Jamie Waller has founded five start ups, exited from two, works on two current scale-ups all whilst dedicating time to adventuring around the world, and philanthropic causes close to him.
In this edition of The Founders Brew, we find out more about Jamie Waller who shares valuable lessons and insights into his passions, his biggest hurdles, trust, confidence, the single most important trait to have as a founder and more.
Jamie Waller differentiates his equity firm by placing the focus on entrepreneurship rather than finance. Waller states, "What makes Jamie Waller investments different is that it's an equity house that's been set up by someone who has started, grown, built, and sold businesses themselves."
He explains that his firm is run by an entrepreneur with in-house finance people, rather than the other way around.
This approach allows them to be disruptors in their industry, as Waller believes that "you only succeed in business if you're disrupting the status quo."
When asked what object sums up his career as a founder, Jamie produces a photograph from his childhood. Jamie explains “This is a photograph of me aged six as a disadvantaged child growing up in East London. My mum, because my dad was very violent, put me into a charity called the Motorcycle Display Team that took me away every weekend and every school holiday and really gave me some respite away from the anger and violence at home.’
Waller credits his upbringing and participation in a motorcycle display team as a defining factor in his entrepreneurial journey.
He explains that the experience of riding and jumping motorbikes through challenging conditions taught him about risk-taking and determination. Waller reflects, "learning to take risks, ride motorbikes, jump motorbikes over fire, through fire, over cars, that has really summed up what entrepreneurship is. It's all about analysing that risk, taking that risk, but ultimately trying to win."
For Waller, one of the greatest satisfactions of being a founder is the ability to give back to those in need. He proudly supports the motorcycle team that played such a crucial role in his life and serves as the chairman of the Prince's Trust Enterprise Network.
Waller is passionate about helping others, stating, "They need inspiring and they need help to do better. So the wonderful thing about me being a founder is it gives me the time and assets the money to help others."
You've just got to get started. There's no better way to work out if there's a market than getting started and seeing if you can sell stuff.
Jamie gives us a simple response when asked on advice for founders: "Just do it." He emphasises the importance of taking action, as there is no better way to determine if there's a market for your business idea than by actually trying to sell your product or service.
Jamie says: “I meet a lot of aspirational founders these days that spend a lot of time planning, a lot of time doing courses, they're on HubSpot every night of the week, learning how to market their potential business.
You’ve just got to get started.
There's no better way to work out if there's a market for it than getting started and seeing if you can sell stuff.”
Waller sees sustainability and social good as increasingly business-critical in today's world. “I have three values that I live my life by, which is to do everything with energy, passion and compassion,” explains Jamie, “any businesses not doing it just won't attract the right people. And if you don't attract the right people, ultimately you're not going to succeed.”
Jamie urges others to ask themselves, "Is it the right thing to do?" and if the answer is yes, to "just do it."
Jamie’s biggest hurdle has been overcoming tragedy and learning to trust others. This hurdle centres around an experience Jamie had with his business whilst also dealing with family issues.
Jamie explains that his mother was passing away: “She was my best friend and when she was passing with cancer, I went to move back in with her and I was caring for her while also running my first significant business.”
During this time, Jamie felt that his CFO at the time was taking advantage of him: “One day, I decided to ask the department if I could check their email accounts and a bit of advice, never check someone's email accounts because it's never good.”
Jamie discovered that his CFO was discussing trying to buy the business from him at a highly reduced price due to the circumstance of his family situation.
Jamie goes on to explain “That was a real low moment for me because I was struggling terribly, but without showing people.”
“I was struggling with my mum passing. And then to feel that people even thought about potentially gaining from that was really hard for me to deal with.“
“I'm not afraid to say I had lost my confidence at that stage because reading their emails, I thought maybe they're right.”
“Maybe I'm not right for this anymore. Maybe it would be better in their hands.”
But things worked out in a way for Jamie. Around the time Jamie let go of the people who were planning on buying the company, they were offering 8 million. Jamie eventually sold the company for 42 million two years later.
This experience taught Jamie that he had to learn to trust people again. Jamie explains that “from the experience of that happening to me with two people that were very close to me, to begin with I was untrusting.”
“I went back into start-up founder mode, which was to do everything, control everything.”
This seems like a natural response to this situation. But this wasn’t sustainable for Jamie. “I eventually realised that people aren't inherently bad and that money does weird things to people and the people involved. If they had thought about it, they wouldn't have done it. They got carried away in their own environment.”
“I soon realised that actually you can't go through life not trusting people, you've got to trust them. And you know what? Occasionally if you get screwed over here and there, just roll with it and go with that, but always be the better person.”
Jamie reveals that he has since made amends with his previous CFO and those that he initially felt betrayed by. Jamie says it’s better to forgive and move on. About five years after the incident, he reached out and invited his transgressors for a coffee and put everything to bed. “I don’t hold any grudges”, Jamie says.
Jamie’s life changed when he found confidence through the Cranfield Business Growth Program. Having had no formal education, leaving school without a GCSE, and living with dyslexia, confidence was in short supply for Jamie.
“I'd been looking at some business education programs and I left school without even sitting a GCSE. So I had no formal education. I'm dyslexic and I had a fear of education, actually.”, he explains.
He discovered the Cranfield Business Growth Programme but Jamie states “I was always too frightened to go because I thought what if I can't do it?”
It was at that moment Jamie decided to follow through and complete the course which he describes as one of the best things he’s ever done.
When you've had nothing, you constantly think it can go away at any time. You constantly think it's going to fail
Jamie’s journey to being a founder came from a place of perceived necessity. Jamie explains that he is a founder because he “couldn't have done anything else.”
“I left school with no qualifications. Dyslexic. What am I going to do? I couldn't get a job. I had to work for myself.”
Jamie says that he felt he had two options: a low-paid job and a difficult life, or set up a business and try to become rich.
Becoming rich was, as Jamie is not shy to describe, where he found his passion for becoming a founder. Jamie’s refreshingly honest answer was “The passion to become a founder to begin with, and I'm not shy to say that this was all about: how do I go from poverty to being rich?
How do I go from growing up in a two bedroom flat above a shop that's not owned by us, to owning a house, from using the bus to having a car?”
Having gone on to set up his now fifth business, Jamie says that people ask him why he’s not sunning it up on a beach somewhere. But that just isn’t for him at all.
“I love what I do. I'm one of the most fortunate people in the world that I love business and I get paid to do it. I'm about to set up my fifth when I sell a lot. Would I do a sixth? Probably. Would I do a seventh? Yeah. I mean, keep throwing them up at me. I love it.”
Seeing the money go into his account from his first business exit, Jamie knew he had made the right decision. Jamie refers to the fact that people are saying that entrepreneurs shouldn’t sell their business, they should be lifelong and something that gets passed down the family.
Drawing on his upbringing and personal circumstance, Jamie explains “When you've had nothing, you constantly think it can go away at any time. You constantly think it's going to fail.”
He describes the tense and nervy experience of waiting for the first exit deal to go through. When Jamie’s lawyer confirmed the deal was done and he saw the money go into his account he knew he had made the right decision. “That was a nice morning”, he says.
Jamie views resilience as the most important trait a founder can have. “It's got to be” he says.
“There are so many times when you just have to put on a face because you can't expect to employ a bunch of people and set them on a journey and give them a mission and vision. And then every time something goes wrong, not throw something across the room and cry.”
“You've got to be the one who goes, yes this has happened. This is not a great moment. This is what we're going to do. And that's it.”