. I really admire people who are able to do that, because I have not yet to be able to do that. Have you managed to analyze where you think that might come from? Like inability to be content. This is what I should go into a therapist about. No, because I'm asking for myself. I like novelty. I really like new things, new experiences, and I get bored quite easily. I didn't know. Yeah, probably, I think combining psychedelics and therapy to solve this problem is my next challenge. Have you ever done psychedelics? I haven't. Neither have I. I would love to. I really wish I could say I had. I'm trying to, but it's just finding the right place and time, I think. So we look forward at the future of your life. I guess a lot of question marks, you're not really sure which direction you're going. Because I think you, when I think you kind of answered yourself about your purpose in life now, what your purpose has been. I don't have one, and I'm totally fine with that.
Your purpose in life (01:35:34)
Yeah. I think looking forward to sort of when I'm 60, 65, I think I would like a family around, but I'm not sure I'm willing to make sacrifices to put in the hard work to actually make that happen. You know what I mean? What are those sacrifices? Like giving up the fun single life, like the bringing up a baby isn't, I've seen it second hand, you know, I'm not doing it day and day out, but it's hard. Really. And I have huge respect for that. I'm just not sure I'm willing to sacrifice my freedom and my, my total lack of like obligation for that future pay. Lots of people find raising babies rewarding, I've heard. Oh my God. I do not. But that sort of future payoff of having, you know, that kind of close family, it's, I can't imagine being 65 and not having that. But then I'm not sure I'm going to like make the sacrifices today to have that. That's sort of something I'm puzzling around in my head. But apart from that, just sort of enjoying life and helping out other startups is a, is a nice way to feel like I'm giving a little bit back without taking my life at the moment. So for me, that's enough. What do you think about, I think to ask him, Clara, remember, what do you think about Bitcoin and crypto currencies, generally?
Discussion On Crypto Currencies
Crypto currencies (01:36:49)
Terrifying. I don't understand it. I invested a little bit. It went up a lot. I thought I was the smartest person in the world. It came down again. I sold before I lost any money really. It was too stressful. So there's a kind of two questions there, which like, is crypto, what do you think of cryptocurrency long term and is it useful versus like, what is your experience of riding the rollercoaster over the last year? Long term, I don't know. I'm not, I can see how it's interesting, but I think it's at the moment massively overhyped. And I haven't really seen any cool applications in reality yet that solve a real human problem. That may change in future. And then the, you know, the warm a bit like the crazy speculation. I was, you know, checking the price of Ethereum every 15 minutes or something. It was that, that's just not healthy. So I got out and I'm again, sleeping much better now that I've liquidated my crypto positions. Yeah. What about you? Are you a believer? Hi, I am so I did the whole 2017 2018 hype cycle got burnt pretty bad there. And then I'm a believer in blockchain as a technology. I don't actually invest in Bitcoin at all. I invest in Ethereum because I'm slightly involved in building a company in Silicon Valley in around, which is based on Ethereum. But, but I'm also not, I'm fortunate that I'm not checking the price every day. I'm, I'm a very significant Ethereum holder, one of the top 5000 in the world. But I don't check the price because I got burnt the first time and I've just got this idea in my head that I'm holding for 10 years anyway. So irrespective of what happens, I don't need to be checking the prices as if to inform a decision. And I'm not going to make a decision. If it goes down 75%, there's no decision. If it goes up, which it did. So yeah, I think I have a healthy relationship, but I didn't the first time. And also the loss of if I were to lose all the money, it wouldn't have a material impact on my happiness or life. I've heard smart friends say similar things, which is basically take a, you're basically hedging into the risk that this is like the future of the economy. And so take between five and 10% of your like net assets, put it in crypto and really leave it for 10 years. And so if it is like the future of money, you have a significant enough proportion of that that you were like, well, fed up. If it goes to zero, you still got the other 95% to sustain you. And I'm well diversified across various different sort of asset classes. So if I genuinely lost all of my theorem holdings, I don't think I'd lose a night sleep. Do you know what I mean? And that makes it easy not to, but when I when I was at social chain, when I hadn't had an exit or hadn't taken anyone off the table at all, and the price went down, it was like, I was going up and down with the price. So again, it comes back to that video game mindset. And I think the detachment point, you know, when I started this podcast on, I did it for very much, you know, when I read your story, I thought, fuck, this is exactly why I started this podcast. Because it's literally called the diary of a CEO. And what I was trying to achieve there was to give up give people a more honest view about what it takes to be a CEO.
Positives Of Being A Ceo
The good things about being a CEO (01:39:51)
And because I didn't necessarily think that it's been kind of, you know, Rox, like a jet ski, you know, whatever, millionaires, loads of money, private jet, whereas there's a real, as you've explained, cost, which people don't appreciate, of being a CEO. And so when I read your story, I think in the papers, and you were so honest and open about the real nature of being a CEO, the side of being a CEO that I can also very much relate to, that's why I just needed you to come here and to have this conversation with me. What is the upside of being a CEO? I mean, I think it is amazing. And I don't want to sit here and kind of complain about my life. I think for smart, ambitious, talented people, it can be incredibly remunerative. I mean, I'm financially independent now, and as I write, and it's, I think it, you can create a lot of value, but also like capture some of that value personally, like, and make money. Like, that's true. You can be, you can choose the people you work with, which I think is really, really, really important. So you can select the people around you and to choose who you spend your time with, and you get to create something, if you're successful, that random people in the street use, and that feeling of being a, having created something out of nothing, this thing would not exist if it weren't for you and the team around you. And that, I think that feeling is, is amazing. And so, I don't regret it at all. I'm lucky now that I'm 35, and I don't have to work really unless I want to. And all of my other friends are successful in their own careers, but they're going to be working till they're 60 or 65. And so, yeah, it's hard and it's stressful, but you know, it's, I wouldn't change it for sure. I would do some things differently, or I'd try to, I'm not sure it would change the outcome. But I think, today, for smart, ambitious people, I think becoming a founder is probably one of the best choices they could make if they're, if they are of that mindset. It's not for everyone, for sure, but I think if you're ambitious and confident and want to create something, it's, it's unparalleled. And the, the sort of the foundation of all of this, the most important thing, I guess, is to make sure that you're happy. Yeah. And that, I never thought about that. And that wasn't part of my upbringing. I was always second drew. Yeah. It was always like achieving or a comption to go all or winning. And the thing that I think I personally, I don't know about anyone else, any other founders, but I never paid enough attention to whether I was happy. Which I think was a mistake. And I'm now quite consciously doing that. Yeah. I think that's the probably the downside. So many smart, ambitious people are just driven to jump over ever increasing hurdles without thinking about why. Did you think happiness was the outcome? Kind of, yeah. I thought that was the end. Yeah, sort of. Like, yeah. I didn't even really think about it. Yeah, it wasn't. My family's always been quite ambitious and driven and sort of setting goals for, you know, others as kids. And I know other families where that is not the case. And I think talking more explicitly about like, yeah, happiness and contentment and love and relationships and those things. And then having a balance. I've never done balance. I think it's probably healthier if you do have that, you know, the different inputs and you can choose what's right for you. So I don't want to dwell the point because I don't want to sound like a therapist and we're almost done. But it really made me curious that what you're saying about your family. And were your parents particularly goal-orientated? Yes. They were very hard on you. Ambitious for us, certainly, and particularly my dad. And I'm a huge admirer of what he started a business young-ish. I think he was he was 35 or 40 when he set up his business and he'd retired by the time he was 45. And so I always from a very young age thought that sort of starting businesses was I never thought about starting business actually. I thought about running businesses. So I had a privilege upbringing and my parents were around and sent me to good schools that really pushed me, you know, pushed me to be the top of the class. And even when I was top of the class, they'd sort of push me further and I'd sort of say, like, come on, but, you know, I did well in my exams to point where there's like, there is no more I can do in these things. Like I've got all the top marks. But they sort of didn't believe me. They're like, no, no, you must be hiding something. So there was always like, I think my dad told me when I was 10, I should get to Oxford and study law because it was the hardest course in the world. So I went to Oxford and study law, which I'm not sure was super healthy actually. So yeah, they're driven, very, very driven and sort of because they, you know, I think their parents as well pushed them. And my dad always likes to claim he came from like this really working class upbringing up in Rock Shelley Manchester. And it's just like, it's I had a Mercedes like, come on. And then, you know, with almost the same breath, he's like, yeah, my mum had horses. It's like, what are they talking about? It's sort of work from class up. Yeah, but they always worked hard. They moved to Asia very young to make a better life themselves. And they did work hard and they provided us as kids with great opportunities. And I think now later in life, all of us have sort of realized that thinking a little bit more about balance and like happiness and relationships and family is more important, as important, certain and probably more important than sort of achievement and money. Have you got to the crux of what makes you happy? No, not foundational, put things. Two or three things I know definitely make me learning. New skills, whatever. I really, really, really love that. And sort of like, my ex was really into not really, that's unfair. She is it the languages of love, like the way you sort of express. Oh, the languages, yeah. Yeah. Yeah. And so for me, acts of service. I hate the whole thing, but I see that in myself. I love to cook for people. I love to get friends together. I love to cook a meal, make cocktails, whatever it is, sort of, like get a house in the countryside, invite all my best friends. That I really like being together with groups of people that are careful. So learning new stuff, being together with friends and kind of creating, like cooking, whatever, whatever it is. So those things, and I, in time, raising kids, maybe we will see that's more of an aspiration than a, I don't know. Well, listen, Tom, thank you so much for coming and doing this today. I think the thing that you probably know, but you might not fully realize that I think is so incredibly powerful is your willingness to be vulnerable and honest. And I just wish there were more entrepreneurs at all stages in their journey that were willing to be that vulnerable because of how much of a, how much of a reality is so much more comforting than the like this kind of phony, untouchable narrative you get from a lot of entrepreneurs. Reality is such much more of a comforting place to be because I can relate to that. And that gives peace to my own struggles and hardships. And those are an unavoidable part of the human experience. And I think entrepreneurs like yourself that have been tremendously successful, have disrupted an industry and achieved so much, you're also willing to be vulnerable, are of a very special breed. And we need more of those people. So thank you so much. And I appreciate your time today. Thank you. It's been a lot of fun. Thank you.