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Q&A: a day in the life of the Octopus co-founders

11 Jun 2018

As Chris Hulatt and Simon Rogerson head off to Monaco to compete at the EY World Entrepreneur Of The Year 2018 Forum, we wanted to find out what a regular day looks like for the Octopus co-founders.

When does your day start, and when does it end?

CHRIS: I used to spend much more time in the office, but increasingly my days are filled with external meetings, as I’m focused on developing our external relationships. When I’m working in our head office, I will usually arrive at 6:45am and will leave at 7pm.

SIMON: I’m enjoying a slight mid-life crisis at the moment, which means I run to the office, and run back home, every day. It works out at 50km a week. Running helps set me up for the day, or it clears my head before I get home. I aim to be in the office for a 7.30am start.

I usually leave the office around 6.15pm to get back home for 7.30pm, although probably twice a week I’ll spend the evening with Octopus customers (typically financial advisers). I spend time with the kids and have dinner, and then I’m back to work between 9pm and 10.15pm (usually catching up on emails and reading papers).

Can you describe an average working day?

CHRIS: A lot of my time is spent working with our Institutional Funds team and with the businesses themselves, taking part in presentations and working on plans to raise institutional money. We believe it is going to be one of the key value drivers for Octopus in the years ahead.

For example, on my last day in the office, I went for a coffee with the Chief Investment Officer of one of the largest pension funds in the UK. We chatted about how he is looking to manage the pension fund, what sort of asset classes he is interested in, and he was keen to find out more about Octopus. 

I also spend time meeting other types of stakeholders, such as MPs and Government ministers, to talk about the areas where we are active and to suggest ideas for improvements to Government policies. We recently published our High Growth Small Business Report for 2018, and it’s been great to hear about the positive feedback it has received, and how it can help shape future policy discussions.

SIMON: I always make sure I have two hours per day without any meetings. Having this discipline allows me to think, plan or focus on areas of the Group that most need my attention. The rest of my time is spent with people, although you could break this down into a few different categories:

  • One-to-one meetings: mostly with my direct reports, and I’ll also meet with the CEOs of the different Octopus businesses that don’t report to me directly.
  • Interviewing potential new recruits: there was a time not so long ago when I would interview everyone applying for a job at Octopus. Now that we’ve grown to more than 600 employees I can’t do this, but I still interview lots of people, and I love being part of the interview process.
  • Ad hoc catch-ups: I really try to encourage an open, honest, feedback culture at Octopus, and making myself available when anyone in the Group wants to talk is part of this. It helps to ensure they see me as Simon rather than ‘the CEO’. And part of my time is spent giving feedback to others.
  • Culture: I work closely with the CEOs and the senior teams of each Octopus business, to ensure the culture at Octopus remains what we want it to be.

What’s taking up most of your time right now?

CHRIS: A big part of my time is now spent on the road. Over the next two months, I’m expecting to be away from the office for at least five weeks. This is driven by our need to build relationships with large global institutions. We are already seeing our hard work bearing fruit in places like Korea, and we are continuing to develop strong links with potential clients in places like the Middle East – which we’ve visited five times already this year – and also new areas like Japan, where I recently held a series of meetings in Tokyo with institutional investors.

I’m really excited by the challenge of helping to turn Octopus into a truly international business. It feels like the logical next step in our evolution.

SIMON: If left entirely to my own devices, I would spend almost all of my time focused on people, customer and innovation (specifically building new businesses). The new Octopus businesses report to me, and I find it hugely exciting to be able to alternate between established businesses and totally new start-ups. I love helping the CEOs of these businesses to develop. It makes me feel really good to pass on my experience and help them avoid some of the pitfalls we learned about the hard way.

I also spend a chunk of my time thinking about our customers, and their experience of Octopus. I find it easy to put myself in the shoes of the customer and see things from their perspective. This usually means focusing on marketing materials – specifically around brand and tone of voice. I’m a massive believer in the power of language and the need to keep things simple.

I’m also passionate about having a brand that absolutely stands for something, and making sure that all our businesses, and employees, live and breathe the Octopus values. Communicating is still a massive part of my role and something I think is vital in a CEO. People must know what our purpose is and where we are headed, and they must feel part of it.

Finally, what are you most looking forward to when you travel to Monaco and compete for World Entrepreneur Of The Year?

CHRIS: It’s hard to believe we are now heading to Monaco to represent the UK – I have to keep pinching myself.  It’s going to be a phenomenal opportunity to get to meet – and learn from – so many leading figures from the global business community, along with the other 63 winners representing their countries. 

When we set the business up in my lounge 18 years ago, we never imagined we’d be able to grow Octopus to the point where it is today, or that we would one day win the UK Entrepreneur Of The Year award. It has been a phenomenally busy and incredibly enjoyable journey.

SIMON: To have 64 of the world’s best entrepreneurs all in one place for four days is a huge opportunity. I fully expect to return with my head buzzing with new ideas.

We won the UK award because of the hard work and sacrifice of everyone working at Octopus. To be in with a shot for the World title is humbling and exciting in equal measure. Although they won’t get to spend four days in Monaco with us, I know the team will be delighted that Octopus has been recognised for its entrepreneurship.


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