Think like an entrepreneur

Nicholas Phan photo

Nicholas Phan, Founder of Biju Bubble Tea Room in Soho and former EY employee, tells us how EY’s entrepreneurial culture gave him the knowledge and skills to succeed.

“EY encourages a lot of what it calls 'intrapreneurship'. We'd meet up regularly to brainstorm solutions to problems, and we’d be allowed to run with our ideas. I don't think many companies have that kind of environment.

“You learn so much in two and half years, you’re constantly given new problems to solve. This was good experience for me because setting up a business is a challenge – every week comes with new problems”

Nicholas’ experience on EY’s Advisory Consultant Programme included working on 9 different consulting projects spanning operational strategy and cost reduction through to post-merger integration, being a key member on 6 different bids and project managing the summer internship programme.

He believes EY’s approachable culture helps its people to think more like entrepreneurs, while they acquire fundamental business skills such as client handling, problem solving and team management.

“It’s definitely more unstructured than other workplaces. I never thought of myself as having a 'boss', only teams I’d work with. In such an environment, there is a sense of being a free agent, and so it is important to carve a space out for yourself and build your reputation.”

He also cites the firm’s approach to development and performance management as having an important role to play in adopting an entrepreneurial mind-set.

“Having a counsellor that would guide you through your career, the formal review process – it made a big difference. It made me push myself to achieve more.

“One of my objectives was to become ‘famous’ for something at EY. That definitely rings true for business, as it’s very much about building reputation.”

And it rang true for Nicholas. During his time on the Graduate Programme, he became known for his work on thought leadership, beginning with an Innovation in Asset Management report where he drove the whole process from inception to publication, and interviewed business leaders from 34 global firms.

“My name is there on the final published report alongside the Partner's and Director's – which was pretty impressive for a Graduate!”

He followed that by co-authoring an Innovation in Hedge Funds article published in the AIMA journal.

“During the formal review process, they look at these aspects of your performance, not just your client work or billable hours. It definitely encourages you to do different things on the side.”

One of Nicholas’ side projects was being EY’s Graduate Recruitment Campus Team Leader for Imperial College. This gave him his first experience of managing a team, managing a budget, setting objectives, and marketing and event management.

“That’s what I loved about EY – it’s so varied! The opportunity to do so much more on top of your client work, such as CSR, recruitment or other initiatives encourages entrepreneurialism – it just exposes you to different problems. And identifying a problem is the first step to a business idea.”

So how did Nicholas’ former colleagues react when he announced his intentions to leave and run with his own business idea?

“I received so much support from my managers, the Partners, my team-mates – so many people e-mailed offering advice. A couple of people even offered to partner with me and invest in the business even before they knew what the idea was!

“A Senior Manager connected me with a relative who’d also set up a business in the food and drink sector. One of the Directors gave me a lot of practical advice from her own experience of setting up two different business ventures, which was really helpful.” 

And what advice does Nicholas have for any budding entrepreneurs?

“You have to do something you’re passionate about but be prepared to work really hard and for really long hours. You can get burned out because it’s so non-stop. There’s a never-ending list of things to do – it’s no fairy-tale!

“Fortunately, my time at EY gave me the experience of managing so many things at the same time, which is essential for entrepreneurs and business owners. It also gave me the confidence to try new things, and to even fail – failing is OK, so long as you learn something.”

Final piece of advice:

“If possible, get professional experience before starting your own business, as the skills you gain and network you build can be invaluable.”

About Biju

  • As a concept, bubble tea originated in Taiwan in the '80s. In the last few years it's gone global
  • Nicholas discovered the drink at a young age and instantly became a fan
  • His passion for the beverage grew after travelling to the source and learning from the masters
  • Discovering the poor practices adopted by the bubble tea industry – such as using artificial ingredients and re-heating – he decided to open a store that would serve only the freshest bubble tea and with the finest possible ingredients
  • After months spent experimenting with different combinations, he opened his first Biju Bubble Tea Room in Soho in August 2014
  • Visit Biju website for more info

Nicholas Phan - timeline

  • July 2010: Graduated from University of Bristol with a degree in Economics and Management
  • September 2010: Joined EY as a Consultant on Advisory Graduate Programme February 2011  Received CIMA Certification in Business Accounting
  • June 2012: Passed CFA Level 1 exams
  • March 2013: Left EY to work on Biju concept full-time
  • August 2014: Launches first Biju Bubble Tea store in Soho
  • Follow Nicholas on LinkedIn
Glenn Lester
  • Glenn Lester

About the author

Glenn Lester is a Senior Employer Brand Advisor at EY, He has many years experience in recruitment marketing and employer branding, encompassing feature writing, social media and digital marketing.