The Power of Data Podcast
Episode 64: The Power of Connections
Guests: Noor Sugrue, Founder of Vintro and James Caan, Entrepreneur, Investor and Advisor to Vintro
Interviewer: Sam Tidswell-Norrish, International CMO, Dun & Bradstreet
Welcome back to The Power of Data Podcast. Today we're talking about one of my favorite topics, the power of human connections. I'm joined by one of Dun and Bradstreet’s newest partner companies, Vintro. And I'm delighted to welcome to the microphone, Noor Sugrue, who's the founder of Vintro, and I believe the youngest ever member we've had on the podcast, and James Caan, the renowned entrepreneur and an advisor and investor in Vintro, welcome Noor welcome, James,
Thank you so much for having us, Sam.
Greetings. This is one of those podcasts I wish we were all doing in person, I know you're gonna be super dynamic nonetheless though. Part of the reason for that is what Vintro is and does. It's the serendipitous leveler of access to people. It unites incredible, passionate individuals, entrepreneurs, with high profile leaders or experts in their field. And most importantly, for today, Vintro is a new partner to Dun and Bradstreet Accelerate. We have a shared goal in helping businesses succeed. And by combining the Vintro strength and making human connections and making human connections equal and accessible for all, with the use of data that Dun and Bradstreet brings is an incredibly impactful combination. At D&B, we've got access to 420 million businesses globally, from small businesses all the way through to huge corporates and everything in between and data is crucial in order to help businesses compete, grow and thrive. Whether that be analyzing sales or supply chains or customer relationships. Before we jump into things that let's start with some introductions. Could you give us a little bit of insight on your backgrounds and careers today? And let's start with Noor.
Thank you Sam. I'm not sure if I would say what I have yet is quite a career. I'm definitely at the beginning of my journey. I'm a first-time entrepreneur based here in Chicago and I'm also a student at the University.
Awesome. I think you just started off very humbly, but maybe James can tell us about his and perhaps create some blushes on Noor's side.
I feel a bit like Noor, I feel this is the beginning of my journey too. Because I think as an entrepreneur, you never stop learning. So I started my career in the recruitment industry, founded a company called Alexander Man, which is a global talent solutions business operating in 27 countries around the world, with about seven and a half 1000 employees. Alexander Man today is probably the global market leader in talent solutions. Having set up that firm and successfully sold it to a Boston based private equity firm, I then launched an executive search kind of headhunting company called Humana International. I grew that as a startup to 147 offices in 30 countries, and then sold that to a public company in the US. I then took a stint out and did a TV show called Dragon's Den, which is similar to Shark Tank in the US, was one of the investors on the panel there for four years made 14 investments and had a super time - one of the most fun things I've ever done. Having finished doing that I was approached by the UK Government to help the UK economy create more jobs. They gave me the challenge to start 10,000 businesses in the UK to stimulate the UK economy and really stimulate job creation. In my three years as founder of an organization called Startup Loans. I started 28,000 businesses, which today employ 106,000 people. And that was probably my greatest excitement/challenge, call it what you want, because it was something I did that wasn't financially motivated. I didn't make any money out of that. I couldn't invest in any of the businesses. And it was literally something that gave me the opportunities and entrepreneur to give something back. And that was a fantastic journey for me. And since then, I moved to Monaco and live by the sea and spend a little bit of time investing in innovative creative ideas, backing entrepreneurs. And Noor is somebody that I came across with Vintro and thought what she was doing with intro could be transformational. It seems super exciting and I'm delighted to be involved with the business and with Noor.
Wonderful stuff. Thank you. And just before we move on, perhaps she could tell us a little bit about how you came to meet Noor and the Vintro platform.
This whole kind of topic is all about connections and introductions. My connection to Noor came via my contact with Charlotte Westgate, who I knew at CNBC where I used to do a TV show, again it comes down to the power of human connection. And it's your network. Nora was introduced to me by Charlotte, Charlotte was involved with the business she was super excited by what Vintro was doing and thought it was something I could be involved with. As a consequence of Charlotte's introduction as we used to say in Dragon's Den, I'm now fully in.
Guys, living through some extraordinary times with COVID and it's affecting everyone and every business, you don't have to be a hospitality business to be deeply affected by what's going on across the globe. And having to adapt to business to changes to business practices is a difficult thing, for many of us has meant the traveling stopped. The opportunity to meet people and to progress business face to face, whether that be doing business development, or seeking investment has been taken away and it's been really difficult. I'm someone who thrives on human interaction. And I've been at the end of a screen, it's not easy. We're restricted at the moment to digital events and networks, making it more and more difficult to access the people who can help businesses succeed. Now Noor, you set up Vintro to help entrepreneurs, innovators, and businesses access to decision makers, but you set it up before COVID. Tell me why Vintro? What was it that motivated you to do this? And with the advent of COVID, what's this meant for businesses who need to make connections?
I founded the businesses in January 2018. And back then it was really born out of thinking about the question, how do people with good ideas get access to a resources today. And I came to conclusion very, very quickly, I'm sure we're all aware, it's all about who, you know, if you went to the right school, you'd access the right social network, maybe you happen to be in the right place at the right time. But that's incredibly inefficient. It's 100% luck. And there's no logic behind that. And so the motivation behind Vintro is really about how can we break down historic social barriers, and actually incentivize leaders to engage with people outside of their networks, leaders today, their time is in such high demand, and everyone only has 24 hours in a day so there's only so much of it to go around. And so the best way that we could think of to divvy this up, and to make sure that new and exciting ideas from all around the globe, ones that previously would never have had a shot, now get their shot, was to create a marketplace around it. And that's really important, from a leaders perspective, because now their time has been valued. But most importantly, from an entrepreneur and a business owners perspective, because in a world before COVID, they were spending so much money every single day, and also time trying to get these engagements and trying to get these connections, whether it would be flying to someone's office, taking an Uber paying to go to a conference and waiting outside and hoping with your business card that someone's going to take it. There's no guarantee and that it's incredibly risky. And people do that action anyway, because they have to, and then people are going to repeat that action and do it again, because they're most likely not going to succeed at their first try. The cost is incredibly high so for Vintro, it's all about trying to strip out these inefficiencies, and trying to make it that much more efficient by allowing people to have that guaranteed connection. And with COVID, it's just been accelerated. There's very few options now how people can get their shot, and we guarantee you that shot. So it's been really interesting to see how entrepreneurs and business owners are engaged with the platform given there are very few alternatives in the world currently.
I can already see a number of use cases where personally it'd be interesting, whether it be trying to spark up a new sales opportunity, whether it be trying to find an advisor for something or a board role for something. What are some of the coolest stories that you've had on the platform today? Any spring to mind?
Oh, absolutely. You listed some great examples of how people have been using the platform, we've had some really unexpected ones come out even in the creative space of people pitching movies. One gentleman really stands out in particular though, his name was comes Hamza Alec and he's actually a serial entrepreneur from the UK and he actually came to us because James made a post about Vintro. And I jumped on a call with him and I heard a story, you know, he was really at his wit's end to an amazing product and amazing idea, but he really didn't have the opportunity. He had no one to talk to you about it, he was getting the doors closed on him left, right and center, people didn't really want to hear it. And he pitched a couple people on the platform and within a matter of days, he was having conversations with investors, his product was being put into malls all across the Middle East. So him, getting that shot really changed his direction and the path of his business. It's stories like that, that are really motivating and are really the backbone of this business.
Let's talk just for a moment about the types of people are on. So on the platform today it's still relatively early days, but you've got some of the most phenomenal people on there. I think over seven or 800 business, political, creative leaders, how are you curating it?
I love that use the word curating because that's the word that's really important in the process of how we've been doing it. I'd say in the beginning, in the very early days, we were facing a lot of the same struggles as everyone else. We were getting rejected, we were getting hung up on, we really lived in the rejection. But as time went on, you know, we really got better and better at it. And it really took one person to say yes, I love this. I think you think value I think I have someone who you should talk to as well. And from then it really grew and caught fire. But it definitely started off you know, cold calling people cold emailing people hearing a lot of no’s. So it's been really incredible to see how this has grown. And it's been really important for us to curate leaders in all different sectors because good ideas are being born in every industry and vertical you could think of from all around the globe.
Well, let's talk about those moments of connection then. James, you know more than almost anyone, the challenges that entrepreneurs can face and how to attract investment and how to get your foot in the door. And you're a brilliant example of someone who's had a huge amount of success in this space. How important is it finding the right connection?
I think it's crucial. And I think it's critical. The right connection can also be transformational. If I look back at my career, I can almost plot the journeys that transformed my career that took it in directions, or on the back of making a connection and meeting somebody who transformed what I was doing. So I think in the journey of entrepreneurship, making that right connection is everything.
And James I imagine you probably wish you had Vintro when you were starting out in the business world. But how did you build your network when you started?
I mean, I think when you look at the world we live in today, technology plays such a crucial part. But you know, 25-30 years ago, when we didn't even have the internet, it was just hard slog, it was out, it was networking, it was collecting business cards, it was seven days a week at events, connections, referrals, recommendations, it was absolutely hard slog. The idea of something like Vintro, where you could go to one of the global influencers or global leader of an industry and be guaranteed to get a response was unheard of. So I think the difference between the world we live in today, and how ideas like Vintro, have just bought the global landscape into a global village where somebody from India, China, London, New York, Paris, you know, can access somebody at a click of a finger, I think is remarkable. And if we understand what the power of connecting to the right people can be, it's the biggest door opener to the career of an entrepreneur. So I think sadly, for me, it wasn't available and what replaced it is sheer hard work, getting on buses, trains, planes, traveling all over the world, making those right connections. And literally today, you can do it from the palm of your hand. But more importantly, you can virtually pinpoint the person who could transform your life in your career.
Talking about pinpointing that person who can transform your life and career. I'm a big advocate for developing next generation talent. In fact, with Dun and Bradstreet’s support recently, we launched a not for profit called 20:40, which develops next generation leaders in the UK. And this time, this moment in time, how important is a chance for business leaders and decision makers to step up and help the next generation of businesses?
I think it's crucial Sam, because you only have to look for what Noor is doing today, the next generation of entrepreneurs have that ability to think outside the box. Their creativity, and their imagination, I think is just awesome. In terms of what's going on at the moment. A lot of people like me, you know, we're maybe you could say, a bit old school, in some cases, almost dinosaurs, because the world is changing at such a pace that it is really incredible. So I think people like me and other entrepreneurs like me, working with the next generation, whether that's us investing in them, coaching them mentoring, what they have is that youth that excitement, that enthusiasm, that creativity, that out of the box thinking we have is that kind of experience of having built and run businesses before. But also probably what is so important is we've had some incredible failures. And the whole objective of nurturing and developing the next generation is coaching them to avoid some mistakes that we made. So I think there is that natural link. But clearly there is a responsibility. And I think what I'm doing with Vintro is a good example of not only investing capital, but also joining the advisory board and providing my knowledge and experience of how to run and build a business.
And let's talk about forecasting for a moment.
Crystal Ball gazing, Sam.
Yeah, it is, is where I asked you to nail yourself to something that you hadn't said five years down the line. But that's the beauty of this thing, I have the microphones. What would you say is the root out of the economic effects of what type of businesses do you see succeeding? And what role does technology play?
I think today, it has become incredibly evident that COVID I think, has forced the technology revolution. I think pre COVID we were already on that track. But the level of acceleration that I have seen, I think is unbelievable. The impact of technology to our lives into our businesses is almost on steroids at the moment. We have found ourselves in a situation where pre-COVID we were naturally evolving, you know towards technology and e commerce. COVID It has forced the issue on us, where truthfully, we had no choice. We were locked in, we couldn't go out, we couldn't travel. But we still had to survive, and we still had to do business. And technology was the only thing that enabled that to happen, whether it was you know, through video conferencing, teleconferencing, if you took away technology, the global economy would have collapsed. What we have experienced today is unprecedented in history, where the entire world at one stage was locked within their four walls. You know, I remember seeing pictures on CNN, whether it's Moscow, Shanghai, New York, Berlin, London, Paris, Rome, the entire world being locked down. And yet the stock market still rallied. Why? Because despite the entire world being a lockdown, we were all still doing business. We were still buying goods, we were still buying services, you know, lawyers were still operational, businesses were still functioning all because of technology. So I think the technology revolution, which has been forced by COVID, has clearly demonstrated that how we come out of this is embracing technology. Technology is not a blip, it's not a trend, it's here to stay. And the thing that really kind of surprised me is when we came into COVID, Apple was valued at a trillion dollars, it took 30 years for Apple to get to a trillion and took nine months to get to 2 trillion that just illustrates the impact that technology's had, how does the company that's one of the world's most respected businesses take 30 years to get to a trillion, and then within nine months, it can double. That's just the power of e commerce and technology, despite COVID and despite lockdown. So I think how are we going to get out of this, really, and I think truly and simply is by embracing technology, accepting, it's here to stay, and seeing how ecommerce will transform, the global economy.
That's a fantastic data point and it really does show the power of technology. Noor let's talk about the kind of user journey. I am a small business based in New Jersey in the US, and I want to access an individual on the Vintro platform. What are the steps that I have to go through to make something happen, to create magic?
The first thing that you're gonna do is you're gonna go to the website, you're gonna filter or leaders based on what industry you're in what you're looking for, are you looking for an investor? Is it a mentor and advisor, a new board member, a new client. So you're going to filter down to find the exact people that are right for you. Or maybe you already have someone in mind and you go straight to their profile, you add them to your cart, you upload a two minute pitch video, essentially, who you are, what your background is. And the most important thing is, what is your ask, what are you looking for, you check out, that video gets sent directly to the phones of all the leaders you picked, they have an app on their phone today called the venture viewer app, they get a notification that there's an opportunity waiting for them, they open the app, they watch the pitch, they have to watch in completion, the system won't let them you know, fast forward, jump around skip ahead, they have to watch the whole thing. And then they have to think about it and you know, mull it over, because they're gonna have to respond and get feedback. So they're going to tell you, you know, I love this for XYZ reason, have you considered this? Have you thought about it from this perspective? When I was building my business, this was an issue I faced? How did you get around that. And you know, the most important thing that a leader will do at that point is decide whether the entrepreneur has hooked them, whether you've engaged them, and whether they want to continue the conversation further. And at that point, they can open up a chat, and they can, you know, set up a longer call, send across documents and get things into more detail.
Super simple to do. And in terms of the future, I guess, business use cases for this. Today, we're talking about pitching to individuals. Where does this go?
So you know, we just launched a product called Deal Flow that James is spearheading, and that's really going to transform this business for a few reasons. So what it is it will allow people to subscribe to watch the deal flow of leaders like James. And the reason why this is so important is because it will actually drop the cost of getting in front of an investor to cents. Because you know, James right now on Vintro, his price is you know, $500. But if let's say 1000 damage is 3.3 million LinkedIn followers following him, that's half a cent to reach an investor and that price point, it's really incredible. It's really in line with our mission in terms of trying to make leaders as accessible as possible, because a lot of leaders will say, look, I'm available, you know, come hear me speak at this virtual conference. But what is the cost of that not just, you know, a monetary cost, but a time cost and effort cost, and how can we be that much more efficient, and how can we be that much more accessible?
So if I want to pitch James, my idea, I've got this new hand sanitizer that isn't made of 100% alcohol. I say that because I'm looking at my very dry hands next to my hand sanitizer. And I want to pitch James, does that mean then that my pitch wouldn't just be seen by James it would be seen by hundreds, potentially 1000s of different people who could then get in on the action?
Absolutely. And you know, we'll have some people who are watching as investors and want to jump in on the deals with James. And we'll have other people who are watching the deals because they want to see a private Dragon's Den, they want to see how James is responding to the businesses and they're really, just curious in the whole process of entrepreneurship.
Wow, I love that. And, James, from your perspective, what does this new deal flow capability mean to you?
it transforms the entire investment process. So in a funny kind of way, it's almost replicating the concept of Dragon's Den. So Dragon's Den, you're sitting there pitching a panel of five. And, you know, you remember the show, there were many opportunities where we all five dragons, you know, participated in the investment. So maybe somebody was looking for 200,000 pounds. And we all said, actually, you know, I'll take 40,000, and all five of us put in 40,000. What I love about this concept and Norse talking about is I could literally have 500 investors participating on the pitches that I'm seeing, and then reach out to me and say, James, I love the guy that pitched you yesterday, we'd love to come in with you on that deal. And I've done nothing, it's so easy. It's so happening, and it's so now. So I think the concept of Deal Flow will transform the way entrepreneurs get investment, but also will transform the way investors put money into deals because the reality is doesn't matter how good you are, as an investor, as I'm sure you know, Sam, there are no guarantees in life. And you know, the more I can share that risk with other investors, the more likely I am to do deals. And also, I may have somebody who approaches me, that brings me that expertise of that market knowledge that maybe I don't have. So not only will I be attracting co-investment, but maybe I'm also getting expertise when making my investment decision because I'm investing with people who may know more about the sector than I do. So I think it's a very, very unique and novel concept.
It really is. So I'm gonna move to a part of the podcasts that I do very rarely, the quick fire round. But before we go to the quickfire round, I've got to ask a question. Anyone who's watched The Social Network, the Facebook story, we'll probably be thinking the same thing. Noor you're creating an incredible business. This is an idea whose time is truly come yet you're still in your college room? How are you finding the time to do studies and do this? How are you bridging the two? And what are your friends at school?
It's been a really interesting process. And it's been a big learning process. For me, I think the biggest one is how to manage my time. I think that I have such an amazing and incredible team around me, this is not just me doing this alone. I've mentioned I founded the business back in January 2018. So having a really incredible support system has been crucial. I have to say that my education is incredibly important to me, so the plan is definitely to stay in school. But it's been it's been a really incredible process and having the support from people like James has been really incredible and incredibly validating, just for people to look up to as well and say, you know, this is possible you can you can really do it. It just does require a lot of effort and a lot of support and building an amazing team, so all credits to them.
Amazing. Noor, you're my inspiration that's just incredible. Right, to the quick-fire round. Here we go fingers on buzzers, James, what's the best investment that you never made?
It was missing out on Tesla.
I think we all didn't make that one? Noor, if you could meet one person on the Vintro platform today, who would it be?
Oh my goodness. Cindy Eckert.
James. If you could bring one person to the Vintro platform today, who would it be?
James, why haven't you brought Richard Branson to the Vintro platform.
I'm actually on hold at the moment while we're speaking. I'm just waiting to connect with Richard.
Awesome. Noor, if you could ask anyone in the world to be on the Vintro platform who also would be?
Fantastic, good answer. When you dream of Vintro's future, Noor, what do you see?
I see a world where everything that we're doing is just going back to our mission and who we are and what we're trying to do in the world which is really about trying to level the playing field and open the doors to as many opportunities as possible for as many people as possible.
James described Vintro with one word.
LinkedIn on steroids.
Longest word I have ever come across. Noor, describe Vintro's potential in as many words as you like.
I think that Vintro's potential is really to transform the way that people do business today and to really cut through all the noise and all the sound and allow people to more efficiently just you know, get down to business, let's get to it.
Amazing. Guys I’m out of quickfire questions without getting myself in too much trouble. Noor, James, firstly on behalf of Dun and Bradstreet, it's just the most incredible privilege to be partnered with you guys. We are the biggest admirers of your mission and what you guys are doing. Thank you for joining us on the podcast today.
Sam, thank you.
Absolute pleasure, Sam. It was great. Good fun and great questions. Thank you.