Shaper: Michael Rolph

Show aired on 28th July 2018

Transcript

Elliot Moss
Welcome to the Jazz Shaper’s Podcast from Mishcon de Reya. What you are about to hear was originally broadcast on Jazz FM however the music has been cut or shortened due to rights issues.

Good morning, it’s time for another Jazz Shapers. I’m Elliot Moss, it’s where the Shapers of Jazz, soul and blues meet the Shapers of Business. Our Business Shaper is always someone who has built their empire their way. My Business Shaper today is Michael Rolph who after a career at Barclaycard, First Data and Paypal has created the loyalty marketing platform called Yoyo. What is Yoyo? Well luckily Michael is going to explain that over the next fifty minutes or so. Intriguing, I am going to ask you firstly, hello, first actually, nice to see you.

Michael Rolph
Hello, good morning.

Elliot Moss
Good morning. Tell me in your own words what Yoyo Wallet is. As I’ve explained it earlier but I am sure I haven’t done a good enough job of it, I want you to tell me.

Michael Rolph
No worries, so Yoyo is first and foremost it is a technology platform that combines three different elements around our world of, sort of transactions and commerce so we combine payment, loyalty and marketing, and what that translates into from a consumer’s prospective, for you and I when we go to a store, is that we can use a mobile app essentially to pay and immediately collect our loyalty points or our loyalty stamps and a fully itemised digital receipt from the retailer that we are purchasing from. And on top of that what we are also able to benefit from is the ability to receive rewards and incentives for our future purchasing behaviour as well, and on the retailer’s side of the equation we have a product we have put to market for them called Engage, and that enables them to have a better understanding of who their customers are. So, another way to think of it is if anyone has ever used the Starbuck’s mobile payment loyalty app or more interestingly the Café Nero one and think about Tesco Clubcard, if you put those two things together, we are democratising that experience for all of the retail landscape.

Elliot Moss
And this is a, anyone can download the app, right?

Michael Rolph
Anyone can, yes.

Elliot Moss
Because obviously I get the Starbucks, I go to Café Nero, I’ve got my piece of paper for Café Nero, thinking about it, but I have my mobile app for Starbucks, you’re telling me now I can change my…

Michael Rolph
Well, yeah that will be the last bit of paper you will have from Café Nero because I can sit here now with my Café Nero app and invite you to get their app and if you do that and you transact you are going to get a free reward for that, it will be a nice drink and most importantly you are going to unlock one for me. So if you think about what we are doing here, we are putting technology at the heart of customer experiences in a way that has never been possible before. So in fact you can even take that paper stamp card you have got into a store tell them that you no longer want the paper and they can digitalise those stamps on that bit of paper on to your Café Nero app that is powered by Yoyo.

Elliot Moss
This is life changing, Michael in my own little world, this is very important because I run and every time I have to remember to put the piece of paper in because we stop halfway and I’m not going to have to do that anymore. What always intrigues me about people that set up a technology business is where they have come from and how they have done it, and obviously over the last seven years that we have been doing this programme, that landscape has exponentially grown, I mean a few years ago we were interviewing a few people there was a bit of funding around, now I am regularly talking to people like you, you’ve got over a £20 million funded business, you’re in that world, just go back a bit, because whenever you left University probably just 2002 or something like that, sixteen years ago or so, what did you want to do and how have you ended up where you are?

Michael Rolph
Well probably like most people that leave University nowadays and back then, I didn’t really have a sense of what I wanted to do. I just knew I needed to earn money. I actually had more of a sense of what I didn’t want to do which ironically is what I turned out doing as my first job out of Uni, which was selling media advertising, so my big request to all agencies I went to is ‘I don’t want to sell advertising’ and they went ‘don’t worry about that we’ve got this media job for you’, and I thought ‘well that sounds interesting’. So, I spent about a year and a half working for a Publishing House which was in the financial world called the Publishing House was called MSN International and I worked on a magazine called International Custody and Fund Administration, and in hindsight it was a fantastic job and you know rewind the clock, there was no laptops, there was no internet at this office at this point in time, I had a rolodex of the last guy’s leads and a magazine in front of me and so I spent sort of eighteen months learning the craft of picking a phone up and asking people for things like you know, money in reward for a space in the magazine. So you know that was kind of how it started, but at the same time I was still in contact with some guys I went to University with and we decided that what the world really needed was some alternative snacks in the pub and bar industry, and we ended up importing these little tins of peanuts, olives and sweets that you get on the counters in those big dispensers, so we were responsible for bringing them to the UK, and that was an interesting ride, you learnt a lot of lessons very quickly, and I kind of got the bug from there that you know, I probably want to sort of master my own destiny a little bit, but before really having an idea of what to do I ended up finding myself in sort of the payments world. Again, more through luck I think and through just an opportunity that came at the time and landed my first sort of real corporate job at Barclaycard Business.

Elliot Moss
And I want to come to back all this, but it strikes me that all the things you have done enable you to do the thing that you are doing now, and that’s really the point behind it, but you realised relatively quickly that the corporate world wasn’t for you. I am assuming. Or not relatively quickly but at some point, there must have been, a hold on a minute?

Michael Rolph
Well actually I remember something different, if I could, you know now I am sort of thinking through back to your question, you know, I guess remembering back to when I was at University and the time that I did actually try to forge a career for myself, ironically was in the world of advertising and considering our office is in Fitzrovia, you know it turns out I kind of got to where I wanted to, but at the time I remember also thinking I wasn’t going to be the type of person that was cut out for a corporate life, and that was a very internal feeling that I had and I had no reason to think or have any understanding of why I should feel like that, because the reality is I actually did quite well in a corporate environment and I think that you know the world today is trying to train everybody to think very entrepreneurially and sort of almost go anti-big corporate in terms of the way they think about what they start, but you know, I actually owe a lot of my sort of way in which I think about the world today to sort of my experiences at my first sort of three big corporate jobs.

Elliot Moss
Michael Rolph is my Business Shaper, CEO and Co-Founder of Yoyo Wallet, and I think really importantly you know you said you learn stuff from corporate life and you were in the big corporates, but eventually what interests me is you went into become a founding member and Director at this thing called the Anthemis Group which was a Fintech advisor and investment business.

Michael Rolph
That’s correct.

Elliot Moss
So I know now you are taking, you are now on the other end of receiving investment. On that other side of it what were your criteria for making investments, if you boiled it right down to the two or three things when you knew when someone was pitching to you, because so many people listening and people I have had on the programme have had to do this very thing. What were you buying?

Michael Rolph
I was buying belief. You know you sit with the person in front of you that’s selling you a dream in a sense, you know there is no, there is nothing to say that what they are pitching could be real other than their own belief that they are going to make it real. And I am always big in thinking that if you are going to back early stage companies and invariably those companies that we were backing were on Powerpoint only that you’ve got to be able to look somebody in the eye and if they tell you they are going to go and create a multi-million dollar company that you actually think they have got it within them to see it through. Because one thing is for sure whatever it is they are pitching at the time, and how they think they are going to do it, isn’t going to be right so you’ve got to back the person. I was big for that, and the other side of it is that clearly there has got to be some competencies displayed, at least in how they think structurally about how they can create the business from a financial prospective in terms of their modelling and their planning and just showing the right skill sets, because a lot of the entrepreneurs today that have come through, the new generation of technology led entrepreneurs, you know they are a lot younger so that sort of corporate life may not be there or that sort of foundation of one particular skills set and so it was always about, you know, do you think they have just got what it takes, and it is hard to kind of quantify that, you only get it from a feeling. That is kind of how I approached it which probably meant I wasn’t a very good investor really, but there you go.

Elliot Moss
I am sure that’s not true, but now flipping on the other side very briefly just to set this up, what did people buy into? Because I know you had some, you know some serious investing, in fact I think Woodford Investment Management, Neil Woodford was on this programme not that long ago, what was Neil buying?

Michael Rolph
Yeah. That is quite interesting actually, because I remember I met Neil at a dinner, one of our sort of founding investors had put on IP Group at the time was Touchstone Innovations and I met Neil and it was at a time when he had just done an article talking about the difference between sort of Europe and the West Coast and the approach you know, bet big to win big, and I literally had about three minutes of his time and told him that I thought he was absolutely right and here is what we are doing and you know, I’d like you to put your money where your mouth is, because I will take your money and I will return it to you with a lot of interest and a lot of thanks. And of course it wasn’t done there and then, you know we had to go through all the team and stuff but you know I think on the flip side of it, I mean I can pick an investor that’s really looking at the model, versus an investor that is buying the vision and I think certainly with what we are doing, and the type of person I am, you know I think it is about people buying the vision, they have got to believe that what we are doing has a right to exist in this world and there is a lot of nuance behind it in terms of sort of the experiences we are creating, the technology we are building, so it’s not even about the fact they have got to understand how that happens, its just that, you know they kind of, you know see the same sort of, I guess maniacal belief in my eye that I would expect and wanted to see from somebody I was investing in.

Elliot Moss
Okay that’s a pretty clear answer, Neil has hopefully made a good investment, we think he has, he’s smart.

Michael Rolph
I think he has.

Elliot Moss
Michael does. Much more coming up from Michael Rolph, my Business Shaper in a few minutes but in the meantime the last in the current series on this programme we are going to hear more about the gig economy with Mishcon de Reya lawyer, Susanna Kinnish in the latest News Session podcast hosted by Paddy O’Connell which you can also find in full on iTunes.

Just a reminder that you can hear the full News Sessions podcasts from Paddy O’Connell on the gig economy on the Jazz Shapers channel on iTunes, just have a look for that today, and whilst you are there you can also catch up with the other 350 plus Jazz Shapers that we have had on the show in the last seven years, but right now my Business Shaper is Michael Rolph, and Michael is CEO and Co-Founder at Yoyo Wallet; a combination, I liked what you said earlier Michael, of payments, loyalty and marketing, which makes sense to me and someone who also, I like using those little things, I like my rewards, silly isn’t it, it’s a basic human need. Where have things got to go in the next eighteen months for you to be where you want to be? What needs to happen?

Michael Rolph
So, we’ve got a lot in play at the moment that is going to significantly grow the number of users of Yoyo Wallet, so as we sit here talking, you know we have smashed through a million registered users within the UK. We have you know, a 71% retention over twelve months of that user base which is a phenomenal stat for us, but the reality of life is I am not that impressed with a million users and you know, it is a sort of a number on the path to the bigger number and we’ve got a lot of work going on at the moment with an existing industry called banking, which you know depending on what side of the sort of the argument you come on, believe will either be completely disrupted, or be completely revolutionised, and we come on the side of revolution to a degree, and we are here to enable banks to provide better customer experiences that are more rewarding and delightful every day, so I think that what we would like to see happen in the next eighteen months is that the banks speed up their realisation that technology, the technology that has happened to banking that a lot of these challenges that are coming through with, is something that they need to more rapidly embrace and think about how they partner, you know, more efficiently with those sort of break through companies like Yoyo in order to sort of maintain their customer base. And I think on the back of that we’ve obviously made some announcements recently about sort of I guess some of the component parts that we need to put in place in order to materialise these opportunities that we are talking about, but I think you know, eighteen months from now if we was having this conversation we would be talking about some very big High Street banks that are powered by Yoyo in the sense that if you open your bank up you will have your Yoyo Wallet inside that you could use to pay and collect your rewards and your loyalty points etcetera and on the flip side of that, wouldn’t it be great if you could use that at more places, so we’ve got a number of High Street retailers live today but that is really a big focus of ours now is to expand the number of locations in the High Street that you can benefit from this seamless experience of payment and loyalty, and so there is a number of very nice names that are going to be coming out in the second half of this year that are all sort of switching on the power of, you know Yoyo as it were for them.

Elliot Moss
And it actually makes me think about, is it important that it’s powered by Yoyo or do you, I mean you’ve done a big deals with Visa which is a relatively significant partner to get in connection with, contact with, is Yoyo the brand that will carry on and if it isn’t does that matter, if this technology is there and you are the owner of the technology, do you really care or is it your vision, no Yoyo’s the thing?

Michael Rolph
You know the way we think about it, if you think that you know, Visa is for payment, we think of Yoyo is for loyalty and we think there is an absolute space in the market that at the point of sale a new brand that consumers recognise you know, can exist and the thing for us is that we are not a payment business, we are enabled through payments and that means we partner very nicely with the big players like Visa, who are doing some wonderful things with reinventing their business for sort of the modern world in which we live and partnering with companies like Yoyo, so I do think that Yoyo will be a very recognisable brand at the point of sale experience both, you know, whether it’s at the till or whether it’s within your app, it doesn’t have to be an app that is called Yoyo it could be, it could be your banking app that’s got a Yoyo Wallet inside.

Elliot Moss
Sounds very clever Michael. I have a feeling we are going to be seeing a lot more of Yoyo, I am going to certainly download it after this, we says quickly so he doesn’t get offended over there.

Michael Rolph
I’ll send you that free…

Elliot Moss
Yeah, I’m waiting for that, I’ll only do that if you send me the freebie. We’ve talked about your obvious clarity and what this business can do, your vision for where it is going to go, the bunch of people that you have assembled around you, quite a few of them I imagine, how many have you got?

Michael Rolph
So currently we’re about sixty people.

Elliot Moss
And all based in the same place?

Michael Rolph
All based in the same office, yes.

Elliot Moss
What do they say about Michael? What would they say when Michael wasn’t in the room.

Michael Rolph
Well, that’s a tough one, they are probably all answering right now, if they are listening. Wow that is a real tough question isn’t it. What would I like them to say versus what are they saying. I think they would probably say that I am certainly somebody that is very direct in terms of sort of speaking my mind about the good, the bad, the ugly of sort of daily life and trying to build a company. I think they would also say I’m pretty passionate about what we do and I would hope, whether they would say this or not, but I would hope that they would also say that he is somebody that really cares about the environment that we are creating around ourselves to enable us to be successful and that sort of the people first culture mind set is you know very much top of the list of priorities when it comes to sort of you know being mindful about creating a company…

Elliot Moss
And is that because, in the nicest possible way, that it is a self-interested thing in the sense that if people are happy and they feel good about the space they are in, they are going to be more creative, more productive, is it as simple as that or is there something else?

Michael Rolph
Well no, I do think it is that simple you know, at the end of the day companies don’t fail, people do and you look at the litany of companies over the years and in more recent times that have failed because they didn’t innovate is because they didn’t create environments that enabled the people with the ideas and the creativity and the drive to be successful and I’ve, you know in my time of working with many different corporates, both directly and as an adviser I have seen a lot of environments that kind of stifle this through these sort of hierarchical, bureaucratic processes and you know, I have a very simple belief that everybody has great potential and the only limiting factor is the environment around them that can either encourage or stifle that potential, and for me at Yoyo one of the key USP that we have and it should be the same with all companies when you really bottom it out, its your people and then its your culture, now you may be able to go and hire a bunch of smart people but if you have a really negative culture that is set by you as the Founder or as the leadership as time goes by, you are going to lose the people, so that is why I go back to the sort of simple start point is it all begins and ends with the people.

Elliot Moss
And put simply, you are right. Michael Rolph stay with me and I hope if you are listening you will stay with me too, because we have got our final chat coming up with him plus I will be playing a track from Lonnie Smith.

That was Dr Lonnie Smith with Think, and I hope you have been thinking a lot because Michael Rolph, my Business Shaper has said a whole bunch of stuff, just common sense if you ask me, and as he said he is a direct kind of fellow and he certainly appears so. We haven’t talked about one thing and I am interested to know your answer to this, money and you and whether you are motivated by it. I mean you are obviously very financial adept you understand the model you have got, you’ve thought hard about it, you’ve worked in financial organisations for a long time, you strike me as someone who understands how to sell stuff. Where does it sit, I mean at some point this business will maybe have an event, maybe you will be involved maybe not, does the money drive you, and if so, how?

Michael Rolph
Wow, that’s a real deep question actually for me. So, money is this system that we have invented as humans that I consider to be like a points programme, right? So, the more you have in your bank, the better you are doing, if it’s all a game. So, that’s one way to think about it, but if you are driven by it, I think you are going to be more often than not unhappy, because the reality of life is whatever your number you’ve got, it’s not enough, because we are very good as you know as consumers to spend you know, just beyond our means, whatever the number. And actually I had a very funny conversation with one of the Associates of one of our investors, actually just this week, who we were talking about numbers and one of the numbers that he threw out, well that would be a lot of money and I said well and without even missing a beat, I said ‘no to me that’s not a lot of money, I mean a lot of money is you can afford to buy a yacht and not care if you don’t like it’, so that the perpetual hunger to want more is I think innate but at the same time, you know just be happy with what you’ve got, because you know I am wearing a t-shirt it cost £10, it’s from Muji, I like it, and I am not going to change a type of t-shirt I buy because you know think all of a sudden you can afford to buy a more expensive t-shirt so I am not materially driven, in that sense. What I do care about and I recognise that you know money is a great enabler for providing opportunity for experiences and those experiences none matter more than the experiences I can provide for my family and certainly for my boys, I’ve got three of them and you know you kind of, I certainly feel that if you can provide these environments for them, you know you have to recognise in life that money is kind of the key to unlocking more of those different types of environment, and not all of them should necessarily be ones that they walk into and then feel the pressure to, but you might as well, if you’re here once go for as bigger point as you can get eh.

Elliot Moss
Listen, you stay with your Muji top it’s very nice, Muji is also a bit of a favourite with me and I think you are right it’s nice to think you wouldn’t buy a more expensive t-shirt, but I’ll come back and we will find you and then you’ll go well you know Christian Dior it was on offer, and I’ll say ‘yeah sure’. Thank you so much for spending some time with me Michael, really good luck, you’ve got real clarity and I think… I hope the business will go really far and do really, really well for you.

Michael Rolph
Thank you.

Elliot Moss
Just before I let you go, what’s your song choice, and why have you chosen it?

Michael Rolph
So I thought about this long and hard actually, but I’ve gone with Eva Cassidy and Blue Skies from her Live at Blues Alley album, and the reason for that actually is, so there is one artist that I wish that I could have experienced live it’s Eva Cassidy because her voice and her delivery is phenomenal, I mean she could sing the phonebook, and of course given that we are in the middle of a heatwave, and there is nothing but blue skies ahead of us, I thought why not make a connection with all of the listeners and hopefully whatever they are doing this morning they’ll see blue skies ahead of them too.

Elliot Moss
Brilliant, thank you so much. Here she is just for you.

We hope you enjoyed that edition of Jazz Shapers. You will find hundreds more guests available to listen to in our archive. To find out more just search Jazz Shapers in iTunes or head over to Mishcondereya.com/jazzshapers.

Michael Rolph

Michael Rolph is CEO of Europe’s fastest growing combined payments and loyalty marketing platform, Yoyo. Michael started his career at Barclaycard, First Data and PayPal. He was a founding member and Director at Anthemis Group, the specialist FinTech advisory and investment firm.  During his time at Anthemis Group he advised multiple start-ups, including Azimo and The Currency Cloud in their early stages, as well as advising on digital innovation, investment and M&A to several banks. In addition to his CEO role at Yoyo, he is currently an Advisor to Firestartr and a non-executive Director at The MoBank Group.

Follow Michael on Twitter @michael_rolph.

Listen live at 9am Saturday.

“Yoyo is first and foremost a technology platform, combining payment, loyalty and marketing.”

“After Uni, I actually had more of a sense of what I didn’t want to do.”

“The world today is trying to train everybody to think entrepreneurially and go anti-big corporate, but I owe a lot of the way I think about the world to my first three big corporate jobs.”

“I told Neil “I’d like you to put your money where your mouth is, because I will take your money and I will return it to you with a lot of interest and a lot of thanks.”

“We have a 71% retention over twelve months, which is a phenomenal stat for us, but the reality of life is it is a number on the path to the bigger number.”

“We’ve got a lot of work going on at the moment with the banking industry: itwill either be completely disrupted or revolutionised.”

“My staff would hopefully say I care about the environment that we are creating and seek a people first culture mind set.”

“The perpetual hunger to want more is innate but at the same time, just be happy with what you’ve got.”

“Live a rewarding life.”