We’re sharing stories of people’s early careers. Everyone we interview has worked for a startup early in their career. We hope reading about others’ experiences at startups will help you make more informed career decisions!
At Otta, we’re advocating for working at fast growing technology companies. We think this is where learning opportunities and development potential are highest.
Adit Ruparel is currently studying for an MBA at Cass Business School, having spent 5 years at two different startups. Adit studied Mechanical Engineering at Nottingham, and joined Filtered (a learning platform for corporates) straight out of university. He spent 2 years as a Project Manager there and saw it grow from 3 to 40 employees. Adit left to study a Masters in Real Estate (one of his passions) and then joined Property Partner, a fast-growing proptech startup that enables crowdfunding investment in real estate projects. Adit spent 3 years there in various strategic and commercial roles before leaving to do his MBA. I spoke to Adit near St Paul’s to get his reflections on his career so far.
How did you get your first job?
I studied Mechanical Engineering at The University of Nottingham and really enjoyed the core skills and problem-solving involved during my degree, but didn’t particularly enjoy the physics behind it as much as I thought I would.
After university I could’ve gone into a theoretical engineering job, but instead I decided I wanted more ‘real world’ skills, which for me meant learning how to run a business. I got in touch with a friend who was starting his own company, and there was an opportunity to do an internship with him, I immediately accepted.
I worked there for a summer with the three founders in a small shared office space, I absolutely loved it. The role I was assigned was titled Project Manager, however it was very varied, with each day bringing a new challenge. I was working on anything that needed to be done, from helping the company devise their long term strategy to providing customer service.
After my internship, they offered me a job straight away. I was enjoying it and they saw my potential, so it was a really easy decision to jump aboard. Over the next two years the company grew from 3 employees to 40, which felt pretty steady but we were growing consistently. They were bringing in lots of senior people with particularly diverse backgrounds, which meant I was constantly learning from new people at different levels, but especially the experienced founders.
Why did you decide to leave Filtered?
After 2 years there I decided I want to leave and follow one of my key interests, Real Estate. I took the time to plan my next move and went to do a Masters in Real Estate at Westminster University. The course was really challenging, and by the end of it I was really keen to work for startups in the property space.
Back then, it wasn’t easy to find jobs at startups (Otta wasn’t around!) so I had to work on developing my networking skills, one of the best decisions I’ve made for my career. I went to a lot of networking events and at one I got to meet Daniel Gandesha, the CEO of Property Partner. It had just started at the time and was making significant waves in the startup world, having closed a £19m Series B within 18 months of launching to the public.
We got talking, and I actually knew a lot about Property Partner already as I had been one of the early users of their crowdfunding platform, which he liked. He said he’d be keen for me to keep in touch and seek him out at the end of my Masters.
I finished my degree and joined them straight afterwards. The week I joined was the week of the referendum vote, which was not good for the property market. Two weeks later, they had a redundancy round and let go roughly 30% of the workforce, so I got to meet a number of colleagues in the first two weeks and then a lot of them left.
How did that feel?
It was a tough experience, but I was still excited to be there and happy they thought I could still bring something to the business, but it was going to be an uphill challenge from then on out.
At one point they were growing very quickly and raising a lot of money from venture capitalists (including big names like Index and Octopus Ventures), and then the Brexit vote had a huge impact. Fortunately, the CEO and leadership team managed the situation well and we recovered quickly.
You had a few different roles when you were there and moved through the ranks quickly, how did you make that happen?
The main thing I did was just put my hand up whenever I saw an opportunity to add value to the company. No matter what the opportunity was, I would always just say ‘yes, I can do this’.
I joined as a Commercial & Strategy Associate, and spent most of my time working with the Head of Business Development. Very quickly, there was a need to form and build an analytics team, so I volunteered to do that, my background in Engineering definitely helped here.
6 months later, they said they were lacking a bridge between the CEO and some of the other commercial departments. Specifically, we needed to streamline the sales team and unify their process, so I also took on that responsibility. When the CEO stepped back and was replaced by someone else, the then CFO, Warren Bath took me aside and gave me a nudge to take on more. This lead to being responsible for the day to day operations of the company, which was a big challenge!
It was really interesting evolving into new roles and pushing myself to do different things, my final role being Head of Operations, Commercial and Analytics. Above all, I enjoyed learning from all the different people around me.
Did you ever feel like you didn’t know what you were doing?
Definitely, but the founder and leadership team were a great support network. Over my time at Property Partner I also sought out a mentor at the company, who I still speak to for advice now.
He was the COO at Property Partner, Nick Hagen, and was very experienced (prior to joining Property Partner, he was the COO of Betfair). I didn’t report into Nick and as such there was no conflict, he would have honest conversations with me and give me frank advice, whilst also challenging me to be the best I could be.
How did your time at Filtered and Property Partner compare?
Both Filtered and Property Partner had a really strong leadership team. They were well coordinated and working toward the same vision.
Filtered focused more on organic growth and didn’t want to seek venture funding. Property Partner had an idea, developed the technology and then went after lots of funding and grew very quickly.
The environment was different because of the growth trajectories of the two companies. Property Partner sought out user growth and aligned itself around customer acquisition, Filtered focussed more on the bottom line and revenue generation.
Why did you decide to leave Property Partner and do an MBA?
I’d always heard that MBAs were really prestigious and a lot of senior people from all walks of life have done one, so I decided to explore it as an option. I went to lots of universities and spoke to lots of people that had done MBAs.
I felt like I had picked up different skills from my career so far, but thought an MBA would help me bring the different skills together and fill in some of the gaps. Ultimately, the MBA would provide an environment to build on skills learnt on the job, with theoretical teaching and experiences from an extremely varied and worldwide cohort of peers.
In our cohort at Cass I’m surrounded by 85+ people from 23 countries. In my study group alone there are 7 of us, all from different countries and backgrounds. The amount you learn from working with people from a variety of different backgrounds is amazing, especially the way to influence, communicate, learn from each other while maintaining harmony and friendships.
I’m confident the skills I’m learning will allow me to step back into the startup/scaleup world and add even more value.
What extra value do you think you’ll be able to add as an MBA?
I had a meeting this week with the head of global future talent at N26 (a fast-growing challenger bank that recently expanded from Germany to the UK), and he said they really like MBAs. When a company is growing as quickly as they are, they need to hire but aren’t always sure exactly who they need. They also want employees who can handle any situation they’re given.
If someone has a background in fast-paced environments and have cemented core problem-solving and project skills through an MBA, it gives companies a lot of confidence when it comes to making hires.
What do you want to do next?
MBAs have traditionally gone into consulting or banking after finishing however the dynamic is massively changing. The amount of people doing MBAs that are considering going into startups and scaleups is going up every year.
I want to go back into a larger organisation than I’ve been in so far and apply what I’ve learned about strategy and growth. London is the hub of technological disruption and there are a number of companies achieving incredible things.
I’m also looking at Chief of Staff roles, which are traditionally more common in the US but are starting to become more popular in the UK. They’re very versatile roles, and you essentially act as the right-hand man or woman to someone in the leadership team. You could be working on fundraising or implementing a wacky idea the CEO has written on the back of a napkin. You have to be able to get stuck in and do any of it, which for me plays to my strengths.
Do you have any advice for people considering working at startups?
Focus on getting behind the vision. If you don’t believe in what you’re doing you’re never going to give it 100%. At startups, the company feels like one big team, and your performance will directly impact the success of the business.
Prepare for the intensity. A startup is not for everyone. You get thrown in the deep-end, sometimes you don’t know what you’re doing, it’s hard when it’s not going well and you have to be thick-skinned. One day you’ll be on a high and the next day you might not be able to figure something out even though everyone is relying on you.
When choosing a company make sure you do your research and meet the team. Even if you’re starting at the bottom, try to meet the CEO or others in the leadership team as they’re the ones setting the vision of the company.
When in a company, keep your eyes and ears open to learn from all your colleagues, not just those closest to your team. At Property Partner, some of my greatest lessons came from colleagues in Legal or Engineering, very different from my areas of focus.
When you start, think about how you can hit the ground running and have an impact early on. Put your hand up and figure out what you can do to make a difference.
Want to share your story? We’ll buy you a coffee whilst we do the interview, and then give you £25 in Amazon vouchers as a thank you. If you’re interested, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org with a bit about yourself and your career so far (a few short bullets is fine!).