Spotlight: Meet Tom Adeyoola
1. Tell us a bit about your background.
I was born and raised in the UK to a Nigerian father and Norwegian mother. I got a scholarship to an independent school and I later studied Economics at Cambridge. After completing my degree in 1998, I worked in management consulting for a year and in the height of the internet boom I worked for a sports company and after the dot-com bust, I moved to the mobile company Three which at the time was the biggest start-up in corporate history. I later joined my former CEO from the sports company to help start a private jet company called Marquis Jet Europe which was later sold to Netjets, a subsidiary of Berkshire Hathaway. I then took a break to manage a friend’s band as well as short period working in Warner Bros due to my love of film. However, working for a Blue Chip was not as engaging as I hoped and I moved to a gaming company in 2005, where I started in Strategy and ended up running Product, and within 18 months I had grown the market share of their casino division from 0 to 70% of the UK market.
In 2008, I started my own fashion technology company called Metail — a virtual fitting room service for fashion retailers, which I ran until 2019 when I sold and exited. Through the process of running Metail, I raised in excess of £25 million, none of this from venture capital and built a team of 60 people at its peak.
More recently, I have been spending my time on societal causes and climate related projects. I currently sit on a few boards, advisory boards and working groups. In addition I have co-founded Extend Ventures, which is a non-profit research organisation focused on diversifying access to finance and looking at understanding the barriers that prevent underrepresented groups raising finance, in particular people of diverse ethnic backgrounds.
2. You’ve had a long and successfully career. Tell us about entrepreneurial journey and lessons learnt along the way?
The power of networking. Both my parents were immigrants into this country, I didn’t grow up with connections who could help me out with work experience, but I had a lot of peers who did. Growing up without a network I figured the best way for me to get ahead was for me to work hard. To be top of the class gave me a strong sense of self and always reminded me that I was smart enough and good enough. I previously thought that networking was a bad thing until I worked with a certain boss who showed me the power of being able to call on favours. I realised that networking provided the power to work smart alongside working hard.
Looking at my career, the moments I have had big leaps have always been from somebody on the edge of my network introducing me to another network of opportunities. The importance of networking in generating success tends to be undervalued, especially for underrepresented groups.
3. You advocate for diversity in society and enterprise. Why is this important?
I believe everybody should have the same opportunities for success, but society today presents a lot of barriers that prevent social mobility. My advocacy for diversity is firstly, a desire for a fair world with equal chances for all and secondly, the enriched benefits of life delivered because of diversity.: Diversity always yields better outcomes. If you hire a homogenous team you effectively create a bubble that keeps you in a world where you think and do the same thing and as a result in my experience yield poorer outcomes. I have met companies that believe they know their target customers, but the data says something completely different. This is especially bad when a business intends to sell a product to a wide range of individuals, but their workforce does not include the same representation. A lack of diversity often causes some businesses to skew away from their customer base and end up being far removed and divorced from their customers.
4. You are working on several initiatives at the moment. What inspired you to start Extend Ventures?
I attended a conference run by WPP called Stream last year. Myself and Pierre from Founders of the Future ran a session called “The Struggle” which was a self-help session for founders to talk about their experiences. I heard my now co-founder of Extend Ventures Erika Brodnock talk about her experiences trying to raise money to the extent that she felt going forward, she had to put a white male CEO into her business. We had a long conversation after the session and she brought other great people into a group like Patricia Hamzahee, who is a big philanthropist and impact investor, to try and establish how to improve the situation for ethnically diverse founders . We did a deep dive into the space and the ecosystem.
The main accelerant for us was when the Government started implementing measures to help business as a result of the pandemic. There was backlash from the gender diversity perspective because of the existence of data from the Rose Review that showed how female founders are discriminated against in the founder journey. What we found however was that although black and ethnic minority groups were disproportionately affected by the pandemic, there was no data on black and minority founders.
5. How would you manage your savings and investments?
While I ran Metail, my business was my investment, and I was undiversified. My flat and ability to just get a job if I failed was my backstop. After I exited Metail with funds is when I really began to diversify and explore my options. As a father of two young daughters, I have a part to play in making sure we leave a healthy planet for future generations. I have investments in ethical and sustainable only focused ISAs for my children. My goal is to be able to give them the opportunities that I had, so they can attend higher education debt free and one day buy property. For my investments, I sought out wealth management services but I had a hard time finding a sustainable investment service that was well suited for me, so I began investing into ESG’s directly. Also, I think sustainable is a high growth area and climate is going to be the next bubble akin to the internet and when you are looking at returns for renewables for example, they are good.
I have put money aside for charitable donations and as someone who was able to get a scholarship, I have always felt a responsibility to pay that back, so I am currently funding a bursary for someone to attend the same school that I went to. Going forward I intend for most of my risk capital to go towards angel investing in interesting start-ups.
6. What tip would you give a young entrepreneur about managing their finances?
The one tip I would give is to live well within your means. The more you do so, the broader the options you will have available to you.
I think if you are an entrepreneur running a start-up in order to survive the dark times, you have to recognize that things can take longer than you expect and that there are going to be times when you may not have enough money. I think the earlier you set up your lifestyle to survive on little funds, the more opportunities you will have to make your start-up life a success.
7. What do you enjoy doing outside of work?
Outside professional work, I love film and television. I also spend a lot of time debating politics in a few WhatsApp groups. Being a father, I enjoy spending time with my kids. I think us entrepreneurs tend to live in the future and the great thing about kids is that they bring you back to the present. I also love sports. I wish I did more team sports now. I used to love football and rugby, but I do not really have the time anymore. When I get the chance, I do enjoy skiing and running.
Read the latest Diversity Beyond Gender quantitative research report from Extend Ventures. The report highligths the current barriers faced by black entrepreneurs in accessing capital; and includes opportunities to make access to innovation and entrepreneurship more equitable.
When investing, the value of your investment may rise or fall and there are no guarantees you will get back all the capital you have invested.