20 QUESTIONS: Will Becker, Media Ingenuity

Will Becker on his thwarted sailing career, why his dream home is in Colorado and why Alan Sugar needs to give up The Apprentice.

by Emma Haslett
Last Updated: 08 Nov 2013

Will Becker is one of the founders of Media Ingenuity, the company behind credit card comparison site TotallyMoney.com.

1. If you had done something else, what would it have been?

An Olympic sailor – I thought I was quite good when I was younger, and I was in with a chance at youth level. But then a guy called Ben Ainslie came along and showed me just how little talent I had…

2. What else would you name your business?

When we originally started, we were in the lead generation business – so we called it Leadmarket. Now, we’re thinking about making the switch to TotallyMoney.com. When we started, Media Ingenuity was an umbrella name for a group– but we’re so focused on getting recognition for Totallymoney.com, it probably makes the most sense.

3. If you could be based in another city, where would it be?

Boulder, Colorado. It’s got a really great tech scene, and an interesting art scene. But it’s also surrounded by the most amazing countryside: beautiful mountains, fantastic skiing in the winter, great hiking in the summer. It’s great.

4. When you started, how did you raise money?

We were self-funded for the first five years. My co-founder and I had had a very small but profitable business marketing mobile content online – so we used the proceeds from that. It wasn’t until two and a half years ago that we took our first investment.

5. What has been your most important decision so far?

Easily my choice of co-founder, Jonathan Hassid. His wife was my best friend at university, so we’ve known each other for years. Business has got to be fun so you’d better like the people you work with. It can be very lonely at the top otherwise.

6.  What has been your biggest mistake?

We could have believed in our ability to take on the big comparison brands earlier on and been more aggressive with our investment strategy earlier. We took less risk – and it was a considered decision at the time. With hindsight, though, we could have pushed to build a bigger consumer brand earlier on.

7. What idea do you wish you had come up with?

I think eBay is a brilliant business model. It’s so obvious it was going to work on the internet. It’s a natural monopoly: all you have to do is go big and go early and you’ll have a monopoly forever. It didn’t even need brilliant execution.

8. How do you handle stress?

As I get older, the same challenges become more stressful. But when I get home I have three young children – they’re one, three and four – who don’t let you take life too seriously.

9. What was your first job?

Sailing instructor. It paid next to nothing but I was in the sunshine, teaching people something I loved.

10. What was your worst job?

I spent one day picking strawberries. I don’t know how people do that. You’re on your knees in damp straw, hour after hour, and you earn nothing.

11. What was your best job?

Running a chalet in Meribel, in the French Alps, for a season. I’m glad I’m not doing it now – but it was absolute perfection.

12. If you were on the Apprentice, what would your team name be?

Something like, ‘Dear Siralan, why do you still feel the need to do this?’. I just don’t get what’s in it for him. It’s a strange programme.

13. Which company would you invest in right now?

I wish I’d invested in Tesla when I first came across it in the middle of last year: shares were only $30 – now they’re $150.

14. Apart from property, what’s the most expensive thing you’ve bought?

My wife and I have spent more on art than anything else. I’ve got a huge cityscape by an artist called Daniel Preece. He does very architectural urban landscape in abstract colours. We just love decorating our home.

15. Suits or jeans?

Definitely jeans. There’s no real reason to wear suits in our industry. We’re fans of valuing output rather than input. As long as people aren’t offending colleagues or customers…

16. Flexible working or office hours?

There’s no way you can build a web business if you’re not face to face. It’s such a collaborative thing that you need to be in an office together. I’m not a fan of remote working at all. You miss out on so much.

17. What is your favourite thing about your office?

The physical location. It’s between Soho and the West End: it’s great for lunch, which is important to me.

18. What app can’t you live without?

Strava, the cycling and running app [which allows users to pit themselves against others on certain routes or stretches of road]. People have definitely taken risks. It’s turned a few stretches of London into cycling grand prix tracks. But every time you run or cycle, it makes it a bit interesting. At my age that’s important.

19. Who is your business idol?

It has to be [Tesla founder] Elon Musk. He’s had huge success from an early age, and he’s managed to stay motivated enough to transform several industries.

20. If you were prime minister for a day, what would you change?

MPs’ salaries and party funding – they’re not paid enough, in my view. There’s a problem with the calibre of MPs. It’s not an attractive enough job.

If I had time in the afternoon, I’d also sack Jeremy Hunt. I don’t think he did a very good job of handling the Sky situation [Rupert Murdoch’s attempt to increase his shareholding in BSkyB]. But that would be a busy day.

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