I am writing this post because more often than not, people ask me why I left a promising career, where I was making good money, to do what I do now. If you had asked me that question when I first took the entrepreneurial plunge, I wouldn’t have had the answer, but I do now…
My university years.
If you were to ask my university friends what I always wanted to do upon graduation they would all answer unanimously: a banking career, making money and living the high life. To be fair, this was the dream job for most Economics or Business graduates in the early 2000s. Traders, investment bankers, golden boys making huge salaries and bonuses. Companies like Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan, Lehman Brothers were the holy grail for graduates from top universities around the world. Needless to say, the odds of getting in were pretty slim unless you were top of your class and/or had connections.
I graduated from the American University in Beirut with a BSc in Economics in 2004 and was neither top of my class nor connected. I knew that to get my application looked at, I needed to get a specialized Masters degree from a top university in the UK or US. I settled for the former and got accepted at the Warwick Business School (which was ranked in the Top 5 in the UK at the time) for an MSc in Economics & Finance class of 2005. At the time I was 21 and one of the youngest (if not the youngest) of my class. Amongst my classmates, 70% of them already had worked for a couple of years holding analyst or associates positions in top banks or accounting/auditing firms, and the average age was 26 years old. And here I was, fresh undergraduate with no working experience whatsoever (apart from summer internships and summer jobs to make some pocket money) aspiring to get my dream job upon graduation. When looking around, the reality hit me and I realized it would be even harder than I ever imagined. Fast forward 1 year of hard studies, sleepless nights trying to make up for my handicap, job applications and interviews by the dozen, followed by rejections by the dozen, I finally landed a job in the Graduate Training Program at UBS (which to be honest at the time wasn’t even in my top 5 choices), but hey, you got to start somewhere and given from how back on the starting grid I was, it was a pretty good achievement.
Work hard. Play hard.
And then my dream life started materializing, working hard, playing hard, great pay checks, decent bonuses. After completing my Graduate Program at UBS, and after over 15 interviews, I landed a job at Goldman Sachs, the ultimate grail, and was at the top of the world. Never worked harder in my life, surrounded by the smartest people I ever encountered and being groomed by 2 amazing mentors.
And then the 2008 financial crisis hit, one of, if not, the worst economic crisis ever encountered. It was a good time for me to go for another goal of mine, getting an MBA. In 2009, I got into London Business School’s 2011 Class. And this is where it all started…
The Turning Point.
It wasn’t as much the MBA that rebooted my mind and changed my future career ambitions, but the diversity of the classmates I studied with, coming from all sorts of backgrounds, career and personal. Not to mention that this is where I met Marc, who would become my co-founder few years down the road. I focused my MBA around Strategy, Entrepreneurship and a few other soft skills to complement my current analytical background.
Upon graduation in 2011, and with a depleted bank account, I decided to try a stint in Private Equity and joined Mubadala, the Abu Dhabi Sovereign Wealth Fund, in their Financial Services practice. This is when I decided to put to play my core competencies of building business plans, financial models, and doing due diligence, to my benefit and started looking at tech start-ups to invest in as an Angel Investor. Leveraging on my MBA Alumni network I got access to a lot of interesting start up ideas and going through them started giving me ideas of my own. All these start up founders, had one thing in common apart from having an MBA, they were all coming from corporate backgrounds, from consulting to banking to marketing. And if they could do it, no reason I couldn’t.
Taking the Plunge.
By 2013, I had done due diligence on over 15 deals that came across me, and invested in 3 start-ups: Payplug, Prestodiag, Shopological (formerly SalesGossip). But more important than getting a stake in these start-ups, I had acquired a deep knowledge and understanding of how to go about launching a start-up, the fundraising process, how to grow the business, and starting to get familiar with the jargon: GMV, CAC, CLTV, MVP… I was bitten by the Entrepreneurial bug and it was time I started investing in my idea and not others.
I came up with the idea of ChefXChange around the dining table. Being an amateur cook, I love to host friends over for dinners and been doing that even from my university dorms in Warwick. If I hadn’t been a banker, I would have surely become a Chef. That night, Marc and his wife were also over and we started discussing the benefits of the sharing economy, the rise of AirBnB, and the advantages of making secondary income on assets such as a flat or car. This is when it hit us. How about creating the same type of marketplace for the Culinary world. Not everyone likes or knows how to cook, but most people do like to host. The options out there at the time where either cooking yourself, ordering in from restaurants or caterers, or going out in a restaurant. Each one of these had multiple pain points that we thought could be solved: having to do the groceries, over buying and food waste, spending time in kitchen instead of with your guests, getting food cold from restaurants, having to then plate and reheat, etc… And that is how ChefXChange was born. Well quite not yet…
By the summer of 2013, I had quit my role at Mubadala, to move to Geneva and work with UBS. Marc eventually moved back to the US. In December of 2013, I was wishing Marc a Merry Christmas and told him that ChefXChange was still in the back of my mind and that we should give it a shot. And to my surprise, Marc was onboard. 2014 turned out to be a pivotal year. We worked on a business plan, put some of our savings to start the company, hire developers, build a MVP (Minimum Viable Product) and in September of 2014 we got accepted in the first Food&Tech incubator, Digeatall, in San Sebastian Spain, and after 5 weeks of intense learning, mentoring, we won 2nd place and raised our first seed round of USD500’000. The rest has been a once in a lifetime rollercoaster ride…
The rest of the story will come in another post, but I wanted to leave you with this final takeaway: no matter your background, your financial situation, your appetite for risk, what matters is perseverance and believing in yourself vs others. You will never know if an idea is good, unless you try to implement it. And if you fail, whatever the reasons, it will become a valuable lesson for your next idea, getting you therefore closer to success that other time around.
I hope you found the above useful and it will serve as a guideline in your upcoming entrepreneurial journey. Do not hesitate to comment or reach out to me if you have any specific questions about the topic.