Notes from last night – “How to Escape Into Starting a Tech Business”

[Note from Adele: This is a guest post from @nikeshashar, who is Escaping this week to learn code with Makers Academy.]


Last night 20 Escape the City members came together for an Escape School talk at Adam Street Club in London for a talk and Q&A with the the co-founder of AltViz, Richie Barter.

The evening was a journey of Richie’s life as an investment banker in Canary Wharf with HSBC, through winning London’s Science Data Hackathon to working on a project with some of the world’s largest companies out of a co-working space in Shoreditch. All while earning his Masters in Software Engineering from Oxford!

Richie’s story

Richie quit his job in 2011 from HSBC after being inspired by an Escape the City event and getting frustrated in his work life with restructuring CDO’s and not being able to fulfil his potential.

We started off with the usual buzz of people encouraged to network and get to know people that they had not come with. With a room full of consultants, accountants, lawyers and bankers, conversation was rife.

Generally a risk averse person, Richie prepared seriously and methodically before escaping. His adventure started when he was working with the CDO team and others when he was told that they were consolidating departments across the bank. This now meant that he had to split his time between his day job and working with techs and coders to develop a CDO desk.

Richie was clearly enjoying tech more than finance and went to speak to his senior manager to let him know what was on his mind. Some of the things he did before making a judgement based decision was to look around the company internally to see if there was anywhere he could move to fulfil his new found passion and make a difference. However, not wanting a future as a markets manager or in derivatives he handed his notice in in September 2011 and left HSBC in December that year.

Hedging risk

In true banker style Richie wanted to “hedge” his “risk” (verbatim). To do this he chose not to
leave London, the city where he had built up his network, he saved enough to ensure he had two years worth of finance and decided to stay in the same flat and not upgrade (after quitting he moved into a house share with 3 other people to save even more!).

At the same time he enrolled in a part-time modular Masters in Software Engineering at Oxford and spent time completing the first 7 out of 10 modules after leaving. This was his fall back, just in case in two years, his startup failed and he had nothing left.

Richie spent his spare time during his study period reading books on coding, building various apps that were useless but let him practice what he was learning. Going from working 100 hours a week in banking to only studying for 25 – 30 hours left him with a lot of free time. It’s best to try and stay as busy as you are used to and maximise your time.

Joining networks

Another key factor in his success has been networking. He joined Techhub, Club Workspace, Bathtub2Boardroom and other co-working spaces on a rotational basis, so he always had new people to meet.

He actually met his co-founder James Billot while networking. Initially both were coding and doing it all but eventually to grow effectively, Richie made the choice to concentrate on the business side and allow James to grow the tech side.

Since then, they have not looked back. At the end of 2013, they were invited to Brazil on a trade mission with UKTI (UK Trade & Investment) who help with exporting UK based businesses and services. They managed to secure a partnership with a local company and ended up working with Brazil’s largest bank.

UKTI also have some bursaries available for new businesses in certain sectors that will help fund your trip out on their Trade Missions. UKTI will also provide you with 2 hours free consultation on any market and you can also buy 6 hours with of consultation for £50.00 per hour.

Richie’s business plan is very simple at this stage. He is flexible and has fingers in many pies. As he is in it for the long run, there are not VC’s or Angel Investors. He spent time with the London Business Angels to learn how this market worked and he did not want to productivise the service.

So as well as some JV’s, he has contracted projects, sells his technology to others and works on strategic partnerships. There are no plans to sell the business and he wants to keep going until he retires which is a great ethic to follow.

Richie’s single best thing about escaping:

“To get to a point, with a team who have the same vision as what you have – to work with people who just get the idea!”

With no regrets and ambitious growth plans, Richie signed off the evening after a quick-fire Q&A for more networking in the bar.

Things we learnt

1) Do as much research as possible before making a decision. Richie went to conferences, tech meetups, Escape events and even Social Enterprise meetings and conferences abroad to learn as much as possible about the world he wanted to get into before leaving his job.

2) Finance and budget. You will need to cut back on all of lifes luxuries to finance your startup. No longer does Richie shop at Waitrose of jet off on his annual ski holiday.

3) Have some sort of “fallback” just in case things go down the toilet. You cannot succeed at everything!

4) Speak to your line manager / directors and see if there are other avenues to explore in the company before deciding to throw in the towel. More companies are afraid of the startup revolution and will do what they can to keep their “good” talent.

5) Your skills are transferable. Negotiating, legal, sales, marketing, management, all come into use when running your own company. Do not think you don’t have what it takes.

6) Altviz built their first project for free for Richie’s dads company and that gave them a demo and case study to take around with them to win new business. They also helped other startups they had met along their journey with smaller projects to build a portfolio.

7) Scared of cold calling? We were recommended to read a book called “Cold Calling for Chickens” to help us.

8) Learn to work to a tempo. If you deliver a certain unit of output, you can manage your workload and in turn manage your clients expectations. Work too hard and you will burn out too quickly.

9) As your own business the exposure and pressure are now on you. His engagement cycle with a client is anything from 2 – 6 months and this needs to be managed.

10) Be open and network as much as possible. Richie uses his Oxford University network to speak to over 300 other like minded people learning to become Software Engineers part-time.

11) Put your Twitter handle on your LinkedIn profile to network instantly. Richie randomly will tweet people to build up contacts and network.

12) To get into the “Bootstrapping”… follow Patrick McKenzie based in Japan on Twitter (@patio11), listen to “Startups for the rest of us” on the iTunes Podcast network and follow Tropical MBA too!


[Note from Adele: This is a guest post from @nikeshashar, who is Escaping this week to learn code with Makers Academy.]

What is Escape the City all about then?

Frustrated by climbing the corporate ladder, we decided to build a community to help people build meaningful careers doing work that matters – to them and to the world. We help talented people find fulfilling work by making big career changes, building businesses, & going on big adventures. We’d love you to come with us on this journey.

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