Ariana Alexander-Sefre - Mountbatten Program

Ariana Alexander-Sefre

Ariana Alexander-Sefre

Entrepreneurial Alumni

Program: New York

Intake: August 2015

Current Roles: the Founder and Co-CEO of SPOKE


Describe your business and your role within it.
I’m the Founder and Co-CEO of SPOKE, which is audio wellbeing by the world’s most talented musicians. We make improving your emotional health as easy as listening to your favourite music. Our vision is to give everyone the opportunity to improve their inner world, starting with those most underserved by current wellness culture.

How did you get into this line of business?
While living in New York on the Mountbatten program, I realised quite viscerally how much I disliked bureaucratic corporate culture. It is structurally archaic and for the most part does not have people’s mental and emotional health in mind. This feeling was so strong and intense for me, it pushed me into the idea that maybe I should run my own company and do things differently.

I set up my first business (called Sweat & Sound) around 3 months after returning to London, which was an immersive, live music wellbeing events company. This company was inspired by a couple of things – the magic of Sofar Sounds, which I did some work for on the side in New York, and immersive wellness experiences like Soul Cycle, which I attended frequently too while on the program.

Then in 2017, some people very close to me lost loved ones to suicide (all young men) and this got me interested in why, when 80% of all suicides are male, the ‘wellness’ world is predominantly female and looks/feels/sounds the same. After much research, SPOKE was born and is now the world’s leading curator of authentically music-led wellbeing audio. You can hear the story in my TEDx talk.

How did you go about setting it up and getting established?
Starting with just an idea, I pitched it to an accelerator called Bethnal Green Ventures. They gave me an initial bit of funding – £28k – to validate the idea. After 3 months, it was clear that the idea needed to grow, so I left my last company completely, and dedicated 100% of my time to SPOKE. At this stage, I went back to live with my parents to save money, and devoted my time to raising money and building a team.

After hustling like crazy for 6 months in late 2019 – featuring on panels, podcasts, you name it – I finally had our first investor in and a cofounder. My cofounder Michael and I then spent 2020 fundraising until we had enough to hire our initial team. You can read about our fundraising journey here.

What else is in the pipeline?
We’re about to raise our next round, which will fund a full UK launch, and the US in about a year’s time. In the next 5 years, the vision is to also launch in Latin America, Africa and the rest of Europe.

What has been the proudest moment in your working life thus far?
Building what I can honestly say is the best team any business could ask for. Each of our team is uniquely different, extraordinarily talented and most importantly, deeply cares about our mission. I’m also overwhelmed with pride when we see results of the impact SPOKE has on our community + positive feedback. Ultimately, we’re here to make a difference.

What has been your biggest mistake/learning experience?
I have lots – but a big one is ensuring you work with the right, complimentary people, especially if a cofounder. If teammates are too similar or can’t properly divide roles into complementary subsets, then frankly, the business is more likely to fail – businesses are all about the people running them.

Any words of advice/wisdom would you impart to others thinking of setting up their own business?
1) Train yourself to collect data well (I recommend a book called ‘The Mom Test’) then make decisions fast based on validated assumptions. The more decisions you make and see through, the better you’ll get at making good decisions.
2) Be comfortable with failing, just take the time to learn from each failed attempt. Every success takes many so-called failures.
3) Practice stepping out of your comfort zone, as slowly your comfort zone will expand.
4) Practice radical candour (see book with that title) – it’ll create trust in your team and allow people to get to know you, and therefore be more willing to help you / want to work with you / invest in you.

You can download the SPOKE app here!