The Startups 20: Not On The High Street

An ecommerce platform that’s been praised for putting small retail businesses at the forefront

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Founder: Holly Tucker and Sophie Cornish
Founded: 2006
Website: appearances

The Not On The High Street story

Unbelievably, Not On The High Street has been gracing our computer screens for fourteen years. The site was started in 2006 by Holly Tucker and Sophie Cornish, when the two women recognised the need for an online platform that would give exposure to people selling quirky items that you don’t tend to find on the high street.

At the time of launch, Cornish and Tucker had 100 retailers onboard, and relied on funds from family to keep the business afloat. However, thanks to some incredibly hard grafting over the years, the pair have managed to secure over £27m in investment and onboard over 5,000 independent retailers.

Although Not On The High Street came about ten years after ecommerce giants Amazon and eBay, its core value of giving exposure to small business owners has ensured that the brand hasn’t been swallowed up by the big two.

In fact, the brand has seen healthy growth over the years, and in 2015, it named former Tesco Online Director Simon Belsham as its CEO. Under Belsham, Not On The High Street secured £21m in investment, reduced its losses, saw a 19% rise in revenue, and attracted senior executives from major brands, including PayPal and semi-rival Amazon.

By the end of 2015, Not On The High Street was turning £155m in revenue. Then, in a 2017 interview with Chief Financial Officer David Phillips, it was reported that while the site was still operating at a loss, the acquisition of one million new customers – and a focus on retaining existing customers – meant the brand was on a positive trajectory for the coming years.

Why did we choose Not On The High Street as one of the Startups 20?

Not On The High Street is a brand that champions small businesses, so naturally we want to celebrate them – and we’re not the only ones. In 2013, both Tucker and Cornish received MBEs for their services to small businesses – an impressive feat that certainly makes them worthy of featuring in the Startups 20.

An MBE wasn’t the only thing Tucker celebrated in 2013. Later on that year, she was named Keystone Law Golden Gun at the Young Gun awards and founded her charity Happy Bricks, which in 2015 built a school for a village in Tanzania.

In a recent interview in the Financial Times, Tucker states that Not On The High Street has “helped 14 of [its] sellers become £1m businesses.” More recently, the brand has turned up its effort to promote itself and its partners through televised and paid advertising campaigns, making it a popular choice for ambitious startups and fledgling businesses.

Not On The High Street’s fees are on the high side – its partners pay a £240 initial joining fee, and then 25% of each sale. However, with the site receiving two million visitors a month, businesses receive more exposure on Not On The High Street than they would on Etsy.

Being aware of her own success, Tucker takes time out to mentor other businesses that she has invested in. In 2017, she set up Holly & Co, a business dedicated to supporting SMEs, though immersive experiences and creative content.

Not On The High Street in 2020

Fourteen years after Not On The High Street was born at a kitchen table, the company is headquartered in Richmond and boasts a 200 strong permanent workforce.

Growing from just 100 partners in 2006, the ecommerce site now plays host to over 5,000 retailers and 200,000 products, and in March 2019, reported over £35m in commission revenue from partners.

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Written by:
Aimee is Startups' resident expert in business tech, products, and services. She loves a great story and enjoys chatting to the startups and small business community. Starting her own egg delivery business from the age of 12, she has a healthy respect for self-starters and local services.
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