Getting to Know You: William Adoasi of Vitae London
How do you go about trying to change the world? For 26 year old London native, William Adoasi, it's by selling a watch at a time. No longer fulfilled by his City job, he set up a business holding a deeper purpose. Thus, with his penchant for luxury watches and a passion for change in Africa, he founded Vitae London, a company backed by Richard Branson (who he "chills" with occasionally!) and endorsed by a range of celebs worldwide. Here, William shares more about his entrepreneurial journey, the impact his brand is having on South African school children and the secret to running a successful company.
I had never met William before this interview. Back in the day, when we were both starting out in our respective creative ventures, I had collaborated on some photos for his company - streetstyle shots of me rocking this seemingly up and coming brand. Little did I know how rapidly this company would take off or the extent of William's vision for impacting real change. Two years later, I'm sitting across a successful business founder and newly turned motivational speaker. While we drink chai lattes in East London and crack jokes about our African backgrounds, I'm impressed with William's manner. For someone who has scaled his company in such a short time, travelled the world, mingling with the rich and famous and is changing lives in South Africa, William is calm, collected, soft spoken and humble about his journey. Obviously, I was keen to find out more about his entrepreneurial mindset and why he's so passionate about giving back.
The Journey to Founding a Company…
I did a year of uni, after my A-Levels, but then dropped out to start my own business - a sports academy. Some of my friends had become FA Level 1 and 2 qualified during college but weren’t doing anything with it whilst at university. So I decided to sell them into primary schools and help after school clubs, which was really cool. Sadly, funding got pulled so we had to close that business down when I was about 22. I went back to uni part-time, whilst also working in the city as a recruitment consultant. I was doing that for a few years and making really good money but I wasn’t satisfied. Growing up I had always dreamed of working for myself, so the frustration of working long hours for someone else, combined with the realisation that I wasn’t fulfilled by money alone, became was my motivation.
Waking up every day just to have a fat paycheck at the end of the month wasn’t enough for me anymore.
My wife had taken a trip to South Africa five years ago and witnessed the massive impact a little money could make for the children out there, especially around the area of education. My dad was the first in my family to learn to read and write, breaking a cycle of poverty that had been going for generations. I had always aspired to be a part of the change around education in Africa. So with that and the frustrations over my job, I thought why not start a business where I could accomplish both aims? That was how Vitae was born.
Vitae is Latin for life, so the whole mantra behind the brand is to be the fashion brand changing lives. I’ve always loved watches, especially those from the 60s, like the original Patek Philippe watches, but I couldn’t find many that were reasonably priced with that same look. I became passionate about making that come out and giving back at the same time. So with each watch we sell, we provide a child with the basics needed in order to get to school for a year. That’s usually 2 sets of school uniform, a pair of school shoes and a school bag. For a lot of these children, education is free but they can’t get to school without these basic resources. There are over 30 million children in sub-Saharan Africa that are currently out of education. My vision is to work towards bringing those numbers down and have a globally recognised brand.
The Deeper Purpose…
I can’t do anything without a deeper meaning. Now that I have this giving back element within my company, it creates a bigger drive every single day because I know if I push harder today, I’m literally going to change lives. Nothing can motivate me more than that.
I’m just passionate about Africa in general - I want to see change there.
I went to South Africa 3 times last year and got to see the impact we were making by distributing over a thousand items of uniform to children in need. It’s been great to see peoples’ stories continue to flourish each time I visit.
We’re the brand for those who want to have something a bit flashy but can’t afford a rolex, and who want to give back too. Our watches are really universal so it relates to many different people. We’ve recently launched an all black watch which I think the younger generation would like - your 20 to 35 year olds, working a decent job. There have been 18 year olds who see the brand on Instagram and go on to purchase a watch or I’ve had emails from a 60 year old couple, who bought it for their 40th anniversary together. It’s been amazing to see how we’ve touched such a wide demographic of people.
It’s been a really strong start! We’ve gotten 8000 + followers on Facebook, 20,000+ on Twitter and 40,000 + on Instagram since launching. We’ve sold in over 26 countries, with recent backing from Richard Branson and endorsements from the likes of Paloma Faith and Emily Sandé. I’ve also been able to not only sell watches, but be a voice to inspire younger people.
Growing up, there were loads of footballers, singers, rappers, etc.. but I couldn’t name one young, black guy that I could look up to in business.
I think it’s important that there are up and coming entrepreneurs to inspire the younger generation in all walks of life. My younger brother running around university, boasting that he is my little brother because his peers have now heard of Vitae - that is my biggest success!
Convincing my wife to quit my job in the city and invest the money we had saved up for a mortgage into starting a business. My wife is amazing! She’s super supportive and because she believes in me, I was able to be me. But obviously that’s extremely challenging and complex. Also, going from a well-paid job to not earning that much, then feeling guilty if I ever took money out for myself because that money could go back into furthering the business. Cashflow has been the biggest challenge. It’s expected in the early stages of business and so we just keep pushing on.
The Fear of Failure…
Failure is beautiful because you learn so much. I don’t think my business today would be as good as it is if it wasn’t for me starting a company at 19 and then seeing it come to an end. Such failure teaches you and gives you hands on experience. This time round, I did enough research not to be afraid. You often fear what you can’t see or what you don’t understand. For me, it was a no brainer because I saw watches in the market that weren’t made with as much quality as our watches, yet more expensive and weren’t giving back. So why would people not buy my watches?
I always have the mindset of why not. There wasn’t enough to put me off doing it. Worst case scenario, the business flops and I get another job. It’s not the end of the world.
I would encourage people to take a step back, see what pains you, find purpose in that and seek to solve that problem. There’s purpose in the pain. Living day in and day out, ask yourself what frustrates you because there’s probably a deeper purpose in that, where you’re meant to be that solution. That’s all business is, solving problems. If you can do that, you can change the world.
Watches from Vitae… The Walmer Midnight Range.
Vitae Collaborations… I got to shoot a big Youtuber, which my wife admired for a while, called Shirley Eniang. Now she’s become a good friend - that’s what I like the most, forming friendships.
Business Men… Richard Branson is technically a mentor of mine. I was at his house last year - he’s a really down to earth guy!