Albert Azis-Clauson of UnderPinned: Five Things I Learned As A Twenty-Something Founder

I don’t have many restrictions on what I can do, like I can afford to mess up, I can afford to go to the line, I can afford to push harder than other people can. And it’s rewarding to be able to feel like that. There’s not a real barrier to my effort. Like, I don’t have something holding me back from an effort.

As a part of our series called “My Life as a TwentySomething Founder”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Albert Azis-Clauson.

Albert Azis-Clauson is the CEO and co-founder of UnderPinned, a platform that helps freelancers build their careers. At 25-years old, his 3-year-old startup is worth £12m having personally raised over £1m within a year of graduating from university. He has published a white paper with BEIS and the Small Business Commissioner on late payment culture in the creative industries and regularly works with UK Government bodies to advise on the future of freelancing.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! What is your “backstory”?

Istarted my life as a ballet dancer and I went to the Royal Ballet School until I was 16. I got to be super creative but I realized it was quite a narrow path, so I wanted to move on and try to do other things. That led me to doing the philosophy of science at UCL and I fell completely in love with computer science, logic and logical problem solving.

I started to look at bridging the gap between the creative world and the business world using these two skill sets. I founded a business strategy consultancy where I cut my teeth as a freelancer. And I spent a few years building up a business strategy and public relations consultancy where I worked with small and medium sized businesses, mostly in the tech science and creative sectors and a little bit in the charity sector, looking at how to improve the relationship between internal and external product narratives. Part of this was looking at how companies could use freelancers to improve their efficiency — building these products and the product narratives.

At the same time, I ran a media and arts company which helped young emerging artists with a charitable arm which helps hard to reach children from the local community with creative workshops.

So it was here that I began working with hundreds of fine artists, sculptors and painters who didn’t really know how to commercialize their work or skills. So I was helping them build successful businesses out of what they were doing — from selling their work to using and commercializing their skills, all to support the work that they were creating. Firstly, it was very much with just artists, but then it was graphic designers and illustrators, poets, copywriters, and journalists, and then consultants, translators, coaches and teachers.

Eventually, I was sitting down with an accountant and I thought, of all the people in the world that I would expect to understand how to build a freelance and independent business, it would be an accountant! And the truth is that the knowledge just wasn’t there. I knew a plethora of people with passion and skills and crafts, but none of them had ever left education or full-time employment with any real idea of how to build a successful business. So UnderPinned was created as an answer, to create a place that gives people access to building successful businesses around their skill, which they already have in abundance.

Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you since you started your company? What lessons or takeaways did you take out of that story?

I think how I built my founding team is an interesting story of chances and coincidences. I met my business partner in the basement of a friend’s house playing poker and then we became best friends. My original head of design, through a community Facebook group of creatives so we met up for coffee and I just knew she was the right person to help build the brand. Our head of marketing at a late Tate event at the bar where we just got chatting and then became friends, we started to attend all these cultural events over the summer and then I hired her to work with me. My original lead developer and head of product I actually met playing video games online when I was 13! We became best friends online for eight years but never actually met in real life until his first day on the job! And I met our CTO at a pub in Brixton through my brother’s old friend from university.

The takeaway for me is always open every door, meet every person because you never know when you’re going to find the next person who is going to help you. Particularly when you’re getting started.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

I think we stand out because of the way we make money, putting our community first. Working with early-stage freelancers can sometimes be difficult because if they’re not successful financially, traditionally they’re seen as not a particularly valuable customer. But the way we’ve constructed our system around community and education as well as technology gives us a unique proposition. Everyone is valuable in one way or another.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

There are a million people who you need to get advice from, and you should always surround yourself with experience. But having one person that is always with you is fundamentally important to building a successful business. I am eternally grateful for my co-founder, business partner, best friend and a brilliant human being, Jack Williams. A person who will get the company logo tattooed with you after three months with barely enough money in the bank to survive month four. A person who will, after three years of grind, call you just to say well done when you’re having a bad day. A person who will check you and support you. A person who will stand by you indefatigably. A person who champions kindness and hard work.

Are you working on any exciting projects now?

Lots in the pipeline but one of the big things that is coming from UnderPinned right now is our new course — it really is the ultimate guide to freelancing. There’ll be huge amounts of updates and upgrades between now and Christmas, which will make it a kind of complete, integrated experience. It will take you from absolutely nothing to landing your first client as a freelancer and feeling competent about having used your success to bring goodness to the world.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

There are two sides to this; as a company, one of our biggest strategic pillars is diversity and inclusion. We like to talk about how we make building a business accessible to people that it might otherwise not be. Particularly when you think about freelancing, one of the biggest aspects of freelancing to build your success is the access to a network i.e. your clients and your customers. Building that can be very difficult for people from marginalized backgrounds. So one of our biggest inputs is how we focus on the ‘work first’ format of hiring, that enables people to build those networks themselves, regardless of their background. This coupled with the affordable route to education and technology means that we can give a lot more people the opportunity to build their businesses.

On the personal side, I work directly with early-stage freelancers to access first time capital. This is one of the biggest barriers to entry for first time founders because many investors aren’t particularly willing to give money to people who haven’t done it before, or at least it’s much harder. So looking at the format for how to help people build the system they need to approach people and then know how to actually approach people to get money.

Do you have a favorite book that made a deep impact on your life? Can you share a story?

The one that I keep coming back to recently is “Everyday Sexism” by Laura Bates that my girlfriend recommended to me. Obviously, the core message is incredibly important, but it extends to so many other things like the way that you use language is inherently restrictive to the people that you use it with. It’s made me really think about the words you use, and the impact of how accessible things are to other people. And I think that the use of actively inclusive language in the way that you build any sort of communication, whether it’s one to one or through a company, is so fundamentally important in creating a world we all want to live in.

Can you share 5 of the most difficult and most rewarding parts of being a “TwentySomething founder”. Please share an example or story for each

I don’t have many restrictions on what I can do, like I can afford to mess up, I can afford to go to the line, I can afford to push harder than other people can. And it’s rewarding to be able to feel like that. There’s not a real barrier to my effort. Like, I don’t have something holding me back from an effort.

The opportunity of education — the amount that I have learned in starting this business far surpasses anything, I could have learned doing anything else in the world. The people that I get to have conversations with, the people that advise me but also who I get to advise, gives me access to information and conversations that I wouldn’t normally have which are really rewarding.

I guess the biggest difficulty is not having any kind of deep sector experience which means I don’t have a network of experts or people to lead on the path, so I’ve had to build that from scratch.

Another rewarding part is more experienced entrepreneurs or established business people are very willing to talk to young entrepreneurs, so I’ve had some great conversations.

One of the biggest challenges is not having time for my friends. And so people don’t want to contact you because they know that you are busy. So, then it sometimes feels like you only hear from your friends when it’s really important.

What are the main takeaways that you would advise a twenty year old who is looking to found a business?

Surround yourself with experience. You do not have experience in everything and you cannot pretend to have experience but there are always people around who have the experience that you need. Don’t pretend that you can do something that you can’t, go and find somebody who can and has done it. Building a business is not about being good at doing things yourself. It’s about being good at finding people who have already done it.

We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this. 🙂

Billy Porter. I want everything he has ever worn.

What is the best way our readers can follow you on social media?🦚-03a97a9a/

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!