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My ACA experience: Patrick

Patrick always knew that he wanted to be an entrepreneur and shape the future of a business. After completing the ACA qualification, he has gone on to work for innovative entertainment start-up, Sofar Sounds.

Patrick Dobson

Patrick Dobson Head of Finance, Sofar Sounds

ICAEW route: Non-finance degree

Industry: Business

Location: London

Patrick's story...

Sofar Sounds is a high-growth technology-enabled experiences start-up born out of the modern phenomenon of massive gigs in which people pay £150 and they’re at the back of an arena with a pair of binoculars. A headhunter approached me and I thought no one was doing anything similar to promote intimate music gigs in unique spaces, such as people’s living rooms. That, and the fact that Richard Branson had just invested, led me to leave Vice Media. I was happy there, but joining an earlier stage business at the beginning of its life was very cool.

I’ve always wanted to be an entrepreneur. In the absence of my own good idea the next best thing is to get involved in another business early and shape the future of it. The role pacifies my entrepreneurial itch.

One of the beauties of joining an early-stage business is having as much responsibility as you want. I’m in an unusual position in that I only qualified five years ago and yet have almost complete autonomy to run quite a big finance team and make some big decisions.

We’re so busy and, with growth, you find you’re hiring behind where we need to be. You’ve got to constantly identify the problems ahead of time, rather than dealing with them when they’re right in front of your face. We’re at capacity and yet I’ve got to find time to interview and hire new people.

Vice Media was a mixture of luck and engineering my own luck. I qualified with Smith & Williamson in London and moved from audit into tax but really regretted my move. I realised that I enjoyed audit and getting out and meeting clients, whereas with tax I was more desk bound. I engineered my own luck by ensuring Vice was a client of mine. It was growing very fast at the time and I did a three-month secondment in the finance team. I was 25 years old, only just qualified, and was managing a seven-person team with no real clue what I was doing. It was a case of learn by doing and learning through my mistakes. I got to the end of the secondment and got offered a full-time finance controller role.

I’d never considered a move out of practice and especially not into the media and entertainment space. But I was very lucky. I got a chance to dip my toe in. I would say to anyone, if they get a chance to do a secondment they should. It’s a good way to experience more than what you are used to without risking too much of your career progression.

Last week I signed papers investing in Vetbox – a subscription business for pet owners who want to save money. The founder is a friend and was looking for some angel investors, so I gave him some money and will help advise. I think it’s really exciting that accountants can add value to young growing companies. I recommend that people build a personal and professional network so you can offer advice to these kinds of companies.

I have definitely considered setting up my own practice advising young companies particularly on the fundraising process, which I’m going through now. It’s very pressured and technical, and fundamental to start-ups’ survival. At the moment I’m loving working for Sofar Sounds, but within two to five years I’d probably think about setting up my own business, perhaps in the consumer industry or an advisory business to other companies.

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