Seizing the opportunity
Having a good idea is only the first step. We must realise that a good idea is only a good idea if something is done with it!
For me a good starting point in taking any idea forward is finding the right person to work with. With three of my recent ventures, this was the critical first step. With MyBnk which promotes financial literacy and enterprise to young people, it was finding Lily Lapenna (www.mybnk.org). With the Otesha Project UK, which promotes sustainable living in a fairer world, it was Liz McDowell who took it forward (www.otesha.org.uk). With FoodCycle, which is students using reclaimed and donated food to feed hungry people, cooking it in donated kitchens, it was Kelvin Cheung who navigated the idea from just a good idea to a brilliant programme (http://foodcycle.org.uk ).
With Buzzbnk, it took two steps for me to find the right person. I met Adam Sieff at a party, and he had helped develop SellaBand. So I said to him “SellaBand… why not SellaVenture?” And I suggested that we explore the idea of collaborating. This was not able to happen as they were spending a lot of time and effort on redesigning their website which was their priority.
Shortly after, at a Youth The Funding Network (YTFN) meeting, I met Theresa Burton, who had all the skills in e-commerce and business planning (which I lacked). Theresa had worked for insurance giant Swiss Re on on-line solutions and had just completed a mid-career Sloan Programme at the London Business School and was doing some pro bono consultancy for The Funding Network. She seemed the ideal person to work with on taking the idea forward. So I asked her if she would join me in this incredible journey of setting up Buzzbnk (although we called it SellaVenture then, this remains the name of the organisation we set up to develop and run Buzzbnk).
We had our big idea, but we had no money and nowhere to work from. But Theresa was excited by the challenge and agreed to become the CEO and co-founder of Buzzbnk with me. All this happened in February/March 2009.
There were three other key people who helped us bring the idea to life:
Pierre Théron, a former colleague of Theresa’s, a South African who works in Switzerland on venture finance, who has supported Theresa as a mentor and has been an absolutely brilliant person to have around bringing his experience and an amazing attention to detail.
Stephen Lloyd, who I have worked with for the past 15 years, who is the UK’s leading lawyer on charity, social enterprise and the environment, and who with his colleagues at Bates Wells & Braithwaite (where he is Senior Partner) has helped us navigate the difficult landscape of financial regulation, charity and social enterprise law and creating a Limited Liability Partnership to take Buzzbnk forward.
Tim Burt, whom I had previously met just once. He is a partner at Brunswick and I asked if I could see him. We talked about the idea, and he then asked what I wanted. I said help with PR, office space (Brunswick have a small charity hub in their basement), and for him to invest some actual money in us. Bless him, he said yes to all three of my asks. So for the time being and until we grow too large, Buzzbnk is based at the wonderful HQ of Brunswick Group in Lincoln’s Inn Fields in central London.
So this was our team, who became our founding board. Together we would work to make Buzzbnk happen. An old Chinese proverb says that “A journey of 1,000 miles begins with a single step”. This was our first step. We were on our way!
Michael Norton OBE, Chairman and Co-founder of Buzzbnk