In 2014, Diego Fanara was certain he wanted to go to London to study for a masters degree in finance. His problem was that it was a “nightmare to choose” between the London School of Economics and Imperial College London, which both offered him places.
The experience led him to co-found Unibuddy, a messaging platform that connects scholars — paid by the university — to prospective students who can anonymously ask questions about courses and institutions. The concerns that have been raised range from worries about being secretly assessed on tours or open days, to prospective students seeking practical information about daily life, such as how to open a bank account.
Mr Fanara did not intend to launch a business. “I was still focused on an investment banking job,” he says. However, a conversation with his mentor, Daniel Borel, the founder of computer hardware company Logitech and, like him, from Switzerland, convinced Mr Fanara otherwise.
“The investment banking job will still be there in two-years’ time,” Mr Borel told him.
Two years’ on and Mr Fanara’s company has seven employees and has raised “hundreds of thousands” of pounds in funding. The company works with 10 British universities, including Imperial College, Royal Holloway and Queen Mary University of London.
Mr Fanara says the biggest advantage of having studied for a masters in finance is the connections. Imperial, where he eventually decided to go, invited many speakers and hosted networking events. Some of those he met have gone on to become private investors in the company, including a Goldman Sachs partner who once interviewed him for a job.
Having smart course mates was another advantage. Mr Fanara ended up founding the company with fellow student Maxence Dussart and, when looking for employees, they often approach others from the course.
“Excel helps,” Mr Fanara jokes when asked how what he learnt on the course has helped him. The drawback, he says, is that “building a business is all about being a great salesman”. Skills such as how to write and speak persuasively were not taught on a course more focused on mathematics and statistics.
The same problem was faced by Bassel El Koussa, who founded delivery start-up Quiqup after also completing a masters in finance at Imperial.
“I learnt the technical stuff but that’s only 20 per cent of the reality,” he says, adding founding a business is “about people, it’s about negotiation skills”.
Quiqup is a logistics and delivery service currently serving London. Customers enter their postcode online to order goods from local high street shops, or to have tasks performed such as picking up keys left in an office and taking them to their owner.
Roughly half the business comes from retailers who want their goods delivered and half comes directly from the end customers, Mr El Koussa says.
“In Lebanon, where I am from, people are used to being able to get their shopping delivered to their house,” he says. This sparked the idea for the business. The company now employs 100 people and raised £20m in funding in March. Mr El Koussa hopes to start expanding elsewhere in the UK soon.
“I’m pretty happy with the skills I got from the school,” he says. The course was rigorous and, as he did not have a “strong mathematical and statistical background”, he says it “passed me well out of my comfort zone”.
Like Mr Fanara, he says the people made the course. “There were quite a few of them that I met at Imperial — like-minded, young bright people who are ambitious. That was a big advantage.”
After graduation Mr El Koussa worked in a venture capital firm and this introduced him to the world of start-ups. “The course kind of got me into venture capital for sure. That was a stepping stone to me doing this eventually,” he said.
For Danial Abbas, who started a property development company in 2011 while looking for a job in trading after graduating from Warwick Business School, the biggest advantage of a masters in finance was learning a logical way of thinking about the world.
While applying for jobs, Mr Abbas started to attend property auctions, looking for value in different up-and-coming parts of London. As his confidence grew he expanded Abbas Partnership from just refurbishing buildings to converting town houses into apartments.
He ran the business in his spare time while trading for RWE, the German energy company, and then Brookfield Asset Management.
He has now quit trading and plans to expand into construction and build his own houses.
Warwick was a very quantitative course, focused on mathematics and financial theory, with right and wrong answers. That, he says, helps graduates to be aware of the risks they are taking but he adds: “Sometimes in the real world you can’t always look at numbers. There’ll be a gut feel.”
However, he says he would not have been able to conduct “a thorough analysis of different industries that I had no experience of without some of the skills I picked up at Warwick”.