Unicorn Employees Turned Founders: Where Are They Now?
Lucy Wilson, 17 November 2022
We’ve previously written about some of the UK’s top serial entrepreneurs, like Martin Frost (Co-Founder of CMR Surgical), Alex Chesterman (of Zoopla and Cazoo) and Stephen Fitzpatrick (OVO). But it’s not just unicorn founders that have such enviable CVs, as many ex-unicorn employees have set up new ventures of their own.
Shifting their careers from senior marketer to CEO, from the fintech sector to healthtech, from e-commerce to education… Ever wondered where the people behind those unicorn valuations ended up? In fact, UK unicorn companies have nurtured so many entrepreneurs over the years that we struggled to fit them all into this piece. Alongside those listed here, successful startup founders, investors and advisors have also arisen from the likes of Zopa, Paddle, Babylon and Arrival, to name a few.
Read on to discover where the UK’s unicorn management teams are now—and who knows, you might just find a future soonicorn in the process.
Let’s start with top UK challenger bank Monzo. The London-based unicorn was founded in 2015 by Tom Blomfield, Gary Dolman, Paul Rippon, Jason Bates and Jonas Templestein (its current CTO). Monzo reached its billion-dollar valuation in October 2018, after just three years of operating. Here’s what some of the bank’s alumni are doing now…
After his stints as Co-Founder and Chief Customer Officer at both Starling Bank and Monzo, Jason Bates went on to create 11:FS in April 2016. The digital consultancy firm works with big banks looking to innovate in the fintech and web3 space. Bates continues to have a stake in Starling Bank and is also a shareholder at open banking platform developer Bud.
Then there’s Christopher Evans, former Technical Director at Monzo, who went on to start Incident.io. Founded in December 2020, the software-as-a-service (SaaS) company develops an application for reporting incidents via Slack. Incident.io has backing from numerous VC funds, including Index Ventures, while Tom Blomfield and former Monzo NED Eileen Burbidge (Partner at Passion Capital) are also shareholders in the company.
And Natasha Vernier, Monzo’s Head of Financial Crime between 2017 and 2020, has also gone on to launch a new venture. Cable, where Vernier is Co-Founder and CEO, was founded in July 2020. It helps to reduce financial crime, by developing digital security software that automates the testing and reporting process for businesses.
Meanwhile, e-commerce delivery firm Packfleet was also the brainchild of Monzo employees. Tristan Thomas was Monzo’s VP of Marketing, Communications & Policy from 2017 to 2020, while Hugo Cornejo spent over six years at the company and was VP of Design between 2019 and 2021. The pair started Packfleet, alongside their other co-founders, in March 2021 and have already secured two rounds of equity funding. Blomfield, Vernier and ex-Monzo Commercial Director Gideon Valkin are all shareholders.
Also teaming up are Wise alumni Martin Sokk, Mihkel Aamer, Wander Rutgers, and Eero Ringmäe. Wise (or TransferWise, as it was known at the time of its unicorn valuation back in 2017) is a London-based fintech company that helps individuals and SMEs to make international money transfers. It underwent a direct public offering (DPO) in July 2021, listing on the London Stock Exchange with a market cap of £7.96b.
Sokk was Head of Product at Wise between 2012 and 2017 (and previously the company’s Head of Operations and Head of People), Aamer the Engineering Lead and Ringmäe the Product Lead, while Rutgers worked at the company for three years in senior Treasury and Product positions. Now, the group are all working together at Lightyear.
Co-founded by Sokk (CEO) and Aamer (CTO) in October 2020, Lightyear develops a mobile app that allows users to invest in stocks and exchange-traded funds (ETFs), without trading fees. Rutgers is the company’s COO and Ringmäe its Head of Operations. So far, Lightyear has raised £28.3m in equity investment, across three funding rounds with angel investors and VCs.
But they weren’t the only successful entrepreneurs to come out of Wise, as its former Head of Growth has also started a business of his own. George Pallis worked at Wise from 2013 to 2015, before moving to Deliveroo, where he spent two and a half years as Global Director of Marketing. Most recently, he is Co-Founder and CEO of Manual, a VC-backed healthcare startup that focuses on providing at-home treatments for hair loss and sexual wellbeing.
Founded in 2015, Thought Machine joined the unicorn herd in November 2021, with the announcement of its £150m ($200m) equity megadeal. The third London-based fintech company on our list, Thought Machine develops retail banking software that provides a cloud-based, end-to-end operating system for banks to centrally manage their financial products.
In September 2021, Thought Machine spun-out Cauldron, a new startup that develops blockchain-based video games. Cauldron has £6.57m of equity funding under its belt already, having brought on two of Thought Machine’s existing investors, IQ Capital and Playfair Capital (plus new backers Cherry Ventures, Seedcamp and CASSIUS). The company’s co-founders are all former Thought Machine employees: Mark Warrick (now CEO), Matt Hyde (Product and Games Director) and Fox Rogers (Creative Director).
Meanwhile, Thought Machine’s former Director of Research, Tristan Fletcher, has gone on to start ChAI. Fletcher headed up the machine learning and financial engineering teams while at Thought Machine, where he worked for over three years. But since 2019, he’s been Co-Founder and CEO at ChAI, using artificial intelligence (AI) to provide commodity price forecasting for businesses.
Download our full list of the UK’s billion-dollar unicorn companies.
The company’s VP of Style & Creative, Yasmin Sewell, worked at Farfetch from 2017 to 2018, before going on to start numerous other businesses. These include fashion brand être cécile, which designs clothing based around an Irish artist that lived in 1960s Paris. Most recently, however, Sewell founded Vyrao, an online beauty brand that develops a range of fragrances, specialising in energetic healing and the use of organic ingredients.
Meanwhile, Anni Noel-Johnson, ex-Bain and former VP of Customer Marketing and Analytics at Farfetch, has also launched her own business. Having left Farfetch in late 2019, after eight years at the company, Noel-Johnson is now Co-Founder and CEO at Sproutl. The online marketplace offers a curated selection of gardening products, alongside a range of educational resources for budding gardeners. It’s raised £6.5m in equity investment so far, from Index Ventures and Ada Ventures.
Like its competitors, digital banking unicorn Revolut has also nurtured several startup founders of its own. The bank’s alumni include Ashutosh Bhatt, Founder and CEO of Pillar, a new Peterborough-based fintech startup that provides financial tools to help users develop an international credit score. Founded in September 2021, Pillar has already secured £13.0m of equity funding from Backed VC, Global Founders Capital, and angel investors. Bhatt was Head of Lending (UK/US) at Revolut from 2019 to 2021, and Head of Credit Risk at ClearBank prior to that.
Then there’s Neil Shah, Revolut’s former Global Head of Expansions and Authorisations. Shah spent more than five years at the company, before setting up martech company Tilt with Abhinavan Thanendran. Founded in July 2021, Tilt develops a social commerce app that combines social media with fashion retail, integrating payment processing and digital content creation capabilities. Shah is also a serial investor, having been a shareholder in 27 other high-growth UK companies to date.
Thomas Lucas, meanwhile, spent four years at Revolut and was the bank’s Head of Data Science between 2020 and 2021. Now, he’s Co-Founder and Head of Data Science and Analytics at pledge, a London-based cleantech company. pledge provides carbon tracking services through its online platform, for businesses seeking to understand and offset carbon emissions across their supply chains. The startup has raised £3.27m in equity investment so far, from Breyer Capital, Cocoa VC, Lowercarbon Capital, Visionaries Club, and Zinal Growth.
Manchester-based THG (aka The Hut Group) was founded in 2004, and reached its billion-dollar valuation in February 2016. The company acquired an impressive 20 brands prior to its £920m IPO in September 2020, and now operates a range of e-commerce websites. It has also developed e-commerce software which it licences to other online retailers.
Wing Chan spent more than seven years at THG, in a mix of software engineering and marketing roles, and was the company’s CTO from 2018 to 2020. Chan is now the Co-Founder and CEO of Sourceful, a green SaaS company that develops supply chain software for sourcing eco-friendly packaging. The Manchester tech startup also helps clients reduce their environmental impact through aggregated logistics. Joining Chan at Sourceful, as VP of New Product Development, is James Buckley—the former Group Head of Procurement at THG.
Ashley Ramrachia, THG’s ex-Chief People Officer, has also set up his own business since leaving in 2019. After a brief stint as CEO at leap9 talent consultancy and search firm, Ramrachia built Academy in June 2020, where he is Co-Founder and CEO. The Manchester-based firm operates a career development programme for graduates in the technology sector. Alongside this, Ramrachia has also been a Venture Partner at Praetura Ventures since 2019.
In January 2017, Funding Circle surpassed the billion-dollar valuation mark, almost exactly seven years after its founding. The company’s online marketplace allows savers and investors to make loans to small businesses directly. In September 2018, it listed on the London Stock Exchange via a £300m IPO, with a market cap of £1.50b.
One of Funding Circle’s five co-founders was its CEO Samir Desai. The former BCG consultant left Funding Circle in 2021—although remains a Non Executive Director—and is now Founder and CEO at fellow fintech Super Payments. He is joined by the former Director of Investor Relations and Communications at Funding Circle, David de Koning (now VP of Special Projects and Comms at Super Payments), and its former Head of Global Delivery, Carl Pearse (now CTO).
Incorporated in February 2022, Super Payments is developing AI-based payment processing software that aims to help businesses increase their sales and provide benefits to online customers. The new venture has already received backing from the likes of Accel and LocalGlobe, totalling £22.5m in equity investment.
Then there’s Karl Gilbert, Funding Circle’s VP of Capital Markets from 2014 to 2015. Building on his experience at the company, alongside roles at several banks (including Barclays, Citi and Deutsche Bank), Gilbert became Co-Founder and CEO at Raylo in 2018. The London-based business operates a mobile network which aims to offer cheaper and greener tariffs by asking users to return their tech at the end of their contracts.
Also growing fast is Tom Eilon’s Electric Car Scheme, which operates a tax incentive scheme for small businesses to assist their employees in leasing electric cars. Eilon was Commercial Director at Funding Circle until 2019, and later became VP of Strategy at innovative healthtech company accuRx. In 2021, he co-founded Electric Car Scheme, where he is currently COO.
BenevolentAI develops artificial intelligence and machine learning technology that aims to speed up scientific discovery through mass data analysis. Founded in 2013, it became a unicorn company in July 2015, and listed on Euronext Amsterdam in April 2022 (via a SPAC merger with Odyssey Therapeutics).
Reeva Misra was BenevolentAI’s VP of Strategy. After two and a half years at the company, Misra founded Walking on Earth in January 2020. The London-based healthtech company aims to support employee wellbeing and its eHealth platform offers resources such as online classes and personal plans, to help combat stress in the workplace. With Misra as CEO, the company has raised £3.38m in equity investment already, and backers include Octopus Ventures.
BenevolentAI’s former CTO, on the other hand, has remained in the artificial intelligence space. After two years at the company, Jeffrey Ng went on to Founders Factory, where he spent nearly five years, progressing to Chief Scientific Officer and MD of AI Sector. Then, in January 2021, he co-founded Built AI—the fast-growing proptech and AI startup develops a property investment data analysis platform. To date, Built AI has secured equity investment from MMC Ventures, Plug and Play Tech Center, and angels, alongside a £206k Innovate UK funding grant.
Last but not least: Joseph Tighe. He was Strategic Director at BenevolentAI from 2016 to 2019, and has since co-founded two new businesses. Tighe’s latest venture, where he is also CEO, is Scarborough-based Kleanbus. Founded in December 2020, Kleanbus develops technology for the conversion of diesel-fueled buses into zero-emission electric vehicles. The sustainable tech company recently raised £433k in equity crowdfunding via Crowdcube, in September 2022, to further commercialise the business and complete additional testing.
Wondering where Deliveroo’s management team ended up? Curious about Cazoo’s former C-suite? Book a demo below to find out more.
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