“If you’re from an underprivileged background, you’ll have that hustle muscle”

Roy Ledgister is a barrister and entrepreneur who founded Convivia, a property and tech investment firm that aims to provide housing to low-income tenants. He started an initiative called Millionaire Mentor, where he supports young people from disadvantaged backgrounds to get into business. We speak to Roy about why being from a deprived background can give you entrepreneurial skills, the importance of empowering young people in business and how procrastination will kill your dreams.

Can you tell us about your journey to now being the Founder of Convivia and having started Millionaire Mentor? What was that like?

It’s been an eventful journey and I’ve pivoted on several occasions. I started off as a solicitor and set up my own law firm when I was 24 years old – in this role, I trained up family and friends. A few years after this, I handed the firm to my sister, went to the bar and became a barrister.

Barristers were striking on the picket line because of low fees even back then, so instead of waiting for someone to put their hands in their pockets, I decided to take control and go and make some money myself. I thought I’d go and make some money and come back to the bar because I found myself doing white-collar crime cases when I really went to the bar to do blood and guts stuff – I did murders pretty much back-to-back for many years, and this is the stuff I really wanted to do, representing the ordinary man.

I got involved in a property group which raised £50 million in six months and I then set up Convivia – I came across the public housing sector and realised that I can make a difference in so many people’s lives as opposed to just one person that I was representing. When I got into the sector, I realised that the public housing model doesn’t work; we have a shortage of houses – it’s a failure of imagination when you’ve got people who are living on the poverty line or living in accommodation that is sub-standard. So, I came up with a model to deliver high-quality, sexy homes to these people.

Millionaire Mentor came about due to similar reasons. I wanted to make sure that young people who have come from impoverished backgrounds recognise their upbringing and their background is a reason they should become an entrepreneur and not a reason why they shouldn’t, and you can actually do much better than people from privileged backgrounds – you’ll have that ‘hustle muscle’.

Is there anything specific about young people from disadvantaged backgrounds that makes them such great entrepreneurs?

Absolutely. You don’t need to have your PhD or a degree. If you’re a homeless person asking again and again for money, you will have resilience. If you’re a single mother raising kids and trying to make ends meet, you need to make your food stretch – that’s resourcefulness. These are things they can’t teach you in your degree. This is why I think those from disadvantaged backgrounds have got life skills that translate perfectly to business.

What’s unfortunate is that these individuals won’t get the opportunity to demonstrate to the wider world that they can do it – the big law firms aren’t going to come knocking down at the Peabody Estate to see if anyone fancies a job, but this is probably where they should be looking. It’s here that you’re going to find individuals who have got that ‘hustle muscle’.

Are there specific barriers that exist within a society that stop young people from progressing – what needs to change to be able to get more young people into positions of power and business?

I think programmes like Millionaire Mentor will be helpful because it makes people stop and think. Of course, there are barriers to entry – we don’t go looking in the right places or we convince ourselves that there’s nothing good to find in these deprived areas.

These young people need to be able to relate to a role model otherwise they start to think: “This isn’t for me.” That’s why I make a point of letting them know that I’m a regular guy from Shepherd’s Bush and there’s nothing special about me. Don’t get me wrong, business isn’t easy, but it’s important to educate these young people that they have everything it takes to get into business. Similarly, in the legal profession, those from disadvantaged backgrounds can’t demonstrate they’ve had work experience – in the US they can’t afford to work pro bono because they need to put food on the table. They’re up against people from privileged backgrounds. The same thing translates to the business world.

How can we get people from more diverse backgrounds into positions of power and into these business roles?

Many companies pay lip service in this area. Some are committed to this but don’t know how and then some just aren’t interested. It is certainly improving, but we’ve got a long way to go. I would say I’m trying to change the system from the bottom up, as opposed to the top down. I’m not trying to force those at the top to make changes, I’m trying to help those at the bottom force their way through.

It’s no use saying to young people: “Let’s hope someone at the top of the sector can help you.” What if they don’t turn up? It doesn’t matter who is at the top, it doesn’t matter what they look like – you make the change and you push through. It’s not an easy thing to do, but life’s not easy. But if the life that you have isn’t easy, then you might as well push through and get the benefit of pushing.

As a mentor, I try to be an example for the young people I help. They watch, they don’t just listen. They’ve heard their parents their whole lives tell them they can do things but not necessarily be an example of what they can accomplish. I try to encourage them to push their way to the top whilst being an example for them, which can give them hope and confidence.

Why is procrastinating so prominent amongst young people? What is the importance of having a positive mindset?

There are a few reasons why people procrastinate. We are taught to not do anything until everything’s perfect, to wait for it to be right. You get to your career and you can’t submit something until it’s perfect. That immediately brings up the culture of fear, where you can’t afford to get it wrong. That’s completely the wrong mindset. As far as I’m concerned, if you want to push forward to become a massive success, you need to just put stuff out there.

Is the entrepreneurial spirit something you’re born with or something you can learn?

I think some are more suited to entrepreneurialism than others. Can anyone be an entrepreneur? Theoretically, yes. However, I think some people are just more naturally fearful. Some people just don’t like risk. You may be a good businessperson, but you’re not an entrepreneur as far as I’m concerned. I think entrepreneurialism has that element of risk; it has that element of pushing forward.

It takes a crazy kind of person to be an entrepreneur. It takes a crazy individual who has a disregard for convention, a disregard for reality in many respects. An entrepreneur says: “I don’t care how it should be done. I’m doing it my way.”

So, would you say that the positive and potentially appealing aspects of being more altruistic in business are the legacy that you will leave, not just the reputation you have created?

Absolutely. Any business that does well is solving problems, be it in entertainment, housing, or motoring – whatever business you have, you’re solving problems. So, if you can build a business and help people at the same time, why wouldn’t you?

For example, someone like Elon Musk – look at what he’s doing with Tesla and the electric cars they have created. Will they be the biggest and the best forever? Probably not. He has every chance to be overtaken by someone else, but I don’t think he will care because he has done his bit and sent a huge message to the world. A message that there is a better way. His legacy is there forever.

Am I making a difference? The more I think about it if people try and compete with me, and they try and copy me, then I’m making a difference because I’m causing the sector to change the way it does things.