During our recent intensive week-long courses, we interviewed guest experts, who provided students with some extra inspiration during their lunchtimes. All of whom, are working in the machine learning, social media, and data analysis industries.
This interview is with tech entrepreneur Pierre-Simon Ntiruhungwa, the co-founder of Katalist – an entrepreneurial development platform. In this interview, he shares with us his own journey and experience into entrepreneurship.
A lifelong learner and entrepreneur at heart, Pierre wants to have an impact on the world by empowering people to unleash their potential and be the best version of themselves via his passions for education, entrepreneurship, self-improvement, and communities.
He’s spent the last 10 years helping thousands of future founders in Europe and Silicon Valley in their entrepreneurial journey by co-founding Founders of the Future with Brent Hoberman CBE and Silicon Students before that. Pierre’s focus is now on his new startup Katalist, an entrepreneurial development platform that leverages his work from the past 10 years to accelerate the journey of ambitious future founders at scale.
Pierre was featured in the Financial Times as one of The UK’s top 100 BAME leaders in technology in 2018, was selected as a “Leaders of Tomorrow” by The Lord Mayor of the City of London in 2019, and has been a mentor for Techstars’s Startupboost program, Kickstart London, Nile Rodgers’s We Are Family Foundation and Eric Schmidt’s Schmidt Futures Entrepreneur-in-residence programme.
Ed: Pierre-Simon, we would love it if you could please share with us your background, story, and journey into tech and entrepreneurship?
Pierre-Simon: Thanks so much Ed for introducing me! You know, it’s actually a weird exercise to write a biography, but it’s even weirder when you hear it read by someone else. But, yeah, that gives you a little bit of more context about me, but as Ed mentioned, I’m the co-founder of Katalist which is a start-up that aims at building an entrepreneurial development platform.
Founders of the Future is for anyone that is thinking about starting a startup to the point where they actually start a startup, where they can pay themselves with revenue or funding, and help them to accelerate their journey through an aligned private membership community. Build connections to investors, connections, to peers, mentors, and, and access to resources to grow in their journey.
And, Katalist launched about a month ago and it sees actually the results of the last 10 years of work that I’ve done. And just a bit more context about me. So I’m French, I’ve been in the UK for about six years. And in the last 10 years, I’ve started two businesses, one on my own one within an organisation called Silicon Students and Founders of the Future.
Just ask yourself this question, do you want to be an entrepreneur when you grow up? Just try to think about it and if you, if you don’t, if you don’t know what you want to be try to think about it. The main thing I’d like to kind of leave you with is the importance of considering entrepreneurship as a career path. It’s often not mentioned as a typical career path for young people at your age. Often parents or educators will ask you, do you want to be, a doctor, a lawyer? Fire Tech will help inspire more exciting career paths.
So as you are in the phase where you thinking about a career, try to just see if entrepreneurship can be for you. And that can mean a lot of different experiments. And that leads me to kind of my second point, which I want to really leave you with is…
“Just never stop learning and experimenting.”Pierre-Simon Ntiruhungwa
So you’re currently doing a course at Fire Tech which already is something extra other than school to kind of, to learn and to upskill yourself. And that’s the process that you should keep having all along with your life. Learning whether it easy learning new skills, hard skills, but also soft skills, how to manage people, how to handle risk, and all these types of things, and learning and experimenting comes together.
Inspiration & Early Years
To really understand, “what do I want to do in my career?” I like to go really deep, really way back in time and I want to take you back to July 17th, 1994. I was six years old and that’s the day where Brazil won the football world cup, and I was watching with my sisters. It was the first football game that I actually remember watching. And I remember him that day being fascinating. I didn’t understand everything, but I understand the fact that they just won. They were the best in the world. And for some reason, I just became fascinated by that concept.
This led me to my dream of being a football player and winning the world cup. I wanted to win the world cup with Brazil, which I didn’t know wasn’t possible because I was French, but interestingly, four years later, France won the world cup and that’s almost kind of made that dream real.
“Just like winning the world cup was a dream… it’s just about making decisions to help make your dreams come true.”Pierre-Simon Ntiruhungwa
And even myself, I thought like maybe one day I’ll play for the French national team and win the world cup myself. So, I wanted to pursue that dream, and from the age of 12 and 16 years old, I was in an Academy of the professional football team of my hometown. We were training five days a week after school playing on weekends. And the goal was to become a professional football player. And a few of the people that I’ve played with I’ve been in became professional football players. But unfortunately, this is really hard and really tough and, and along the way, I got cut and I had to find a new dream.
So when I was 16 years old, that’s when I realized I wouldn’t be a football, professional football player and I had to think, “what would be the thing that I want to do when I grow up?” And as I started really digging about myself, what I like to do, I think there were a few different careers, but I decided I wanted to be an entrepreneur and I was only 16 to 17 years old so it was a good few months, even more, maybe more than a year of really considering it.
Journey To Entrepreneurship
I think the thing that started my journey to entrepreneurship, was for me, it was really the fact that you can start things from scratch and make them grow to anything you want. The sky’s the limit. You can have an amazing impact on hundreds of people, thousands of people, or even millions of hundred millions of people. If you put your mind to it. I like that basically, you’re constantly learning new things. You have to manage people. I’ve been working teams a lot with, with, you know, my football experience.
So that’s what really drove me to entrepreneurship. And that led me to choose my school subjects based on that. And then, building my first company, Silicon Students when I was 22 years old. So at the time, I was in business school in France, so I still wasn’t sure about what idea I wanted to build, but really, really determined that I wanted to start a company.
And when I was in business school, it was a cohort of 350 people. I was sure that I would find at least a few other people that were thinking like me, but unfortunately, that wasn’t the case. It was really hard. So I started to go to a lot of tech events, to build my own network, and then eventually go on to organise events for students themselves to go to.
What I Learnt Building Silicon Students
You would meet experienced founders that would do talks like I’m doing right now and meet the few students from different schools that were interested in entrepreneurship. That’s how it started then our main summer boot camp that we did in Silicon Valley. And then at the end of that year, build the summit program where we would take 15 people from different countries during two months and build startups. They were age 18 to 25. We ran that for three summers in a row.
But you know, it got me a lot of press, I got featured on a full page in the main national business newspapers in France. I met a lot of amazing founders and built my networks everyone loves the product, and I learned a lot by meeting people there. The other thing I learned is through the failures that I had, is one big thing is that I didn’t really pay attention to my personal financials. I wanted to build that product, but I have no idea how I would pay rent for the next few months. And this is why it’s always another piece of advice I give: Always think about how you’re going to cover your own costs.
The thing is also being mindful of your business model and managing your income payments and ensuring people will pay you. Because as I like to say, this business ended, because at the end of the day, I didn’t manage to make any profit, but I made a lot of personal debts. So at some point, it was too much that I had to find a job, which leads me to my second career phase.
The Second Phase: Founders of the Future
That’s when I discovered Founders Forum which wasn’t a big corporate or small organisation, but a bit more established and was started by Brent Hoberman, who is the co-founder of lastminute.com and one of the most influential tech entrepreneurs in Europe. He started this great gathering of top founders around this forum and they started to create an ecosystem of companies around that brand. Then I just started working for Founders because I needed a job. And I’d even met Brent Hoberman several times within those years.
Within a few months of working with them, I had the idea of doing Founders of the Future, which was basically what I was doing with Silicon students within the founders from Brent. And our focus was creating a really strong community and connecting them with the more influential people that the founder’s forum has access to. And, and the network of founders for me is a bit crazy. It’s just to give you a little bit of an insight, I’ve met and taken with Prince William that was in Paris because we had a founder’s future in Paris.
The level of influence that this network has, and what was great for me is that I was doing what I was passionate about. I paid for it. I made a lot of really great founders. I think we affected about 5,000 people through all of our events.
I was able to build my confidence around how I can build a strong business and when you’re an entrepreneur versus building your own business and there was always a goal that one day, it was going to be a standalone business. And, and after five years, what I realised is that it was time for me to start again from scratch and do my own thing.
Becoming a Tech Entrepreneur
With Founders of the Future, we weren’t using technology so much. It was very manual, and a lot of physical events and a lot of one-on-one interactions, introductions, and calls to provide value. So I was inspired to build my third company Katalist, which, aims to leverage technology.
The Katalist product is not actually released yet. But we are launching a free beta in about three weeks and the goal is to have an aligned community with future founders and to provide them guidance that is tailored to the stage they are as a feature founder. We aim to connect them with the right mentors and right investors when they’re ready to start their own startup.
So obviously software development is really important, but now there is a rise of what is called no code, no code tools, which are tools where you don’t need to be able to write a line of codes to build a product. There are already two strong ones called BubbleIO, and the other is called webflow.com. And we are using those two tools to build the core of our product. Although I wanted to do something more technical than that and in January I decided to do a boot camp. A bit like Fire Tech, but for adults to learn software development myself.
“I never stopped learning and experimenting.”Pierre-Simon Ntiruhungwa
So with all the different projects I’ve done, I’ve always continued to learn and experiment, like right now at 32, I started Katalist to really upskill myself and be my own boss. And I know in 5 or 10 years’ time, I know I’ll be happy as long as I’m still learning new skills. So that’s what I would love to leave you with.
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