Slack: Cal Henderson - An Engineer’s Fairytale Story

Welcome back to series 4 - what a season have we got lined up for you! 

Kicking us off is Cal Henderson, co-founder and CTO of one of this decade’s most famous tech companies - the team communications platform the majority of companies couldn’t be without, Slack. 

But Cal hasn’t always been CTO of Slack, he cut his teeth as co-founder and VP Eng for Glitch, a web-based massively multiplayer game, before that, he was the Director of Engineering for Flickr at Ludicorp (where he first met Slack fellow co-founder Stuart Butterfield) and then Yahoo.

As you will shortly hear, Cal is considered to be one of Britain's finest exports. Although it's probably fair to say that he divides people much less than Marmite. Now residing in San Francisco where Slack is headquartered, Cal grew up in the humble county of Bedfordshire, England. 

After completing a computer science degree from Birmingham City University, he moved to the US in 2003, but not before landing a job after hacking into the email system of the company he wanted to work for and telling his future bosses that he could help them fix the problems they were having. 

This is a guy who it would appear got lucky, several times over. But in truth, all of Cal’s success has been down to hardwork and his first love - computers.

“From the first time I got a computer, I was like, this is what I want to do with the rest of my life. This is what I want to do for work.”

We chat about:

  • How he met Stuart Butterfield

  • How he got a job through hacking the company he wanted to work for

  • Why investors Excel and Andreessen Horowitz didn’t mind them failing

  • How on Slack launch day they had 8,000 companies sign up to use Slack

  • The advice he’d give to his 15 year old self


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Building One of the Most Innovative Products in the Digital World: Meet Dhiraj Mukherjee, Co-Founder of Shazam

Our esteemed guest this week is Dhiraj Mukherjee, co-founder of Shazam, the app that has literally put more songs on the record than anyone else in the world. Dhiraj is not a fan of being praised or of receiving any kind of popular commendations of his AMAZING efforts, so we won’t do any of that today.

Today we offer you the story that led four people to build one of the world’s most innovative products of all time.

Long story short: Shazam was created in 1999 by co-founders Chris Barton, Philip Inghelbrecht, Avery Wang, and Dhiraj Mukherjee. Since its launch, over 30 billion Shazams have been sent via their app, which has been downloaded over 1 billion times.

18 years after it was founded, it sees 100 million users flock to its surface every single month. Join us for a crisp dose of inspiration from someone who really knows what he’s talking about.

We chat about:

  • Building Shazam and getting people to use it

  • Getting a lot of nos from investors

  • Disguising the product so that someone else didn’t steal their idea

  • What the future looks like, if you ask Dhiraj


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How Babylon Health Founder and CEO Dr Ali Parsa Plans to Make Healthcare a Utility for Every Human on Earth

Our guest this week is the very inspirational Ali Parsa, founder and CEO of Babylon Health. Babylon is the world’s largest healthcare app successfully changing the way we as humans are getting access to healthcare.

Their mission? To provide affordable healthcare to the world and to be, in Ali’s own words, “the Google of healthcare”.

We don’t say this often, but get ready to have your mind blown at the scale of his ambition and, even more importantly, his execution.

So tune in or you’ll miss out!

We chat about:

  • Coming to the UK as a refugee and steering clear of negativity

  • Building Circle and, later on, Babylon

  • Thinking big, acting big, staying human



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How to build a €32 Million company

Left work on a Friday and gave birth on a Saturday: already our guest this week is pretty much a rockstar. 2014 Tech City’s Entrepreneur of the Year Alex Depledge is a straight-talking British businesswoman best known for being the driving force behind

Alex launched her career in the US after completing her master’s degree at the Uni of Chicago, working on the campaign team of a major US politician. In 2006 she returned to the UK to become a consultant for Accenture, where she advised FTSE 100 clients on their customer and channel execution. In 2012 she bravely entered the world of entrepreneurship.

In 2011 Alex and her best friend, Jules Coleman, conceived the idea behind when they discovered how hard it was to find a piano teacher online. They realized that service providers found it hard to market themselves, as they weren’t always as tech-savvy as other entrepreneurs, and they needed to rely on word-of-mouth.

Alongside co-founders Tom Nimmo and Jules Coleman, they started Teddle with the idea of connecting local service providers to customers. Two years later they rebranded to and focused on connecting vetted cleaners to local customers. They recently sold for €32 million to German company Helpling.

Alex has now launched BuildPath, a company which assesses whether house extensions are viable and how much they would cost. She also continues to be a driving force for shared parental rights in business and female equality amongst the entrepreneur scene.

We chat about:

  • Hassle’s journey from we-don’t-know-anything-about-startup-entrepreneurship to building an MVP to joining an accelerator to building the right product at the right time

  • What was raising money like in a period when there wasn’t a startup ecosystem

  • Their hiring challenges as first-time founders with no reputation

  • Selling to Helpling and getting massively depressed

  • Finding an executive coach and surviving Brexit


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From £8k to Global Domination: The Charles Tyrwhitt Shirt Story

Here to share with us his journey from owning an Aston Martin to owning a multi-million pound shirt company is Nicholas Charles Tyrwhitt Wheeler, one of UK’s most successful entrepreneurs.

After being left £8,000 from a great aunt, Nick used the money to purchase the English dream: an Aston Martin DB1. One year later he sold the same car for an eye-watering £75,000 profit. This profit became the funding that set Nick up to become the powerhouse he is now.

Nick founded Charles Tyrwhitt as an undergraduate in 1986, after being frustrated that shirts were too expensive. For several years the company was just a hobby alongside Nick’s full-time job. However, by 2002, Charles Tyrwhitt had stores in London, Paris and NY, and is now on its way to achieve global domination.

We chat about:

  • Nick’s previous ventures and how he started and grew Charles Tyrwhitt

  • Nick’s infatuation for learning from mistakes, over and over and over again

  • The do’s and don’ts of hiring when you’re a small company

  • His advice to entrepreneurs worldwide


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ustwo Co-Founder Mills on Building a Fampany (aka Family Company)

Our guest today is on the more unconventional side. For starters, he wouldn’t necessarily choose to call himself a “leader”, so what better set-up for a secret leader?

Mills, aka Matt Miller, is the co-founder of the fampany (read: family company) ustwo, a design studio occupying the ground floor of the Tea Building in Shoreditch, famous for hosting many of UK’s most creative brands.

Mills started his career at design studio Animal, where his first and only ever boss demonstrated to him just how leadership can be: a friendship based on trust and shared values. After experiencing that, Mills and ustwo co-founder John Sinclair, aka Sinx, decided to replicate it to create a fizzing company culture of their own.

Today we talk about doing things differently and putting values at the heart of an organization that really tries to keep its creativity in full flow, full-time employed. Mills and Sinx have zero intention to ever sell ustwo, and are on a mission to create the best working environment you can imagine.


We chat about:

  • The story of how ustwo was formed
  • International expansion
  • How they created a global smash hit mobile game
  • Meeting Tim Cook and talking about AR
  • Mills’s love for mindful ultrarunning


Let us know what you think and, while you're at it, why not give us a review in Apple Podcasts? We'd really appreciate it!

Finding Your Ikigai and Stopping to Smell the Roses: Founder Holly Tucker

Today we are delighted to bring you Holly Tucker, the co-founder of the first marketplace of its kind,, the place to pick up fantastic inspiration and bespoke gifts. Side note: is also very helpful when you’re trying to get back into your mum’s good books and make her happy with a thoughtful hand-designed gift. Just saying!

Like so many businesses, it was set up around a kitchen table shared by her co-founder Sophie Cornish. We dare say this was the inspiration behind her bestselling book, “Build a Business from Your Kitchen Table”, but you know, that’s just a guess!

Hear more about Holly’s inspirational story, as she shares the highs and lows of building one of Britain’s best-loved online marketplaces.


We chat about:

  • Working from the age of 13

  • Creating together with Sophie Cornish at their respective kitchen tables

  • Giving back and helping small businesses thrive

  • Why Sophie advises entrepreneurs to trust their internal compasses


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Creating a Brand People Come Back To: Café Rouge Co-Founder Karen Jones

Today we have an audio feast for you as our guest is Karen Jones, most well-known as the co-founder of the Café Rouge chain of restaurants. Her career is a textbook story of entrepreneurship.

Karen was born in Lancashire, in northern England, and raised in Yorkshire, London, and Switzerland, before studying English and American Literature at the University of East Anglia, where she has now come full circle as their Chancellor.

As the Café Rouge brand grew, Karen and her co-founder Roger Myers formed the Pelican Group, which was eventually acquired in 1996 by Whitbread for a reported £133 million. Karen couldn’t stay away from the table for too long and became the CEO of the Spirit Pub Group. She is definitely not the kind of person to sit back and put her feet up, so she also joined the board of the London Gastropub Company among many others.

We chat about:

  • How the first Café Rouge came to be

  • Selling Café Rouge and creating Punch Taverns

  • What makes a brand a winner

  • Karen’s advice to entrepreneurs


Are you enjoying the second season so far? We'd love to hear your thoughts.

Let us know what you think and, while you're at it, why not give us a review in iTunes? We'd really appreciate it!

S2E03 Starting a Multi-Million Dollar Business Without an Idea: Meet Pete Finlay, Co-Founder of Songkick

Today we’re in a rather different location. We are recording this episode from a houseboat in Central London, the home of startup entrepreneur and co-founder of Songkick and Silicon Milkroundabout, Pete Finlay (formerly known as Pete Smith).

After graduating from Cambridge in 2005, Pete went on to become the co-founder of Songkick in 2007, alongside his mate Ian Hogarth and his then-girlfriend Michelle You. If you haven’t heard of Songkick, it’s the largest concert discovery service in the world.

After suffering from burnout and leaving Songkick, Pete co-founded Silicon Milkroundabout, a free tech jobs fair for the UK’s startup community. Pete created this event in order to help fledgling entrepreneurs face the challenge of hiring the right people. At Silicon Milkroundabout, young entrepreneurs can showcase their skills and get connected to a startup.

From decision to brainstorming to idea

Pete grew up near Bedford, one of five kids, and had a pretty lovely childhood. This included a group of friends with whom he is still in contact today.

He studied Law at Cambridge, dragged his heels a bit, took a few gap years. He was still dragging his heels into his mid-20s and not doing much with his life. This all changed when, together with his friend, Ian Hogarth, Pete decided to quit his job and start a business.

The one big issue Ian and Pete had was they weren’t quite sure about what they wanted to do, but they knew they could learn from other people about how to do business, and then do their own thing when ready. They started pinging around ideas - some good, some terrible.

While Ian was stuck in Singapore until the end of the tax year, he started chatting with a guy late at night. This guy was going on and on about music and how great the industry was. Suddenly Ian and Pete realized they wanted to do something with music, since they were both musicophiles.

Next up they created a massive spreadsheet of all the existing and startup ideas in the music scene: what these companies were trying to tackle, who their users were, what their revenue model was. This was a very process-driven period of idea creation that eventually zeroed in on live, as a growing sector that had not yet been disrupted, but actually strengthened by the revenue reduction of recorded music. The rise of iPods, mp3s made recorded music extremely accessible.

Getting tickets in the hands of fans, not touts

So what is Songkick? It’s basically 100.000 concerts in your pocket. Wherever you are in the world, Songkick knows your music taste and it will tell you what concerts you’re going to be interested in.

Neither of them knew anything really about the live music industry, and luckily for them, nor did a lot of their tech investors at the time. They started by joining the Y Combinator. The flew over to Silicon Valley for an interview, and, as Pete says, they must have come across as very intense young men, because the investors trusted that they knew music.

A lot of the early investors and angels that they brought on were tech-focused, and at the time everyone felt that the tech way was definitely going to disrupt live music.

They pitched Songkick as a solution to actually getting tickets in the hands of fans, and making touts’ lives hard.

Ticketmaster, Viagogo, StubHub, they are all fronts for the shenanigans of the bands and of their promoters. Most of them focus on scraping for margins. Fortunately, there is a very simple solution to touts, one that they also use at Songkick. You issue digital tickets and offer 100% refund if you can’t make it to the concert. If the concert is in demand, you can sell the ticket to the next person in the queue.

So why don’t bands use these solutions? Well, because they make more money if they don’t. And it’s not just the bands. It’s everyone else too: the venues, the promoters, the ticket vendors.

Burnout and a new adventure

After getting funded, they started working flat out, six days per week. They launched within six months and then launched another big version of the site within another six months.

They focused their efforts on growth, and on building up relationships with music blogs. The bloggers would embed their widgets on their sites, and they would gain more and more visibility.

By the time Pete left Songkick, they had raised about $20 million. Songkick continued to raise probably another $15 million, and then they merged with CrowdSurge. CrowdSurge themselves had raised something like $20-30 million.

Pete decided to leave Songkick simply because he ran himself into the ground and burnt out. One of the reasons they succeeded in the early days, despite being first-time founders, was that they just used up everything they had. They made substantial progress as a startup, but it ragged them as founders.

After he left Songkick, Pete co-founded Silicon Milkroundabout, a jobs fair they set up so that developers can meet startups in London.

What Pete didn’t get when he was a first-time founder was that you basically have to reinvent yourself every six months. You have to be constantly learning what your job is supposed to be. Pete thought that if he could just be himself and work super hard, everything will turn out great. Instead, he was burned out and couldn’t do a good job. His advice for first-time founders: skill up, make changes in your life and remember that you need to change who you are.

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S2E02 Project Everyone: Reaching 7 billion people in 7 days

The second episode of our second series features an exciting conversation with Gail Gallie, co-founder of Project Everyone, an ambitious communications agency dedicated to accelerating the creation of a fairer world by 2030.

Gail studied at Oxford, and then later ran BBC Radio 1’s marketing department where she had an especially fun period.

She was then appointed CEO of ad agency Fallon, before quitting that to become business partners with British movie legend and founder of Comic Relief Richard Curtis.

Still not impressed? Gail also helped Tony Blair get into power by running his ad campaign.

In her fourth year of University, Gail ran out of money. She had to get a job, and she was determined to go to London. She soon started working in advertising which culminated in a political campaign, and that’s when she started feeling that she was on a mission.

With a love of music and successful campaign under her belt she sent a handwritten letter to the head of Radio 1 and landed a job at the BBC.

Does she recommend the BBC as a place to work? Massively. Gail confesses to being a huge believer in the public service broadcasting model. During the time she worked for the BBC, it was an impeccably feminist organisation, with most of the directors being women but does does think that it's time now that they have a female Director General.

Later on at ad agency Fallon

When she left the BBC, she founded a small consultancy with a friend. Afterwards she became the CEO of ad agency Fallon. By the time she got there, all the original founders had walked out because they had fallen out with the management.

After working hard to lift team spirits and bringing the right people in to help get the agency to where it needed to be, Gail realized that she just didn’t care enough about the company, and that another CEO of Fallon needed to have a sort of grit that just wasn’t in her.

Militating for purposeful cause: sustainable development

In September 2015, 193 world leaders agreed to 17 global goals for sustainable development. If the goals are completed, this would translate into an end to extreme poverty, inequality and climate change by 2030.

Gail’s idea was to reach 7 billion people in 7 days. To put things into perspective, there are currently 7.6 billion people living in the world. Together with Kate Garvey and Richard Curtis, she founded Project Everyone. How did it all start?

She met Kate while working on Tony Blair’s campaign. They were having a girl lunch one day, and after the lunch Kate left, walked into a meeting at Google, and bumped into Emma Freud, Richard Curtis’s girlfriend. Emma told Kate about Richard’s idea, and the three of them ended up working on it together. They tried to make some sort of plan for about three months, and were later joined by Katie Bradford who helped them put some order and structure into their project. Afterwards the whole thing really took off.

17 goals.jpg

What does Project Everyone do?

Project Everyone is a communications unit dedicated to the promotion of the Sustainable Development Goals. When they launched, their mission was only to drive awareness, but now they expanded their original goals into three main parts:

  • Awareness
  • Action: that’s trying to drive governments to take action in order to achieve the goals
  • Accountability: the 193 countries who signed up for this agreement need to be held accountable, and they also need to know that they will be held accountable

How can the UN hold a country accountable for something like that, you may ask. The Sustainable Development Goals are not legally binding, like the Paris agreement, for example. You don’t get fined if you don’t live up to your promises. What the UN does is convene. World leaders meet every year in September, at the UN General Assembly. They also meet every year in July and report on what they’re doing in order to achieve the goals. So the government of each country has to stand up and show its plan towards achieving the goals.

Project Everyone also works with a network of UN agencies that are focused on different areas (environment, women, and so on), and they are also in touch with the NGO community. All that on a global scale. If you add national agencies, NGOs, activists and local celebrities, you get a network that can put pressure on a backfiring government.

The Goal of the Goals

One time Richard and Gail were in New York with Paul Polman, the CEO of Unilever. Paul told them that what they needed to communicate was the goal of all these goals. So they took their time, thought about it, and came up with this.

The 17 sustainable goals cover basically everything, ranging from old goals that highlight poverty, hunger, gender equality, education and maternal mortality, to newer additions like energy, climate action, life under water, life on land, partnerships for the goals, peace and justice, innovation and infrastructure.

The goal of all these goals is a world where we managed to eradicate extreme poverty, where we made better inequalities, and where we reversed the effect of climate change. It’s all a holistic plan.