"I wanted to learn alongside people at the same level”
Legendary investor Warren Buffet once said, “It is not necessary to do extraordinary things to get extraordinary results.” For serial entrepreneur Ian Strang this is a half-true statement. While studying an Executive MBA (EMBA) at London Business School (LBS) he discovered two big lessons: some of the best businesses are ordinary, and the best people work extraordinarily hard.
When Ian joined the EMBA in 2007, he was operations director of Arts Alliance Media, now Europe’s leading provider of digital film distribution services. He helped establish the operational foundations on which the global business was built.
During the EMBA he “dabbled in consulting”, and afterwards, with the backing of investors including LBS lecturers, launched Buzzboard Digital Media – a clever 3G-enabled signage start-up. He then steered a small five-client marketing agency, StreetTeam, to become a leading international peer-to-peer ticketing solution.
Today Ian is the founder and CEO of Beyond, a comparison site for funeral services. He came up with the idea at LBS. “Rupert Merson shared a business case about shoe polish. It was an example of a really old, boring idea that made millions. The moral of the story for me was that boring businesses can be the best businesses.”
With that key takeaway in mind, Ian mulled over unsexy ideas that no-one else wanted to touch. He says, “I thought, death! There’s lots of demand for that.”
By his own admission, Ian was an entrepreneur before it was fashionable, before launching a venture was a “thing”. He came to LBS to gain broad experience to help him go from running operations to running a business.
“I wanted to learn more about marketing and finance and build a well-rounded skillset. I was ready for the next stage of my career.”
Why the EMBA? Simply, “It was for more experienced hires,” he says. “I had a few more years’ real-world practical experience than other MBAs. I wanted to learn alongside people at the same level.”
“I hate being told what to do,” laughs Ian. “That’s why I liked the freedom of electives in the second year.” With the flexibility to chop and choose, Ian tailored his experience to all things entrepreneurial, taking everything from financing the entrepreneurial business to new venture development.
Ian enjoyed learning from faculty such as Andy Philips and Keith Willey, but he also took away an unexpected lesson from his classmates. “Everyone worked really hard,” says Ian. “It may sound obvious, but it’s not.
“It wasn't that my classmates were super bright – though intelligence was a given – it was that they worked super hard. The people achieving extraordinary things knuckled down and worked relentlessly, to an extent that I hadn’t seen before.”
What’s next? Ian is now working hard to scale Funeralbooker to become a “commercial brand for death”. He’s hoping for a slice of the £1.7 billion UK funeral-market pie, as estimated by market analysts IBISworld. He’s also offering other LBS entrepreneurs advice, such as the founders of on-demand beauty bookers, Prettly. And he’s doing it all with one eye on Amazon, the company he says “could eat everything”.