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Corporate employee to online Excel trainer, Dan Stockdale with Sudeshna Sen (podcast transcript)

This series continues to look at post corporate career paths. You can find more post-consulting and corporate career paths here.


Sudeshna

Hi, everyone, this is Sudeshna from The Abundance Psyche, and you are listening to the Not-so-Corporate podcast where we talk about all of the not so corporate things we corporate entrepreneurs end up doing within and outside of corporate life. And today I have with me, my very dear friend, Dan (Stockdale), we used to work together in PwC strategy. And a, we were a part of the strategy team, which was also very, very focused on financial modelling. And quite a lot of people used to say, "Okay, I want to do this, I want to build the next startup"


And Dan actually left strategy and thinking about his next business idea. And he's one of those few people who have actually built it out. And yeah, I'm really excited to chat with you today. Dan, how are you?


Dan

Thank you. I'm not doing too badly. Thank you. I'm certainly starting to build it out. I don't know if I'm completely there yet. So yeah, we used to work together. And I think it was back in 2017. And a lot has changed since then. But yes, doing very well. Busy these days. So!


Sudeshna

Yeah. So just for all our listeners, you know, we just ended up recording a whole half an hour. And then I realized that I did not hit the record button- things that happen when you are not paying attention to Zoom! Oh, my God. Sorry about that!


Dan

One of the challenges of online learning and I guess, working over the internet and zoom calls is that it's very easy, to screw up slightly on the technology and not realise...


Sudeshna

Yeah, so talking about that. Tell us what you do, though.


Dan

So what I do now is I, I create online courses. And so it's Excel courses, focused on accountants, consultants, and analysts. And so I'm building out courses, which help people can learn the right parts of Excel to use and actually how to apply them in commercial contexts. And my latest course, which I launch in a couple of weeks at the start of January 2021, will be a modelling course. So it's aimed again, at the same audience, but it's how to create best practice models. And then also, from January onwards, I'm going to do training online as well, like live training. So I will have the same sort of technical technological issues as you I'm sure.


Sudeshna

Oh, my God. Anyway, anyway! But tell me, Dan, while you were leaving PwC, you had a business idea? Is it the same idea?


Dan

No, completely different. Say, I'm trying to think back to when I left PwC, I had, I had in mind that I wanted to start a business. And I had a friend who was in the same boat, he was a lawyer. And we didn't actually end up working together, maybe we will one day. But I think my business idea at the time was, it wasn't a completely original idea. And that there was this to some extent, was to kind of create one of these websites where freelancers could load their profile out. And you could always set up work for them. You know, more and more people are going towards independent working like this gig economy and everything. And see, I think you have more self-employed people out there. And one of the challenges which I had faced before I joined PwC actually was if I wanted to go out tomorrow as a financial modeller, how would I get business and can The only real option you had was recruiting consultants. And so really, it was kind of tricky. build a website for actually decent kind of freelancers, or independent contractors or consultants, where you could really line up work for them. But I never pursued that idea. And now do something completely different.


Sudeshna

Why did you not pursue that idea?


Dan

Is such a long time ago that I can't remember. I think it probably wasn't working with the guy, the guy that I was potentially going to do the venture with. He had a young family, and he just didn't have the time at the time. And then also, it's very easy to when I left PwC, I started consulting with a company. And it's very easy to fall into that because it's quite lucrative in London to do that type of work. And so I drifted towards that with the ideas at the same time going to start setting something up, but it never kind of really quite happened. So I consulted for a while and then I again went and started to do my own offering which is more as an independent consultant, almost creating a business which would be sort of financial remodelling clients. But now I've moved actually complete just towards training.


Sudeshna

So were you building the business and also working as an independent consultant simultaneously? Or did it look like first, you got some money in the bank put that back into the business?


Dan

I think I think when I, when I first left PwC, I was consulting for a while, at the same time, I was starting to build stuff like the website. But I was very much like, I need to leave this, take the plunge and then focus all my efforts on trying to create my offering and get clients in. And I did do that for a while, but I was finding, and as an independent financial modeller with your own website, where you're then to advertising your services, most of the interest is coming kind of from small companies. And that's one of the things which I found, those guys didn't have such a, they didn't have sort of much of a budget, they didn't necessarily know what they want. And if you created a financial model for them, then they didn't really have anyone who could run it if you see, I mean, you need some like Excel skills to actually use this. And so I found that that I didn't really work. But see, yes, at first, I was just doing this consulting. And then actually, when I transitioned to doing that full time, I was very much dedicated to that. But then found Actually, this didn't, it didn't really work. So I had to then move into something else, which is more on the training side.


Sudeshna

So how did you come up with the Excel course idea? Because that sounds very obvious to the next strategy consultant, all of who are Excel and PowerPoint gurus, so to speak. But rarely do I hear about someone who's built a business around the skill that they have developed in their consulting life. How did you come up with that?


Dan

I developed some training courses, which I was starting to sell face to face, where I go in sort of help train kind of accounting teams. And I actually had a meeting with a partner from a small accounting firm. And it was about me potentially picking up some of their excess works, or financial modelling work. And I remember at the end of the meeting, he said to me, "Have you thought, rather than to build these models, which it can be an endless process, where you create a model for someone, and then they come back and they want to edit? Why wouldn't you take it to something like online training, which, you know, here, people are making a killing out of, because, online training is really going up."


And I thought about, I think I'd had that in the back of my mind, actually, for quite a long time. But I think just having someone senior in that kind of a role actually say, I think that's a really good idea, almost reaffirmed that it was a good idea. And from then on, I was like, I really need to focus on training, and in particular kind of online training. So one of the risks actually building these financial models, because they can be very sort of technical kind of work to do. And there is the risk that you get something wrong, or that he had a client comes back, and they're actually their requirement changes, and they don't want to pay any extra money for it. Whereas actually, if you create training, it's what you're offering is almost like the same thing each time, and there's less risk involved. You know, you really sort of effect delivering that training, creating and delivering that training. So there's less risk, and it's kind of almost like a more uniform service that you're delivering. So that's probably a better idea. Yeah, yeah.


Sudeshna

Yeah. And, and also, for yourself, I guess. We have had this conversation before that, for yourself, it's almost like creating an asset that, hopefully, will keep on generating revenue, because unless Excel fundamentally changes the formulae inside of Excel, your course can teach the same thing as it is today, even 10 years down the line.


Dan

Yeah, yes, yeah. It's one of those things, where can you create it once, it might be that in a few years time, you want to update it, because like, for instance, the look of Excel changes. But that is something which you can sell for quite a while. I think. Some people think, you know, people always ask, you know, when's Excel going to die out, which I don't think it will for a long time. And people are using other packages. So for instance, you know, data analysis, net XL was never a great thing for that anyway. And now there's the increase in data science. And so I think people will look to those sort of programs. It's like, well, that does not actually work. So I was doing in the first place. In terms of why do financial modelling, I think there'll be an Excel for quite a long time because there's not really any good alternatives out there. And just the fact that Excel is actually used by every company. It's very hard to switch away from something like that. So see, I was quite confident actually if I create these, there'll be demand for it for quite some time. And yeah, hopefully, once you've created it and done the hard work, then you can focus on actually, how do I then market this and make some money out of it?


Sudeshna

Yeah, yeah, I agree! And I agree that there is no tool quite like Excel. And also good Excel modellers are really difficult to find in both industry and in consulting. As I have worked, outside of that Strategy& team I have worked a lot with Excel, and with consultants as well. But rarely have I found the best practice or, or even good practice and methodically approaching the problem. And a well thought out model is very rare to find. As is someone who has actually thought about the model, step by step.


Dan

Yeah. And that's the I know before I worked in PwC, I worked in the industry for most of my career, I work around quite a few different companies, either as a permanent or as a contractor. So you get an idea of the Excel skills out there. And Excel skills, in general, aren't actually that high. But then in terms of financial modelling, or best practice, financial modelling, is almost non-existent in industry.


You have people building models, but it's a very, very technical process. And there are over 100 rules of how you should build a model. But unless you've actually got someone there telling you how to do it, people think, "I'm just going to create a spreadsheet and work together with all these numbers, make some calculations, and I'll get some information out of it."


And they don't kind of follow some of the fundamentals. And I know that Yeah, having worked around all these companies, you get these models, which really aren't great, or they're very slow, and they didn't give the right information. It may take a long time to update all that can be solved by actually doing a decent modelling course. So that's one of the reasons that I do what I do now. And I think there will be demand for that. Just to kind of increase people's Excel skills. And when you think actually these models inform some of the most critical decisions in the company, then it's amazing, actually, that the skills are so less prevalent.


Sudeshna

Yeah, yeah, that's, that's definitely true ad I think there would be demand for that. If there isn't, there should be demand for that. Badly built Excel models can actually cost millions, like, I'm not even joking. You know, that, one error in your Excel model you don't spot, some company or some bank holds risk capital based on that. Something falls apart. And that's it, you lose money.


Dan

Yeah, yeah. Now that is really, really high risk. But that you never completely get rid of that risk. Because you can always have errors in these models. But if you actually build them in a better way, and test them and things like this, you really mitigate that risk. And it's something which I think a lot of companies don't appreciate. So yes, that's a problem, which I'm trying to help solve.


Sudeshna

Yeah. Yeah. Completely with you on that. So then, talking about the not so Excel things, I guess. Do you do Excel every day now that you are training people in Excel? Or do you miss doing the financial modelling?


Dan

I think if I said I missed Excel, then I'll probably be crazy. But I do, I do miss in the financial modelling. I did enjoy some of the financial modelling that you do in the industry, and you work with the CFO and or finance director, and you're building these models, which is quite creative in itself. And you're helping solve their problems. And it requires a lot of commercial thinking to actually build and also to maintain.


So it's to actually to run this model and answer their questions on a day to day basis. I kind of miss that. But now, at the moment, I don't spend tons of time in Excel. Because I'm creating these online courses, and I create demos and exercises and exercises and this type of thing, and then you got to record them. You got to do the video editing, sound editing, lots in InDesign. So creating slides. I do all my marketing, say lots of Photoshop, all this kind of stuff.


So most the time now I'm not in Excel. I'm using a kind of other applications. So I've got really good at Adobe applications. So if this doesn't work out, I could probably sort of be some kind of video editor. I don't know!


Sudeshna

Right? Okay. So when you were started out on your entrepreneurship journey, did you expect that? Did you expect that you would be doing a lot of this marketing and whatnot?


Dan

I guess I expected to be doing the marketing side. And I didn't guess that I'd be trying to always make it in online training. Although that would be my main focus. I guess, one of the reasons I wanted to try and start my own venture was because I wanted to be in charge of all the elements that you need to create a successful business. And so you know, whether it's actually creating your product, or whether it's actually marketing and selling this kind of thing. And I wanted that experience. So I always thought I'd be doing some marketing and sales. But I didn't realize it'd be sort of selling kind of creating and selling online courses, but I'm happy doing it. I really, actually, I enjoy doing it. And I enjoy the creativity of it, and the fact that you're actually trying to help people and enhancing their skill set, which adds value to them, and empowers them as well. So, yeah, so that's good.


Sudeshna

Right? And we were talking about this a bit back, what do you not miss from corporate?


Dan

So I, I didn't come across a huge lot... because I worked in media a lot. But one of the things I, when it came out when I did come across it, I didn't like the politics of, corporate life. And that's something which I don't miss. And I also don't like to do the same thing every day. So not having a nine to five, I don't know... But having that routine, I think I eventually find a bit boring.


And starting something... I like... sounds cheesy, but making your own destiny and finding your own way. And having those challenges which trying to start your own business brings to you. I enjoyed that. And so yeah, don't miss the potentially mundane parts of corporate life.


Sudeshna

Right. Yes, I agree. Creating your own destiny. That's, that's so so valuable. And what do you miss Dan from corporate life?


Dan

I miss people having people around you, which I think everyone is in 2020 Coronavirus, COVID. And like everyone working from home, I was already working from home a lot. And I think probably everyone's found this year that you miss having those colleagues around you. Maybe not everyone does, maybe some people really don't like their colleagues. But it's nice to have the friendships that you have in the office and having people speak to all the time. I'm always working, I live by myself. And so I'm always working my front room. And I didn't get too lonely. But it would be nice to occasionally chat to people around you. So that's probably the thing I miss.


Sudeshna

Yeah, you can always Skype us in, you know?


Dan

Yeah. Yeah, I'll start tomorrow.!


Sudeshna

Yeah, absolutely, absolutely.! But this has been so amazing than for anyone who is in the same spot as you were 2017 PwC. What would you tell Dan from 2017?


Dan

I think one of the things which I've really found would have benefited is, what I'm finding now is, you know, you can go out there if you want to, you know, start your own business, or create some kind of service that you want other people to buy or a product, whatever, is that you kind of need an audience. And so I can create my training courses. Now, if no one knows who I am, they're not going to buy from me. So I'd say almost before you leave, see if you can start building an audience, even if it's like, an Instagram audience, or a Facebook audience, that kind of thing. People that you already communicate with, and they have a certain level of trust in you. And they're interested in what you might do next. And I'd say try and build that, and then go out there, you know, create your product service, whatever it is, and then sell to those people. And that I think is probably one of the best pieces of advice I would have been given to Dan 2017


Sudeshna

Yeah, I love that advice. Because I mean, it's not only about marketing and sales, I suppose it goes back to show how important it is to build genuine relationships inside and outside work because, at the end of the day, we do business with with people we know and like.


Dan

Yeah, yeah. And that's a thing- you can't put a value on the network really because you know, you get business from them or you can get business from their network!


So, yeah, developing those relationships is really important. And it can be harder to do that when you think kind of if you're always working from home, or you're trying to create an online business, it's like, well, how do I create a sort of these personal relationships with people, which is always going to be sort of through computer? So that's kind of one of the challenges. That's, that's one of the things which I find is tricky, because to develop all that, that kind of that audience, when you're at the same time trying to create products, and everything else that you need to be doing. It's like, Well, how do I do that all that at once? There's not enough time in the day. But yeah, if you can, if you can do develop those relationships before you kind of leave, then I think that's, that's really, really beneficial.


Sudeshna

That's amazing. Thank you so much for coming over and chatting, Dan, and for anyone who's interested in your courses, where can they find you?


Dan

So I have a website called Claritix.co.uk. I've titled all of my courses. And then actually, I have a course infrastructure built into that. So you can actually purchase the course there. And, and you do it, it's hosted by a company called Kajabi, who are great for online entrepreneurs or online learning.


Sudeshna

So that's where you can find him. That's amazing. So I'll leave the links down below. And if you want to connect with Dan, I'm sure you can connect on LinkedIn or just drop him an email.


If you enjoyed this episode, please share it out with your friends, this is definitely not the usual startup idea that you get. This is a slightly different way of leveraging your own knowledge from the past and building a startup or a business around it. So if you have enjoyed this, please subscribe, share it out, like comment, whatever you have to do to get other people talking about this, please do that. And it's been such a pleasure to chat again, Dan, sorry for the technology hiccups


Dan

It's been so fun! Thank you for having me.