May 10, 2023

Meet LEVRA Co-founder: Bartek Ogonowski, a qualified Big 4 Chartered Accountant and Oxford MBA Graduate

How did you come up with the idea for LEVRA? Has it changed along the way?

I worked at Deloitte, South Africa, for about 7 years. As a manager and later, a senior manager, the most difficult conversations I had was when a client would call me and say ‘Don’t ever let that trainee back into my office — they had no idea what they were talking about.’ I knew that these were technically brilliant and competent individuals that had been through a rigorous recruitment process, but they lacked the interpersonal communication skills to deliver their message confidently and effectively. There is a big skills gap between university students, and the professional working world, and this sparked my desire to make a difference to solve this complex and growing problem.

I completed my MBA at the University of Oxford in 2021/22 and this is officially where LEVRA was born. As part of the MBA, one of the main research projects is the Entrepreneurship Project , where you and your team of 5 people have four months to identify a problem, research the problem area, produce a G2M strategy and business plan, financial forecasts and an investor pitch deck. I pitched the problem above to my cohort, and put together a team of 5 people that felt passionately about solving the problem. We’ve been through a lot of different changes to the idea in just over a year but the underlying WHY we are doing this has remained the same.

How did you meet your Co-Founder(s)?

Emily and I met during the MBA programme at Oxford. In the first few months, we were good friends — and shared some great coffee chats and dinners. When the Entrepreneurship Project started (February 2022) Emily and I started researching this skills gap we experienced first hand, which we continued developing for the rest of our time at Oxford. After the MBA, we both made the decision to be full-time on LEVRA and have not looked back.

Where did you find your first customer?

Our networks have been key to developing customer and investor relations. Initially, our target customers were law firms in the UK. We had made this decision for a number of reasons: there are over 9,800 law firms in the UK, Emily had a good network with law firms in the UK, the UK prides itself on its legal system, and the legal sector is still antiquated in their training methods, so needs a bit of a “shake-up.” Once we had identified this, we reached out to over 100 law firms (both cold and warm leads) and this is where we started having conversations and conducting research. Our initial meeting rate was 40% (!) which showed us that we were onto something. Post these meetings, the next step was to set up in person demo days and then negotiate our first paid pilots.

What is the one piece of advice you ignored in the past then but wish you’d taken now?

Time is your most valuable resource. Be careful to not overcommit your time — it waits for no one!

Why did you decide to apply for the Oxford MBA? What was the application process like for you?

I largely wanted to transition from a largely corporate mindset to an entrepreneurial perspective. I spoke to many alumni from different schools and realised that the MBA would provide me with the gift of time to think and not always react, to expand my network globally and to push me out of my comfort zone in ways which I never imagined!

Oxford stuck out for so many reasons — but mainly to be part of an 1,000 year old institution that has seen so many inspirational minds and individuals. The Oxford MBA has a big focus on African students too, and coming from South Africa, with the ultimate goal of making a difference in our amazing country, this also drew me to the programme. Additionally, I was excited by the opportunity to be part of the wider University and get involved with so many different initiatives (representing golf for Oxford against Cambridge, the beautiful dining halls, podcasts, trips around Europe, music and mainly — amazing friendships!)

The application process is long! It is a big decision and you have to be fully committed. The GMAT is the first hurdle and requires a serious amount of effort to get a competitive score. You then have to write a number of essays and have interviews where the committee is getting to know YOU, your story and how the Oxford MBA is going to help with this journey.

Did the MBA program help with your startup? How?

Absolutely! 1) I met my brilliant co-founder; 2) The Entrepreneurship Project was the perfect platform to start the research of the problem; 3) The time to explore, think and ask questions of our brilliant classmates and professors; 4) The entrepreneurship ecosystem, particularly in at the Business School, has been so supportive — even now.

What has been the most challenging aspect of your first few months as a full-time founder?

Probably the mindset shift of being an entrepreneur and the risk of failure associated with that — coming from 7 years of auditing, where I was “managing” risk, to a founder and “taking” all the risks, the mental shift is not easy! You have to learn how to be comfortable with ambiguity — there will never be a “perfect” solution.

I had a brief intro into the start-up world with a previous start-up I worked on, called iTalk2U, which somewhat prepared me. But LEVRA is really the first time I was a full-time founder and although there are many challenges there are some incredibly exciting opportunities on the road ahead!