CFO Series: Oliver Godfrey (Makers) on Personal Financial Management
I'm super excited to have Oliver Godfrey on the Wee Scot Finance CFO Series. Not only has he gone through a career transition himself, but he is also the financial director (FD) of Makers, a company on a mission to help individuals find a job they love.
Over to Oliver...
How did you become FD at Makers?
Makers’ core mantra is that everyone deserves a job they love, and that resonates with me. We take career changers from any background and transform their lives by helping them to find stimulating work as software developers. I fell into accounting, as so many do. In my academic life I was spoilt as I loved the course, had a lot of autonomy and found my work super interesting. I studied experimental psychology at Bristol. I seriously considered training as a clinical psychologist after graduating, but at the time I was put off by the amount of post-graduate study required.
Instead I joined Ernst and Young in Bristol in their Tax department, before moving to Baker Tilly in Transaction Services. Frankly, I hated working in practice.
I was hugely demotivated for the first time in my life, and it was a horrible place to be in my early career. Who knows, if Makers had been around back then might well be doing something different today!
From practice I moved into industry, ending up at Arqiva where I was head of finance for a newly acquired startup business unit. It was here that I confirmed my intuition that it’d be exciting to help high-growth businesses scale. Working in and on a growing business requires a much broader skillset than just being a good accountant. We built out the business’ capabilities through acquisition and I ended up as divisional Commercial Finance Manager.
I was there for a couple of years before the opportunity to join an edtech startup, Codio, landed on my lap. I was hired much too early – we had next to no traction – but it was a foot in the door of the startup ecosystem and I became aware of Makers through working there.
At Makers we believe the traditional education system is broken. It’s too far removed from employment and doesn’t prepare people for the workforce. My early career experience is symptomatic of that.
For example, Computer Science does not produce job-ready software developers - it’s a largely academic degree. There’s a place for this, but we’ve proven at Makers that it’s possible to train job-ready developers in 12 weeks for a fraction of the cost of a University education.
How has your degree influenced you?
My degree was heavily research-oriented. It’s difficult to point to anything specific I learnt during my studies that I apply to my work, but in general terms I think it taught me to think like a scientist. By this, I mean that I try to remain objective and open-minded and willing to have my preconceptions challenged. I always try to look at the raw evidence and make data-driven decisions.
What does fintech mean to you?
I don’t use many fintech products, but for foreign currency I like WeSwap. I don’t use Revolut or Monzo, as WeSwap covers foreign currency for me, and as far as I’m aware I have no real need for their other features.
I also use MoneyBox which helps me place investments into ETFs (exchange traded funds). For those that don’t know MoneyBox, it rounds up your spending to the nearest whole pound, and invests the float amount for you. For example, if you buy a coffee for £2.45, you can round that figure to £3, and invest the £0.55 in a fund. There are a limited number of investment options, but I don’t really notice the change being invested, so it’s a great way to do subconscious investing.
PayPal is really powerful nowadays, especially for paying friends. It’s instant and free whereas online banking has so many cumbersome security layers to navigate.
I’m interested in Cryptocurrency and was fortunate enough to buy some Bitcoin in 2015. I was watching the price go up and down for some time, and in 2015 it shed around 80% of its value. It felt like a great time to buy. Last December I sold most of it when it was near its peak. I find Cryptocurrency fascinating, not because I’m a libertarian (I’m not) but by virtue of it being a mass unregulated study in human psychology. Beyond being a vehicle for speculation it’s difficult to see a use-case for cryptocurrency that would drive mass-adoption, unless something catastrophic happens.
Warren Buffett is probably right in that crypto is a “more fool you” type of investment, and could yet be right that the whole thing will come to a bad ending, but his investment mantras have served me quite well in the space, regardless.
One of my favourites is “be greedy when everyone is fearful and be fearful when everyone is greedy”.
What we’ve seen with Bitcoin’s price movements over the last year is that speculators are much more willing to “FOMO” buy into it when the price is high and increasing rapidly (i.e. when everyone is greedy), but reluctant to after the price has fallen significantly (when everyone is fearful). Buy low, sell high – speculating is that simple – but something about the human condition makes it so difficult to adhere to that obvious truth.
With regards to pensions, I have a SIPP into which I moved all of my previous pensions, and I manage it semi-actively. I set it up three years ago with Hargreaves Lansdown, which has by far the most investment options. You need a reasonable sum of money to put in there in the first place, otherwise the fees are prohibitive. Now I contribute to my workplace pension which is with the People’s Pension.
My wife and I first bought a property in 2013. This was a great time to buy in terms of the market cycle but we hated where it was - directly under the Heathrow flight path.
Unfortunately you don’t get to test-drive a house!
We sold it after a couple of years, rented for 6 months then bought in Balham, paying well over the asking price right before the Brexit result, unfortunately. I don’t consider our home an investment, though. It’s a place to live, first and foremost.
What are your financial goals?
In broad terms, financial freedom is the ultimate goal; having the option to not work. Startups, even for non-founders, can provide opportunities to make meaningful sums. For most of us though, absolute financial freedom is unlikely, so in lieu of it, it’s important to prioritise doing something that you care deeply about.
What are your outgoings?
My mortgage is my biggest outgoing. I also spend a lot on food, but my wife and I rarely eat out. We just buy quality ingredients. Food price inflation has been particularly noticeable since the pound’s devaluation.
I spend a lot on fitness, and would probably include food in the same pot, but decided to leave my CrossFit gym. I was paying for my own programming on top of the membership, and at that point it was coming in at well over £200 a month.
In terms of luxuries, I spend quite a lot on clothes, which is admittedly frivolous, and owning a house means there’s always some kind of wish list.
I spend a reasonable sum on holidays, too. I also spend a lot on music. Vinyl retains its value very well and sometimes appreciates if you’re lucky. I use Discogs to buy and sell records.
What do you get up to in your spare time?
I’m into fitness. Having quit competitive sports some time ago I got into CrossFit, which I’ve been doing reasonably seriously for 5 or 6 years. Old injuries meant that certain movements were always limiting for me, and the intensity and competitive nature of it meant that niggles were common. I learnt a lot from it, though – for example, the importance of quality movement. Now, I follow a specific programme which is a better match for my main objective of longevity.
Over my years of training I’ve realised that long-term consistency trumps short-term intensity.
I also do a bit of DJing. I learnt to DJ a long time ago, and got back into it recently. I’d love to do more of it.
What other types of technology do you like?
Technology that makes me really happy includes my turntable (old tech). I like having something tangible, and it’s much easier to get great sound out of vinyl than an MP3. In terms of digital solutions I think PayPal is awesome nowadays, and I love GPS. I think we really take it for granted that we can get anywhere we want whenever we want, through an interactive map.
In terms of fitness tech – I use MyFitnessPal to track my nutrition, and my programming is delivered through a web app called Fitbot. Broadly, I like simplifying technology that removes drudgery. There’s a lot of unhelpful tech out there which seems to introduce more of it.
It’s frustrating that connectivity features like have outpaced battery tech. For example, I used to train with a heart rate monitor between 2002-5. In the entire time I had it, I didn’t need to change the battery once.
In terms of education what do you listen to, read or watch?
I love podcasts, particularly those which involve long-form conversations. I really enjoy Sam Harris’ Waking Up podcast. He’s a formidable debater and even if you disagree with his points of view he does at least impars the value of critical thinking onto his audience, which is hugely valuable, given how much poor information we’re exposed to online on a daily basis.
I also listen to Joe Rogan, a US stand-up comedian, quite a bit. The quality of his podcast is largely dependent on his guests but he’s become a great interviewer over the years he’s been doing it.
I don’t dedicate a huge amount of time to reading unless I’m on holiday, but a few books your readers might find useful:
- The Lean Startup – it’s slightly repetitive and most of the ideas seem obvious, but having come from a corporate where large sums were often signed off on a “build and they will come” basis, this was invaluable reading.
- Reinventing Organizations – many of the ideas in this book have informed the way we do things at Makers. It fundamentally challenges the idea of ‘management’. This is essential reading for leadership teams and founders looking to build a better workplace culture, or indeed for anyone interested in it.
- The Hard Thing About Hard Things – a really amusing playbook on the inevitable problems that arise in a rapidly growing business. In my few years in startups, it’s uncanny how many times I’ve been reminded of stories in this book.