Once upon a time in Camden
It’s a question we’re asked by investors, clients and partners whenever we tell them we’re based in north-west London.
If you happen to be launching a hedge fund in this fair town, people expect you to have an office in Mayfair, or The City, or perhaps even the dark side of the moon itself, Canary Wharf. Camden isn’t even an option on the menu, let alone a place to set up shop.
We didn’t choose Camden to make a statement, but when we stop to think about it, our decision to build a business here is significant. Where you choose to spend your time says a lot about you. Some people enjoy the safety of crowds. Others like to be on their own, carving out their identity in a place where the usual rules don’t apply. Hence, our decision to set up shop in a place that’s more associated with music, art, multiculturalism and old fashioned commerce than conspicuous wealth, industry convention and rent-seeking behaviour.
But to elucidate the finer details of why we chose to base Three Body Capital HQ in a side road in Camden, we need to go back to the beginning.
The power of smallness.
When building a new business, there is an almost irresistible temptation to overstate your size, to pretend to be bigger than you are. There is safety in scale, since it implies success.
Of course, this is a fallacy – some of the largest companies in the world are deeply unsuccessful and drifting inevitably to their doom.
We believe our smallness is a significant asset.
It means we are more nimble and able to react to opportunities (and threats). We have a low cost base, elongating our runaway and increasing our chances of achieving product-market fit. We have visibility over output, resulting in higher productivity. We have a strong culture and identity, since everyone is fully invested and aligned with our mission. We can be authentic – large businesses find this almost impossible, which is why they need to hire marketing agencies to tell them how to be themselves. Our size has also conditioned us to make sensible choices, stick to a budget and invest wisely in things that will drive the long term sustainability of the business. Ironically, being small in an industry that’s obsessed with scale can help you to stand out.
Cities within cities.
We like being little. But smallness does limit your choices when it comes to office space. Three Body Capital is certainly not in the same league as some other hedge funds when it comes to shelling out on plush digs, but you have to ask, don’t mega-funds feel a little embarrassed admitting to their investors that they’ve shelled out £250 per sq foot for luxury office space, or a little anxious when they see the fee compression that’s coming for their margins?
Speaking frankly, we chose Camden because we could actually afford a decent space here, an office that felt spacious, positive and conducive to taking on the world together and delivering on the original promise of the hedge fund. But now we come to think about it, there are other, less obvious reasons why we’re attracted to this part of town.
Paul Graham, co-founder the influential startup accelerator and seed capital firm Y Combinator, has written about the link between cities and ambition. He argues that cities whisper their messages subliminally, through a variety of means – from overheard conversations, to architecture, to how people decorate their living rooms.
There are cities, and there are cities within cities. Camden is like no other part of London. This is a place that doesn’t so much whisper, as shout. It has a unique (and admittedly somewhat grimey) identity which has somehow remained resistant to the widespread gentrification that has irradiated our nation’s capital over the past thirty years.
The streets here are mean, dirty, and full of life in all its wondrous variety – good, bad and at times, downright weird! But we wouldn’t have it any other way. Our team has strategised in the York & Albany, celebrated in The Earl Of Camden, entertained clients in The Spread Eagle and yes, avoided The Dublin Castle at all costs!
We identify with the people and entrepreneurs who live and work in our neighbourhood. Whether it’s stall owners selling their wares to locals and tourists alike at the world famous Camden Market, musicians gigging at The Roundhouse, or restaurateurs making an honest crust the old fashioned way at cheap and cheerful eateries like Woody Grill and Waka.
In our careers as investment managers we’ve been lucky enough to see the world or at least, its major cities. Every great capital has distinct quarters to which artists and entrepreneurs gravitate, whether it’s NYC’s Lower East Side, or the Left Bank in Paris. Forget Soho, which was gentified, packaged up and sold to commercial real estate investors long ago – Camden is the home of creativity and counterculture in the UK. And that’s precisely how we see our business as it relates to the wider financial services industry.
We are creative. We’re not the same as other hedge funds and fintech platforms. We believe that things need to change and we’re taking action to make it happen.
Of course, we could just grab some desks at a WeWork - it would be a bit cheaper than renting our own office, and the coffee would be better. But we want our own place, a home from which we can write our own unique story. We’ve found that in Camden.