Hiring Circle’s Georgie Banfield spoke to Paul-Hugo Thiboult, Analyst at 3i.
Paul-Hugo Thiboult is a London-based Analyst at 3i Group, an international investment company.
3i is focused on private equity and infrastructure. Prior to joining 3i, Paul-Hugo worked in investment banking as an M&A Analyst Intern and co-founded a venture in the gaming industry. Paul-Hugo graduated from the London School of Economics with Distinction and from IE University during which he completed an exchange at The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology.
You are currently on the Analyst rotation scheme at 3i, but before we discuss that in more detail, can you please tell me more about the business you set up while you were at University. How did that come about and what is your involvement now?
The business I was involved in creating is called BnGet – it is a UK-based prize competition operator with a differentiated high-end experience-led proposition. BnGet offers players the opportunity to bet as little as £2 to £5 and win high-end experiences valued at up to £25,000. Back when we started, winning experiences rather than traditional cash rewards was hard to come by in the industry and we decided to position BnGet in this niche. A friend and I arrived at the idea during our first year at IE University. Aside from studying we were also trying to find opportunities to create a business. We started looking at social media and found an attractive market – crowded but with underlying tailwinds and compelling returns. We bought some online magazines, which were posting about high-end cars and holidays, and started sharing content from influencers. In less than a year, we accumulated over 2 million followers on Instagram, and began to look for the best ways to monetise this influence beyond the obvious option of selling advertising space. We were getting thousands of likes and comments every day and wanted to give our followers the opportunity to win the products they were interacting with.
“Founding this company was one of the best experiences I've ever had”
This is how the BnGet idea came to life. It took us a great amount of time to overcome the regulatory barriers and get the right technology in place but BnGet launched in mid-2018. Two years later, BnGet is a UK leader in his niche, has a foothold in key European markets, raised over £250k from external investors, accumulated 25k+ users, 150+ winners and generated c.£80K of sales in FY19 (+75% vs. FY18). I have been out of day to day of the business for some time now but the learning experience has been incredible.
Is your experience of owning a business and being on a management team useful to the role you do now at 3i?
Yes, definitely! Founding this company was one of the best experiences I have ever had. The strategic thinking skills I built have been extremely useful and because of my involvement in this entrepreneurial experience I feel I had the chance to start developing a sense for business at an early age. The main lessons I learnt through BnGet were around the challenges of 1) managing a company’s operations 2) developing a product and a competitive go-to-market strategy and 3) dealing with investors. In my day-to-day at 3i I very much use all the lessons I learnt from those days, albeit at a much larger scale now.
“The main lessons I learnt through BnGet were around the challenges of 1) managing a company’s operations 2) developing a product and a competitive go-to-market strategy and 3) dealing with investors”
We were a small company – from 2 people at the start and 8 at its peak. I feel very privileged to have had such a valuable experience early in my career – at the age of 19 years old we were figuring out how to operate a company which implies bringing (and keeping!) talent onboard, allocating capital, tracking KPIs and confronting ourselves to the fact that the reality can be quite different from the original business plan. We also had to learn to develop a unique value proposition and trying to find where we could be competitive. Questions such as which markets should we enter, how and why? were often part of our brainstorming sessions. Pitching and dealing with investors was quite fundamental to the learning experience too. Raising funds is not an easy task. Beyond handling the legal documents involved in the process, it requires finding partners who agree with your vision and trust your ability to make it a reality.
The traditional route into Private Equity tends to be via an earlier career in Investment Banking or consulting. Tell me why you went straight to the buyside.
Consulting and Investment Banking will always be a preferred route to Private Equity but if you manage to get into a well-structured programme such as that provided by 3i, then moving to the buyside straight-off can be worth it. Moving straight to Private Equity was definitely the preferred path for me and once I knew my goal, it was a no brainer to apply for 3i. What attracted me the most to private equity was the way an investor was building conviction around an asset. You are constantly asking questions such as How is the company making money? What makes the opportunity attractive? What are the key risks? Who are we backing? What can we achieve with this business?, etc. and those resonate well with me. It is about the investor mindset versus the advisor perspective. I did have the chance to have a taste of both through past internships and looking more in-depth at an asset is what excites me the most.
Tell me more about why you chose 3i
I mentioned earlier that there are a few of these training programmes in London. Most of them are well structured and I believe they can be the preferred route into the industry where you can learn from the ground up. But why 3i specifically? It is a great brand that has been around for some time. It also operates in key sectors (i.e. Business & Technology Services, Consumers, Healthcare, Industrial) which interest me.
“But why 3i specifically? It is a great brand that has been around for some time...In terms of culture, 3i really rewards proactivity and that appealed to me”
The quality of the programme is excellent and highly structured. It has been running for a few years now and it is clear that the previous people who have been through the programme are really bright. It offers best in class training and 3i invests a lot in its graduates. Throughout our analyst years, we are able to rotate between the Private Equity and Infrastructure teams across 3i’s European offices - seeing different asset classes and local realities fuels this learning experience even more.
In terms of culture, 3i really rewards proactivity and that appealed to me. Much responsibility is given to you even at a junior level – If you bring an idea, you are encouraged to run with it and present your findings. 3i values this passion and if you are ambitious you will thrive with them. From the start of the interviews, I could also feel everyone was friendly, relatable and passionate with a good number of professionals coming from different backgrounds, making the workplace quite exciting.
Can you please share your insight into the interview process and how the subsequent graduate scheme works?
After going through a few screening rounds (i.e. an online application form, inductive and numeric reasoning assessments, 1-on-1 interviews) you are selected for an assessment centre (i.e. “AC”). The AC is an enriching experience as you are not only able to test your analytical and commercial skills with a group and individual case study but also meet professionals across 3i, including Partners!
As a graduate analyst you embark in a 2.5-year journey with 3i, rotating within various teams across Europe. For instance, I have been part of the PE Operations & Finance team for the past 5 months and will soon spend the next 2 years between the UK Private Equity and Infrastructure teams. I am staying in the UK but depending on your language skills you have the opportunity to join other European offices.
You started the programme during the Summer of 2020, in the height of lockdown. How has this affected your training and your experience as an Analyst?
Lockdown has brought both its pros and cons to starting a new job. Obviously it is hard to meet new people which is a shame when you are working in a dynamic environment. Everyone cares about and looks after you but the way you meet is different – it is all online. It has become clear we are not online creatures and we need social interactions. You also do not get the opportunity to listen in on those usual office conversations and learn things passively day-to-day. So that has been different, but I am positive that will change - hopefully I will be able to meet my colleagues properly soon!
On the other hand, lockdown has freed up a lot of my time and brought new opportunities. By not going to the office this encourages me to have more time to be curious and for myself. I wanted to develop some hard skills and decided to spend some of my downtimes studying past investment memos and market researches or even practicing some financial modelling exercises. I was also able to log into VC calls with senior professionals I would never have been able to attend in normal times. Learning and improving my technical abilities has been good and I was mainly able to do it because I was not commuting.
What advice do you have for someone interested in interviewing at 3i and PE generally?
I would advise three main things:
Firstly, do your research. It is important to have a strong understanding of the organisation of the fund you want to work for. Every firm has a different culture and different style of investing. Sometimes it is key to know why you are applying to a certain organisation – it might be great on paper but when you look more deeply it might not be the right organisation for you. Reaching out directly to industry professionals is ideal. When you talk to people in funds, they can give you an idea of what they are doing or what you might be doing. They can give you guidance about where to go and tips on how to approach interviews – this can save you a lot of time.
Secondly, prepare thoroughly for the interview. At analyst level, interviews tend to be quite similar so, as mentioned above, ask around and inform yourself. It is essential that you master a way of presenting yourself in under a minute. You will often hear: “talk to me about you”. This should be something you know by heart! There are technical skills you need to master too.
“I would advise three main things for anyone interested in interviewing at 3i or PE generally. Firstly, do your research…Secondly, prepare thoroughly…thirdly, be yourself”
Valuations are a must. You should be comfortable with the main Discounted Cash Flow and relative valuations and their respective drivers. Be prepared to answer questions about LBOs – that’s a real plus if you apply to funds. You need to know your accounting – that’s key and quite useful on the day-to-day job. I would also advise you to be familiar with brainteasers; you do not want to miss your next dream job by missing a trick here! Make sure to also show a strong commercial acumen. Building an investor mindset is a never-ending journey but being able to present a structured investment thesis during the AC’s case study is key and will help you differentiate yourself from other candidates. Look at the business – How is it making money? What’s its competitive positioning? How good are the operations in place? How good is the management? – Look at the industry – Are there some tailwinds/headwinds? What are the barriers to entry? What’s the market landscape like? – Look at how you can add value – through buy & build and organically – and form a view on whether the company is an attractive investment opportunity.
My final piece of advice is to be yourself during interviews – easier said than done… Have the biggest smile on your face as people want you to bring positive energy and show real passion for the job! People want to ensure they can work with you even if it is late at night, and see you are genuinely excited about the work and Private Equity as a whole.
“Have the biggest smile on your face as people want you to bring positive energy and show real passion for the job!”
Demonstrating passion for the job and talking like an investor during interviews will make a difference. Read a lot of news – for example the Financial Times “Due Diligence” newsletter. This helps you keep up to date about the industry. There are podcasts out there too – for example “Invest Like The Best” by Patrick O’Shaughnessy. I found helpful to listen to investors and CXOs as they are industry experts giving great insights about a sector or business and use the right language. Books have also proven to be quite useful – lots are easily digestible and that shows you are passionate. A few examples are “The Outsiders” – W. Thorndike, “The Essays of Warren Buffett” – L. A. Cunningham or even “Security Analysis” – B. Graham and D. Dodd (less digestible!).