Interview with Lopo Champalimaud

4 Minutes to Read

By Han Yang Lim

Lopo Champalimaud is the Founder and CEO of Treatwell (previously Wahanda), Europe’s leading online booking platform for hair and beauty. Raised in Lisbon and Montreal, Lopo studied at McGill University before moving into banking and private equity with Pictet and Wand Investments. Prior to founding Wahanda in 2008, Lopo was MD of Lifestyle at, and the founder of two successful data and CRM start-ups in NYC. While working at, Lopo realised the potential disruption to be made within the €100bn health, wellness and beauty industry, which to that point had largely failed to join the Internet revolution. Armed with a passion for wellness and experience working for high-growth technology firms, Lopo has since turned Wahanda into the biggest online beauty booking platform in Europe. I was fortunate to secure half an hour of Lopo’s time to ask him a few questions our members had for him. His answers below have been summarised for brevity but the substance remains very much the same.


Han Yang: Thank you for speaking with me today. Let’s jump to it. Why did you start Treatwell when you did, instead of working for someone else?

Lopo: I’ve been in the tech space since 1994 and I’ve always had a passion for growing and building businesses. It’s in my DNA. I launched Treatwell in 2008 but had already built two start-ups when I was living in New York, before I then moved to London. The idea first came to me when I was running the non-travel part of I noticed that the site enabled visitors to book pretty much everything online - except for hair and beauty appointments. When I started digging around, I found that the hair and beauty market was a large fragmented market that no one had really touched. I knew there was an opportunity to do something about that - to create a marketplace that would bring this space into the digital age. I hit a bit of a T-junction at the time – I had to decide whether to work for someone else, having just received three really big job offers from other companies, or to start up my own business again. I decided on the latter because that is was where my heart lay, what I felt most passionate about and what makes me happiest - and so Treatwell was born.’

Han Yang: So is Treatwell kind of like Uber and the taxi market?

Lopo: Yes and no. Digital marketplaces can be very different from one another. The hair and beauty market is a large, hyper-fragmented market. The majority of which – 95% are single owner operated businesses – don’t have another channel for marketing and have very low utilization rates, so they need help in fulfilling their business. Customers have terrible booking experiences, they have no ability to choose, and no visibility of what’s good or bad in terms of price or availability. So we created a tool that helps the merchant’s business.

Han Yang: Was that how you pitched your first round of seed funding?

Lopo: The pitch has changed a great deal over the years. But I still remember the first slide from my first pitch, it said; we are the “OpenTable for spas and salons.”

Han Yang: How has it changed since then?

Lopo: We launched in 2008, which wasn’t a great time to start a business, but we had some money in the bank so we felt lucky.

We knew the market was really fragmented but the challenge was that we were really premature. I thought it would be really hard to convince spas and salons to use our software to make bookings. So instead of going down the transaction payment model, we got salons to pay us a monthly fee in exchange for us feeding them business leads. But we found that didn’t work that well because many salons didn’t value those kinds of leads, plus it didn’t address the bad customer experience problem. You still couldn’t book an appointment when you wanted to.

At that time we also noticed that 40-50% of what Groupon was doing in the US was focused on hair and beauty, and we thought ‘we’re the hair and beauty experts, we can’t let them take us over!’. So we launched our own version of ‘Daily Deals’ for spa/salons in 2010 and grew very rapidly from there. We were the 3rd largest ‘Daily Deals’ business in the UK. And all we did was sell hair and beauty.

By 2012, I realized a number of problems still existed that the ‘Daily Deals’ model wasn’t addressing. Firstly, it doesn’t solve the consumer problem - if you’re a consumer, you don’t want to wait for an offer to come through, you want it on demand, to chose the place you want to go to and for when it is convenient for you. ‘Daily Deals’ are impulse purchases but people don’t really buy their regular hair and beauty services on impulse. And, secondly, ‘Daily Deals’ do not help businesses increase their yield and maximise utilisation rates. ‘Daily Deals’ puts a cheap price at primetime and everyone wants to go there, which is exactly the opposite of what businesses want. As a business, you want people to fill your off-peak or quieter time slots. So how do you control where the demand sits and lands? In 2012, we returned to the original business of on demand hair/beauty service booking. And that’s the beginning of Treatwell as it is today.

Han Yang: Treatwell seems to be growing by acquisition of similar companies in other overseas markets. How did that come about?

Lopo: We did an initial seed round, we then did a round to finance the daily deal venture and then another round as part of this transition phase. As soon as we pivoted in 2012, I turned to my board and said the daily deal venture isn’t going to scale. Let’s focus on the ‘Real Time’ booking platform, so we did an acqui-hire of a small software booking business. By Sept 2012, I had shut off our daily deal business. It went from 80% of our business to zero. But the booking business took off, growing at 200%+ year-on-year for 3 years, which was all organic growth. Last year however, we felt we understood our business well, proved it had worked, knew the UK market well and so we decided it was time to expand into Europe. Our business is very localized and I realised we needed strong local teams as part of that expansion plan for it to work. We acquired 5 businesses over a short period of time and we are now in 10 countries. These acquisitions though weren’t about acquiring revenue or market share but rather about getting the right people on-board who understood the business and what we were trying to build. It wasn’t a strategy for growth but a strategy for building up the footprint very quickly. In a space of 10 months, we went from 100 people in 1 country to being 500 people in 10 countries. It would have been hard to do that if we hadn’t made those acquisitions.

Han Yang: During such a period of intense acquisitions, companies may face an issue of corporate culture assimilation. How did you manage that?

Before we make any deals, we look at whether the people are aligned in terms of vision/strategy and whether we like them and could sit down at dinner with them. Fortunately, we found a group of entrepreneurs and people we liked, which was the basis of it, and culturally that’s worked. As expected with these kind of situations, not everyone’s going to be on the same page. At those times – and we’ve only really had one – you just have to try and be open and talk it through, where the relationship is working and where it’s not working. And ultimately at some point you have to decide whether that’s working or not and decide if you want to keep trying or go your separate ways. You can’t do 5 acquisitions and not have challenges. On the whole though, our acquisitions have been really successful.

Han Yang: On your most recent round of funding being acquired by Recruit Holdings, could you walk me through the thought process behind that?

Lopo: Recruit acquired us for about $240m in May last year, although they had first invested a small amount in us back in 2014. Recruit operates over 200 businesses and one of those does exactly what we do in Japan, which is huge. I remember being really blown away by that when they first approached us. Last year when we were about to do a big fundraising round they told us they would like to take greater control. By that point, my other investors, some of who had been with us for a while, told us that they were happy with how we were doing and what we had achieved and that they were happy to accept a deal if it was at the right price. So all my other investors exited. The team and I felt however we weren’t ready to sell, that we had more to do and we were still really enjoying this growth. Recruit gave us the structure, the autonomy, freedom and the capital to do it. There is a lot of trust between us and I’m not sure I would have done that deal if that level of trust didn’t exist.

Han Yang: So I also spoke with one of your early seed investors and she mentioned that when everyone exited it was a good round where everyone made a profit?

Lopo: My biggest investor was Fidelity who didn’t need the returns right away and they were very happy to keep going. Several investors were like that. Other investors were early stage investors, so their requirements are slightly different, which can then make things tricky. You’re also trading against your management team and employees. We all sold about 50% of our shares then, which is important because that’s a meaningful amount of money to them. You’re balancing personal requirements, team requirements, different investor and also strategic requirements. In this case. I recognised that Recruit was a strategic investor who could be a great partner for us, but also could be a very tough competitor if we didn’t do something about it. The deal turned out to be great all round.

Han Yang: Yeah, that’s the thing. I was wondering about drag-along rights, and was potentially concerned that some investors may have been unwilling to sell if it had been a down round where they had to take a loss.

Lopo: Well that’s your lawyer side coming in! You’re usually in trouble if you’re going back to drag along rides and other legal technicalities. But in our case, it was a huge up round, all the investors exited at a profit. Everyone understood. At one point in time, we talked about it. Management didn’t sell 100%, we still own about 20% of the business. After discussing it with them we thought that it was too complicated to see how arrangements would be if some kept a stake while others did not. We were lucky to have a great group of investors that understood what we were trying to do and supported us in that way.

Han Yang: When were you doing these deals, how did the option pool factor into the equation?

Lopo: We used to only have an option pool for a select group of people. But we’ve expanded on that and now every employee is a shareholder. It’s important for employees to feel part of the business and to think about the business from an ownership perspective. The culture of the business is giving them freedom and responsibility. Part of that is giving them ownership.

Han Yang: So when you were raising money, did you also have open communication with your employees on these issues?

Lopo: Well it was difficult because we were bound by confidentiality not to discuss the on-going deals so it came as sort of a surprise. Only a very small number of people knew about it. Employees have certain rights to information that we fulfilled. Also, several non-investor shareholders were not informed due to our disclosure requirements. That’s because Recruit is a public company and there are limitations on what they can say. It’s unfortunate, but that’s how these deals work. But I do try to be as open as I can, when and where I’m able to do so - I call a company meeting every month and we discuss what’s going on with Treatwell, including financials. What’s most important to me is that everyone trusts that I am looking out for our best interests when these deals go through. Back in 2008/09, some employees gave up some salary to get stock and the best thing about those kind of deals and situations is being able to turn to them years later and tell them this arrangement worked out really well for them.

Han Yang: Generally speaking, how do you go about finding investors?

Lopo: My first round was done mostly through people we knew. In the beginning, this is especially about relationship driven investments. There’s nothing to back other than an entrepreneur and his team. The only basis is whether you know and trust this person. Investors are smart and they knew it’s not going to be a smooth ride. They have to trust that we will fix problems as we grow the business and as they arise.

For me, personal relationships are really important in the beginning – so I got friends and family involved, and previous investors from previous businesses that I had. Trust and relationships are huge. As you develop, this becomes less important in a way, but even in late stage fundraising, it comes down to trust and people. The reason Recruit happened was because we built this relationship 12-18 months beforehand. This was the same with Fidelity where we were having conversations as far back as 2008. It’s like marriage – you don’t get married on your first date. You date; get to know each other etc. That’s exactly what most fundraising is like.

Han Yang: So a lot of work goes into this before anything formal happens?

Lopo: Yes. You don’t approach investors only after you realise you need money. You need to be talking to them and warming them up about your business so when you do actually need the money it’s a lot easier. A reason why Treatwell’s worked so well is because our investors have very good relationships with us. It’s a two-way street. I actually turned down a major VC fund in my first round because I knew it just wasn’t right. You’ve got to pick the right people around you.

Han Yang: Unless you have no choice…

Lopo: Yeah. But it’s part of your job as an entrepreneur to try and create as much opportunity as you can.

Han Yang: So lastly, looking into the future, how much autonomy did Recruit give you to set Treatwell’s future strategy and how do you see any future collaborations between you two?

Lopo: First off, it’s great having an investor on the other side of the world! They believe in the team and what we do and so they’ve given us all the freedom required to make the choices we need to build the business. They’ve given us the capital to do that and we wouldn’t have been able to enter this many markets or expand as quickly as we have without them. It comes down to sharing the same long-term vision and the importance of alignment between the investors. We are very lucky. I’d like us to expand and I think we have a great chance of becoming the global leader in our space.

Han Yang: I think that’s all from me. Thank you so much for your time and for sitting with me on this.

Lopo: No problem at all. Thank you!


Keeping Students Competitive

The content from this post is taken from "Keeping Students Competitive" by Andrew Youngson with contributions from Charles Shaw for The Birkbeck Events Blog

2 Minutes to Read

Keeping Students Competitive

The best thing about studying in London, apart from the outstanding education options, is the sheer number of opportunities to expand one’s professional network. This is particularly important for those students seeking careers in finance or professional services, where tens or even hundreds of applicants are often chasing the same job.

As many students are no doubt discovering, an excellent academic record is necessary but not sufficient as employers often want relevant work experience and excellence in an extra-curricular activity. Internships are also rare, making it at times particularly challenging to obtain practical experience and to gain relevant insight in one’s chosen future industry.

With this in mind, Birkbeck’s Economics & Finance Society enters student teams into select competitions, with the hope that preparation for and participation in such contests augments their understanding of financial concepts, and sharpens their technical skills in preparation for the challenges of the job market.

Last month, the Society entered a team in the Venture Capital Investment Competition(VCIC). This event, supported by the British Private Equity & Venture Capital Association, is designed to simulate the analysis, preparation, and delivery that private equity and investment professionals engage in when evaluating risk-return trade-offs and executing exit options. Taking place over the course of one day, students from multiple disciplines have the opportunity to test their understanding of the praxis of corporate finance against top teams from other universities.

About the competition

Although this marked the first time that the competition took place in London, VCIC enjoys a strong tradition of participation in United States. The original Venture Capital Investment Competition began at UNC Kenan-Flagler in 1998 as an educational event for MBAs to learn about venture funding.

The format has largely remained unchanged. Experienced investors act as judges and students have the opportunity to interact with actual entrepreneurs to analyse capital structure of young firms and decide potential investment opportunities; students work in teams to conduct due diligence, look through topical, complex business problems and present valuation, investment analysis, and relevant proposals concerning syndication, option pools, and anti-dilution measures.


VCIC in London

The event had a strong London flavour to it as a number of the capital’s institutions were represented. Eight teams were participating in total, with students from LBS, LSE, Queen Mary’s, UCL, King’s, Cambridge and Birkbeck. The event received wide coverage in diverse international media, including outlets in United States and Singapore’s The Straits Times reflecting the London’s international workforce and diverse student population. In addition, all of the participating start-ups were London-based technology companies, reflecting the capital’s vibrant network of tech hubs.

The competition was organised under the aegis of UCL School of Management, and served as a both a training ground and a marketplace. On the one hand, future finance professionals were able to learn a great deal about technology commercialization and investment due diligence by working with owners of actual start-up companies. On the other hand, students were able to engage with the full spectrum of entrepreneurial activity, from a company’s planning and execution strategy, to the due diligence process for potential investments. In turn, firms’ owners benefit from students’ management insight and strategic recommendations they otherwise might not obtain.

Although the competition is new to London, it enjoys a strong tradition of participation in United States. Indeed, the event, which originated in North Carolina in the midst of the technology bubble as an opportunity for graduate students to learn about venture funding, is now in its 18th year. As a result of this tradition, the winning team, LSE, was invited to take part in the VCIC International Finals at UNC Kenan-Flagler in North Carolina, United States.

Deepening understanding of financial processes

During the competition, students were able to deepen their understanding of the links between potential investors and business owners. Such links include, for example, both the explicit contractual arrangements between entrepreneurs and venture capital providers, and the implicit contract which gives a successful entrepreneur the option to reacquire control from the venture capitalist by using a floatation as a means by which the venture capitalist exits from an investment. Students were also able to gauge the viability of alternative forms of investment such as acquisitions, alliances, and licensing.

The company evaluation case-studies provided up-to-date and real-life corporate finance challenges that offered participants practical experiences in the field of financial services. Overall, the competition was an opportunity to interact with students from other top academic institutions, to immerse in a global business context where competitors are potential partners, and to become familiar with the challenges of managing a company.

The importance of gaining field-based knowledge

Was it a valuable experience for participants? Without a doubt, yes. Students of investment have long been interested in how firms can achieve growth. In this vein, a long tradition of scholarship exists on the various tools that firms can employ to pursue financial growth and corporate development. While there are extensive opportunities available for learning about various means for business development and corporate growth, both at undergraduate and graduate level, there are relatively few opportunities for students to augment the entrepreneurial concepts learned in lectures and seminars with practical field-based knowledge. There are even fewer opportunities to solve realistic business problems with a corporate finance focus under the direct guidance of senior M&A practitioners, industry experts and company directors.

It is hoped, through the continued engagement of London’s business and investment leaders, as well as through our academic network, that we can help prepare our society members for job market success. This competition, and others like it, can help understand how business strategy would flow down to operations and to financial performance of a business. It highlights how competition, contracts and external factors dictate business in terms of pricing and quality. It was also an opportunity to integrate appreciation of demand, pricing, legal factors, finance and accounting, and strategy, towards a common goal of financial performance.

The Birkbeck team consisted of: Dimitrios Bissias (MSc Economics), Ahmed Razzaq (LLM),Hannah Duck (BSc Statistics and Economics), and Ved Vyass Boojihawon (BSc Financial Economics with Accounting).

Link to the Original Article



Interview with Renée Elliott

Interview by Han Yang Lim

5 Minutes to Read

Renée Elliott is the Founder of Planet Organic, the UK's largest certified organic supermarket. Since 1995, Renée has championed the causes of eating sustainable, organic, healthy food that contributes to the well being of her customers and the communities her stores serve. Not only is Planet Organic a health food haven but it also provides a range of natural beauty products and health supplements. Blessed with this rare opportunity, I am excited to ask Renée about her business, insights and experience.

Han Yang: I first wanted to say thanks for agreeing to this interview. Could you first give me a brief description of what Planet Organic does, the customers it serves, and the philosophy and values behind the business?

Renée: Planet Organic is a natural and organic supermarket selling the best quality alternatives to foods you would find in a conventional supermarket.  In addition to that, we have a Health & Bodycare, which is vitamins, supplements, herbs, homeopathy and natural remedies, and natural body, face, skin, baby care.  Our shops also include Juice Bars with Food to Go made in our certified organic kitchens.

Our mission is ‘to promote health in the community’.  We read every label and think about every food that we sell because we care about our customer’s health.  We are a values led, commercially driven business.

Han Yang: Venture Capital Movement is focused on helping startup founders connect with existing venture capital funds. When you first started out, information on funding was a lot less accessible. How did you manage to get investors in your initial stage? Do you have any advice to how to attract investors or on attracting the right kinds of investment?

Renée: It was very difficult for us to raise the half a million we needed to open the first Planet Organic.  In the end, our investors were a couple of my friends, an organic farmer and the friends of my business partner’s father.

It is much easier to raise finance now – and many people wanting to invest in socially innovative business.  My advice is try to take money who believe in your idea.  Taking money from people who are just looking to make money can be tricky.  It’s much better to have someone on board who is excited about your concept.

Han Yang: Planet Organic now has a growing e-commerce business. How different do you find growing such a business compared to a brick and mortar one that Planet Organic now largely has? Do you find your current capabilities and experience in brick-and-mortar transferring over to growing your e-business?

Renée: It’s very different and isn’t my true love.  I love retail because it’s an intimate customer facing business.  On-line is great for selling product outside of London and building awareness, but I love the in-store shopping experience, the interaction between customers and our team, seeing kids drinking a smoothie, in-store tastings and people hanging out.

Han Yang: In terms of logistics, what is your philosophy or approach when it comes to finding and negotiating with suppliers? What are the challenges involved in sourcing the logistics to provide your customers with the right products/services and how did you overcome them?

Renée: We find manufacturers at trade shows here, in Europe and America, but many people find us first.  Our biggest hurdle has been a fragmented and unsophisticated supply chain that we have tried to consolidate and computer-ise.

Han Yang: What current trends are there in the market for organic groceries?

Renée: Free from organic and raw organic are big growth categories for us now.

Han Yang: And what areas of future growth are you potentially looking at?

Renée: I’m not giving all of my secrets away!

Han Yang: 2015 is projected to be the fifth straight hottest year on record. How is Planet Organic helping to mitigate the effects of climate change and what strategies do you have for motivating your customers into being more environmentally friendly?

Renée: Planet Organic has always taken environmental impact very seriously. All of our meat is bred on British soil and our fish is all sourced sustainably using traditional fishing methods. We know organic produce has a lower environmental impact, both in terms of CO2 release and damage to the immediate environment and wildlife, so we never compromise on our commitment to offering the broadest selection of organic products on the market. We also compost all of our food waste and turn it into fertilizer to offer our Muswell Hill customers. 

Han Yang: What is your approach behind hiring people? What processes or strategies are in place to ensure that the right people are in the right positions to help Planet Organic grow?

It is important for us to find employees with warm and friendly personalities who also have an interest in our products.

We therefore recruit very carefully, going through a 3 stage process where we do a telephone screen, a trial shift with a food test and then a final approval with the Store manager and a member of the HR team. We use competency based questions to check that people can give us examples of how they have lived our behaviours in previous roles.

Han Yang: Thanks once again for your time in answering my questions. Just one last one before you go, do you have any advice for budding entrepreneurs of today who are contemplating starting their own venture?

Renée: Just do it.  You have one precious life on this amazing earth.  Make it worthwhile.  Rx

This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity. Questions 7 and 8 were answered with help from the very capable people at Planet Organic. Photo provided by Renée Elliott.



Interview with Timo Schmidt

Interview by Han Yang Lim

5 Minutes to Read

Timo Schmidt had quite a journey as the Co-Founder and CEO of Gousto: having appeared on the hit TV show Dragon's Den, he went on to raise over £11 million from 3 investors- including the likes of Unilever Ventures. As a result of his entrepreneurial intelligence, drive and grit, he has since seen numerous successes, including being titled the 2014 Young Entrepreneur of the Year at the Great British Entrepreneur Awards (GBEA). Founded in 2012, Gousto is now the most recognised pre-portioned food delivery service in the UK, having been voted the best UK recipe box service against her competitors. I was fortunate enough to be able to ask the man a few questions about his business and on being an entrepreneur.


Han Yang: You have ventured from being a finance professional in the world of hedge funds and asset management, making a transition to founding a startup. How did your finance background equip you and do you think others who venture straight into startups without prior work experience may be at a disadvantage?

Timo: Working in finance gives you a fantastic tool box, and a lot of these skills are extremely relevant for running a data driven startup. However, this is not essential and anyone can start a business. What matters is being commercial, and passionate about the idea.


Han Yang: From an Environmental and Social Governance (ESG) point of view, how does Gousto deal with food wastage?

Timo: We don't have any. Supermarkets waste 20%, we waste close to 0%. We run a just-in-time model powered by forecasting algorithms. Go Environment! We saved 120 tons in food waste in 2015 alone!  


Han Yang: As an investor (previously) and now a founder, do you find regulations (particularly those in the health and safety space) a hindrance to your journey in building a startup? How has the ride been so far?

Timo: I don't see that as a big issue. Food quality matters hugely, and we care deeply about food tech, quality assurance and provenance.  


Han Yang: Certainly, all founders would like to see their startups grow in business and value, how has Gousto dealt with the rapid expansion and astonishing growth rates it has experienced?

Timo: The growth has been amazing, and I'm very thankful for the team's effort of handling it so well. We're at 140 people and scaling an organisation that fast is the black belt of business and only possible because of the people. We have a couple of startup superstars who are still in their mid/late twenties but thanks to them we coped so well. We hire passionate, driven, intelligent people with lots of ownership thinking, and give them he responsibility and cheerlead them. This is the secret sauce to scaling that fast. 50% of the management team joined as interns, and now they lead large teams and are irreplaceable.  


Han Yang: At what point did you decide that your business idea had potential to scale? What signs did you see and how did you go about achieving that part of your vision?

Timo: Testing, measuring, refining, and testing again. And some point we found the magic formula and it made click.


Han Yang: You mentioned previously that your food wastage levels are very low compared to supermarkets. How did you achieve that? Was it favourable 'drop-shipping' type contractual arrangements with your suppliers or extensive consumer data forecasting?

Timo: Our data guys are the smartest people in the world, it's all their don't find this level of talent and data magic at Tesco or big corporates.


Han Yang: There are many start ups that have failed because logistical costs grew to the point where the margins simply did not make business sense such as the failed US online grocer Webvan. How are you controlling costs in terms of logistics and do you see the logistics aspect as a bottleneck to Gousto's potential growth in overseas markets?

Timo: We run weekly trading sessions during which we go through every cost line in great detail, ensuring that progress is made fast. This level of focus creates amazing ownership thinking, and ingrains a culture that cares about cost. Every penny we save we invest into the customer and quality, so it really matters to everyone here. Furthermore, I see a lot of businesses that simply do not have viable models and I would not be surprised to see a lot of failure there over the next years.

Internationalisation is interesting, but once you realise how enormous just the UK opportunity is with 25 billion dinners being eaten every year, there is a lot of work here to get this right over the next ten years - fun times!


Han Yang: Entrepreneurship is famous for have a work-life imbalance that leads to people burning out from spending 100% of their time growing their business. How do you control your time to prevent this from happening? How successful have you been so far?

Timo: This is a very serious issue, and I've seen it happen many times.  I'm blessed with an extremely high energy level, and love what I do. And coming from investment banking and the hedge fund world I actually find the hours very reasonable. What's more difficult is the intensity and the loneliness sometimes. The only way to hedge yourself here is to hire rockstars around you, and to give them budgets and targets and then let go. I could not have done this without the talent we have, it's an incredible group of people here at Gousto!


This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity. Photo provided by Timo Schmidt. Some questions have been contributed by Kenneth Joseph Tan.