Sheraz Dar switched from corporate to start-up
Sheraz Dar switched from corporate to start-up
A view from Sheraz Dar

'I learned more in three months than in three years': from corporate shackles to start-up

As part of a new series shining a light on marketers moving from the corporate world to start-ups, Marketing hears from Sheraz Dar, former marketer at Orange, Cadbury and Premier Foods, who has since worked with Tesco's Blinkbox, Quidco and property and office ventures eMoov, OpenRent and Spacious.

Growing up I wanted to play sport for a living. What could be better than doing something you love and being paid for it? The sporting career never quite panned out, and looking back, I’m not sure my knees would have coped anyway.

It felt like a risk-averse environment - I remember the business not wanting to get involved in the smoothie market as it ‘wasn’t big enough for us’...

As life progressed two options stood out. A career in marketing was one. I’d been seduced by the Pepsi advertising of the 1980s – I blame Cindy Crawford – or life as a City boy; I’m glad I chose the former.

Ironically I began my career in soft drinks, working at Britvic and Pepsi. I loved pretty much all of it – learning what marketing actually was and realising you couldn’t do things on your own.

I worked on some great projects, like launching J20. Most of all though I gained an amazing, broad grounding in marketing working across advertising, product launches, design and PR to name just a few.

Something was missing, however. Decisions took what felt like an age, and all too often it felt like a risk-averse environment. I remember the business not wanting to get involved in the smoothie market as it ‘wasn’t big enough for us’...

First taste of the start-up world

A change was needed. It would have been safe to stay, but it was no longer fulfilling. I’ve always taken calculated risks and now it was time to take another. In 2001 I teamed up with a friend from university who’d founded a dotcom and off we went into the unknown.

I went from an office to working out of a house. I still remember to this day designing a site that relied on dial up connection. How things have changed. We did some great things, and it felt like each day we were breaking new ground – the corporate shackles were off. I felt free.

One day, however, it all came to a shuddering end. The dotcom bubble burst and overnight the market collapsed. The dream ended.

Back to big

I saw the future for classically trained marketers who were not digitally savvy and it was a brick wall

My next few roles were in great businesses, but back in corporate – Orange and Cadbury’s being two examples. When asked about that time of my life I often summarise the situation by saying "why take a month to do something, when you can take a year".

So a few years ago, armed with my ‘classic’ marketing background, and experience of the digital space first time around I made a conscious decision to change direction. I saw the future for classically trained marketers who were not digitally savvy and it was a brick wall.

I joined a division of Daily Mail General Trust (DMGT) that was responsible for their digital property brands, Primelocation and FindaProperty, and loved it.

Passion, pace and being paid

I was combining my ‘classic’ experience with a fast paced digital environment. I felt like I learned more in my first three months than my previous three years. The group marketing director role was responsible for all marketing activity – on and off line – a key requisite for me. I’m not a fan of dividing up a marketing department along those lines.

And so the change in direction had begun. DMGT allowed me to harness my background within the digital space. This classically trained FMCG marketer had evolved.

Marketing is still at the heart of what I do and love, but my experiences have taken me into a place where I am now also advising and investing in a series of start-ups. This world moves at pace and decisions are made quickly.

And finally we come full circle. It might not be in the world of sport, but what could be better than doing something you love and being paid for it?