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Having worked in accountancy after graduating from Seattle Pacific University, John Witt decided to change direction and fulfil his ambitions of creating and building things from scratch. He met his fellow co-founders of tech platform, Stotles, while studying for his MBA, and together the trio have grown their company to a team of 13.
I studied accounting at Seattle Pacific University and then started my career as an auditor at the US firm, Moss Adams. I spent about five years as an accountant. Coming straight out of university, the learning curve was steep, the business issues were complex, and the client interactions were quite novel. But that experience was the foundation of what I’m doing now. I reflect back on that experience very fondly in terms of setting the stage for what was to come next.
Two realisations led to my decision to study an MBA in 2017. Accounting is very retrospective; you’re always looking back in time. I realised that my career wasn’t really scratching the itch of my aspirations to look forward, create, and build new things. So I started thinking, how do I take the next steps to becoming more forward-looking and create the headspace to build something? An MBA immerses you with the people, the space, and the environment to take the risks of building on ideas. The other realisation leading to my decision was related to personal development; my partner and I wanted to experience life outside the US and become more global citizens.
London appealed to me because of how central it is globally, which was important to me. There were so many places we could visit nearby and people I could meet and learn from in London, from every walk of life. I can hear eight languages in a day just walking down the street and that was a big draw for me. I’d also had ambitions to live in Europe, so it ended up being a great fit.
However, London Business School was the school on my list, rather than London being the city on my list. I applied to six schools for my MBA and London Business School was the only international one. I knew the experience I’d get at the School would be far different from any US schools, in terms of the people I’d be meeting, the mentalities and the culture around it. I applied because LBS really lent itself to meeting the right people from across the world.
During my time at the School, I got the most out of the Negotiation and Bargaining and Paths to Power modules. Negotiation and Bargaining taught me how to respectfully and confidently disagree with others, and how to argue in a productive way. Paths to Power taught me to shed a lot of my personal hesitancies and insecurities and really step into leadership. The world needs good, grounded leaders and the module taught us it’s our responsibility to step into positions of power in a positive way; it really shifted my thinking.
In terms of diversity, I met a lot of people at the School from backgrounds that I’d never encountered before. The School also did a good job of ensuring there was a balance within cohorts and study groups, particularly with gender diversity. Compared to the people I’d previously encountered before coming to the School, the diversity was pretty impactful. Hearing in class how other people think and learning about different ethics definitely opened my eyes to other opinions and ways of thinking.
The flexibility of the programme was massive. You really take the reins and have ownership of how you want to conduct your life for the two years of your MBA. I got an internship with the World Economic Forum in the summer after my first year, which then led to follow-on consultancy work that went into the second year.
From both a module perspective and an extra-curricular perspective, the flexibility of the MBA programme enabled me to take on that extra work alongside what I was already doing. It ended up being really advantageous for me and took my London Business School experience to a level that would have been unmatched at a US school; I got to live in Geneva, stress-test ventures, and take on consulting gigs. Plus, earnings from consulting projects fed into our business funding in my second year.
I’m currently the CEO of Stotles, the operating system for doing business with government, which I co-founded with two of my fellow MBA colleagues. Public-to-private spending comprises 14% of global GDP. It’s massive, growing, and fundamental to the lives of every person on the planet. But there are unprecedented frictions that keep business and government from working together in the ways needed to solve pressing problems like climate change and economic inequality. Our operating system provides tools that help businesses remove the complexity of working with government, which ultimately makes an impact at a global level – reducing costs, improving services, and providing a better life for every person on the planet.
I wouldn’t have met my co-founders if I hadn’t gone to London Business School. We were in the same stream. It was a significant advantage for our business getting to know one another, to learn together, and to travel together before we actually founded something. Regarding our team, one of the things I’m most proud of is that we are all in this for the right reasons and have unprecedented levels of trust in one another. We’re fundamentally curious and want to build something from the ground up. Our motives for starting Stotles together have allowed us to become really strong trust-driven team with a big ambition. To a certain degree, that’s very rare with founder relationships. Our intentions are grounded and it’s a big advantage for us and our investors.
My London Business School network was a catalyst for our business. The London Business School name alone was probably the reason why we got 80% of our leads in the first year, so it helped us to gain early traction. That traction was what we needed to raise our first round, and the business grew from there. Some of those early leads are still our customers today.
The Career Centre connected us with Seedcamp, a venture capital fund, for investment. One of our London Business School colleagues had a partner who had just raised with Seedcamp, so they helped get us connected too. We also had support from some of the professors in reviewing some of our early pitches. They looked at our financial models and gave us feedback on the elements that were strong or weak, and even facilitated some connections to former founders.
Hiring has also been a big benefit, as some of our best hires have come through our LBS network. We have had MBAs work here on internships and consultancy projects. We also took part in the School’s LondonCAP project which provided us with a team of three students to carry out a strategy project for us. One of those stuck around afterwards for follow-on projects.
We’ve stayed involved with London Business School even though we’ve left, especially in the first year after graduation, when we were involved in the Incubator start-up programme. The School provided us with resources such as free access to legal and accounting services, tools and platforms (like XERO) and connected us to potential hires and investors. Almost three years after graduating, we also still do talks and chats here and there with the School, and post jobs on the job site.
There are three main ways that studying my MBA at London Business School has helped me in moving forward to achieve that goal. First, it’s increased my risk appetite. I’ve got an MBA, I’ve got a chartered accountant license, I’ve got new connections and knowledge as a result of my MBA, so what’s the backstop for me failing? I’m grateful for my experience because it has afforded me the capabilities needed to navigate any kinds of failures – to pick myself up, dust myself off and take the next steps needed to do something great for the world.
Second, the MBA has helped me to think more globally. It’s opened my eyes to different ways of living and thinking. More importantly, it has helped me to better understand the needs of people in many different environments. Getting this global viewpoint has allowed me to zoom out and have more empathy when engaging with my employees, customers, investors, friends and family who live around the world.
Finally, the MBA has helped me build confidence. Moving to London and getting more exposure to the world has made me realise that nobody on this planet knows what they’re doing – nobody has all the answers. The people that become the leaders and make change are the ones that were just willing to take steps into the unknown. I now feel that I have the support system, the skills and the experience to lead with humility and confidence despite a world of unknowns. This realisation during the MBA unlocked the confidence I needed to take the leaps I’m now taking, and will continue to take.