'Failure is good. It's a great way to learn' - Jared Jesner, WeSwap

20 QUESTIONS: The founder of the peer-to-peer currency exchange site talks cold-calling, double nappy duty and why Israelis make great employees.

by Adam Gale
Last Updated: 21 Aug 2014

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

I’d probably have remained in theoretical physics – that’s what I did at university. In physics there’s always a billion more things to learn and understand. I still have a tremendous curiosity about everything.

2.  WHAT ELSE WOULD YOU NAME YOUR BUSINESS?

My grandfather had a business called CanScot, so I used to call mine JamScot, J-A-M being the initials of my brother and me. I always thought we would take it forward, but it was a little too abstract. 

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

I love Tel Aviv. Forgetting all the challenges there today, it’s an incredible city and the quality of talent is phenomenal. You can be sure if you recruit people out there you get very focused, very creative people. In the UK the talent can be sometimes less driven and definitely less commercial. If I ever try to negotiate with an Israeli I always lose!

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

That was really hard. We’ve raised £2.25m to date and the first £300,000 came from myself and Simon Sacerdoti, who’s also a founder of WeSwap. We knocked on doors of friends and family – my grandmother put in a few thousand pounds, Simon’s brother put in a few thousand pounds. I sold my house – I’ve got three little kids – to pay living costs. Then it was cold calls, knocking on doors. I cold-called a fund in the States with no prior relationship and the two partners there ended up investing £250,000 without ever meeting us.

5.  WHAT HAS BEEN YOUR MOST IMPORTANT DECISION SO FAR?

To resign from my job at Shell. I loved working there, but once I came up with this concept I felt I just had to do it. Taking that step out into the real world, without the protection of a big corporation, really changed me as a person. It made me grow up quickly.

6.  WHAT HAS BEEN YOUR BIGGEST MISTAKE?

Keeping bad people for too long. I also didn’t appreciate the impact starting the business would have on my relationships with my wife and kids, the stress levels it would bring. But it’s not a mistake because I don’t regret it – it was the only way to do it.

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

I wish I had written Freedom by Jonathan Franzen and invented Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups.

8.  HOW DO YOU HANDLE STRESS?

Since I resigned from my job, I’ve run every night, bar Friday nights. It’s almost like meditation. I find it stimulates creativity.

9.  WHAT WAS YOUR FIRST JOB?

When I was at uni, I really wanted to work at JP Morgan. I didn’t know anyone there, but I met someone whose flatmate was a PA there. And I figured if I could just get in the building I could probably get some sort of job, so I went to meet her for a coffee. While she was talking, some lady came into the room in a panic saying ‘Oh I’ve got so much to do, I’m looking for a summer intern, I’ve got 40 interns downstairs to interview, I don’t have time’, and then she just walks out of the room. So I walk after her and say, ‘You don’t have to interview them, I’ll do it.’ And she says, ‘You know what, fine, you do it.’

I got up at 4am three mornings a week at the sales desk. I don’t even remember what I actually did to be honest, but I built all sorts of great relationships and that got me a fulltime job there eventually.

10.  WHAT WAS YOUR WORST JOB?

Doing double nappy duty. I had twin daughters when I was 24. I was a trader at the time and had to be at the desk at 6.15 in the morning. I’d be up all night feeding with my wife. We’d do one each, changing nappies in the morning and then go to work. It was a very challenging time.

11.  WHAT WAS YOUR BEST JOB?

Definitely what I’m doing now, where I can really see my ideas go from my head into the world. Of the others, working for Shell was great. I had to manage a team of people spread throughout the world and manage large amounts of money – I’d never even managed a budget before. I really enjoyed the breadth of work and the skills it required.

12.  IF YOU WERE ON THE APPRENTICE WOULD YOUR TEAM BE NAMED?

Desperate for Attention, since that’s what the candidates just ooze when I watch The Apprentice.

13.  WHAT COMPANY WOULD YOU INVEST IN RIGHT NOW?

There’s a video marketing business that I really like called One Minute London, run by a guy called Nelson Sivalingam – he’s just a fantastic entrepreneur. What I’d invest in is people. The industry’s important, the business plan’s important, but not as important as the people.

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

Me and my wife are not spenders at all. The most expensive thing I’ve bought is probably our car, a Citroen Zara Picasso.

15.  SUIT OR JEANS?

Jeans, definitely. I don’t own a suit and I don’t own a tie.

16.  FLEXIBLE WORKING OR OFFICE HOURS?

Flexible working. I like to work at strange hours. I like to go for long walks and think about things. I’ve got kids, so I like to go to school plays and take them to bed. It’s about getting the job done, not about the hours.

17.  WHAT IS YOUR FAVOURITE THING ABOUT THE OFFICE?

It’s right next to Parliament Hill, a massive park. It’s just beautiful. I spend a lot of time walking out there. There’s also a big swimming pool. It’s great to go swimming at lunchtime when the weather’s nice.

18.  WHAT APP CAN’T YOU LIVE WITHOUT?

Spotify. I’m on it all the time. I listen to music when I’m working and when I’m running, things like Pink Floyd and The Doors and Led Zeppelin.

19.  WHO IS YOUR BUSINESS IDOL?

My grandfather. He was an army doctor during WWII, when his father died suddenly, leaving him an electronics business. My grandfather took it from one little shop in Glasgow to being the sole distributor of Japanese electronic equipment in Scotland. The thing I really like is that he held onto those values that made him want to be a doctor and wanted to help people. He always treated employees well and built a business very successfully without being aggressive, without screwing people over.

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

I’d really want to have a good look at education and try to help kids understand that failure is good. It’s a great way to learn. The education system that we have today doesn’t really allow for that. It’s very rigid. You’re a failure if you fail your exams and that’s it, you’re done? Failing is fine, as long as you get up and try again, and failing again is also fine. Ambition and determination are the real skills needed in life, not passing exams or learning formulas.

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