It was a warm day at the beginning of summer that I met Imogen Berman and Jared Ruddy at the rooftop café of Shoreditch House. Imogen and Jared are Full-Time MBA alumni from the class of 2016 and co-founders of London-based innovation company Think. Plan. Thrive.
Shoreditch House is an East London venue that offers food, workspace, a bed and even a rooftop swimming pool to its members, an eclectic mix of London’s finest in the creative, design and start-up industries. I could almost feel the entrepreneurial energy in the café as creative professionals sunk into sofas, balancing their laptops and their tenth mid-morning latte.
“Think. Plan. Thrive. combines traditional heavy lifting strategy with design thinking and creativity to offer little experiments that have a big impact,” Jared explains. The consultancy specialises in short, sharp strategy projects for entrepreneurial individuals in both start-ups and large corporates.
The business was built around Imogen and Jared’s joint frustrations working on long-winded, expensive and risky innovation projects that forget about an organisation’s customers. Their ambition is to support the success of long-term innovation programmes by focusing on helping people find the small things that can be done immediately and seed bigger change.
Think. Plan. Thrive. also work with public sector organisations, including a number of projects with the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) that aim to drive longer-term value from their innovation initiatives within the Office for Disability Issues.
Jared describes the project, “What’s really exciting about working with the DWP is that we have been able to design ways for them to create more value with the resources and capabilities they already have.”
Born out of the Imperial MBA
Imperial College Advanced Hackspace is a unique community of over 2000 like-minded makers, hackers, inventors and entrepreneurs across the University, with access to facilities such as 3D printers. Learn more
Think. Plan. Thrive. was born out of Imperial’s Full-Time MBA. As students on the programme, Imogen and Jared bonded over the Imperial College Advanced Hackspace’s 3D printers and conversations about design thinking. They’re both makers. Imogen ran her own tailoring business for four years before embarking on the MBA and Jared – who has a decade of experience in marketing, strategy and innovation for BT and News UK – builds things in his spare time. The latest: a motion-powered robot that sprays water at the entrance of his house to stop his cat escaping. “Jared’s house is a bit like Wallace and Gromit’s,” Imogen reveals.
The business is approaching the end of its first year. I ask what the big challenges have been. “Finding the right people to work with,” Imogen answers, “our approach blends corporate and start-up thinking. To grow, we have to find people with the right mindset, who can not only do what we’re trying to do, but challenge us and move our thinking forward”.
Being like-minded helped overcome a lot of the initial challenges. “We spent a lot of time at the drawing board working out what it was we wanted to do, how it fitted in the market, testing whether anyone wanted it, then focusing in based on their feedback,” says Jared, “We’ve got to sing from our own hymn sheet. If we’re helping people to do things then we’ve got to develop them the right way ourselves.”
“One of the big things that came out of that was the culture of partnership that we wanted to build – it’s really hard to solve problems on your own,” Imogen adds.
Their partnership adds much more value to the customer. “We have something amazing as co-founders,” she continues, “if you really build trust between two people, you can be much more efficient. We communicate backwards and forwards very quickly – I don’t care if it comes back completely different because I trust Jared’s perspective, which draws on his experience from the client side.”
And that’s how Think. Plan. Thrive. recruit. They’re looking for partners not employees, people who can own their relationships with different companies. Maybe that’s why they hired recent Imperial Full-Time MBA graduate Adrienne Fung as Associate Strategist. Adrienne brings six year’s work experience in marketing, including five years as Marketing Manager at Bloomberg L.P.
Applying the Full-Time MBA to Think. Plan. Thrive.
I ask Imogen and Jared what they learnt on Imperial’s Full-Time MBA that contributed to the success of starting their own business. “Corporate Finance,” Jared announces, and it’s not the first time I’ve heard MBA students sing the praise of Professor Franklin Allen’s core class. “The work we do on strategy is based on numbers. What are you selling? How much does it cost? Does anyone want it? Corporate Finance taught us how to answer these questions and build the foundation of Think. Plan. Thrive. before moving into the design thinking phase.
“There’s got to be a hat tip to Ileana,” Jared adds. Dr Ileana Stigliani teaches Design Thinking and Innovative Problem Solving on the Full-Time MBA. “She showed me that design thinking was no longer a strange niche where people come in armed with post-its, but something that everyone from finance to marketing teams should use every day.”
“Everything on the MBA was completely new for me,” explains Imogen, “I knew a lot of the stuff but I knew it in a completely different language, and from trial and error in the studio. I spent a lot of time on the MBA thinking about how I could add the most value to a team – for me I felt it was building communications and acting as a team facilitator.”
Both agree that the exposure to different cultures and professional backgrounds on the MBA programme has added value. It’s been over a year since Imogen and Jared graduated and I ask them what they miss the most. “The people,” Jared answers.
The MBA network has value beyond graduation. “I feel like our network is still going,” Imogen says, “We’re consistently asking for expert advice from our classmates – wherever they are in the world.” The networking also extends beyond the graduating class. Imogen adds, “Suzy Kerton, from the Full-Time MBA class of 2017 has been helping us with our books!”
Whilst studying an MBA gave Imogen and Jared the business acumen they needed to start Think. Plan. Thrive., I ask why they chose to study their MBA at Imperial.
“I left my job at News UK to get back to working on smaller, shorter entrepreneurial projects. To help others who found themselves in the situation I had been in,” Jared replies. “After six months of running my own business, I realised pretty quickly that to build a high-growth start-up I needed to learn more. Imperial’s Full-Time MBA was more entrepreneurial in its focus and I loved the combination with design thinking.”
Imogen ran her own tailoring business for four years: “I wanted to build on what I had learnt through building a business from the ground up. I discovered the MBA after looking at a number of different possible courses. It looked ideal but I wasn’t sure if it would be right for me based the response I got from business schools. Every school I went to was trying to change me into what they thought an MBA candidate should look like.”
Her experience at Imperial was different. “They didn’t try to change anything. They said “you’re saying the right things, you’re just not speaking business language. That’s fine because you’ll learn that here”. It was open-minded and creative, and I could see it was a place where I could learn and add value back because they were interested in creative design and entrepreneurship.”
I walked out of my first visit and thought “that’s where I want to be next year”.
The London factor
The Imperial MBA has the advantage of being located in London. “Opportunities in London are amazing,” Imogen explains, “You can be at Imperial in the morning, go to a networking or start-up event, come back to classes and then go to something else after classes. You’ve got so much on your doorstep – like Google Campus and General Assembly, for example, to help you learn and build your network. Jared and I still build our network for Think. Plan. Thrive., going to interesting events in London. London has a mindset – it’s constantly pushing forward and at the forefront of change.” 8 reasons why London is the best city to study an MBA
Expert coaching in the Entrepreneurship space
The Careers & Professional Development Service at Imperial College Business School offer support to students moving into the entrepreneurial space. Imogen describes her one-to-one coaching with her Careers Consultant: “Your idea of where you’re headed is constantly evolving through an MBA. I had a lot of philosophy sessions as well as careers sessions with my coach! She gave me a great amount of confidence and supported me to be brave about the decisions that I made.”
“My Careers Consultant was my hero,” Jared says, “She coached me all the way through and told me not to get a job when I panicked that maybe I should get a job.”
Students also have access to spaces, resources and schemes to develop entrepreneurial and innovative initiatives. Imperial’s Enterprise Lab supports students, whether they hope to become the next Elon Musk or lead innovative organisations such as Google. The lab helps them to develop an entrepreneurial mindset and connections that will propel them through their chosen career.
Ask questions and be experimental – advice for future innovators
“Don’t be afraid to ask questions,” Imogen advises, “Learning this made a massive difference for me. As stupid as you feel a question is – there are always five other people in the room dying to ask the same question. Make the most of the network and the people – learn from others and not just the theory.”
Jared recommends future students on Imperial’s MBA “be experimental”. He adds, “My objectives changed drastically throughout the MBA and if I was to do it again I would work with different people as much as I could and take on different roles in teams. The MBA gives you so much and you’ve got to get out of your comfort zone to do stuff you wouldn’t normally do – but it’s a safe environment to do it in.”