Sylvester Lewis graduated with a Masters in Engineering Science from Exeter College, Oxford in 2014. He is a former investment banker turned entrepreneur having worked at Barclays Capital, Goldman Sachs and Evercore. Sylvester is currently Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer at Suppa, a social eating app that enables users to network with new people at their favourite restaurants, bars and coffee shops. To date Suppa has received seed capital from a group of Angel Investors and currently employs 5 people full-time.
What is your background? What made you decide to become an entrepreneur?
Having studied engineering at university and worked in mergers & acquisitions and equity capital markets, I have a strong technical background which has assisted me in developing the Suppa business model and presenting it in such a way that connects with senior business professionals and investors. The decision to become an entrepreneur was motivated by a desire to make a significant and lasting contribution to society as well as to build a personal legacy. I have always wanted to run a global business.
What is your definition of entrepreneurship?
Entrepreneurship to me means successfully executing on a new idea that you think can have a positive impact on society. The road to success is dark and perilous, filled with seemingly insurmountable obstacles – however for resilient, intellectually curious individuals with a strong deep seated motivation to succeed there is no career more rewarding or fulfilling.
How and when did you know your idea was good enough to develop it?
Speaking with working professionals and students we found a significant proportion of individuals were looking for a fun and convenient way to network with new people. Suppa aims to solve this issue by providing a platform which facilitates same-day networking at popular chain restaurants, bars and coffee shops. The Company focus on making mealtimes more exciting by allowing users to find a companion for their meal - we are hoping this initial interaction will lead to new friendships, business partnerships, and mentorships down the line.
What would you say are the top 3 skills that needed to be a successful entrepreneur? Why?
In no particular order: patience, resilience and vision.
Patience because everything takes three times longer than you think – things do not happen overnight, it is a slow and arduous process. Without patience you are likely to become frustrated and give up.
Resilience because you will receive a lot of rejections from very smart people which can be debilitating and make you doubt yourself – many successfully entrepreneurs such as: Sara Blakely of Spanx, Jack Ma of Alibaba and Brian Chesky of Airbnb were all told on multiple occasions by investors and other senior business professionals that their ideas would not work.
Finally, as an entrepreneur you must have a clear vision of what you are building and why. People will pick holes in your business model, tell you how to run your company better and tell you everything you are doing wrong which can be exhausting, often you will receive conflicting views from very senior people which can sway you like a leaf in the wind unless you have a clear understanding of where it is you want to go. This does not mean not listening to feedback but rather realising that no one actually knows what will be a success until it is.
What is your favourite part of being an entrepreneur?
The most enjoyable part of being an entrepreneur for me is waking up every day and executing on my own vision. Creating something from nothing; pulling together investors, a founding team, employees, building a product, bringing this to market and seeing the value it provides to customers.
The personal growth you experience when building a start-up is phenomenal: communication skills, attention to detail, perseverance, people management, interpersonal skills etc. It would take a long time to attain this level of responsibility as a recent graduate in a large corporation due to bureaucracy and red tape.
What individual, company or organization inspires you most? Why?
Jack Ma, Founder of Alibaba is a big inspiration. Coming from a poor family in a small village in China he was able to build one of the largest ecommerce companies in the world. As a teenager, Jack Ma taught himself English and battled through consistent rejections and disappointments to achieve his goal (including being rejected by Harvard University ten times!). Alibaba provides C2C, B2B and B2C sales and in 2016 booked revenue of $23BN. Jack Ma’s story demonstrates that you can achieve success regardless of background or circumstances.
If you had 5 minutes with the above indiv/company/org, what would you want to ask or discuss?
1. What drove you to keep going?
2. Which sectors do you see being disrupted over the next 5 years and why?
3. What new technologies most excite you?
4. What will the large social networks look like ten years from now as data becomes ever more important in our society?
What would you say have been some of your mistakes, failures or lessons learned as an entrepreneur?
Delegation is extremely important you cannot do everything by yourself – as much as you want to because the business is your baby you must appoint smart capable people and trust them to do a good job. Otherwise you will burn out very quickly.
How have you funded your ideas?
To date Suppa has received seed capital from a group of Angel Investors - we will be looking to raise venture capital in Q4 this year post September launch.
Are there any sector-specific awards/grants/competitions that have helped you?
What is good about being an entrepreneur in Oxfordshire? Bad?
Enterprising Oxford is a great orgaisation that provides a lot of support for entrepreneurs in the form of events, speaker series and other initiatives. Oxford University Entrepreneurs Society is the largest and most successful student entrepreneurship society in Europe and as such has a strong network of successful entrepreneurs it can draw on to offer advice and mentorship. A slight drawback is that Oxford is a small town lacking in some of the infrastructure that could be helpful to early stage companies.
If a new entrepreneur or startup came to you looking for entrepreneurship resources, where would you send them?
1. Enterprising Oxford host many useful events
2. Google Campus, London host free talks by successful entrepreneurs – great for networking
3. Download Eventbrite app and search for entrepreneur events
Any last words of advice?
We spend a significant proportion of our adult life working. When it is all said and done, think about the legacy you would like to leave behind. Hopefully this will inspire you to make the right choices.