A longer read.
August 26th – One year in.
I was reminded digitally but also by colleagues last week that it was a year since I took the first desk at The Nest, the co-working space which supports the fantastic Cherryduck studios complex where we decided to locate, to work seriously on something we thought might be of interest to colleagues across financial services. We have now carved out an Octo enclave within the wider office but love the interaction of such a stimulating, creative work place.
Well, you are very obviously reading this article on the result of that idea; Octo Members Group, or just Octo as we have all come to call it. A private social network for financial services professionals.
A community for practitioners by practitioners. encompassing written articles, podcasts, videos showcasing thought leadership and featuring those we admire and we all think bring a huge amount to our sector. Where younger members can learn from the (possibly) more experienced but where they in turn can bring their technical expertise and youthful enthusiasm.
From that date one year ago to our soft beta launch on 30th October last year to our full launch at the end of April this year we have really cracked on. Pre beta launch I was joined quickly by Jon Rocchi, Andy Brown, Rob Page, Gary Shepherd and Dimitri Hambi on the team as well as freelance contributors Sam Shaw, John Lappin and others and we have as of early August surpassed 1300 members across advice, paraplanning, investment management, compliance, marketing, training and a whole lot more.
We really couldn’t have asked for a better start in getting our vibrant, community underway.
Octo was something that Andy Brown and I had been chatting about for months before I took the plunge and sat at the first desk. Whilst we came from different’ tribes,’ he from investment management and I from wealth management, we agreed we all faced many of the same issues if from different directions. We wanted to address lots of questions that we had felt we encounter daily in our practices and places of work.
- How to build a community which included advisers, paraplanners, fund professionals, professional body representatives and other players from across our whole industry?
- How to better deliver interesting articles, videos and podcasts which showcased leaders from across our dynamic sector without drowning in hundreds of emails, having to visit hundreds of websites and how to engage in debates around things that interested us?
- How to hear from people who we admire and respect when the opportunities to do so often revolve around conferences which can be incredibly time consuming and full of what can sometimes seem like a constant product push?
- How to be able to quickly communicate or comment on issues we felt strongly about?
- How to be able to do it easily and on our phones?
- How to do so without someone scraping our private data and selling it on?
- How to do so professionally without someone kicking off and resorting to personal criticisms?
- How to engage with people and not pseudonyms or memes?
- How to be able to personalise our experience by following topics, articles and people that we found interesting but be able to filter out huge amounts of the uninteresting noise we are all now subjected to daily?
- How to crowd source knowledge and give everyone an equal voice?
No easy task but we had a feeling that with just how advertisement heavy but also how toxic some of the open social media had become, content and email overload but with the desire of thoughtful, engaged professionals to learn and share there might be a better way to engage with each other professionally and to share useful information and content to help the whole financial services community along the way.
Rob added his depth of knowledge of marketing and content and Jon brought his experience across interacting with fund groups who have been incredibly generous in supporting what we do from our earliest days. Gary got us underway by writing about important investment issues and how they play with advisers. Sam, John and others are writing regularly across financial planning, regulation, pensions and a host of other subjects.
We actively curate, aggregate and create content around financial planning, investment, regulation, marketing and the rest of the range of topics that concern us daily. We are, effectively, crowd-sourcing knowledge which is something I find incredibly exciting. To highlight the good, the innovators, the sector leaders, and those who really care about what we do is just fantastic. We are always excited when members share their experience and knowledge. In this way we all collectively share insights and the potential for improvements to our businesses.
To do this we have a massive on-going programme of sourcing and curating useful content, interviewing leaders in our sector and other professionals from other professions who can add to the collective knowledge base. We create a lot of our own too to spark debate and have five journalists working with us to continually writing articles which we hope will spark discussions around important issues. We always aim to stick to our guidelines of being timely, contextual, debatable and actionable. We absolutely don’t want to be a hub for factsheets or backward facing compliance-led materials, but we do want to keep you informed, challenged and thinking about things. Incidentally, this why in our short life we have already acted as media sponsors for the Next Wealth Live Conference led by Heather Hopkins and are proud to support and act as media sponsor for the ‘Are You In?’ Movement led by Anna Sofat of Adddi Wealth.
We also love to host and produce podcasts and videos and we have been joined by Marcus de Silva who is highly experienced in this area and helps us liaise with our production partners at Cherryduck. Having done some television interviews over the years as an interviewee on Sky, CNBC and Reuters it is now great fun, if a little daunting at times, to be the interviewer both on video and in the podcast studio.
Whilst I realise I am no Paxman; to be able to interview people who I genuinely admire across our whole sector, advisers in particular as a former adviser, is an incredible privilege and on behalf of the whole team I thank everyone to date who has agreed to spend the time to chat through what they are up to and to have so generously shared their idea and tips to help us all learn from each other.
As I write this, we have produced well over one hundred videos and podcasts featuring wealth managers, financial planners, para-planners, investment managers, fund managers, platform bosses and providers which have over 4500 views which according to Vimeo have been viewed for a total of more than five days if they were all added together and we have many more in production and planned.
If we haven’t been in touch with you yet, we may well be and if you would like to participate then feel free to get in touch with Gary Shepherd, Sam Shaw or myself. We just loving chatting to good people and showcasing members and we work hard on our objective of a new video a day. We also welcome written articles and are pleased that so many of you are now willing to assist the community by contributing on a regular basis.
Lessons I have learned so far? Far too many to list here but here are a few that come to mind.
- Starting a new business is incredibly exciting but also incredibly hard work. Its around nineteen years ago that I founded Investment Quorum and invited my co-directors to join me on that venture, so the sheer amount of effort required had dimmed in the memory somewhat, but the hard work required is incredibly rewarding as you see a new idea take shape into a business.
- Not everyone will get it, care or even engage but that’s just fine.
- Free for members can be met with some suspicion.
- Where I see a diverse membership and the benefits of everyone joining the community, others would prefer more focused or niche communities. Each to their own.
- I wish we had told more people earlier on how to personalise their notifications and not relied upon them taking the time to work it out. Making this easy and saving time were key drivers for launching Octo and we should have lived up to our own principles.
- Defining a community is difficult, some see publisher or content hub. Whilst it has some elements of those we definitely view it as a community.
- We thought being app-based would be the key differentiator, allowing members to dip in and out but around twenty per cent, prefer the desktop version.
- By listening to our members and keeping it journalist free as requested, apart from those who are working with us, has hacked some at the journalist and publisher end of things off.
- That engaged professionals are incredibly generous with their time, knowledge and support. On that point I cannot express how grateful we all are to you for your engagement, willingness to give us a go and to move forwards with us.
There is more to come; much more. CPD is ready and we will be telling you more about this over the coming weeks. Masterclasses led by real experts across marketing, branding, back office systems, due diligence and more are in planning and production. Live-streaming and virtual events, group chat and other ways for us all to connect. Greater customisation options for your profiles, more personalisation options for who and what you follow on the app and more ways for you to contribute should you wish.
More specialist Groups such as the new ‘Are You In?’ Group are coming. Based on feedback from members it is likely that next one will be around investment due diligence, but we have several planned based on the various sets of feedback from members. All of this will come with our commitment to it being a free resource for members, continually updated in line with member requests as well as our data privacy guarantees.
To close, what a year.
A new business for me but in the same dynamic sector as I have been for some thirty years. Working with a great team of colleagues and a wider group of production and journalist partners.
Working with people who I really admire, who put in the same effort, who actively seek out work and who contribute daily all with the aim of improving Octo for you is such a treat. I happily thank them for their expertise, energy and, of course, for putting up with me which isn’t always easy!
Finally, thank you to each and every one of you. For being our pioneers, our sounding board and for keeping us heading in what we hope is the right direction. Also thanks are very obviously due to our corporate members who chose to get involved and support the idea of a community where we can exchange great ideas and engage with each other in a newer, fresher, possibly more innovative way than we may done to date. It is your support which has made so much possible, so swiftly. The fact that you were so willing to hear us out and help so early on is real a testament to your willingness to support a new player from within our community seeking to innovate and we are very grateful.
You really have all made my year!
Photo credits: Octo Members Group, Spencer Griffiths, Andrew Baker., Cherryduck.