Matthew is co-founder & CEO of inploi, a London-based employment marketplace for the service economy. inploi is a mix of Airbnb for jobs and LinkedIn for segments of the economy it is not designed for. The company launched the Beta version of its platform in July and will release the full version in November 2016. Inploi has raised over £400,000 and employs 9 people. Matthew was a Weidenfeld scholar at Oxford (he graduated in 2015) and a member of New College, where he studied an MSc in African Studies and an MBA. He is also the financial director of the Harambe Entrepreneur alliance of African entrepreneurs.
Q: What is your background? What made you decide to become an entrepreneur?
A: I grew up in the countryside in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa and studied Accountancy & Finance at Stellenbosch University. I wrote the first professional examination to be a CA and before I was set to get stuck into being an article clerk won a Weidenfeld Scholarship to Oxford to read an MSc in African Studies. I loved the university and applied again, winning the scholarship for a further year. During this time I did stints of work at the World Bank in Washington, an emerging markets hedge fund, and finally at an Africa-focussed private equity fund. I’d always harboured entrepreneurial ambitions (probably out of a desire to write my own story, a gnawing restlessness, and an impatience to be able to influence the world) but it was during this internship that I decided that I was in the stage of life go for it.
Q: What is your definition of entrepreneurship?
A: The ability to step into the void.
Q: How and when did you know your idea was good enough to develop it?
A: I’d been thinking about the beginning of inploi during the MBA and had done some initial groundwork. This, some market research, and discussion with my co-founder Alex Hanson-Smith convinced us that there was a genuine opportunity – a real inefficiency that we could could provide a solution to.
Q: So what would you say are the top 3 skills that needed to be a successful entrepreneur? Why?
A: The ability to deal with uncertainty; being able make decisions quickly; a high tolerance of failure.
Setting out to create a company is incredibly hard work. You need to be a harder worker than just about anyone you know. One wears many hats and juggles an immense number of responsibilities, learning and executing as you go. You’re perpetually trying to get from point A to point B as quickly and cheaply as possible, with point C and how to get there knocking at the back of your mind. There are many failures, big and small, which you need to be able to digest, learn from, and keep moving forward. You deal with a huge amount of uncertainty on a daily basis, and need to make a vast – which markets should we enter? How best do we reach them? Will we be able to raise the funding we need? Will we be able to achieve the traction to do so? What if we lose our investor’s money? How will our competitors react to us? What about new startups? How can we best spend limited budget? Etc. etc. etc. etc.!
Q: What is your favourite part of being an entrepreneur?
A: The sense that you are writing your own story. That you’re changing (and hopefully improving) the world in some small (or big) way. The freedom to explore and implement ideas. The ability to make decisions and move on them quickly. The thrill of the chase.
Q: What individual, company or organization inspires you most? Why?
A: Tough question! I am constantly inspired and driven to achieve more by so many people – Thuli Madonsela, South Africa’s courageous public protector for continually standing up for what is right; Patagonia for its ethical business practices; Elon Musk for his huge thinking and groundbreaking innovation.
Q: If you could have 5 minutes with the above indiv/company/org, what would you want to ask or discuss?
A: Their top 10 book recommendations, and why.
Q: What has been your most satisfying or successful moment in business?
A: Watching the first people interact with a platform we’d built from scratch, speaking to each other, and finding employment.
Q: What would you say have been some of your mistakes, failures or lessons learned as an entrepreneur?
A: I think I’ve learned to be less hard on myself. We’ve made various boring mistakes along the way, and have failed at various things from sales meetings to investment discussions. Pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and get back in the saddle (thanks Shakira!).
Q: How have you funded your ideas? Are there any sector-specific awards/grants/competitions that have helped you?
A: We have raised investment for equity, from a mix of friends, family, business associates, and investment funds.
Q: What is good about being an entrepreneur in Oxfordshire? Bad?
A: I am currently based in London, but I think Oxford(shire) is a pretty good place to be, particularly due to the resources available via the city’s Universities, the talent they produce, their entrepreneurship centres and clubs, an endless stream of inspirational speakers and talks, and a number of regional funding oportunities. Depending on what one is doing, on the downside it is a pretty small market and some distance from many of the key decision makers one will likely need to interact with who are generally in London.
Q: If a new entrepreneur or startup came to you looking for entrepreneurship resources, where would you send them?
A: The Entrepreneurship centre at the Said Business School. There are also a huge amount of useful online resources – for tech startups Angel List’s Venture Hacks Bible is pretty good!
Q: Any last words of advice?
A: With apologies to Dickens, entrepreneurship is a bit like this extract from A Tale of Two Cities:
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way…” It is a journey – do your best, enjoy it, and don’t let it kill you. You read the glitzy stories –that’s only one side of the coin.