At Man Behind The Mirror, we believe in empowerment through education and making the most of life's opportunities. To celebrate the doers of the world, we'll be interviewing men with achievements in a range of fields, to explore their journeys and understand what motivates them.
In the first of our empowerment series, Man Behind The Mirror speaks with Elliott Rayne, a Leeds-based entrepreneur with an inspiring story to tell.
The definition of an entrepreneur reads, “a person who starts a business and is willing to risk loss in order to make money.” Although in the purest sense this is true, a comprehensive definition would reference the attributes that successful entrepreneurs share. Think energy, passion, drive, optimism, independence. After speaking with Elliott for an hour, he certainly fits the bill.
Anybody who watches The Apprentice will notice that the candidates are often divided into street smart and book smart. There are rarely candidates that crossover between the two. This is certainly the case for Elliott whose feet are firmly in the street-smart camp.
Less interested in academics, Elliott knew his life wasn’t going to be defined by textbooks, and accordingly, just like Lord Sugar and former Prime Minister, John Major, he didn’t go to university. Elliot’s calling was the real world.
Elliott’s business journey began at just 16-years old, after a brief stint at Stoke-on-Trent College for a 6-week crash course on ICT principles and telecommunications, where he came out with 2 A-levels. Elliott’s introduction to the world of business was as a technical account manager at BT, one of the largest companies, and largest employers in the UK.
Elliott spent a couple of years in the role and whilst it was enjoyable, something was missing. His entrepreneurial impulses were beating, stimulating a desire to create something himself. He then had his eureka moment.
Whilst at the desk, he realised that many small, medium and large-sized businesses were spending excessive amounts on hosting corporate events. These companies were paying third parties huge amounts for the venue and the ancillary services such as entertainment and photo and videoing.
As with all successful entrepreneurs, he had spotted a gap in the market and pounced. Elliott specifically identified the sub-segment of events for 100-200 people. In his own words he states that businesses were, "Spending far too much money on their events, in far too many places... The question was how could I solve that problem by building a team that can plan and execute an event, as well as market, video, photo, all in one converged solution.”
Elliott soon established a Leeds-based partnership with his friend and ex bartender Joe Taylor. EJ Events was born. Finding the right co-pilot is the most important decision for any partnership. Both Elliott and Joe brought complementary skill sets to the business. Joe had the connections and the reputation in hospitality. Elliott was the, “Figures guy, the project manager.”
EJ Events operates as a one-stop shop for organising corporate events in Leeds and the wider Yorkshire region. As with all start-ups, it started life at the bottom rung of the ladder. The first event arranged by EJ Events raised over four hundred pounds for the venue and just forty pounds for the company. However, it was a resounding success and provided a springboard for some pretty astonishing growth.
Over the next 18-months, the business grew, and grew, and grew some more. Along with the growth came some heavy hitting achievements which included a mandate to work with Mix and Twist, an events partner of Waitrose, on a big Summer event.
Then, in 2019, Elliott won the Nationwide TSB Bank and Enterprise Nation Next Generation Young Entrepreneur award for those aged between 19-22. Along with the accolade came an investment and office space in Leeds City centre. This provided a platform to scale up the business, beginning with the recruitment of a veteran with 12-years of events experience.
At the end of 2019, EJ Events began preparing for what would have been its largest event. It was working with The Royal British Legion to host a huge celebration for the 75th anniversary of Victory in Europe Day (VE Day) in Mirfield, West Yorkshire. The expected attendance was in the thousands.
However, as we are all too well aware, the unexpected happened and Covid-19 struck. In March, the UK was placed into lockdown, and the event, like the others being planned around the country, had to be cancelled. After five months of intense effort, the cancellation came as a huge blow to EJ Events and to Elliott personally.
The lockdown has completely shut the leisure sector, and following recent Government advice under the new ‘Stay Alert’ messaging, this is likely to be the case until the end of July.
In times of adversity, entrepreneurs don’t wait and let time pass by. They adapt. Indeed, Elliott in his own words lauds the importance of being a ‘chameleon’.
Realising there were clouds on the horizon, Elliott diversified, and pivoted into a new industry: finance. Elliott, now the self-styled ‘investment chef’, self-taught to become proficient in alternative investments with a focus on blockchain and cryptocurrencies.
Elliott trades for his proprietary account, and provides teaching and training advice for other aspiring traders and investors. The diversification play has worked well, with prop trading now more than offsetting the loss of earnings from the ongoing slowdown at EJ Events.
With two businesses by the age of 20, an obvious question for Elliott is the source of his energy, his will to succeed. Elliott reveals he has a competitive streak dating back to his time at high school. He wants to prove you can be successful outside the academic framework, without having to go through the rigid A-level and university system. He is also driven by self-betterment, wanting to make the most of his ability and the opportunities that life has given him.
We then move to idols, people in the public sphere that he looks up, aspires to be. For Elliott, there’s no room for TOWIE, Made In Chelsea, or Love Island TV celebs. True to form, Elliott chooses icons of business such as Elon Musk, the greatest mind of the 21st century, a founder of three $1bn companies. Warren Buffet, the Sage of Omaha, and Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon, get a mention too.
With so much achieved already, and without the hierarchical structure of higher education and university, where does Elliott see himself in the future? How does he define success? He already has 5- and 10- year plans mapped out. He’s thinking big, and rightly so from this interview.
Objective number one is to be financially self-sufficient. He wants to build on the initial success of his proprietary trading, creating a portfolio of investments that provides a base, a launch pad from which he can pursue his second objective.
Objective number two is to build up a conglomerate of businesses across industries, serving as a big tent, which provides him the flexibility to enter into partnership with others where they have expertise, and allows him to pursue philanthropic causes. Philanthropy is important to Elliott, so he can give back to the community, and help those with a similar ‘outsider’ status at school.
As the interview comes to a close, and we remind ourselves once again that Elliott is only 20, an Elon Musk quote comes to mind, “My biggest mistake is probably weighing too much on someone’s talent and not someone’s personality. I think it matters that someone has a good heart.” After an hour of speaking, we think Elon would get on with Elliott.
You can follow the progress of Elliott and ‘The Investment Chef’ here