Jonathan Quin is the co-founder of London-based World First, an award-winning foreign exchange company. Read on to find out his thoughts on why London is a hotspot for entrepreneurs, and for his take on the city.
World First is consistently rated as one of the best and cheapest currency exchange and transfer sites to buy currency from. When you started out, did you strive to revolutionise the industry? What was your approach?
If you had asked me when we started out we were fairly cautious about what we could achieve but the motivation was to make the international payment process genuinely cheaper, faster and easier. We had previously worked for banks looking after the foreign exchange needs of massive companies and we wanted to bring the level of service, products and pricing that they received to individuals and smaller companies.
Our approach was focused on three areas. Firstly, we hired people who were nice, friendly, bright, professional and proactive (we felt this was the perfect combination of traits for someone who would talk to customers by phone). Secondly, we wanted to make sure we had great technology to make the process quick, efficient and secure, and to avoid errors. Thirdly we wanted to try and have better marketing and a better website. The idea was that the marketing would bring us more business than the competition, then the people and technology would make sure we retained those clients by giving them great service and doing what we said we would.
While we hope we’ve delivered some of that, there’s still lots more innovation and things we can do to make our service better, which I think is partly what keeps everyone motivated. We didn’t really believe in complicated business plans so we hadn’t forecast beyond two years but we did a bit of daydreaming at the beginning about what it might turn into.
Did your interest in currency exchange come from a personal passion for travel? How did you find your way to the industry after working for Citibank and RBS?
I studied Law and Accountancy at university but always wanted to set up my own business (I started my first small company selling personalised number plates in Glasgow when I was 16 and loved it). My plan was to work in the City to learn and earn then set up a business by the time I was 30 (I just managed that by about 6 months). I worked in foreign exchange for Citibank and RBS so, while I had considered some other business ideas, it felt like a logical step.
What makes London an appealing place for entrepreneurs?
There is lots of energy, opportunity and optimism in London. I think a lot of people move here because they are determined and career-motivated so there is a strong culture of entrepreneurialism and great availability of potential employees. Almost every product or service is available here and there are also certain markets and client groups which only really exist here in the UK. There are also some great support groups for entrepreneurs such as the Supper Club (a group of over 300 business owners).
World First’s headquarters are in Battersea. What attracts you to that part of the city, and are there any neighbourhood spots you’d recommend to those visiting the area?
When we started we were keen to be out of the City and Battersea was exactly in the middle of where Nick and I lived. We actually spent the first year in the basement of my house and moved out to a small mews office in Battersea one day before my wife gave birth to our daughter. We then moved to our current offices by the river four years ago.
I really like the restaurant Gazette. The food is excellent and very French. The service can also be a little French, which puts some people off but I quite like. Our current office local is The Candlemaker in Battersea High Street and Battersea Park is probably my favourite park in London.
How does travel fit into your schedule – with offices in Australia, do you find you’re on the road frequently?
Nick has done most of the travelling so far as he set up the Australian office so I’ve only recently started travelling for our new US office. A few years ago the prospect of a whole day or night on a plane would have been very boring but having gone through the period of having small children and generally having too much to do, the prospect of a day doing nothing is now an absolute joy!
You say cars are your obsession – where do you like to escape London for the day?
Hollycombe Steam Fair is a great family day out in a beautiful location, and we recently went on a vintage launch on the river at Cliveden for afternoon tea, which was very civilized.
I love the countryside and my wife loves the seaside so we do try to get away a bit and rely on the generosity of friends to put us up!
If I’m on my own, a day’s fishing in Sussex is very relaxing or at the other end of the spectrum it doesn’t get much more exciting than a driving day at Palmersport!
Do you have any rituals when you go on driving trips? Favourite playlists or roadside stops?
I have a vintage car, which I love, and the process of taking that out is in itself a bit of a ritual. It’s quite slow, noisy and windy though so it only really comes out in good weather. I pig-headedly still drive a sports car so the alternative ritual is trying to cram a weekend’s worth of stuff into it. I love being able to listen to Radio 4 comedy on iPlayer via Bluetooth or with Spotify my wife and I have started planning playlists to match journeys or reflect certain phases of life. There are normally quite a few games too – by tradition the first i-Spy is always T for tree!
Since moving to London from Scotland, what have been your favourite discoveries around London? Can you give us a few of your recommendations as to where you like to hang out?
A winter walk in Sydenham Woods, Sunday lunch at The Canton Arms in Stockwell, flying a big kite on Blackheath, or a Friday night out on Bermondsey Street. Some recent highlights have been Future Cinema’s Bugsy Malone, Fuerzabruta at the Roundhouse, Allegri’s Miserere in St Paul’s and the World First Christmas party!
I can’t recommend Stockwell highly enough as a place to live (though don’t tell anyone). I’m fairly sure there can’t be anywhere else in London with a stronger local community.
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