Richard de Meo: take courage and go it alone

Foenix Partners, Richard de Meo's FX brokerage, booked its first trade in 2012. Now, it has a turnover of £500m and is growing fast


"I never thought I'd be an entrepreneur," says Richard de Meo, now 32. If you'd asked his old colleagues on the foreign-exchange (FX) trading floor at Barclays, they would have described him as a sharp thinker, but not the type of person they would expect to strike out on his own, he says. However, while "I wasn't looking for ideas", he realised that his bank's FX department had more clients than it could efficiently deal with, and that there would be demand for a dedicated FX brokerage service. When he first pitched this plan to friends, many of them tried to dissuade him, but de Meo had discovered an entrepreneurial urge and was determined to persevere.

Of course, having an idea for a new company is one thing. Putting it into practice is something else, as every entrepreneur quickly discovers. De Meo's first task was to put a business plan together a task made more difficult by his demanding job. Despite being physically shattered after 12 hours on the trading floor, in 2009-2010 he forced himself to sit down in front of a computer in the evenings and start writing. He eventually got enough material together to start pitching to investors, but his first round of meetings with venture capitalists made it clear that these plans weren't detailed enough.

The prospect of going back to the drawing board would cause many people to throw in the towel. However, de Meo was undeterred and came up with a much more nuanced presentation, including far more detailed financial projections. This meant that when he returned to potential investors, including some who had previously turned him down, they were much more receptive. Finally, by the summer of 2011, he got an email notifying him that a group of venture capitalists had decided to invest. As soon as he received confirmation, De Meo immediately marched across the trading floor to his manager and resigned on the spot. However, the euphoria of taking the plunge quickly subsided when he realised that he still had a huge amount of work to do before Foenix Partners could open its doors for business.

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Not only did he have to complete an enormous stack of paperwork before the Financial Services Authority (as it was then) would grant him a licence, but he had to recruit a team of people. Fortunately, it turned out that there was a large pool of talented staff eager to work for a company that primarily focused on building long-term relationships.

In 2012 Foenix Partners had booked its first trade. While the first few months of any new business can be fraught, de Meo says he never thought about returning to his old job. Of course, Foenix still faced the challenge of getting customers. But while clients were initially wary of doing business with a start-up company that had no track record, those who took the gamble quickly found that they got a higher level of service than they were getting elsewhere. This resulted in high client retention rates, especially when compared to competitors, and led to strong word of mouth that quickly helped to build the business. Foenix landed a succession of high-profile companies as clients, including several football clubs.

This approach has been a success. Foenix currently has turnover of £500m and de Meo says the firm is growing fast. Over the next few years he plans to diversify the business, broadening its appeal to smaller and larger firms. In particular, he hopes that Foenix's personalised service will win large companies over, while he is developing a technology platform specially aimed at small-to-medium enterprises. Unsurprisingly for someone underestimated by his peers, de Meo believes that a big part of entrepreneurship is having the courage to act on your ideas. "Ignore what other people say and instead trust your own instincts," he says.

Dr Matthew Partridge

Matthew graduated from the University of Durham in 2004; he then gained an MSc, followed by a PhD at the London School of Economics.

He has previously written for a wide range of publications, including the Guardian and the Economist, and also helped to run a newsletter on terrorism. He has spent time at Lehman Brothers, Citigroup and the consultancy Lombard Street Research.

Matthew is the author of Superinvestors: Lessons from the greatest investors in history, published by Harriman House, which has been translated into several languages. His second book, Investing Explained: The Accessible Guide to Building an Investment Portfolio, is published by Kogan Page.

As senior writer, he writes the shares and politics & economics pages, as well as weekly Blowing It and Great Frauds in History columns He also writes a fortnightly reviews page and trading tips, as well as regular cover stories and multi-page investment focus features.

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