‘I talked my way into a start-up with a fake marketing agency’

·4 min read
Alex Latham  CMO and Co-Founder of Chip (Chip)
Alex Latham CMO and Co-Founder of Chip (Chip)

It was the summer of 2016 and Alex Latham was at Glastonbury Festival when someone began raving about their hot pink Monzo card.

“I knew that if someone was showing off a bank card at Glastonbury, this ‘fintech thing’ was going to be big,” he remembers. “The UK fintech scene was in its infancy, but I knew it was going to boom, so I wanted to get in early.”

After packing up his Glasto gear, Latham scanned through early tech start-up hiring boards, alighting on “Work In Start-ups”, a site where very early stage companies look for founders and first hires.

“I just went through all the businesses on there, only really looking for fintech.”

At the time, Latham was 24 and “had flitted around different tech start-up marketing roles” but didn’t have a huge bank of experience.

He read an ad by veteran tech entrepreneur Simon Rabin, who had just sold his last business, Roamer, an app to help users avoid overseas calling charges, and was starting a new savings app, Chip.

Latham decided to contact Rabin — but knew his short CV wouldn’t cut the mustard.

“It was the end of the day and I was on my computer. I’ve always been pretty good at making and designing websites, so I decided to present myself as a marketing agency.

“One of three things would happen: either they would want to hire the “agency”; they would want to hire me as someone from the agency; or they would just tell me to go away.

“I figured I didn’t have much to lose and, who knows, maybe I would have ended up founding a marketing agency. In hindsight this was a pretty ballsy thing to do.”

Latham built a website for his ‘agency’: “I stayed up very late that night making it. I came up with the name “Pineapple Punk” because I thought it sounded cool and I liked tropical house music.

“I designed a logo, made the graphics, and got the website online in a few hours. It said stuff like ‘We are a boutique agency that works with a select roster of clients to rocket growth’... It alluded to a full team that could do all elements of marketing from design, copywriting, to email marketing.

“In reality, this was just me. I think my justification was that I could do all those things, and if I couldn’t, I could just find someone to do it.”

The website went online around 4am.

“The next morning I smashed out emails to start-ups I thought looked interesting,” Latham recalls. “I remember saying things like ‘We only reach out to start-ups we think we can make a massive impact for’ and ‘We have a very limited roster but our team loved the look of your project’’.

Rabin, at Chip, was one of the firms who responded to the email.

“He wanted to understand more about Pineapple Punk and how it worked. We jumped on a call and I was pretty honest with him about the story. By that time we clearly got on very well and and I went to meet him. We ended up chatting for about three hours and hit it off immediately.

“At the end of the meeting he said: ‘The thing is Alex, I’m not sure about hiring Pineapple Punk, but would love to work with you on Chip.’ The rest is history.”

Two chips in a pod: Simon Rabin, left, took a shine to Latham (Chip)
Two chips in a pod: Simon Rabin, left, took a shine to Latham (Chip)

Today Chip has grown from Latham and Rabin sitting in the corner of an incubator at Level39 in Canary Wharf to a team of 130 in Holborn; it has 400,000 users, turns over “millions” each year (Latham won’t be drawn on a figure but turnover increased 500% in the last year), and is one of fintech’s biggest investor communities, with 23,000 shareholders.

Latham is adamant he’d hire someone who set up a fake marketing agency as he did: “I guess I’d have to respect it! For me, the most important thing when interviewing candidates is their effort and demonstrating drive.

“Some people interview for jobs with us and without even downloading and checking out the Chip app, which blows my mind - it shows no effort.”

To those looking to crack the start-up world, he advises: “Sometimes being different is drastically better than being perfect.

“If every cover letter we received was technically perfect, it wouldn’t stand out - it’s how people are different that often shines through.

“Having hustle is the most important characteristic in my opinion. It sets people apart and gives them the drive to succeed in saturated industries like fintech.”