Makeshift Co-Founder Paul Birch on Data + Persistence

Makeshift’s co-founder takes us from his days as an accountant to scoring big with birthday alarm, and starting up at Makeshift 

By cbm

Welcome to the second of our Makeshift Team biography interviews, written by yours truly. 

As one of three founders of Makeshift, notable angel investor and serial entrepreneur Paul Birch is the driving force behind, a brand new database analytics platform for startups. Spend just a few minutes with Paul and you’ll soon realize he is a man obsessed by data, data and more data.

Growing up with a father who invented new kinds of dental floss and toothpaste tubes meant that Paul was encouraged to explore entrepreneurial pathways from an early age. After a childhood in Hertfordshire, he decided London was the only place he wanted to study. He attended Imperial College and graduated with a degree in materials science -- a curriculum he considers to be the easiest at the university.

Upon graduation, he paid his careers advisor a visit who told him that a career in accounting was the closest he could get to “going into business.” After three years toiling away as an accountant, he requested a transfer to the company’s IT department, where he learned to write in COBOL

“I wanted to be the guy who has people asking him how to do something, not the guy who does the asking,” says Paul. 

After writing three lines of code and spending two months testing it, he realized that he didn’t want to be a computer programmer. Somewhere along the lines, data analysis and systems analysis started calling his name. “I was really good at the data analysis side of things, mostly because there weren’t very many people interested in doing it!” he jokes. “But if you’re really interested in a business, then how can you not be really interested in the data side of it?” 

Seven years of SQL later, Paul gave his boss a short, one-page note and said “Thank you very much,” walked out the door and into 1999 -- the year that everyone in the UK, even your dentist, carried around a business plan in their back pocket because the Internet had become AMAZING. 

Paul teamed up with his younger brother Michael to dabble in a number of online businesses. A few sputtered such as a babysitting service and a will writing service, but then came Birthday Alarm, a birthday reminder app, which grew to 50 million members and saw millions of dollars in revenue from its e-card subscription service within one year. Birthday Alarm, which was worth between $15- $20 million at one stage in the game, was used to seed Bebo’s early user base. In 2008, Michael and his wife Xochi sold Bebo to AOL for $850 million, and Paul exited Bebo with enough cash to eat as much Thai and Chinese food (his favorites) for the rest of his life.  

Looking back at his history in starting businesses, Paul says that,

 “In the short term, it was harder than I thought it would be. But in the long term, it was much easier. The key is persistence, and a large dose of luck.”

Now that Paul has immersed himself back into startup life, he’s taking the reigns on and has big plans for the database analytics platform. He’s currently using Wrangler to analyze his site AllParty in hopes of helping people make better political decisions faster. Want to know which MPs, Lobby Journalists and Think Tanks are mentioned the most on Twitter? We’ve got a data report for that. 

When I ask Paul what his main goal with Makeshift is, he thinks for a minute or two, cocks his head to the left and leans back in his chair. “It’s to create a really effective team of people who enjoy working together and build great technology that people find really useful,” he answers. 

“And, we’re going to have to make a profit at some point,” he adds, smiling.

This January will mark Makeshift’s 1-year since starting up. With products like Wrangler and Hire My Friend inching closer to revenue every day, expect big things from our multi-product studio as we step out into the new year. 

Want more of Paul? Be sure to follow PaulBirch99 on Twitter!