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How opening a sushi restaurant taught one of Wales’ top entrepreneurs a valuable lesson in business

One of Wales’ leading tech entrepreneurs has described how he learnt an important lesson about business when he opened a sushi restaurant in Cardiff.

In 2004 Richard Theo launched Wales’ first conveyor-belt sushi restaurant, called Zushi, in the centre of the capital. However, he said he failed to first fully test the marketplace to see if there was viable demand for it.

He said: “The lesson there, of course, is don’t be scared to fail and in every failure there are valuable lessons learned. But to add something to that commonly quoted percept – don’t be scared to fail, but don’t fail unnecessarily.

“Test your products or service before you commit large amounts of money or time to it. But be sure not to rely on what friends or family say, because they’re bound to tell you what you want hear, which is very bad science.

“If only I’d taken time to ask a few people on the streets of Cardiff whether they would even contemplate walking into a sushi restaurant, I would have saved myself some time and heartache.”

Zushi closed its doors in 2011.

Success in financial services
Mr Theo said that while entrepreneurship is about risk-taking, he has learned to be far more measured over the years.

He is now a successful entrepreneur in the financial services sector. His Cardiff-based insurance broker ActiveQuote now employs 130 with a turnover of £10m.

For the last four years ActiveQuote has made the Wales Fast Growth 50 list, which ranks the fastest growing indigenous businesses in Wales on turnover.

And his robo-investment start-up company Wealthify recently received a huge boost with financial services giant Aviva taking a majority equity stake (subject to final regulatory approval) in the business, but with his team retaining management control.

The investment by Aviva into Wealthify, which currently has almost 12,000 active investors, is forecast to add a further 100,000 in three years time.

The business is also actively looking to move into overseas markets.

Cardiff and fintech
Addressing a meeting of Cardiff Breakfast Club, Mr Theo said that the fintech sector in Wales has the potential to be the biggest in the UK outside of London.

In five years’ time, the world of financial services will be unrecognisable, with products like mortgages being agreed online within hours rather than weeks, he said.

According to research from TheCityUK, Wales is home to 56,00 financial and legal services jobs, and Cardiff has nearly half at just over 20,000.

On the fintech sector, which is posing a real threat to traditional IFAs and fund managers with lower fees as just one point of difference, Mr Theo said: “In Cardiff and Wales, we have a real chance to become the UK’s leading hub outside of London.

“A senior person at Barclays told me recently that they’re hurriedly trying to reshape themselves into a fintech, because they realise that they have got only two advantages left – a balance sheet and a big list of customers.

“And it’s not just the start-ups they’re worried about. In recent research from Accenture, they found that one third of millennials said they would move to Google, Amazon or Facebook for banking and insurance, if they were available.”

He said fintech is transforming the financial services sector and will continue to do so.

He added: “Fintech is a fascinating area to be in. Honestly, you’re not going to recognise the world of financial services in five years.

“Aviva and others intend to be able to quote you for home insurance without asking any questions… and there will be online mortgages which you can get within hours rather than weeks.”

Cardiff Breakfast Club is sponsored by Stills Branding, Lloyds Banking Group, Blake Morgan and the Western Mail.