I stumbled through my GCSE’s (stage 1) and then surprised everyone by doing OK in my A-Levels. By now I was starting to figure out that for me to do well I couldn’t just sit there like a sponge I had to engage in the subject and have an opinion. I also had to work harder than everyone else and learn in a way that worked for me. I went to University and in my own mind I’d made it. Through the encouragement of some very good friends (thanks Amy, Pete and Kieron) I’d go on to work my socks off and get a first from the University of Hertfordshire which lead to my first job at Rolls Royce. Interestingly, in my first week at Rolls Royce I was told by a training manager that “if you’ve got a dyslexic on your team don’t ask them to use a computer, give them a hammer or something” unfortunately I didn’t have the courage to ask “what if I’m the dyslexic” but it did wonders for my confidence. I then moved quickly on to an early stage start up called KorteQ and finally the early stage investor Octopus Investments.I was initially in sales at Octopus and had a few false starts in moving into an investment team. I remember one person interviewing me for a job internally in their early stage team and stating I wasn’t “unique enough”. I quite liked that as I’d had lifetime of people telling me I seemed to be a bit different. Lucky for me Octopus is an awesome place (there’s another blog in me explaining why), and perhaps the only place in the world that would give someone with my background a chance. Eventually a manager called Mario Berti heard that I was a hard worker and took a chance. Hard to explain how much that meant to me without gushing. If you’ve got the opportunity you should always take a chance on a hard worker. I grabbed the opportunity. I can’t out smart most people, but I can out work them.
Even having passed my degree and securing an amazing job at an awesome company like Octopus, if I’m honest, I hadn’t real embraced being dyslexic or what it meant for me until I did my MBA at Oxford University. It was classic impostor syndrome. I’d blagged my way into my job and now I’d blagged my way into Oxford University. Eventually I’d be found out! Previously, I’d always played down my dyslexia. When I’d mention it at a job interviews I never got the job. Most people when you say your dyslexic look sideways at you and state “yes I’m a bit dyslexic too. More with numbers.”
I was surprised however that Oxford spent quite a bit of time asking about learning difficulties. At the back of my mind I’d assumed I was the only dyslexic at Oxford. So given Oxford was on board I decided to embrace it. Research it. Understand what made me different. Why am I useless in the pub quiz until it comes to the rounds on sport and music when I takeover? Why am I fascinated by history and can explain all the stories but with none of the characters or dates? Why can I happily talk in front of hundreds of people but panic every time I send an email or have to write on a white board? And, why do I naturally organise and innovate in person but fear putting anything down on a page? I get it now. I’ve done my research. My brain works differently. The parts of my brain that decipher lines into words so badly are also the parts that make it innovative and focused on outcomes and solutions. The part of my brain that struggles to untangle directions can see the big picture quickly and explain it to the person next to me. I found out from an awesome TED Talk (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_dPyzFFcG7A) there’s actually a whole science to it which I won’t bore anyone with here.
So what now. I’m currently an Investment Director at Octopus. We invest in small UK B2B companies that are scaling up. Is someone with this brain, my brain, a good investor? To be honest I’m still not sure; the chip is firmly tattooed on my shoulder. What I do know is that my colleagues are brilliant and by having them I can be a good investor. There is no one in our team who isn’t extremely bright, hyper-analytical and an excellent communicator. They’re fun to work with and despite being incredibly intelligent have a human side to them which means we all get on well and look out for each other. I’d not say I was deficient in my analytical work (especially if my boss is reading this) but my team are all exceptional. I think I bring other skills to the team. I come up with ideas on how we could find new deals. I quickly understand how companies work and what business models work in which scenarios. When I’m in management meetings I engage with the management team and understand what they’re trying to create by asking the right questions. I help our portfolio companies find solutions to complex problems and I see the bigger picture when they run into difficulties. Does this make me a good investor? On its own no, but within my team I hope it adds another dimension.
And this is the point, being a dyslexic isn’t bad or good, we just struggle in some areas and bring something else to the table in others. Schools are set up only one way and if you can’t move squiggles into words you have to find other ways yourself. I truly believe the outside world is open for us, dyslexics, to use our skills. The fact is with modern technology retention of information is becoming less and less of an asset and a creative dyslexic mind should actually have an advantage.
If you do struggle with a learning need, I just hope you have the support network I’m so fortunate to have had and have. I’d be very happy to talk to anyone that would like advice on their own challenges.