20 QUESTIONS: Alastair Lukies, Monitise

The banking service's founder - and ex-rugby pro - on taking the leap into international expansion and why business is like a rugby team.

by Emma Haslett
Last Updated: 02 Dec 2015

1. IF YOU HAD DONE SOMETHING ELSE, WHAT WOULD IT HAVE BEEN? 

I was a very keen rugby player. There are quite a few similarities between leading a rugby team and leading a business - if you can replicate the camaraderie and the desire to perform for each other then you have a great chance of success.

2. WHAT ELSE WOULD YOU HAVE CALLED YOUR BUSINESS

‘Mobile ATM’ was in the frame for a while since we started with the premise of making your mobile phone your bank. I’m glad we went with Monitise.

3. IF YOU COULD BE BASED IN ANOTHER CITY, WHERE WOULD IT BE?

Either San Francisco or New York.

4. WHEN YOU STARTED, HOW DID YOU RAISE MONEY?

Initially we couldn't so we just didn't take a salary and kept knocking on doors. Eventually we managed to raise some corporate venturing funds and ended up incubated within Morse. While we were at Morse we entered a joint venture with Link (the cash machine people), which really caught the eye of investors. We then de-merged onto AIM and have raised capital six times since then.

5. WHAT HAS BEEN YOUR MOST IMPORTANT DECISION?

Having the confidence to expand abroad long before we were profitable in the UK. We knew there was a big global market and if we waited we would miss it.

6. WHAT HAS BEEN YOUR BIGGEST MISTAKE?

We’ve made some hires who had amazing CVs and who had worked atvery big corporations. They turned out to be people who wanted to sit in ivory towers and not get their hands dirty - not much good in a company like ours.

7. WHAT IDEA DO YOU WISH YOU HAD COME UP WITH?

Amazon. Jeff Bezos wasn’t afraid to be misunderstood year after year.

8. HOW DO YOU HANDLE STRESS?

Swimming, church, long walks and chats with my wife Helen (poor girl), and by simply looking at my four month old son Jacob.

9. WHAT WAS YOUR FIRST JOB?

Delivering Essex Countryside magazines to village shops around the county.

10. WHAT WAS YOUR WORST JOB?

During the 1998 Commonwealth Games I sold corporate hospitality packages in Kuala Lumpur. With a major economic downturn and riots in the streets, you quickly learnt to swim rather than sink. There was nothing glamorous about that expat life, just damn hard work in incredibly chaotic times.

11. WHAT WAS YOUR BEST JOB?

Other than my current job, working for ePolitix in Westminster, just as the world was going online at the turn of the Millenium. All of a sudden, almost overnight, all of the information that was required to form a balanced democratic debate (that had historically been painstakingly thumbed through in libraries by parliamentary officers and researchers to decipher) was available at your fingertips on a PC.

12. IF YOU WERE ON THE APPRENTICE, WHAT WOULD YOUR TEAM NAME BE?

‘The Scrum’.

13. WHICH COMPANY WOULD YOU INVEST IN?

I am already an investor in a company called Bottletop. Two of the most inspiring guys, Cameron Saul and Oli Wayman with the most simple, yet world enhancing idea: discarded ringpulls and bottletops are turned into luxury fashion items, creating jobs for the most impoverished people in Africa and South America.

14. APART FROM PROPERTY, WHAT IS THE MOST EXPENSIVE THING YOU’VE BOUGHT?

A trip for my dad, brother and I to go to Australia and watch The Ashes

15. SUITS OR JEANS?

Both. I love putting on a suit and walking through the city early in the morning during the week. Jeans at the weekend.

16. FLEXIBLE WORKING OR OFFICE HOURS?

It is almost impossible to 'govern' the hours that people are working so you just need establish an environment of trust.

17. WHAT IS THE BEST THING ABOUT YOUR OFFICE?

The buzz. Our London office reflects our brand in many ways – lots of glass for transparency and letting us see that we are all in this together, meeting rooms with no chairs to help get results faster as well as areas with tablets and smartphones showcasing what it is that we create every day for the businesses we work with.

18. WHAT APP CAN’T YOU LIVE WITHOUT?

My banking app.

19. WHO IS YOUR BUSINESS IDOL?

My brother and dad are almost polar opposites as it relates to business but i have learnt from both of them. Dad is very entrepreneurial, has good instinct for an idea and market place quite early in the cycle and is prepared to take risks to pursue it. My brother is more conservative but knows his business extremely well and is very meticulous about little things that can ensure success.

20. IF YOU WERE PRIME MINISTER FOR THE DAY, WHAT WOULD YOU CHANGE?

The huge amount of 'job justifying' red tape. So many 'initiatives' and 'programmes' coming out of central government are quite clearly made complex for complexity’s sake and simply add huge amounts of work to those on the frontline who are trying to do their job.   

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