A coffee with: Sam Gormley of Osaka Labs

Sam Gormley was an entrepreneur at 20, discovering bands for the Atlantic label. Now he’s marketing for fintechs and says the rules haven’t changed...

While some might say we are currently living in the dawn of financial technology, for 30-year old Sam Gormley from Wigan, this is already his second disruptive industry.


Back in 2011, he was a student in Leeds, taking a music degree. As streaming and downloads became mainstream, Sam worked as a talent scout for Atlantic Records, where part of his job was to rub shoulders with multi-award winning artists such as Bastille and Alt-J.  

Struck by the similarities, he found himself gravitating towards the fintech sector, swapping the challenging conditions of the music industry for the banking world. The two, he says, are not dissimilar.


Today he is the founder of Osaka Labs, a data-driven marketing agency that values transparency and aims to tell good stories. Sam takes us through his journey so far.

Osaka Labs is a creative agency which has achieved particular traction with the fintech sector. Focusing on strategy and digital creative, the company puts data first to create optimised digital experiences and understand the customer journey from first contact to mature relationship. Clients include Accenture, Cleo, Starling Bank, Curve and VISA. 

Transformation takes effort: “When I was in my last year of university I was given an apprenticeship at Atlantic records. It meant that I would spend 2 days a week in Leeds, then travel down to London, work in a bar over the weekend and spend the rest of the time at Atlantic. It was probably the hardest thing I’ve ever done but it never felt like work, and that’s why I enjoyed it.” 

 

Connecting with people: “Being a scout wasn’t going to endless gigs! It meant nurturing the talent and making sure they had everything they needed. Just before Alt-J were awarded their Mercury Prize, they were sleeping on my floor. They went on to thank me on the next album: we connected and they valued me. That resonated.”

Biggest mistake: “The one that still hurts involves a little complacency on my part. I had thrown two sold-out events and so put minimal effort into a third. I even asked the venue to open up an extra room and found myself hundreds of pounds out of pocket when only 15 people turned up. It was beans on toast for a while afterwards...”


Understand the industry, understand your consumer: “When Spotify emerged on the scene, I remember being in a presentation where the big labels all rubbished the transition to the download. They were determined that people would always prefer to hold a CD and called it a fad. But as a poor student, I saw the irony. Many of my friends were streaming music already from the comfort of their bedrooms.”


Banking was inertial too: “A few years later when I was working in financial services and marketing, I saw the similarities between my past life and the likes of Monzo. Banks held the same complacency that users preferred a physical presence, but they underestimated the need for user-friendly apps and have been slow to catch up since. It was essentially a lack of vision and foresight, the recognition that the user drives the market.”

Marketing at the cutting edge: “The theory behind Osaka Labs had been building for a while. I took a year off to go travelling around Australia and had plenty of time to consider just how I wanted to be involved in a growing market where the focus was on the customer. I got away from my ‘island mentality’, realising instead that this new fintech sector was all about development, whereas financial services were simply stagnating. I knew that I needed to become a storyteller, and that means surrounding myself with the right people who can explain new ideas to ordinary people. Beyond my core team, I work with specialist freelancers; which means I can honour the brief of helping innovative and disruptive ideas break into the mainstream.”


A growth strategy based on positive stories: “After working with clients such as Capita and Curve over the last few years, we now have a five-year growth strategy. For me, the most important aspect was to keep this flexible as we really want to be able to work with the right clients. I especially like a challenge. Capita, for example, struggled with their reputation after a series of bad publicity events; but underneath it all they had an amazing financial wellness product buried in their model. We took that and were able to focus on the transparency of the project and really turned it around so that people without a financial education could understand and benefit. It’s something I’m very proud of.”

Ideal client: “A decade ago, in my student mentality, I would be looking for the best return. Now I’m feeling a sense of déjà vu that the fintech sector is going the same way as the music industry. The companies that survived were the ones which really spoke to their customers and thus were able to scale. That’s exactly what I look for in a client: how can we tell their story, help customers, and grow. After travelling, I realised that to be successful it has to be more than just me: the world is a huge place and it’s changing constantly.”


For Sam, the next few years will be crucial. He coins it as “the end of the banking era” and believes that fintech is the most disruptive field of the moment because it is so focused on consumer need rather than protecting existing banking monopolies. The fact that banks are now transforming their models only adds to the excitement. The data, he says, continues to show that consumers just don’t have that loyalty the banks once relied on. Osaka is standing on the edge; and the opportunity for transformative change, far from being mature, has only just begun.

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