Interview with co-founder and CEO of Entrepreneur First, Matt Clifford

Matt Clifford is CEO and co-founder of Entrepreneur First. After graduating from Cambridge, he earned an MSc at MIT. After two years in consultancy with McKinsey and Company, he left in 2011 to co-found Entrepreneur First with Alice Bentinck. Matt is the co-founder and Executive Director of Code First: Girls, a not for profit that trains over 2,000 women to code each semester. Matt serves as a board member at Innovate UK, the UK’s innovation agency, and the Kennedy Memorial Trust.

Matt Clifford, Founder and CEO
Matt Clifford, Founder and CEO

1. What is Entrepreneur First?

Entrepreneur First is the world’s leading talent investor. We invest time and money in the world’s most talented and ambitious individuals, helping them to find a co-founder, develop an idea, and start a technology company. So far, we’ve helped 2,000+ people create 300+ companies, worth a combined $2bn.

2. How did you come up with the idea of Entrepreneur First?

My co-founder, Alice Bentinck, and I started with this idea that it really matters what the most ambitious people do with their lives. We felt that far too much human potential was being wasted in traditional careers, and jobs that constrained and restricted people. This, coupled with a belief that the world is missing out on some of its best founders, is what led to us building Entrepreneur First. Since founding EF, we’ve become obsessed with helping the world’s most talented people maximise their impact – and we believe entrepreneurship offers the best opportunity to do just that.

3. What is Code First Girls and how important is it?

Almost every modern business has a digital component – whether that’s a simple website or an intricate back-end system. Whatever your career is, it’s a key skill to learn. Alice and I co-founded Code First: Girls to give more people the opportunity to learn to code, and to help increase the number of women in tech.

4. What characteristics make a great entrepreneur?

I totally reject the idea that people are born great entrepreneurs. Of course, there are certain skills and traits that make people stronger founders, but this is true for any other high impact career, like law or medicine. I think the culture you’re embedded into has a huge impact on your success, and on whether you’ll even consider entrepreneurship in the first place. Silicon Valley isn’t full of great founders because there’s something in the gene pool there – it’s just that it’s the one place in the world where entrepreneurship is the most socially approved thing to do with your life. With Entrepreneur First, we’re creating these pockets of Silicon Valley culture in cities around the world, and we’ve already seen how that can lead to many great founders.

5. In which ways can we get young boys and girls into coding and how valuable of a skill is it?

I think the earlier we can get young people into coding, the better. Coding is often described as the language of the modern age or a kind of digital literacy, so it’s a fundamental skill to learn. Even if you don’t intend to become a programming expert, coding can give you a strong basis for understanding how the technology works. There are a lot of online resources available to help young people get started, or of course, they could apply for a course at Code First: Girls!

6. What advice would you give to young budding entrepreneurs?

The size of your ambition is what matters most – your ambition will be what drives you forward, so keep this front of mind. I think it’s important to try things and start experimenting as much as you can. The people around you will also be a huge part of your success, so surround yourself with other smart and talented individuals, and you’ll be heading in the right direction.

We would like to thank Matt for speaking with us.

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