It was just time to do something completely different,” James Crabb tells me. He’s talking about going from managing director of global technology and operations at Deutsche Bank to founding The Source, a digital lifestyle business that satisfies the emerging affluents’ every need – from food, wine, travel and childcare to art, home interiors and fitness. The Source’s app acts as portal to a range of high-end brands and providers, with suppliers including wine company Honest Grapes, jeweller Boodles and Original Traveller.
Having watched friends and colleagues struggle over the years to balance work and life, Crabb is determined to build a business that revolutionises how we access products and services. The firm’s target user is someone earning around £150,000, but Crabb is quick to stress that it’s not about exclusivity. Concierge, he says, sounds stuffy and elitist, but he has created a tailored service, where client and business are personally introduced and interact in a virtual community – think of it as a pocket PA.
Crabb spent 20 years in the City. Deutsche Bank was a “fantastic place to work” – he had a new role every 18 months and sat on its UK board – but over the last few years, his days got “more repetitive as risk was curtailed”. The City has changed, he says. “I saw it go from being an innovative environment to a circumspect one. It had to figure out its place in society and, charged with undoing past deeds, how the regulatory framework was going to work.”
He still loved it, but for Crabb, risk-taking and variety are vital: “every day needs to look different.” Of course, this new life is a different world in many ways – “our office sofa is a velour number from my partner’s student days” – but working for himself has been a dream since childhood. Having spent the first half of 2014 juggling The Source and working at the bank part-time, he became a full-time entrepreneur in the summer. Does he wish he’d jumped sooner? “Maybe marginally – perhaps two or three years. But the City is the next best thing to owning your own business.”
And it’s clear from Crabb’s advice to other entrepreneurs that his career to date stands him in good stead for growing a business. He’s keen to hammer home, for example, the importance of knowing where your strengths lie. His tech specialist co-founder, Akshay Rangnekar, “decelerates [Crabb’s] 1,000mph. I’m extraordinarily impatient; he counters that. You must figure out what you’re good at, and don’t spend time on things you’re not.”
But Crabb owes the City more than just business acumen: “you learn about people, and how to solve problems.” The internet, he says, has “made our lives easier, but has also done the opposite” – switching off is near impossible, but with technology at our finger tips, there are plenty of ways to capitalise on a consumer-driven economy.
The Source team believes that most of us just want to speak to a real person – “people want to get back to that basic interaction”. They’re also aware that many luxury and boutique services don’t usually develop their own digital channels – there’s reciprocal value to be had in helping them to reach their target market, “making them relevant in the digital age”.
London was the ideal place to launch – five months in, and the business has a target of 5,000 members by March 2015, which it’s set to meet. Crabb says the best response has actually been from non-Londoners in the City, because “we’re turning an outsider into an insider,” which can be priceless.
Six months in, and Crabb and Rangnekar are ready to go further afield. Next on the list is New York. The Source’s first round of external fundraising was completed in the summer, raising £500,000 in a matter of days, at a valuation of £5m. The next round, with a target of £2.5m at a £25m valuation, has just kicked off. By the third quarter of 2015, they plan to have added a third city – Hong Kong or Dubai.
“The way big tech is thinking, on-demand is the future,” says Crabb. Rather than having to trawl the internet yourself, getting what you need and want “will just be about asking”.
Company name: Source – lifestyle at your fingertips
Founded: October 2013
Number of staff: 14
Job title: Founder and chief executive
Studied: Accounting and Finance, Southbank University
Drinking: Big New World red wine
Eating: Most things
Currently reading: To my children (aged seven and 10)
Favourite business book: The Lean Startup, by Eric Ries
Talents: My wife would say I’m tenacious (perhaps to the point of being aggravating), and that I’m good at communicating and reading people
Heroes: My wife – she keeps me grounded
First ambition: To run my own business
Motto: “Fortune favours the bold”
Most likely to say: “Can I get that sooner?”
Least likely to say: “Take as long as you like”