From Lemons to Leadership

Nic interviews Clif Marriott, Marriott, co-head of the TMT group at Goldman Sachs International and a Board Member at Sky's the Limit. Clif shares his experiences and insights on entrepreneurship and building successful teams. He also discusses his early entrepreneurial ventures, such as selling lemons and working as a paperboy, and how these experiences ultimately shaped his career.

1st Buck Podcast Clif Marriott

Here’s a glimpse of what you’ll learn:

  • Why is it important to take risks and seek out new opportunities in your professional journey?
  • How can you go about financing a business?
  • What does successful team-building entail?
  • How can you manage the stress that comes with ambitious careers? 


In this episode…

Clif Marriott, the co-head of the TMT Group in AMEA at Goldman Sachs International:

  • Shares his experiences and insights on entrepreneurship and building successful teams
  • Discusses his early entrepreneurial ventures
  • Talks about the importance of sales and product market fit, and the challenges of financing a startup
  • Emphasizes the significance of perspective and having a mentor or advisor to navigate the stresses and complexities of a career or entrepreneurial journey

Sponsor for this episode:

This episode is brought to you by Sky’s The Limit, one of the largest nonprofit programs for underrepresented young adult entrepreneurs in the US. Sky’s The Limit is a quick-growing digital platform that connects entrepreneurs with their peers, volunteer business mentors, training resources, and funding.

Our goal is to develop the social capital that founders need to chase their business dreams.

To learn more, please visit today.

Episode transcript

Intro  0:04  

Welcome to The First Buck Podcast, where we feature stories about entrepreneurs and the people who support them. Now, let's get started with the show.

Nic Cary  0:24

Hello and welcome to the First Buck podcast, brought to you by Skys the We feature stories about entrepreneurs and the people who support them. Today we're joined by Cliff Marriott, the co-head of the TMT Group in EMEA at Goldman Sachs International in London. With 20 years investment banking experience, Clif focuses on advising the firm's clients in internet, e-commerce, FinTech, telco services and media sectors. Cliff and his team have worked with entrepreneurs across the technology, media and telecom sectors to support their growing businesses and help take them public. Cliff is a stalwart advocate for entrepreneurship and regularly speaks to the media about regional and global investment trends and is considered an expert in this domain. Cliff also serves on the board of Skies the So Cliff, we've got a little tradition around here. We've got to ask you, how did you earn your first buck?

Clif Marriott  1:16

That's great. Thanks Nic, and thank you for having me on. Fantastic to be here. It's interesting. My first book, I was thinking back actually, I had a lemon stand, so very early on we innovated the lemon market. A lot of the other kids along the street were selling lemonade. We decided to go B2B and go wholesale, and so we basically picked the lemons off my parents' tree and sold them. My brother and I, when we were probably about five or six years old, I actually don't remember getting a dollar or a buck. I do remember getting a little gift that I can still remember from my 6-year-old memory, a donation from one of the customers, but that was my first buck. I would say my first paying job was actually at Paperboy, so when I was 12 years old through from 12 to 16 every afternoon after school for an hour, and then every Saturday morning, which was the painful thing, Saturday and Sunday morning for an hour delivering papers and then collecting from each individual customer their $30 at the end of the month in order to pay it back to the newspaper owner.

That was the first job. In the first

Nic Cary  2:30

Book. Actually getting the money is kind of like a high degree of responsibility there. Interesting.

Clif Marriott  2:34

High degree of responsibility. That's right.

Nic Cary  2:37

Okay, so from selling lemons to the lemonade stands to the paper route. Tell us a little bit about your professional career. How did it start and what were some of the pivotal moments that helped you evolve and grow into more responsibility? It sounds like from an early age they trusted you with the money, and that's been sort of a theme in your career, but walk us through how you ended leading this group at Goldman Sachs.

Clif Marriott  3:02

Sure, thanks Nick. I think we have probably pretty similar backgrounds, but I grew up in California. I went to university there and actually did a bunch of, I basically worked from the age of 12 through now pretty continuously, but a number of those jobs at first were odd jobs to basically earn a paycheck and pay for some extra clothes and eventually work my way through college. Secondly, then I really started to take on jobs that were investments in my career. So I took on some unpaid internships at brokerage companies. I did two, actually three summer jobs while I was at university. Each one progressively better and higher in stature, and eventually did a summer job at a investment bank and learned about what investment banker does. Actually worked at a tech investment bank boutique that no longer exists. It got assumed into another larger bank at some point in time.

But at that point I realized I really liked advising technology companies and helping them through their journey from small company to eventually a listed public company acquiring different companies, raising capital. And so I pursued a job at Goldman Sachs out of university and actually ended up landing that job at Goldman Sachs, started in New York and then worked, actually was hired to be in Los Angeles, worked four years there, had the opportunity to swap with an Irish lady who was working in the United Kingdom and wanted to be in California, and I wanted an opportunity to work abroad at that point of time for a short period of time. This was 20 years ago or so, just under 20 years ago. And so I took that opportunity to swap with her for a short-term stint. That short-term stint has turned into 18 years here, 18 or 19 years here in the United Kingdom. And I would say maybe stepping back from all of that in one way, you can say, okay, hasn't been that innovative. He's basically been at Goldman Sachs his whole career, but during that period of time, have had the opportunity to build new businesses and take on new responsibilities and really, I think be entrepreneurial in terms of both the job I had, but also the companies that I invested my time in covering and getting to know and hoping that those companies would then become the next great IPOs in the public markets.

Nic Cary  5:39

Yeah, I think it's a misconception that somehow having a professional career doesn't allow for innovation in that career. And I think you talking about making investments in the future opportunities of your career from an early age and scaffolding those and creating compounding experiences clearly were beneficial. I want to talk a little bit about these moments where you've built new businesses or advise companies because I think one of the things that's really hard for entrepreneurs to sort of get good at is practicing taking some kind of risks. And I would like to hear from your experience, maybe a moment or two or if you could provide an example of a time where there was some advice that was going to be risky, but there was a reason for doing that and the outcome of maybe how that decision was made and how you went through influencing that decision.

Clif Marriott  6:28

Sure. So I mean maybe actually I go back to right at the point where I started working, my two friends and I actually developed, this was in the late nineties, early two thousands. We developed a business plan for a food delivery business at that point in time,

Nic Cary  6:49

Early. Nice,

Clif Marriott  6:51

Very early. This is pre for all of you listening, this is pre mobile phone. I mean, none of us had a phone. We actually used, I remember we ended up developing the business. I didn't really launch the business. I ended up saying, you guys, this is a great plan. Why don't you go start that company? I'm going to go, I'm going to work at Goldman Sachs. But they continued with it after we had started the business plan and we ended up communicating via Motorola walkie talkies. It was kind of a crazy dynamic to

Nic Cary  7:25

Talk phones. I remember those close

Clif Marriott  7:26

To talk phones. Exactly, exactly. So you had to order using a phone and your order would then be faxed by the restaurant to our little mini office where it was then printed out, and then the driver would pick up the order with the fax and go drive his car to the restaurant and then basically collect the food. So it was not very tech enabled, but it was the precursor to what the food delivery business is like DoorDash and just eat and Deliveroo are now at that point of time. So I remember that process of thinking like an entrepreneur and taking the leap. I ended up not taking that leap. I took the more maybe you would say risk averse decision at that point in time, but for my friends who started the business, it was all about what is the total addressable market? What is the real differentiating offering for the customer?

Does it make sense for the customer? Is there something differentiated about what you're doing or what you could do versus what's out in the marketplace? And at that point in time, there was really limited options to, especially for, we were not in a major city, but we were in a small city, but there were a lot of office workers in that town. And for those office workers to actually order food, have it brought in when you wanted a nice meal at your desk was actually a luxury and there was a market for that. And so I think thinking about product market fit, thinking about what is the total addressable market, it turned out that that business really needed technology, the mobile phone and scale, probably the courier business model, courier monetization model to really grow and scale long term. But it had the semblance of what we have today.

Nic Cary  9:29

It's so interesting. The business needed the tech, but the problem was really always there. And now those are category defining businesses, Uber Eats and GrubHub and Deliveroo, and there are ones in India that are worth billions of dollars and office workers and people at home don't just want pizza. They want lots of different things. And it totally made sense. I didn't know that about your early forays into that industry, so thank you for sharing that. The fax machine would've been a bit of an anchor, I think, to that whole business, but we had to work with what you got, so

Exactly. Yeah. I think the things you mentioned too are so important for people to reflect on as they consider building businesses is what is the total addressable market? Meaning how big is the customer base I might be able to sell this into and can I do something a little bit different? Having that customer focus and finding that product market fit, and sometimes you do all those things and you're still missing something and you need to have the timing to really work out for it, but everything from that experience would've made you obviously more in tune to the potential of these business models later in life as you become a TMT lead at Goldman Sachs and watch some of these companies go public. And so it's funny to watch those seeds get planted early and have them bring rewards a little bit later in life. That's a really cool story.

Okay. Let's talk a little bit about how businesses get financed because one of the things we learned a lot about Sky is a lot of entrepreneurs think they need to get funding right away to get their business started. So maybe what advice would you give to a young person that's thinking about their startup idea, talking a little bit about how they can maybe approach that thinking everyone wants to maybe just go raise money or go to a bank and get a loan, but sometimes they should maybe have a few things in position first before they consider that.

Clif Marriott  11:22

Yeah, look, I think it's pretty daunting going to, we're obviously talking about kind of micro entrepreneurs here, but I would say it's pretty daunting thinking about going to a bank or to even a financial, digital loan provider to get a loan. It feels very serious. I would say if I were doing it, I would probably start with friends and family and try to really of bootstrap the business as much as possible with friends and family, people who are motivated to help me get going before I go down that journey. And so I would say that's probably the place to start once a business has started to build some revenue or at least has enough seriousness that it can be taken to a bank. There's a number of digital lenders out there that are willing to lend money to businesses once they have a revenue and track record and cash flows to generate. But I think it's that first bit of capital that is probably the hardest thing to get for an entrepreneur. And I would hope that there are family members or friends that can help seed those types of businesses.

Nic Cary  12:52

Yeah, I think that's great advice. Going to a professional investor or a bank is not always an option for a lot of early stage founders. So going to friends and family age old investors or maybe seeking out a grant is often a great path. And so that's one of the things we've is making it easier for people to apply for grants and they compete for them and they can use that money to get their small businesses off the ground. So having a plan, maybe getting some capital if your business requires it, but then selling your product or service is kind of key for any business founder. And I know you sort work on the transaction forming side at Goldman Sachs, but maybe talk a little bit about how important sales is and how you think about advising companies as it relates to product sales in general and making business deals. And if you have any examples of one you're proud of that you were involved in. I think the more specific we can be there, the better.

Clif Marriott  13:47

Sure, sure. I mean,

It's funny you talked at the beginning about the misconception that somebody who works for a company is non entrepreneurial or somebody who runs a business doesn't have to be a salesperson. I mean, the truth is we're all salespeople in that and we're all entrepreneurs. So I think that anybody who's working in a career at a firm, you can basically go along the beaten path of what the firm wants to do and kind of check the boxes. And obviously those are important things to do and very valuable, but there's also a different way to approach that, which is, how can I make a real difference or how can I build something new? And I think that's really interesting. I've had the opportunity to do that a few times in my career. I would say the time that resonates the most with me is when I diversified for being more of a telco and media banker.

So looking after those type of companies and working with those type of companies to actually venturing into technology. And I remember back in 2000, between 2009 and 2010 when I picked up the responsibilities basically built our internet business at Goldman within Europe. The market cap for internet companies in Europe was 25 billion. So it sounds like a big number, but that's a number of companies. It was basically tiny. I mean, Google probably had a market cap of, I don't know, don't quote me on this, but two to 300 million, 300 billion at that point of time obviously has a market cap in the trillions now. And so it was a very small kind of

Nic Cary  15:32

Call market, but you were there early and it's always to be a growing market. I think that's a

Clif Marriott  15:38

Key piece of advice. I would love to say that I foresaw European internet being worth 900 billion in September, 2021 when it was worth 900 billion at that point of time. Haven't looked now, it's a lot less now. But I did see the trends of what was happening in Europe in terms of entrepreneurship, people moving, people who had worked at large big tech companies who were staying in Europe and building companies here, second and third generation entrepreneurs, new pools of capital coming to Europe. And so there was just the semblance of excitement. And on one hand I just wanted to be a part of it. I wanted to help it, I wanted to enable it. And the second thing is I saw an opportunity and I'm really glad I did because it's become a very big part of European technology and a very successful part of my career.

Nic Cary  16:34

Yeah, I think it's very obvious for those that watch European Tech, the growth of it over the last 15, 20 years, the fact that there are entrepreneurs that have learned a lot and are bringing that capital and experience to build new and bigger businesses is really obvious. And I think there's a ton of opportunity here in the UK and across Europe. So let's talk a little bit about building teams real fast. We've got a few more minutes here. Figuring out how to work with people, who to work with, it's challenging. What are some of the most important lessons you've learned in building teams? And maybe do you have a favorite interview question or something you sort of like to probe on to get a better sense of someone?

Clif Marriott  17:18

Yeah, I think when I look to hire people or work with people, I would say the first thing is, especially at Goldman, it is really around analytical ability and can they think on their feet, can they solve problems? Are they intellectually bright? Those type of things. So that's the first thing I would say. There's a lot of people like that, which is good. And so from there, you then go into more cultural fit questions and look, I probably lean more on that as a manager and interviewer and someone who is kind of building a team is really the culture and fit of that person. And then I think that maybe the third thing would be are they committed to working in that area? And so I think that my favorite, obviously I'll ask a lot of analytical questions to understand how people think, not just calculate something, but how do they think about a problem and do they approach that in the right way?

I would say the most important question is really what do you see yourself doing here in five years? And the reason I love that question is it's super open-ended in that it allows someone to answer that in a lot of different ways. You could find out that they absolutely love exactly what you're hiring them to do and they're going to stay and do this forever. And that's actually a good thing to know. It could also highlight they're very interested in progressing in that they see this as a step stone to doing something else or something bigger at the firm, or you could see the alternative, which is that they're really doing this for, they kind of have a two to three year horizon and they're not really that committed for a long-term journey. And so I think learning how they think about their career and how I could fit in our firm could fit in is really important. And I think that is a good way. I think that question could work in almost every environment because it really allows you to test how committed someone is to this job or this. Yeah,

Nic Cary  19:28

I think it reveals a lot about how they're thinking about their relationship to the work and you're going to have some people that have wildly ambitious but unrealistic ideas about what is achievable and in a five year period of time, and then others that are bringing a mismatch of motivation or capability to a potential role. So it is always tricky, but I do think that balance between testing the analytical bit because businesses have to have people that can continuously solve problems and be creative and adaptive, but then simultaneously they have to have deep reservoirs of motivation and passion for the work because it's going to get tough and they can't quit right away. So those two things I think are really key to balance. Alright, we're going to wrap it up here. Taking the steps to pursue entrepreneurship or a career in investment banking or as you said, taking investments just in yourself can kind of feel scary. What tips would you give our listeners for how to manage some of the stress that comes with having an ambitious career or an entrepreneurial idea? What can you give some advice on?

Clif Marriott  20:38

Look, I think it's two things. First is keep perspective. So what's important to life, family, friends, health, those type of things are infinitely more important than success in career, at least in my point of view. And I think maybe most people's point of view, they might have different things that are important, but I guarantee that a career or your job specifically is not the most important thing in life for everyone. And I think just keeping perspective whenever I go through a rough patch at work or in my career, that's how I ground myself in what is really important in life. I think that's the first thing, perspective. I think the second thing is having a mentor coach, teacher, Buddha monk, somebody that you can talk to, exchange ideas with, get advice. It's partially getting advice to understand what to do or probe someone who's gone through a similar experience, but it's also just having a connection point and someone a shoulder to cry on a sparring partner.

I think having one or two or three of those types of people in your life that you really trust that care about you and can give you that honest advice is really important. I think it's equally important when you're starting out in your career where you really need help just navigating how to be in an office environment or approach your boss or any of those type of things. But it's also important if you are the highest successful entrepreneur, one of your colleagues, I would say fellow entrepreneur. I've had a couple conversations with him and his point of view is I need to have different points of view. So I really, the higher you get, the more people basically tell you what you want to hear. And so actually having somebody outside of an industry who can have the courage to give real advice outside in is really important to that specific entrepreneur. And I'm sure to you as well. Yeah,

Nic Cary  22:52

There's huge industries of people that make money by providing advice. And so you kind of need someone who is not in it for the money to give you those perspectives and be honest with you about the problem sets you're facing. I think your closing point around mentorship is so important. Entrepreneurs and anyone across your career need to have a bench of people that they can go to get that advice, to build their perspectives and to listen and also share ideas. I love the kind of idea of an intellectual sparring partner, whatever you want to call it, modern day guru. But I think that's a really, really thoughtful point.

Clif Marriott  23:28

And look, and that's why you've started, sky's the Limit why I'm participating on the board. I think that is a really interesting, it's obviously a good way for entrepreneurs to get that type of partner or start to develop this type of relationship. So

Nic Cary  23:43

We're deeply appreciative your support at Cliff, thank you so much for joining us today. I circled one thing you said that I think was one of the most novel things I've heard in a long time. It said, but we're all entrepreneurs in ideas. And that's a big takeaway that I think anyone who's listening can take to heart, which is whether you're actually building a company or working in a big one or starting your career off trading and selling your ideas and getting behind them and being entrepreneurial in your thinking is something that will benefit anyone. And so thank you for sharing that pearl of wisdom with us. So in closing, at sky's, we connect underrepresented entrepreneurs with business professionals for free. one-on-one mentoring. We also provide business guides to all of our members, plus monthly funding opportunities. You can get your first grant to help your business get started. So please sign up for free today and if you like what you heard, subscribe and share. Thanks again, Clif.

Outro  24:45  

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