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Octopus Group Chris Hulatt used ‘Terminator gene’ to help launch $16.7 billion investment firm



Chris Hulatt was a trainee fund manager on Mercury Asset Management’s (now Merrill) grad program when he met Simon Rogerson and Guy Myles. At the turn of the millennium, the trio went on to found Octopus Group, the parent company of six financial and energy firms.

Looking back, it’s hard to believe that three twentysomethings created the hugely successful business on a whim. But that’s precisely what happened—with some help from what they now call the ‘Terminator gene’. 

“Everyone thought we were totally mad,” Hulatt recalls of the moment he and his co-founders dropped out of the grad program to launch Octopus Investments (the first of Octopus Group’s six divisions, which includes British energy giant Octopus Energy).

They didn’t have a grand business plan or any investors lined up.

“We thought, why don’t we have a crack at starting our own fund management business? You know, one of those kinds of rash things that people sometimes decide to do.” 

At 23, Hulatt had only been working for two and a half years. But just a brief taste of the corporate world was enough to convince him to put his all (both physically and with every penny of his $25,000 in savings) into making Octopus Investments a success. 

“We didn’t want to get a traditional job again.” 

Hulatt never did have to go back to the 9-to-5 grind for another employer. He’s still co-running Octopus Group which now employs over 2,500 people and serves 2.5 million customers. 

Today, Octopus Investments, where it all began, manages more than $16.7 billion on behalf of its clients, according to the company.

More than 70% of these funds target investments that tackle climate change, improve people’s quality of life, and address inequality.

Pick up the phone and start dialing

Without their salaries to fall back on, Octopus’s Hulatt and his co-founders had to find investors for the business quickly or face returning to their old jobs with their tails between their legs.

They set up camp in the front room of Hulatt’s London flat with a trusty copy of the Yellow Pages, one landline phone between them and “one ancient laptop which was about an inch thick”.

“We spent much of 2000 calling thousands of people to try to persuade them to invest in this startup fund manager company they’d never heard of run by three very young people who didn’t exactly have a long pedigree in the financial industry,” Hulatt says. “It was super hard.”

“One person held his phone up, and he said, ‘listen to this, this is the noise of my shredder shredding your business plan—never call me again.’

“It would have been all too easy after we’d spent a month or two trying to persuade people to invest in us to just give up and assume we weren’t going to go anywhere,” he adds—but they didn’t. 

As Wolf of Wall Street’s Jordan Belfort would say, they picked up the phone and kept dialing. 

“It took a long, long time (the best part of all of 2000) but we really wanted to try and make business get up and running.”

By the end of the year, after many noes, the young founders had convinced 85 people to inject around $2 million into Octopus Investments.

It’s a lesson in the power of small wins: It wasn’t a first-of-its-kind idea, an impressive presentation that won over a big VC firm, or even a stroke of luck that got Octopus Investment off the ground and into the success it is today.

“We just kept at it. It’s that kind of stubborn refusal to give in—we call it the “Terminator gene”—that has been so important to us,” Hulatt advises budding entrepreneurs. 

“You just have to be totally persistent, totally believe in yourself and never give up.”

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