[V] The Matchmaking Process

In [Chapter 4] The NEF Application Process, I covered Part I of the NEF application process.  This involved an online application, video interview, numerical & verbal testing, an assessment centre and a panel interview.  I also outlined some general advice I had for these sorts of situations, as well as some things that I thought might have helped me as I progressed.

Part II of the NEF application process is known as “Matchmaking” – the process by which you find a suitable host company.  Before I go into any detail about this, however, I should clarify the options you have for the NEF programme after competing Part I of the application process:

  • Working at a Host Company – This is the most popular option and involves doing an entrepreneurial role (salaried, typically 12 months in duration, but can be longer or shorter) in a high-growth company, often alongside the founding/senior management teams, as part of your NEF placement.  You need to find a suitable host company to hire you so “Matchmaking” is required for this option
  • Continuing in an Existing Role – If you already have an existing, entrepreneurial role, you are able to continue in that role during NEF.  You will, however, need to agree with your employer to take the required number of days off as training as part of the programme and to have them pay for any necessary fees.  Matchmaking is not required for this option
  • Doing NEF “Self-Sponsored” – This involves not taking a placement at another company during your NEF programme and instead taking the time to focus on your start-up.  You will need to demonstrate an ability to financially support yourself for the duration of the programme if you go down this route.  Matchmaking is not required for this option

I chose to work at a host company whilst on the NEF programme because I believed that the vast majority of my learning would be on the job (I still believe this is true – the best way to learn is my actually trying).  To be honest, I also had no other option – my existing engineering role wasn’t entrepreneurial and I didn’t have an advanced enough/funded business to support myself.  I also wanted to work in a start-up to experience what it was like to launch and scale a business in a risk-free manner using someone else’s money.

The “Matchmaking” Process

Disclaimer: This is an accurate representation of the application process for the NEF 2015-16 cohort.  Future application processes may differ (in fact I’m pretty sure the application process for the 2016-17 cohort was slightly different).

There are two options regarding host companies within the “Matchmaking” process:

  1. Apply to one of the roles that the NEF team have sourced for the current cohort through the existing host company network
  2. Find your own entrepreneurial role & host company and introduce them to NEF

If you choose to go for one of the roles that the NEF team have sourced, things generally happen as follows:

  1. Work out what sort of role you want
  2. Look through list of roles & host companies
  3. Select (up to) 5 roles that you would be interested in and send submissions to NEF, who will then reply with contact details
  4. Contact host companies and (in most cases) get invited to interview
  5. Job offer/rejection

My Experience

I ended up largely interviewing for roles curated by NEF, but ended up accepting an offer from a role/company I had pseudo-onboarded.

After going through the list, I selected generalist roles in host companies focusing in early-stage tech.  Although some of these companies had to withdraw from NEF during the application process, I ended up interviewing for:

  • A product role at Yomp (a start-up focused on improving employee wellness; run by my friend Ry and recently acquired by Reward Gateway)
  • An analytical, commercial role at Betfair (a young but rapidly growing bookmaker who recently merged with Paddy Power)
  • A combined sales & generalist role at Beauhurst (who provide investment data and information on high-growth companies in the UK)
  • A business development role at SWIG Flasks (a rapidly growing gifting brand run by NEFers David Galbraith and Dawid Kotur) – this role wasn’t via NEF, but found via Escape the City.

Because I was still working full time, I scheduled all 8 interviews across the 4 host companies on the same day (in order to minimise the leave I had to take and allow me to continue focusing on my day-job).  Each start-up had a slightly different interview process, with each company looking for different things [see Hiring (and Firing)].

After a long day (and a couple of hastily-arranged follow-up interviews), I was delighted to finish with offers from Yomp & SWIG and a final round interview with Betfair (who had a slightly longer process)!  No luck with Beauhurst – the role I wanted (broad business development and strategy or product) didn’t align with what they could offer (focused B2B sales) – see below.

I ended up choosing to work at SWIG, but not quite in the business development role advertised.  I was fortunate in that Dawid, after interviewing me and assessing my analytical skills, offered to create a custom role within the company for me.

swig-flasks-gift-box-and-executive
SWIG create designer, customisable hip flasks for the gifting market

What excited me about SWIG was that the company was tiny (so I could play a big role and truly experience running a startup), but the ambition was huge (the aim was to become the leading flask brand in the UK, before expanding overseas with a view to entering the B2B market).

I was to act as Head of Growth (essentially creating a new department), initially taking ownership of digital marketing with a remit to transition into a people manager and take on more responsibilities as I “grew into the role”.  I was delighted with the offer, excited to start NEF, and began making preparation for my transition into entrepreneurship!

Some Thoughts

  1. The Network Effect – In many cases, you will be interviewed by current or former NEFers at these host companies.  At SWIG, Betfair and Yomp, at least one of my interviewers was conducted by a NEFer
  2. Getting onto NEF is a sort of validation process for many host companies – you have been pre-vetted.  This tends to mean that, whilst they will still look for relevant skills and culture fit, your intelligence and “entrepreneurial hustle” is often taken as a given rather than tested for.  However, this isn’t a guarantee that a host company is taking someone on – many host companies couldn’t find the right NEFer so didn’t recruit anyone from my cohort
  3. It’s important to find a balance between what you want and what your host company wants.  A large part of NEF (and a large part of what you learn) is the placement, so it’s important you know what you want to learn and you get it right
  4. The two parts mean that the NEF application process is quite long (~5 months for me) – this posed a slight problem as my engineering job had a 3 month notice period (which I’ll go into later)
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