From Seasick to Tech Founder: My Journey from an Oil Ship to Leading $100M Tech Companies

11 years ago I was throwing up off the edge of the deck of an oil exploration vessel, regretting my life choices.

Somewhere in the Persian Gulf circa 2013

Now the app I built is serving 3 million users and I’m building $100M tech companies (feeling happier than ever).

During a recent week off at Phuket Cleanse, I had the chance to deeply reflect on my decade-long journey. It struck me that while I've often shared lessons from my experiences, I've rarely told the full story behind them. This blog post aims to do just that—condensing years of growth, challenges, and breakthroughs into a few powerful paragraphs. I hope you enjoy and find inspiration in my story.

Here’s how I did it in 6 steps.

1/ Coding in the Chaos: Developing Skills on an Oil Exploration Vessel

While working 12-hour shifts on the ship, I knew I had to develop my coding and product-building skills. So, I coded every day for a couple of hours in whatever time I had. I read books like The Lean Startup and The Four Hour Workweek. I realized I had to excel at either selling or building products to found a company.

Lots of screens, great people - bad tech.

2/ Taking the Leap: From Oil Ships to London’s Tech Hub

Once I was confident in my coding skills, I quit my job and moved to London to study for a Masters at UCL. Back in 2015, the significant tech hubs were either Silicon Valley or London. Today, you don’t need to move to a tech hub, but back then, it was crucial for networking and opportunities.

3/ Fail Fast, Learn Faster: Building and Pivoting as a Student

Over 12 months while studying, I built various projects and joined startups. I tried to solve my own problems as a 25-year-old student. I created a review-your-university platform called StudentView and a peer-to-peer dining app called Gleat—both failed. In short: build lots of things, solve your own problems and don’t be too attached to your products. Be prepared to start again or pivot to the next idea.

4/ Finding the Right Fit: How Unibuddy Was Born

Finally, I built Unibuddy, which took off. It solved my problem of not knowing how to prepare for studying in a new country. Unibuddy allowed high school students to chat with university students, helping them make better decisions. My co-founder excelled at sales, and I was quick at building the product. Find a co-founder who complements your skills. One must be a sales machine, the other an engineering wizard. Together, you will be unstoppable.

5/ Beyond Building: Transitioning from Developer to Leader

As Unibuddy grew, I realized I needed to grow as a leader. Selling and building were not enough as we scaled. I had to learn to hire great engineers, lead a team, and build a great culture. At 25, I could code, but I had to learn everything else. I read The Culture Code, got mentored by Spotify’s VP of Engineering, and learned through trial-and-error. Transitioning from maker/seller to manager is critical. You might not like meetings, but the company needs you to lead.

6/ Scaling Up: Navigating the Growth from Startup to Scale-Up

Two years after starting, we raised a $5 million Series A. Our team grew to 20. Two years later, we raised a Series B, and the team expanded to 120. Our revenue was nearing $10 million ARR, with almost 3 million students using the app. Leading an engineering team of over 50 engineers forced me to grow as a leader. The skills needed for running a 20-person company differ greatly from those required for a 120-person company. You have to keep re-inventing yourself and upgrading your skills.

Today, I’m focused on building $100M tech companies and growing as a leader while sharing the lessons I’ve learned. Follow me if you’re on a similar journey. It’s been challenging but incredibly rewarding. 

From coding on a ship to leading a tech company, my journey has been all about continuous learning and adapting. If you're struggling today, know that it's possible to turn things around. Keep pushing forward and embrace the process.

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