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Jazz Shaper: George Bevis

Posted on 01 April 2023

George Bevis is a serial entrepreneur and the founder of CanDo, a social ventures incubator which develops "for good" initiatives across commercial and not-for-profit sectors. 

Elliot Moss

Welcome to the Jazz Shapers Podcast from Mishcon de Reya.  What you are about to hear was originally broadcast on Jazz FM however the music has been cut due to rights issues.

Welcome to Jazz Shapers with me, Elliot Moss, bringing the shapers of the business world together with the musicians shaping jazz, soul and blues.  My guest today is serial entrepreneur, George Bevis, Founder of Tide, a financial services platform for small business and the Founder of CanDo, a social ventures incubator and possibly one of the best names of a business I have ever introduced.  With a strong tradition of entrepreneurialism in his family, it was a trip to New York during the dotcom boom that sparked George’s own interest in creating online platforms.  George created a number of digital first businesses, one of which before he even graduated, with his breakthrough being Tide, which launched in 2015, as he said because he was seeking to fix business banking.  Tide now employs over 800 people across the UK, Bulgaria and India.  In 2019, George launched social ventures incubator, CanDo, aiming to develop, test and scale initiatives which improve the world.  Projects include software that makes mobile phones easier for older people to use and a not-for-profit venture to benefit a hundred schools in sub-Saharan Africa. 

It’s great to have you here, George.  I’ve tracked down, as you know.  Serial entrepreneurialism, not for the fainthearted. 

George Bevis

No.  I always like to say that if entrepreneurialism is a choice, then you probably shouldn’t make it.  Typically, entrepreneurs who do it, do it because they feel like they really can’t bear not to or they can’t do anything else.

Elliot Moss

You’re compelled.

George Bevis

Yes, I had regular office jobs and hated them and couldn’t bear to do it any longer and that made it a lot easier to decide to be an entrepreneur. 

Elliot Moss

But it sounds like you’ve been curious about the world and inventing stuff since you can remember.

George Bevis

That’s certainly true, although my dad had sort of run his own business, I don’t think he would have called himself an entrepreneur, he would say he was a lawyer.  So, as a kid growing up, it didn’t particularly occur to me that I would be an entrepreneur, it just happened that I was a student at the time of the dotcom boom when of course there was this massive global explosion in entrepreneurship and that was influential.  But, yes, it is true that even as a child, my parents tell me stories about how by the beach in Sussex where we used to stay in the summer, I used to go and try and sell the stones from the beach to people walking past, which my parents found extremely embarrassing. 

Elliot Moss

Did you manage to sell any stones?  I’m interested. 

George Bevis

I don’t think, I don’t think I made a lot of money out of it, no. 

Elliot Moss

And you get to university, you went to Cambridge, and you were I think I believe you were involved in the Debating Society and all these fine things and you, again from a young age, pretty politically connected.  Tell me about the political connection, George because obviously I think it informs why you want to make the world a better place.  Where did that desire for justice and equity come from?  Why do you think you are who you are?

George Bevis

Intriguingly, much as I would love to say that the desire for justice and so forth came first, I don’t think that’s true actually, I don’t think I had any more interest in that than almost everyone else who isn’t a psychopath as a child but I do remember as a child in the ‘90s, I did very early on start watching the first set of series of the original House of Cards which presented a, at the time I thought, very attractive model of completely deceptive evil politics that I found fascinating.  So, actually, if were being candid, I think my interest in politics probably started with that.  It was only when I got much older and hopefully a bit more decent that I came to be fairly disgusted by that model of politics, which as we all know has more truth to it than one might like but the interest in trying to make the world a better place, I think is really no different to the great majority of people who want to do that, I’m just very lucky that these days, I have the time and the resources to be able to try.

Elliot Moss

Horace Silver there with Que Paso, the Trio version.  I mentioned it was one of George’s favourites.  George, why was it one of your favourites?

George Bevis

I first listened to that recording as part of a compilation when I was a teenager.  I’d been incredibly lucky, I’d gone to a school which had one brilliant teacher who ran an amazing jazz band in the school and I was the worst player in the band but I was also the most enthusiastic so they would let me stick around anyway, so I would sort of dance around in the concerts.

Elliot Moss

Instrument? 

George Bevis

I was playing trombone but extremely badly. 

Elliot Moss

We have this in common.  I was extremely bad at the trombone but it is what I played.  What Grade did you get to, George?

George Bevis

I think I only got to Grade 5 or 6.

Elliot Moss

So did I.  I got to Grade 5.  I didn’t do any prep and I failed.  I got 96, which is a fail. 

George Bevis

Well, that’s outrageous, I’m very sorry for you but so, I was in this band and we had a wonderful, inspiring teacher who led an incredible jazz band and so I got into it but obviously it’s not easy to learn about jazz so I went and bought some compact discs because that was the thing at the time and I think the first one I bought was a compilation of tunes that had originally been released on Blue Note, including the one you’ve just heard, the Horace Silver Que Pasa, which firstly, I thought was a beautiful, moving piece of music, as your listeners will just have heard but also, it’s from an album by Horace Silver called Song for My Father with a beautiful image of Horace Silver’s father on the front and there’s a certain sentimentality to it that I really appreciate. 

Elliot Moss

You get into things, don’t you?

George Bevis

I guess that’s true.

Elliot Moss

Yeah, I mean you kind of go, you go deep, I imagine, whatever it is, the way you just talked about the music, the things that you’ve been fascinated with, the website you set up when you were at university and things, you don’t stop at the surface.  Where’s, where’s that desire for understanding and for and real, there’s a word in Spanish I’m thinking of, dominio, the domain, you know the knowledge, the expertise.  Why is George so driven by expertise?

George Bevis

Interestingly, the worst possible person to ask that question of, is somebody who has that attribute because they won’t know.  It is the…

Elliot Moss

You’re very funny, George.  It’s true.

George Bevis

It’s natural to behave that way so, I don’t know but I do know that, I remember it being said to me by a friend when I was a student that other people tended to talk about things and George would actually get them done and so, yes, I think you are accurate that there is an inclination to go deep into things but I, sadly, I can’t explain why.

Elliot Moss

The things that you have gone into though haven’t always been brilliant successes but I think this is what marks a proper, you know serial entrepreneur out.  SpeedSell.com did not do well, you ended up owing some money but I think you’ve paid it all back.  Groovy Bananas, what a great name for a business.  Again, you are good at this naming thing.  Internet Incubator, I don’t know, you can tell me if there’s more to know but obviously, one that was, to your point, has given you time and resources was a striking success, which almost wasn’t as well, was Tide.  You know, there’s the old Rudyard Kipling treating adversity and success in the same way.  You’ve done that.  Is that just because needs must or is that some sort of philosophical belief?

George Bevis

I am not as afraid of failure as many people are and I think you could draw a lot of explanations for that but a big, influential moment in my life, when I was eighteen, I lived for six months in a Tibetan Buddhist monastery in South India, where obviously the monks live in a relatively simple manner, befitting the faith that they follow.  When you have lived in a very simple environment for a period of time, it’s easier to learn that you can do that, that you don’t need the sort of trappings of success and comfort throughout your life and so, as an entrepreneur, I’ve been, on many occasions, exceptionally close to bankruptcy, in fact at an earlier stage in my career I remember I literally was only able to pay the bills because having previously had a job in credit cards, I knew how to get credit cards other people would be rejected from because I was, my finances were so cripplingly bad.  So, I have been comfortable with that and that makes it much easier to get up and go again. 

Elliot Moss

Stay with me for much more from my guest, George Bevis.  He’s not scared or not afraid of failure or maybe not as much as other people.  He’ll be back in a couple of minutes.  Right now though, we’re going to hear a taster from the Mishcon Academy Digital Sessions, which can be found on all the major podcast platforms.  Mishcon de Reya’s Joe Hancock and Katy Ling talk about current trends in cyber fraud and what companies need to do to protect themselves. 

You can enjoy all our former Business Shapers on the Jazz Shapers podcast and indeed you can hear this very programme again if you pop Jazz Shapers into your podcast platform of choice.  My guest today is George Bevis, Founder of Tide, a financial services platform for small businesses and the Founder of CanDo, a social ventures incubator.   I want to focus a little bit on the Tide experience, you know, a very big success, a massive tick.  Dealing with the success, George, and you were involved in that business for a number of years, has that been more difficult than dealing with the failures?

George Bevis

Tide was a remarkably easy journey in comparison with the other ventures I had done.  It’s an old cliché in the entrepreneurial world that it’s easier to build a big business than a small business and it’s true.  If you’ve got a big, exciting mission, it’s easier to convince amazing people to come and work for you, it’s easier to convince investors to stump up money, it’s easier to convince partners to work with you, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.  So, it was not as painful to build up Tide as other initiatives and I wouldn’t say that the success of the business in itself created pain.  What I would say is that running a big, at the time that I stopped running it, now huge company, well I say huge by my humble standards so, so, it’s about, as you said, getting close to a thousand staff globally now, is a big, bureaucratic exercise and actually, a bit of a pain in the arse and like a lot of entrepreneurs, that side of it, I really don’t find attractive. 

Elliot Moss

And I think I’ve read that there was an acknowledgement from you that the, that side, that scale piece was not for you and I hear that a lot, people like to get to a certain point.  When you look back on it though and you see the strategy that was followed when you left, which was pretty much the strategy you put in place, was there a sense of well, yeah, I probably could have told you that, maybe I did and maybe you weren’t listening. 

George Bevis

I have been delighted with how Tide has been run since I have, I stopped running it.  In the process of vacating the CEO job and passing it on to someone else, I got the board to agree that the strategy that I had laid out would be the strategy that will persist.  So, it would have been a great disappointment if what has happened subsequently had not happened and I’m obviously relieved that it has.  I think in retrospect I’ve come to realise that actually if we’d made the wrong choice about my successor, then I couldn’t have relied on the strategy being followed but it has been, Oliver’s done a great job, I have the privilege of watching him as a board member and learning from how he does what he does so, yeah, fortunately it’s worked out fine.

Elliot Moss

But the small is beautiful thing, the going to the CanDo business, I thin you set up in 2019 and you have a small team of people, just tell me a little bit in your own words what CanDo is about. 

George Bevis

CanDo is, as you say, a small team of optimists, we say, who spot things in the world that we think could be better and try and test out potential solutions for those opportunities.  So for example, the first project we did was a not-for-profit, we launched in 2020, just when Covid was kicking off so, we thought it would be useful to create a food delivery service for people who were self-isolating during Covid.  Since then we’ve created a range of for-profit and not-for-profit initiatives.  We have a search engine for educational resources for teenagers, making it much easier to identify useful resources to study if you are studying science subjects for UK GCSEs and obviously that service can expand to other countries and subjects and age groups.  Also, we have some software that makes mobile phones easier for people with dementia to use or other people who find conventional smartphones too complicated and we are just kicking off an initiative to create a hundred exceptionally academic secondary schools in sub-Saharan Africa over the next 25 years. 

Elliot Moss

It’s quite a switch setting up a financial services platform, a bank, a mobile first bank to then actually solving some serious problems.  For you though, is it more about the utility of the offering rather than it necessarily doing good?  Which may sound like a slight contradiction but is it something just about fixing the problem, whatever the problem might be?  Or is it really important that there are good things that come out of that, in inverted commas?

George Bevis

It’s a fascinating question and one we discuss quite a bit in our incubator, CanDo.  I think that there’s an analogy that Microsoft Excel has probably done more for the global recycling industry than any recycling business you could ever name.  So the transformation in how financial and other information is filled and processed that I don’t believe for a second that Microsoft in its earlier years when they were inventing Excel were motivated by a broad sense of doing good.  So the truth is that a lot of good stuff that’s done in the world is done at one or two removes from the ultimate good that it achieves and I don’t take the view actually that an organisation has to be obsessed with its social purpose to have a positive impact, you can do it at one or two removes.  If you make great accountancy software, that software will assist organisations that are doing good but you don’t need to be motivated by that yourself.  So, in our incubator, we choose to only work on projects which directly, in the first degree, could be described as having a social purpose but if I’m candid, the real reasons for that are that my promise to my staff is that they will be working on those things and it will be harder to recruit them if I didn’t live up to that promise but I certainly take the view that it’s entirely possible for organisations to create an enormous amount of social good without having that as their primary, initial objective. 

Elliot Moss

And for George Bevis himself, when, when are you at your happiest?  Is it identifying the problem that needs to be solved or solving the problem that needs to be solved?

George Bevis

There is an interim step, which is when you think you’ve got a solution and for a number of hours or days you are elated that you smashed it and everything’s going to be amazing afterwards until sometime later, you realise no, no, no, there was something you hadn’t thought of and there’s some problem with it.  And the process of entrepreneurialism is often about just repetitively working through all of the ideas you’ve got until finally, you discover one, when it’s actually out there in the field, doesn’t fail. 

Elliot Moss

What a great definition.  Final chat with my guest today, George Bevis, is coming up and we’ve also got some Aretha Franklin alongside him.  And that’s in just a moment, don’t go anywhere.

George Bevis is my Business Shaper just for a little while longer.  You talked about optimism, I think you said you were a group of optimists and you are the chief optimist, George, even though you don’t have that title, maybe you do somewhere.  You obviously are an optimist.  Are you an optimist because you think you can solve problems or are you an optimist because you believe that the human condition is good? 

George Bevis

I do believe that the human condition is good but I also believe that all the other humans can and do solve problems that the world is a dramatically better place already than it was when I was born, so you know life expectancy globally is far longer, there’s much less of a threat of nuclear war in the long run, despite what is taking place in Ukraine, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.  So, in lots and lots of ways, the world has got better in previous decades and centuries and there’s every reason to infer that it will continue to get better into the future and probably at an accelerating pace. 

Elliot Moss

And does your optimism extend to you because that sense of, you mentioned earlier before we started the programme about insecurity of really successful people, the more successful you are, the more insecure you possibly are too, there’s a direct correlation.  For you, do you wake up in the morning and go ‘Today, George, is going to be a good day’ or are you a bit more circumspect than that?  He’s smiling obviously. 

George Bevis

Any entrepreneur who assumed that every day was going to be a good day, would be making a level of optimistic assumption that they very quickly learn not to take that point of view.  But every day can be an enjoyable day or most days can be an enjoyable day if you have a positive attitude and yes, I’m very lucky that I am definitely in the top decile of natural optimism so, it takes a lot to sadden me, I’ve never experienced any sort of deep trauma or depression or any of those other problems that afflict many other people so, that makes it much easier, even when things are rubbish to get out of bed and bounce into the next day with hopefully a plan for how to make things a bit better. 

Elliot Moss

Are you any more optimistic since you, as you said, had post-Tide, had sort of officially more resources at your fingertips and the time to think about what you did next or actually, is the opposite true?  I’m wondering just about the impact of the success on your own life obviously, because it looks like, from me, look on the outside, I go wow, there’s the guy that set up Tide, Tide’s really successful, now he’s doing these incredible things, he must be in a great place. 

George Bevis

I am very privileged to be in what, by my standards at least, is a very, is a great place.  So, the thing that I most wanted to be able to spend the remainder of my adult life doing, is what I am currently doing and that is experimenting, building interesting initiatives which have potential to have substantial impact to improve the world and there is nothing I would rather be doing, there is no job in the world I’d rather have than the one I currently have and I don’t anticipate that I will have any other job into the future.  So, does that make me more optimistic?  It certainly makes me more hopeful that I can achieve my objectives because I now have the resources to do that but I was always pretty optimistic. 

Elliot Moss

And in terms of the followership, the ability beyond these projects you are doing, beyond the products that you’re creating and the services, what you really sound like you want to do is have millions of people behaving differently.  I mean, again, the impact of these products is that people’s lives will be better but you also need all the other people to sort of get behind the notion that these things are important.

George Bevis

I am not interested in building personal followership.  As a much younger man, as a student, when I first got interested in politics, I probably was interested in that but actually now, I see fame, which some of my friends have, as a negative and a downside, I don’t think it really comes with very much upside.  So, I’m definitely not interested in personal followership.  It is the case that the initiatives that my organisation is driving will need supporters and so I am keen for the initiatives to build followership but for me personally, it’s actually unattractive. 

Elliot Moss

It’s been very good to talk to you, George.  Thank you and thank you for being so candid.  Just before I let you disappear, what’s your song choice and why have you chosen it?

George Bevis

As a teenager I delighted in listening to Jazz FM and in particular its iconic afternoon presenter, Pete Young, and he used to start and end his show with Jimmy McGriff’s The Worm, so I thought it would be an outrage if I didn’t attempt a very small honour to him by suggesting that that be played today. 

Elliot Moss

That was Jimmy McGriff with The Worm, the song choice of my Business Shaper today, George Bevis.  He talked about being not as afraid of failure as others might be.  He said insightfully, it’s easier to build a big business than a small one and really importantly, his definition of entrepreneurialism, that it’s all about repetitively working through ideas until you find one in the field that doesn’t fail.  That’s it from me and Jazz Shapers, have a lovely weekend. 

We hope you enjoyed that edition of Jazz Shapers.  You’ll find hundreds of more guests available for you to listen to in our archive, to find out more just search Jazz Shapers in iTunes or your favourite podcast platform or head over to Mishcon.com/JazzShapers.

George previously created Tide, the world's most innovative banking service for small businesses. By his own admission, he is embarrassed about stints as a banker at Capital One, RBS and Barclays, and much prouder of various unsuccessful startups where he learnt the skills necessary to build Tide and CanDo.

Highlights

I had regular office jobs and hated them and couldn’t bear to do it any longer and that made it a lot easier to decide to be an entrepreneur.

I am not as afraid of failure as many people are and I think you could draw a lot of explanations for that, but a big, influential moment in my life, when I was eighteen, I lived for six months in a Tibetan Buddhist monastery in South India.

It’s an old cliché in the entrepreneurial world that it’s easier to build a big business than a small business and I think it’s true.

I don’t take the view actually that an organisation has to be obsessed with its social purpose to have a positive impact. You can do it at one or two removes. There’s an analogy that Microsoft Excel has probably done more for the global recycling industry than any recycling business you could ever name.

I certainly take the view that it’s entirely possible for organisations to create an enormous amount of social good without having that as their primary, initial objective.

The process of entrepreneurialism is often about repetitively working through all of the ideas you’ve got until finally you discover one that, when it’s actually out there in the field, doesn’t fail.

In lots and lots of ways, the world has got better in previous decades and centuries - and there’s every reason to infer that it will continue to get better.

Any entrepreneur who assumed that every day was going to be a good day would be making a level of optimistic assumption that they very quickly learn not to make.

I’m very lucky that I am definitely in the top decile of natural optimism. It takes a lot to sadden me - I’ve never experienced any sort of deep trauma or depression or any of the other problems that afflict many other people.

The thing that I most wanted to be able to spend the remainder of my adult life doing is what I am currently doing: experimenting and building interesting initiatives which have the potential to have a substantial impact and improve the world.

There is nothing I would rather be doing and there is no job in the world I’d rather have than the one I currently have.

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