David Bloom, co-founder of executive search company fdu group, cut his teeth in financial roles before starting out on his own. He charts his lessons learned, from corporate life to kebabs
I trained as an accountant, but I didn’t want to be an auditor. I went into corporate finance and enjoyed that for a time, but I was sitting in completion meetings seeing entrepreneurs who sold their businesses for fortunes, which made me want to get into businesses and be part of the journey rather than just advising.
I became CFO of the editorial division at Getty Images, where I learned that you have to be able to talk in an entrepreneur’s language. It’s no good producing a set of detailed reports when the management team just want to see the key nuggets of information that they need in order to drive the business forward.
At Getty there were thousands of different photographer contracts, and I was vocal about standardising those contracts. Although my idea eventually got through, I was probably too aggressive in raising the issue and ruffled a lot of feathers. I learned a sharp lesson in terms of how to pitch an issue and deal with it in an appropriate manner to get what you want.
Taste for adventure
After leaving Getty I saw an opportunity to start the entrepreneurial life I had craved. I have always been passionate about food; at 17 I sold bagels door-to-door on Harley Street and I had also worked under [top chef] Pierre Koffmann for a while. So I came up with an idea for a food venture; I thought the world needed posh kebabs.
I raised £850,000 from 20 private investors but I hit a roadblock when the landlord of my first property didn’t care about signing the lease in a timely manner.
This set me back four months and I lost one investor along the way. It doesn’t do your credibility any good when the project doesn’t happen when you said it would.
Despite the setback, the first outlet was profitable, and on the strength of that I raised another £400,000 and got a second, bigger outlet open. I had a deal on the table with a VCT that as long as they saw improvements in the second unit there would be enough money on the table to get us to five or six units, but it didn’t go as quickly as planned.
I’d raised this money from friends and family, and the concept had to really fly to give me the confidence to get more money – but it didn’t. Developing a business and a brand takes time, and on the concept side it’s difficult to break customers’ habits. It turned out that people preferred greasy kebabs to the healthy option that we were offering.
If I had the choice I would have gone for one investor with deep pockets who knew the industry and could guide me through the process, but beggars can’t be choosers.
Now, with my current business, fdu group, I am a part-time finance director for a number of fast-growth companies. Our challenge at the minute is how to scale the business. What my partner and I wanted to do is bring in ‘mini me’s’ who share the passion and view, and we’ve had a number of false starts in finding the right people; I didn’t appreciate how hard it is to scale a business like this.
At the end of the day, rather than being 100 per cent an entrepreneur I see myself as a good number two – the yin to a CEO’s yang. I love the challenge of building stuff and doing it as part of a team, but I’ll let the geniuses create the IP.