Timothy Armoo x Kings Place
“There is a time when it will be required of you to be thorough”
Hackney to Accra
The life of a diaspora child is one that takes place in two worlds. We are faced with the challenge of navigating our Western ideals, culture and education while remaining true and rooted to the genesis of our being. The motherland. The person in focus for this article series of Kings Place has certainly come to terms with the balancing act. While Tim was born in Hackney, he soon found himself on the Gold Coast of Africa where he spent, what he calls, some “very formative years of his life.”
He recites a particular experience which impacted and continues to impact his outlook and perspective on life. While in Ghana, Tim met one of his grandma’s friends in hospital; a hospital that was lacking the resources to effectively carry out the function of providing healthcare to its visitors. Tim brings to memory the scenes he saw of the woman crying out in pain with not even a mat to cushion the body. “Seeing that level of hardship really framed quite a lot of the privilege we have in the western world.”
Since the early part of Tim’s life was spent in Ghana; he had no real understanding of what life in England was – something he says turned out to be a good thing for him. Our experiences continually shape us and our circumstances can serve as protection from certain lifestyles and interactions which could negatively impact our future. “If I never went to live in Ghana; I would have certainly been one of those boys in ends.” The interesting thing about life is that you don’t have to be actively pursuing a way of life, for it to slowly creep up and entangle you. All it needs is passiveness and our youthful impressionability provides plenty of that. Tim identified this. “At around 12 to 14, I saw myself slowly getting into a lifestyle which long-term would not be helpful. I knew all the people involved, and that’s how it starts.” In my questions, I was keen to find out whether the father-son dynamic was on display and whether it was something that impacted. “My Dad was a good dad but the dynamics at play in my area could even make the most noble efforts of a father redundant.”
School Ties & Tech
At this point I’m intrigued to understand how Tim was able to avoid a path that would have severely dented his future potential/prospects. He lets me know his lifeline came when he developed an interest for entrepreneurship. “When I was 14 I got into a bet with a friend. We saw a black Mercedes Benz drive past us one day and played the ‘guess the cost’ game. We did not understand the context of money at the time and so I said the highest reasonable number I knew at the time. £500.” Tim’s friend then set another wager, telling him he wouldn’t see £500 before 18. A wager that Tim duly accepted. A wager that put Tim on the beginning of the entrepreneurial journey he is still walking.
“I went online trying to find ways to make money.” Technology, appeared to be a viable avenue for Tim as through his research he came across Mark Baal – who at 16 was able to build a bunch of software companies. After some run-ins with some scams, Tim decided to work with what he knew. “I remember that day I had done well in a Maths exam and I thought that was something I could work with. I went to my friends and made a tutoring programme.” The tutoring programme initially proved to be very successful and effective. People using the tactics Tim provided, saw their scores jump and an informal referral process emerged. The people who saw their scores jump decided to tell their friends and by the end of it more students came to Tim than he had capacity to accommodate for by himself. It soon dawned on him that he needed more people providing tutoring.
Given the precedent he had set in Maths, his brand proved credible so the customers were satisfied with receiving tutoring from the students that Tim hired. Tim’s company charged £15 an hour, £10 went to the student while Tim pocketed £5. After a month, Tim had sailed past the initial £500 wager that prompted his entrepreneurial journey; along the way realising that £500 couldn’t get a Mercedes Benz! The venture seemed interesting and I was anxious to know what happened. I soon found out an important business in lesson as Tim provided me with the breakdown. “If you’re the man in the middle and you don’t have any infrastructure, things can break down quite easily.” Tim lets me know. Despite the fact that after 6 weeks the company had grown to accommodate 65 tutors, tutors were beginning to cut the middle man out.
Tim certainly learnt much from his first business venture. Valuable lessons. With the lessons learnt he decided to feed his initial interest in technology and began to learn coding from YouTube. We spent some time speaking about the level playing field of access to resources that the internet has provided. From learning to speak Mandarin to learning to write CSS HTML – we all have equal access. “Do you realise that the rich white guy who lives in Chelsea; you literally have the same level of access as him. I was chilling in my council flat on YouTube learning how to code.” It was quite soon after that Tim’s next venture arose. Entrepreneur Express. Entrepreneur Express was an online and offline publication that provided exposure for up and coming entrepreneurs. As part of the process Tim contacted different universities (Oxford, Cambridge, Imperial and Warwick) to help distribute his publication. While he ran into some complications with the offline version – as he wasn’t able to sell enough ads to make the offline version viable. Tim was determined to not allow EE to go bust like his previous venture. To boost the exposure of the publication and provide advertising Tim saw it beneficial to work with Facebook pages that provided sources of motivation and inspiration. The venture proved successful and after 10 months Tim was made an offer for his publication. “I initially thought it was a dream, I saw the email at 2am and I was being offered money that could have potentially retired me!”. At this point I was stunned into silence, not necessarily because of the figure – although I’d be lying to say that wasn’t a contributing factor. However, I was stunned because of Tim’s audacity and execution to create a company that provided value.
I was interested as to where and how Tim decided to manage his newfound fortune. Shopping sprees? New trainers? Holiday abroad? The options for a 17 year old seemed endless. Tim was certainly more conservative in his approach than I had expected. “I think that was the point where I tried to be a man; I gave a lot to family.” Tried to make some in stupid investments but it was a learning curve.
The Rules Don’t Apply
As part of Tim’s schooling experience he spent some time at Christs’ Hospital – an independent school whose fees are calculated on a means test. During his time there, Tim saw himself at odds with the general attitude that the school, specifically a boarding school, aimed to perpetuate. The regulation around sleeping times was something that Tim saw himself beginning to question. Tim’s honest and prudent questioning of the rules light-heartedly among his peers earned him the name; Tim “TheRulesDontApply” Armoo. There lies some truth that can be dissected in that nickname – as any budding entrepreneur, disruptor or visionary it requires you to see a world without boundaries. One in which your idea, vision and plans are more than capable of happening. You need that chip on your shoulder that tells you the audacity that got you to this very point is the same thing that will see you through.
Coming from an inner-city state school I became engrossed with Tim’s schooling experience. I was keen to find out the differences between our schooling experiences. What might be the answer as to why the top universities in this country are dominated by a small pool of students from independent schools. “Christs gave me this understanding that some people just assume excellence. There is this sense of entitlement to excellence. At state schools, excellence can often be the outlier whereas at a lot of independent schools it is the norm. They assume excellence across so many different fields – the arts, sports and athletics, business and entrepreneurship – being surrounded by that naturally takes you to a higher echelon of performance.”
Before heading off to University, Tim spent some time on his gap year working for a venture capital firm. He spent some time trying to build some ideas which while practically useless in terms of business viability, provided him a rapid journey of mental growth. A journey he described as invaluable. “My gap year was interesting because it introduced me to what the world will look like when you become an adult. It allowed me to envision what I would want my world of work to look like.”
Tim has always come across to me as someone who appreciates niche skill-sets and always looks to hone in on skills that have yet to be exploited. “It’s simple economics” he lets me know “you get what you bring to the marketplace. Things that are in low supply have a huge demand.” It’s certainly true. More and more with the introduction of human machinery, artificial intelligence and other technological advancements – the reality continues to dawn on us that jobs we once thought could never become automated have a high potential of being replaced by technology. With that insight, it’s easy to become fearful of where we would potentially fit and where we are most effective placing ourselves in this ever-changing marketplace. However, I believe that it’s worth the reminder that the people earning the pesos possess some sort of unique insight in their industry which allows them to be indispensable to the onslaught of technology. “Your main job should be to learn how you can possess this insight. Learn, earn, return. Maximise your learning, to maximise your earning so you can help returning”
Tim is currently the founder and CEO of Fanbytes; a social influencing platform which help brands engage with Generation Z through a programmatic ad network. In layman’s terms, to connect the brands with influencers who can help market their brand more effectively to a generation that has grown disinterested with traditional styles of marketing. The idea stemmed from Tim watching his cousin gradually become influenced by popular YouTubers. “The stuff they were wearing would impact him. That impact was strong and helped to birth Fanbytes.” So the question brewing in a lot of minds now is how is it possible to juggle running a fast-paced company and maintain the demands of an intellectually rigorous degree? “If I’m being honest, it has been quite a struggle.” Tim is usually up at Warwick once or twice a week and then spends a lot of his time at the Fanbytes office in High Street Kensington. “The University has been helpful in supporting my work.” I seek to gather his thoughts on his university experience so far more generally; “University is a valuable thing – the network, “if you do it right – University can be great in defining the person you want to become. University is the last frontier you can use to shape who you want to become.”
The Future 2.0
What do you have planned for the next 5 years?: “I tend not to try and extrapolate over a long period of years, I tend to try and do maximise 3 years, you have a greater degree control of what will happen to you tomorrow as opposed to what will happen to you in the next 6 months. The next 3 years I can kind of control. Next 3 years, I probably would have sold FanBytes – if we don’t sell we would be a cool 50-60 person company with offices in the United States and Asia.
I’d also like to set up an investment fund which invests in countries across Sub-Saharan Africa. Companies and social enterprises who are focused on social causes; healthcare, education, infrastructure. I don’t believe in charities; I believe in entrepreneurship. I believe it’s better to empower local people by funding them to solve problems as opposed to a dependency situation. Oh and to complete my degree. That’s important.”
What would you tell your 14 year old self?: “Aggressively learn. Don’t be a passive learner. I realised that one of the key skills I needed to learn was advertising and selling myself. I read all the books. I went to sales gurus. I gave myself a course in selling. It’s a process and the people who see anything as a process usually do quite well. My friends who are successful assumed that everything is a process. Where if you do the necessary inputs, you will get the desired outputs. Skill acquisition is not discriminatory – you could go out right now and learn to code. You could go outside right now and learn to trade. There is no reason why you in the western world have an excuse to do X, Y or Z. Study successful people and replicate.”
I recall a time, a few years back, when I was participating in a workshop at a magic circle law firm. We had reached the point in the day when we were allowed to network with the trainee solicitors. Ask them questions about their experiences, the application process, the opportunities for travel, etc. A question was posed to them; “What is the key skill/trait you need to succeed as a trainee solicitor?” Answers were provided. Commercial awareness. Attention to detail. Communication. All valuable and helpful responses.
It was the answer of the final trainee that struck a chord with me and continues to challenge me. “Audacity”. A willingness to take bold (and calculated) risks. It’s clear that Tim has this in abundance. A young black boy from ‘ends’ who decided to found a company that found him working with some of the world’s most influential brands. Tim’s youthful naivety to the impossible; complemented with a strong grounding in business and a curiosity for technology is certain to be a recipe for success. The dividends of his aggressive approach to learning are already coming to fruition. My conversation with Tim left me in a state of reflection. My presence on this earth is a miracle. Every breath I take that allows me to remain here is a work of physiological art. Surely, my actions on this earth should be drenched in audacity? There’s a whole world to explore and if that’s not enough there’s footprints on the moon. It’s time to become audacious. We won’t truly know what we are capable of achieving until we try.
Photo Credits: indiawantsthewholeworld (India-Mae Alby)