Shoot your Shot with William Adoasi, Founder of Vitae London

Dive into the story of how William Adoasi is transforming the traditional watch industry with Vitae London – a luxury brand built through purpose, strategic planning, and astute bootstrapping.

Shoot your Shot with William Adoasi, Founder of Vitae London

Welcome to Unfinished Business, a new podcast where we sit down with entrepreneurs who have overcome the challenges of starting a company, and the secrets to keeping it alive.

In this episode of Unfinished Business, you'll meet William Adoasi, Founder of Vitae London.

William's story demonstrates how a passionate entrepreneur can make a meaningful social impact while building a successful business.

He started Vitae London with a mission to help underprivileged children in Africa through the sale of stylish watches.

William's innovative approach to business and commitment to social change have allowed Vitae London to grow exponentially and attract international attention.

Like all founders, William's entrepreneurial journey has seen its fair share of ups and downs.

But unshakeable ambition and unwavering belief in both his mission and himself is why he has created a successful business that makes a difference in the lives of others.

In this episode, you'll learn that:

  • Perseverance and self-belief are crucial for overcoming obstacles and achieving success in entrepreneurship.

  • Being data-driven and constantly evolving your business model can lead to greater success and growth.

  • Finding your purpose and staying true to your core values will help you stay grounded and motivated during challenging times.

  • Embracing change and staying innovative are key to navigating an ever-changing business landscape.

  • Balancing work, life, and personal well-being is critical for success.

Episode Transcript: Bet on Yourself with William Adoasi, Vitae London

Liana: Welcome to Unfinished Business, a new series created to decode entrepreneurship.

I'm your host, Liana Fricker, founder of Inspiration Space. Consider this a power hour of mentoring available free to you on demand.

Throughout the series, you'll learn from a cross-section of founders at various stages of business growth, and from their stories, you'll pick up practical knowledge that you can use to avoid their mistakes and replicate their wins as a founder.

Liana: I know what it feels like to build the plane as you fly, but if you think about it differently, to be successful, a company has to keep evolving.

It remains unfinished or dies. The good news is Inspiration Space gives you the confidence and knowledge you need to keep moving.

We teach simple principles that inspire big ideas and connect you to the people and resources that will help accelerate your success.

Built by entrepreneurs for entrepreneurs, progress happens here.

Liana: Today's guest is William Adoasi, founder of Vitae London.

William, thank you so much for joining us.

William: Thanks so much for having me.

Liana: How are you?

William: I'm good. I got back from Ghana a few days ago, so yeah, transitioning back to the cold of London, but I can't complain.

Liana: Do you split your time between here?

William: Yeah. Yeah. Literally. I live between the two.

Liana: In my experience, entrepreneurship feels like a rollercoaster.

Once you decide to act on your big idea, the seatbelt goes click, and you're on your way. There's no turning back. Now it's all systems go.

So I want to start with the “before” moment. Can you tell us what you were doing before you started Vitae?

William: Yeah. My journey into entrepreneurship was pretty interesting.

I left Uni after a year to start my first business, which was a sports academy.

I saw a gap in the market with young people my age who had different FA level one and FA level two qualifications from doing sports growing up, but they weren't utilising them.

So my cousin and I started selling their expertise into schools for after-school clubs, and we ran that business for about three years, got into six figures, but then the government pulled the funding we were tapping into for the schools to utilise.

The business no longer worked, so around 21 or 22, I went to work in the city as an insurance broker and then as a recruitment consultant.

I finished my degree part-time while doing that, and when I was 26, about 5 or 6 years ago, I decided to start Vitae.

That was my journey into entrepreneurship and my business.

Liana: And in that time between starting the first business and then being employed, did you have a sense of feeling unfulfilled because it was around the same age that I know for myself, something just started percolating and was like,

“I don't know that I'm doing what I'm supposed to be doing, but I don't know why I'm not feeling it, and I don't really know what the solution would be.”

William: I couldn't agree more. I feel like you just read my mind with the way you described that because, day-to-day, I felt this discontent.

I could change roles, I could become more senior, but no matter what, I just wasn't feeling fulfilled.

I was working in sales, so if you work really hard, you could get good commission payouts, but I just got to a point where money alone wasn't giving me that fulfilment.

I knew I had to do something with a bigger purpose and provide myself with autonomy. So yeah, a similar feeling for sure.

Liana: So tell me about your lightbulb moment.

William: For me, I started the idea phase about a year before we launched.

In that phase, when I was testing the samples on people and looking at the potential vision for it, I realised that there were watch brands out there whose designs I believed I could improve upon.

We would be at a similar price point, if not cheaper in some instances, and I would make sure we were using the best quality materials and providing social impact through our work.

So, I thought to myself, "If these companies that I think I can outdo are sustaining and growing year on year, then why not just give it a go?"

As soon as I got my first batch of watches in, I went over to my office and said, "Yeah, I'm quitting."

They didn't understand, but I just knew I had to give it a shot. Worst-case scenario, I could just go and get another job.

Liana: That's exactly what I would always say, and this is what I tell people I work with. I'm like, "Look, if worse comes to worse, you'll just get another job. Who cares?"

William: Literally, I'll survive, so I might as well give it a go. Why not?

Liana: Where were you when the idea struck you, and why watches? It's such a competitive market.

William: My journey into the watch industry started from a very young age.

I used to collect Casios and G-Shocks. There was a watch called the Aqua Master that was growing in popularity in London at the time.

Then, I got into Fossil watches, Michael Kors, and so on. When it was time to get the big boy watches, I looked at their price point and felt like there wasn't an in-between.

William: I didn't think enough companies were producing watches that had a luxury look and feel while still using high-quality materials, and at a price point for the masses.

In that phase, I had the lightbulb moment, and I felt like I could bring something new to the market.

Even though the watch industry is super saturated, after doing my research, I saw that it grew at a double-digit percentile, even through the 2008 recession, for instance.

William: So, it made me feel like, "Yes, it's saturated, but if you can be distinctive and bring something new and fresh to the industry, it's an industry that's continually scaling," which is why it was something I wanted to be a part of.

Liana: So then what did you do next?

William: The next phase was that I had the idea and the concept, so I built the website on WordPress using WooCommerce.

I went back and forth with the factories, got the samples in, tested them on different people's wrists, and took photographs with the samples.

I used those photos as marketing material, gathering email addresses so that when the first batch of watches came in, we had all these people waiting to receive them.

We went live from there and have just been growing ever since.

Liana: As you ride the highs and lows of founder life, you're going to face unforeseen challenges.

When you come from outside the status quo of what society traditionally presents as the "classic entrepreneur," the journey can be even more arduous.

The research and planning stages are important for all founders, but even more so when you have a product-based business, especially if you're not the maker, you know, not the watchmaker.

Can you talk to us about the mission-critical things you did to set yourself up for success? You mentioned building the website and the email list, but how did you even know to do that?

William: Every single experience I've encountered, I've used to build the business.

For instance, when I was working in recruitment, a lot of people didn't think email addresses were significant, but I found that I could gather so much data and, by sending smart and cleverly worded emails instead of making phone calls, I could do it at scale.

William: My experiences within recruitment and my first business led me to be more data-driven. It's easy to get caught up in social media metrics, like having 100,000 followers on Instagram, but you don't own that data; you're renting that space.

With time, I've seen the importance of owning the data, gathering those email addresses, and having direct contact to scale. So it was elements like that that I felt were crucial for us to launch.

Liana: Absolutely. It's so easy to lose sight of what you need to do versus what you think you should do when you're building the plane as you fly.

And what about the selection of materials and finding a manufacturing partner?

William: There were so many angles to explore with that.

First, the manufacturing. In my mid-twenties, I had saved up money from my sales jobs towards a house deposit with my wife, which I convinced her to let me use to start the business.

The process was interesting because we were still limited. When factories would give me minimum order quantities, I'd feel overwhelmed.

But I got shrewd and started speaking to multiple factories at once, using their conversations against each other to bring down minimum order quantities and prices to something I could afford.

William: When it came down to the last few factories, I made sure they were independently audited.

It would have been a contradiction if we were supporting children's education in Sub-Saharan Africa while using child labor to produce our watches.

William: We did background research on the factories' external audits to ensure good working conditions.

We ordered our samples, got our first batch of watches in, and started super lean with only two designs—one for men and one for women.

Over time, we scaled the business.

Liana: It sounds like you had a plan and a vision, which allowed you to seize the right opportunities.

I find it interesting that you used the house deposit to fund the business because that adds an extra bit of skin in the game, right?

It makes you hope your bet isn't wrong.

William: Yeah, you can't really afford for it to be wrong. It pushes you when times are hard, and you look back at the sacrifices you've made.

It gives you a bit more drive than taking the initial bet with someone else's money. That's what pushed me down that path.

Liana: The pressure is real, and it's stressful. What support system did you have when starting out?

William: I've got people in my life and family who are doing well in entrepreneurship or creativity.

My uncle, who's only two years older than me, has built a finance management business between London and Accra.

Through his advice and the way he's built his business, I've been able to find the right information to grow.

Conversations with him and others who challenge me have pushed my curiosity even deeper, leading me to do the research I need.

I think there's an information gap for people from our culture; it's not necessarily the skills or ability, it's just a lack of information.

Doing that research has been super helpful in scaling the business.

Liana: In past interviews, you've mentioned "blagging it" and having a fake PA to present yourself as a big company when you were just starting.

Can you talk to me about the art of exaggeration, because it can feel uncomfortable?

William: I think it's important to speak as if you're already where you're going, not just where you are right now.

From the start, I built my vision with the end goal in mind and acted as if I was already there.

People assumed we'd been around much longer because of the way we approached the market and presented ourselves.

It's important to present yourself in the best light possible, so your audience and potential partners see you as a credible business or entrepreneur to work with.

Liana: What I hear is getting comfortable in your own skin.

I used to work in PR and Creative Marketing, and I learned that it's not the size of the budget, it's the creativity.

It's about being comfortable in your own skin and vision, saying it over and over again to everyone you talk to, almost cementing it as a reality in your own head.

William: Exactly. How can you expect anyone to believe in your vision if you don't believe in it yourself?

You have to be confident, comfortable, and believe in the vision as if it's already happened. That's what brings everyone else on board. I couldn't agree more.

Liana: Can you talk to us about your thinking around building the brand? How much of that did you plan versus it just happening naturally?

William: I wish I could say I planned everything and made it happen, but I think I grew much better through iteration.

I learned so much better from trying, failing, learning from those mistakes, and seeing what worked or didn't work. What people see today is the result of years of iteration.

Liana: Entrepreneurship involves pacing yourself and remembering there's a long way to go.

Can you discuss how you started thinking about the business's growth and trajectory, particularly the financial element, since product businesses often need money to fund growth?

William: Early conversations with my uncle about exit strategy and investments opened my eyes to the possibility of receiving investment.

We were reaching product-market fit and doing decent revenue, scaling in new markets, and selling in over 35 countries just a few years into the business.

I knew we needed extra cash to scale up. Initially, I was against investment because I didn't want to give up any ownership, but I eventually realised I'd rather own a smaller percentage of something worth billions than 100% of something worth much less.

A couple of years into the business, we raised capital through a venture capital investor in the States, Backstage Capital, and then an equity crowdfunding campaign.

Liana: In between investing your own money, venture capital, and crowdfunding, did you have any other sources of funding besides actual revenue?

William: The only other source was a £20,000 loan from Virgin Startup, which led to my affiliation with Richard Branson and mentorship from him. That happened about a year and a half into the business.

Aside from that, it was all bootstrapped. I would reinvest the money we made, pay myself as little as possible, and keep growing and scaling like that.

Liana: Knowing what you know now about financing and scaling, what advice would you give to your younger self?

William: It's interesting because we're shifting our business model to a more pre-order model, where we'll be releasing limited edition premium watches.

This is a win-win for us as the manufacturer and the customer. I would advise my younger self to look at business models that keep cash from being tied up for long periods and are as lean as possible.

This way, you can stretch your cash longer and see larger profit margins.

Liana: And that's better for the environment, right? You're making things to order, so there are fewer samples being flown around and less wasted materials.

William: Exactly. 100%. It's a win-win all around.

I would have maybe looked at a model like this when I was younger, but at the same time, I believe everything I've done has led me to where I am today.

I learned more from experience than someone older telling me what to do.

Liana: Has your level of ambition grown throughout your journey, and if so, in what ways?

William: I think I go through waves and cycles of unrealistic ambition and crazy dreams to realism. I believe it's important to have dreams and visions beyond reality to push beyond it.

With time, the vision grows because you start achieving your dreams, and they become normality.

You have to dream again, push for those dreams to become normality, and then dream again.

For me, the bigger our business gets, the more impact we make, which is a win-win.

Liana: Can you talk to us about the purpose-driven aspect of your business?

William: It's a win-win scenario. People align themselves with the type of business they want to support, and as a business, we're more driven knowing that as we scale, we're making more of an impact.

Having a core purpose gives us true meaning behind everything we do.

Although there's a bit of profit loss, I think we gain more profit because of the mindset adopted in building the business and finding a community of people who believe in the change we want to see in the world. Aligning with them is incredible.

Liana: Has there ever been a moment where you thought about quitting, where you're just like, I can't do this anymore?

William: Yes, I think about that moment all the time. Not so much now, I would say, but especially in the earlier days where it's just so tough.

The thought does come to mind. There are much easier paths, and sometimes I genuinely wish I could go down those paths, but there's just something in me that doesn't allow it.

I wish I could just work a nine-to-five, come home, watch Netflix, and life would be so easy. I wouldn't have to be on the phone to Asia at 4:00 AM or speaking to America at certain times. But unfortunately, that's not something I can do.

It's always in me to push for more, to push beyond any limit set. There have been times where I want to quit, but I feel like I was made to do this.

I think when you find your lane, whether it's employment or entrepreneurship, when you find what gives you that hunger, passion, and desire to go further, it's hard to quit even when you feel like it.

So, what keeps me going? First and foremost, one of the biggest drivers is my children.

I've got two young daughters. Creating a life for them with no limits definitely keeps me going.

I want to build a massive business that makes a massive impact. I want to leave this world better than I found it.

That's really what drives me and pushes me to keep going.

Liana: I often think of entrepreneurship as a high-performance sport where the money is the prize for the impact, but it's not the reason why you do it.

That motivation is going to come in the form of impact, meeting milestones, and being on the same level as people you used to look up to, now as peers.

That's what keeps you going because it's motivating.

William: For sure. There's nothing better than that, and I think it's just about going back to the root, the core, the heart.

In the midst of those hard times, that's what's always going to keep you grounded and keep you going more than anything – the purpose.

Liana: Can you talk to us about how Covid impacted your business? What we've seen is that it was a time for innovation for many companies. What was it like for Vitae?

William: For us, it was an interesting time because we had done a series of pop-up shops in Central London, in Covent Garden, and a few other places as well.

We were getting to a point where we were about to sign a lease on a spot in central London and scale the retail side of things. But then, Covid hit, and all our plans were ruined in that sense.

It ended up being a blessing in disguise. It meant we could double down on our online business and give that our sole focus.

It pushed us to do more in terms of press and PR to build awareness. Nearing the end of the pandemic, we received an email from Nordstrom in the States, saying they wanted to stock us.

So, at the start of the pandemic, we were sad because we couldn't start one store, but all of a sudden, we were in 30 Nordstrom stores at the end of the pandemic.

A few months ago, we were contacted by Macy's, who are also stocking us. Although Covid had its negativities for us, from a business perspective, it turned out okay.

We were able to push on and do well. However, it was a tough time, as many lives were lost.

Liana: If you think back from the beginning of the business to now, what was your biggest win? Can you think of just, you know, a moment where you're like, ah, this is it?

William: I think the biggest win, and it's going to sound a bit cheesy, but I just think the biggest win is never quitting.

Because you can have those mountaintop moments, like meeting Richard Branson and having him wear our watch and tell people about it or meeting Pharrell Williams. I've met the president of Ghana.

There have been so many amazing moments like that. Those moments only existed because, in the dark times, I didn't quit.

So I think that's the true win. It's just perseverance and not giving in.

Because if you do that, the fruit will be all those other things I've mentioned.

Liana: Oh, I got goosebumps. I love that.

Liana: What about, you know, a setback or an "oh shit" moment, and you're like, "Oh my goodness, I probably shouldn't have done that?"

William: I'm not sure that there have been certain watch collections that, in the early days, the design wasn't particularly as fetching as our current watches.

We spent a lot of money on them, and then it took us months to sell them, whereas we would typically sell out a lot quicker. So I don't know. But again, that's all trial and error.

That's all part of it. I'm not sure I have a massive moment like that. But yeah, there have been loads of little moments and failures we've had and mistakes we've made that have all gone to sharpen us, to be honest, and improve us to do what we do today.

Liana: So I always say that a healthy business is one that's always evolving. What's next for William and Vitae?

William: As I mentioned, we're changing our tact. We're changing business models a bit to more premium, higher-end, limited edition watches.

Also, with every single watch we sell, we're still making the social impact of providing a solar lamp to a child in need, meaning they can study safely in the evening across sub-Saharan Africa, predominantly Ghana at the moment in South Africa.

William: On top of that, we'll be issuing an NFT with each of these watches as well, so that in the years to come, people will be able to track their watch according to the blockchain and know that they're one of the first 300 to genuinely own that product.

So yeah, we are just trying to move with the times. We're trying to be as innovative as possible.

William: We're going to be dropping at least three or four capsules every year with these amazing designs.

Limited edition watches and social impact with NFT attribution too.

Liana: So we like to wrap up every episode of Unfinished Business with a quick-fire round that we like to call Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda.

Your "Coulda" is something that you think you could have done if you hadn't done this.

Your "Would"a is something you maybe would do differently, and your "Shoulda" is something that you feel you should do, but you haven't yet.

William: I'm super passionate about business. Aside from business, though, I'm passionate about creativity in general, so I'm a musician as well.

While I started Vitae, I would actually supplement through photography, too. So I would do wedding photography and portraiture work, which helped me supplement and have some money to keep the business going.

So I think coulda would have been instead of mixing business and creativity, something which was more purely creative like music full-time or photography.

William: I think the woulda would be delegating tasks earlier and building a team around me sooner.

When you start a business, you tend to want to do everything yourself because you think no one else can do it as well as you. But the reality is that you can't scale effectively if you don't have a team you trust.

So, if I could go back, I would have put more effort into building a team earlier on and freeing up more time to focus on strategy and business development.

William: As for the shoulda, I believe I should put more effort into maintaining a healthy work-life balance.

Running a business can be all-consuming, and it's easy to neglect your personal life, relationships, and self-care.

I think it's essential for me to find that balance so I can be more efficient and productive in the long run.

I'm still working on it, but I recognize its importance and hope to improve in that area.

Liana: Those are great answers. Thank you so much for joining us today, William. It has been an absolute pleasure to have you on Unfinished Business, and I'm so excited to see where Vitae London goes next.

William: No worries at all. Thank you so much for having me, and thanks for the amazing work you're doing. Thanks for the brilliant questions today and for really doing your research on what we've been building. I'm super grateful. Thank you so much.

Liana: Thanks for listening to Unfinished Business. Make sure you subscribe wherever you get your podcasts so you never miss a lesson.

And if you're thinking about starting a business and don't want to do it alone, head over to to find out how we can give you a helping hand and ensure your inspiration tank stays full.

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