Part-time entrepreneur

Michael Heap, UK

I first realised that I wanted to start my own business after watching Richie Rich when I was a kid. Unfortunately, I wasn’t born heir to the Rich Industries empire and so figured out that my best shot of having a McDonald’s in my house was to follow in the footsteps of Messrs. Branson and Sugar and make my own way. However, despite devouring every Dragons Den and The Apprentice episode produced, for some reason I still wasn’t ‘rolling in it’ and so, I ended up going to university, getting a degree and embarking on my Chartered Accountancy exams at EY in the Banking and Capital Markets audit service.

Even though I was business-less, the four or so years that followed did provide me with indispensable practical experience in the finance and business industries which gave me ample time to ponder my next move. It was during this time that I formulated my first solid business idea. As luck would have it, I was at a stage in my career (prior to my promotion to manager) and time of the year, when I could consider taking some time out on sabbatical to give it a go. After a few weeks of discussions with my counsellor and engagement partners, it was agreed that I would take three months of unpaid leave.

Now, if this was a movie, then we’d probably say, “And the rest, is history,” but it isn’t. Whilst, I learned an awful lot over those three months about many different things, such as branding, product design and project management, I didn’t have a tremendous amount to show for it.

So, I went back to EY, but with a new tactic; instead of seeing EY as the enormous global organization that it is, I wanted to treat my department and my engagements as their own ‘small’ businesses. Engagements which I could have a say in how they were run. I started thinking more about what I found interesting and what I could get involved in or create myself. How does getting involved in the year-end performance reviews and people engagement strategies sound? It sounds good right? How about providing training sessions on how to provide feedback and avoid common auditing pitfalls? Sure, why not. Or maybe even starting a new FinTech team within Financial Services Assurance?

My initial reaction to learning about FinTech was: so, there are these small start-up companies that are just starting their own banks without branches? And, what’s this blockchain that everyone keeps going on about? Well, that’s pretty different. I started asking around and found out that there were a few others asking similar questions and that we, as an organization, had actually been getting requests in to audit some of these businesses. So, I dived in headfirst and consumed every article, paper and website that I could find on FinTech, reading anything I could get my hands on.

As luck would have it at that time, EY happened to be joining forces with a group promoting FinTech in the UK and they were looking for people to work on projects at these FinTechs. After chatting with a partner in my department, it turned out that I would be fortunate enough to be offered the opportunity to go. My task, should I choose to accept it (I did) was to help my FinTech turn their prepaid card into a fully-fledged bank-like service.

Off I went into the unknown (definitely overdressed, even in chinos and a shirt – don’t let the ‘Fin’ fool you, these are tech companies) to try and figure out how to build a banking service. Now, the downside of this was that it had never been done, so there was no instruction manual. The upside? When all was said and done, I would be a world-leading professional on ‘agency banking’ (I can tell you’re impressed.) Three months went by and sure enough with zero knowledge from day one but with a great team at the FinTech and some generous members of EY Advisory who devoted their time explaining many concepts to me, we were able to map out how to: send money through faster payment networks; set up direct debits; and send money all over the world and all parties involved left happy.

I learned so much from my experience, but the most important thing I took away from it was that whilst starting a business is hard, it is achievable. I now had at my disposal, thanks to my years at EY and my FinTech secondment, a lot of the necessary skills to give it a proper go. With my previous idea still burning bright in my mind, it was time for round two (also known as: ’the idea strikes back’).

After working closely with one partner on a FinTech proposal, we got to talking about my business ambitions and he floated the idea that it may be a mutually beneficial arrangement if I were to stay on working part time. Now, this was an idea I hadn’t even considered, but made a lot of sense. I could fund my business for longer, continue doing the work I found interesting at EY and have a fall back for if it didn’t take off.

Nearly a year later, here I am; I work three days a week at EY with the rest of my time devoted towards my own business (an app called Tmup that helps you find sport to play, on demand — coming soon — in case you were wondering). I would be lying if I said that it has been a completely smooth sailing — there has been a lot of trial and error in terms of how to approach it. It does require constant discipline to stop myself checking emails when I am not in the office, but also to ensure client service levels do not drop. However, seven years in, I can honestly say that I feel I have grown more at EY this year than in any previous year and the lessons I am learning from my own business have been hugely beneficial in my roles at EY.

I think there are very few places that allow the flexibility that EY gives its people; I certainly don’t know what I’d be doing right now without it.