Business: Multiverse & One Garden

Sector: Education / Technology

Sophie has founded not one, but two, businesses. In 2016, she co-founded Multiverse, which uses automated software to match apprentices with companies based on aptitude and attitude, rather than grades.

After leaving Multiverse, Sophie co-founded One Garden, a technology platform creating a community for the curious, bringing exceptional online learning experiences to customers. One Garden was acquired by Saga PLC in 2023.

Sophie Adelman

When did you make the decision to start your own business and how did your journey begin?

Growing up, I never intended to be an entrepreneur. No one in my family was in business, everyone worked in the medical field. I went to university in Cambridge and studied geography because I still didn't really know what I wanted to do.

It was about 10 years later when I went to Stanford University in America that I first thought that the business world was really where I wanted to spend the rest of my career. The Stanford Business School mission is to change lives, change organisations, and change the world. I really bought into that mindset. I was surrounded by people who were trying to have a huge impact on the world.

I started working for a recruitment start-up in 2013. They operated in a very entrepreneurial way and gave me a lot of freedom and autonomy. Over time though, I started to feel that maybe some of the decisions made by the central leadership team weren't exactly ones I agreed with, which started to cause some frustration.

That’s really when I had the idea I could do something myself. It coincided with the time I met my co-founder Euan, who had already spotted an opportunity within the apprenticeship space. We started talking and there was a great energy between us. We decided to work together as co-founders and Multiverse was born.

What was your vision/big idea when you started out, and how did it develop?

I’ve founded two businesses now. Multiverse came about through Euan’s experience working in a company that worked with the long-term unemployed and they had started to offer apprenticeships. There had been a change in government legislation, and we saw an opportunity to start delivering apprenticeships in a better way.

One of the first things we did was to sit down and really define what our vision was going to be. We wanted to create an outstanding alternative to university. The vision was bigger than simply ‘doing apprenticeships better’. We wanted to change the world, change people's lives, and change the diversity of the people who sit around the table in some of the world’s greatest organisations. We wanted to create an alternative path to going to the world's best universities. A path that’s just as prestigious, just as rewarding, just as socially beneficial, and that leads on to a career at the world's best companies. That was our big idea.

One Garden followed the same principle, that of creating better access to opportunities in education. With Multiverse we’d really focused on the start of people’s professional careers. I really wanted to focus on the other end of the spectrum. My parents are retired, and they seemed to have lost their purpose a little bit. They'd gone from working full time to pottering around, finding activities to fill their time. During lockdown there was a lot of loneliness in that generation. The One Garden vision was to create a space for people who love to learn for the joy of learning. It followed the same principle as university, where you get to learn from some of the world's greatest minds. With our idea, people could do the same but from the comfort of their own home, without the need to submit essays or take exams. It was just for the joy of learning, and through learning people felt more engaged with the world and more purposeful.

When it came to negotiating and pitching for capital investment, what skills did you have, what skills did you hone, and what skills did you need to learn?

Pitching investments involves storytelling and sales skills. You need to be able to take people on a journey, sell them a vision and explain how you can deliver on that vision. It’s very important to be clear on the pain point you are solving, and why people will pay to have that pain point solved.

I learned about the importance of feedback loops. People ask questions on things they have concerns about, or are unsure about. It’s important to take those insights and feed them back into the next pitch. When you incorporate these learnings, you're constantly improving the pitch.

You also need to be good at weighing up good feedback and bad feedback. Everyone's going to give their own opinions. There are times where you say ‘thanks’, but think ‘that's their opinion’ and leave it there. There are other times you get feedback that's really useful. Being able to differentiate between the two is a difficult skill to learn but I think it’s one of the most critical for a founder.

How would you challenge the status quo culture of high growth companies, traditionally dominated by men? What changes would you make?

There are definitely barriers to women becoming entrepreneurs and raising capital. I understand that I am a white woman who went to a good university and that good university got me into branded companies. I recognise my privilege. I don't come from a wealthy family; I didn't go to private school. There are other people who have even more privilege, but I recognise that I have a certain level of privilege and I probably found it easier than others, especially having a male cofounder. That doesn’t mean it was easy to get started or raise capital, but I didn’t encounter some of the barriers I’ve seen others face.

Visibility is key. It’s so important to see other women who are succeeding. There is a lack of careers education in schools and university still that shows entrepreneurship as a career path, and a lack of good advice about how and when to consider entrepreneurship. Visibility is really important because it shows there are multiple paths into entrepreneurship. It took me 10-12 years after university to believe that I had the resources and skills to be able to start something. I am a strong believer that entrepreneurs are made not born.

Encouraging women to realise that they haven't missed the boat if they wait till their mid-30s or mid-40s to start a company is also important. In fact, they probably have more resources, and more tools to successfully start a company then. There's no age limit on entrepreneurship.

What do you believe has led you to success?

I don’t necessarily feel like I have achieved success. It’s all a journey, isn’t it? I have had some experiences that I can share with other people, who will hopefully find value in them.

I think one of the things that has led to what I have achieved so far is that I am relentless. I think this is a key trait. I also question things a lot and am very curious. I was definitely a ‘why’ child. I always had a deep internal motivation to leave a legacy, and to have a positive impact on the world.

I also think I am really good at identifying talent, and hope that I’m good at bringing people along with me. It takes a team to succeed, and I believe I have been lucky that I’ve been able to bring great teams together to build great things. Some of that is about people buying into the vision, but it is also about being able to assess who's got the right mindset, the right attitude, the right desires, and show them a path to their own success. I love investing in brilliant people and helping them be successful.

What three tips would you give to the next generation of female founders?

  1. Build your network. People think about networking in a negative way but it’s all about meeting new people and building relationships with them. I'm always trying to build relationships with people, not just in my space, but outside. My most important network has always been my peers (not mentors) who have given me support, advice, and challenge over the years.
  2. If you really are passionate about an idea, go and test it in the market before you invest in building a product or service. Speak to your future customers. You need to really understand who your customers are and what their needs are – that’s the best way to build something that solves their pain points and creates something they love.
  3. Be curious. Constantly question how things have been done.

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