The Entrepreneur: Andy Oldham, Quidco
From £1bn milestones, to earning an MBA and owning a putting green, cashback entrepreneur Oldham gives us an insight into what makes him tick
Managing director: Andy Oldham
Description in one line: Europe’s largest cashback platform
Previous companies: PwC, ActivIdentity and Adparo Solutions
Describe your business model and what makes your business unique:
- Quidco is simple: Sign up, shop and earn cashback.
- We reward members for every transaction by passing the retailer commission to the member.
- Nowadays ‘rewards’ are often in the form of points, or coupons. We’re unique because our reward is plain, hard cash, it’s much more transparent than other loyalty schemes.
What is your greatest business achievement to date?
For me, nothing compares to hitting our £1bn spend milestone. From opening our doors for business back in 2005 to becoming Europe’s largest cashback platform; it showed how far we have come, and it signaled that cashback has truly come of age.
What numbers do you look at every day in your business?
I look at the numbers which drive our member engagement: How many members we have, what sales volume is being driven to our retail partners and the amount of cashback being earned by our members.
We’re always looking at new ways our depth of data and insight can inform our retailers so we’re able to provide enticing and targeted offers for our members. Our insights team is currently looking at the average cashback tipping point that converts different members from browsers to buyers, which is really exciting.
To what extent does your business trade internationally and what are your plans?
We’re already the biggest cashback platform in Europe. Our German counterpart, Qipu, is Germany's largest rewards and cashback site and we also operate in Poland and Ireland. But we’re just scratching the surface of our potential. The market is really beginning to mature, so we have ambitious plans to expand into France in the very near future.
We still have some way to go in the UK. We’ve made a name for ourselves in changing the way consumers shop online and we're seeing huge growth in our high street programme that takes our business into physical stores. We think we can replicate that success across the continent.
Describe your growth funding path:
In the early years of the business we solely used the positive operating cash cycle we have. More recently, we’ve used working capital in order to improve the customer experience.
Now, as a more established business, we can re-invest the profits and retained capital to drive growth through marketing, new product innovation and investment in incubating successful start-ups like CheckoutSmart and EarnAway.
What technology has made the biggest difference to your business?
With technology, we’ve taken a frugal approach and made the best use of open source software, which is the basis for the core of our platform. More recently we’ve supplemented this with tools like New Relic for monitoring and Mixpanel for optimising customer experiences, both market leading products that have proved critical.
Where would you like your business to be in three years?
We’re already driving more than £1bn in sales annually to our retail partners. But if we combine our online success with the growth we’re seeing in our high street programme – which has taken our online deals into physical stores – there’s absolutely no reason why this can’t reach £2bn or more within the next couple of years.
Whilst we’re already Europe’s leading cashback platform, we want to really consolidate our hold over the market by 2019 with an even greater presence across more European markets.
What is the hardest thing you have ever done in business?
The hardest thing? Getting started. Many of us have aspirations to run a businesses, even if it’s coming up with a really inspired idea. Actually getting it off the ground, from raising money and filling in tax forms, to your first encounter with a profit and loss sheet, can be extremely daunting.
Facing up to those challenges head on, and overcoming them has been the hardest thing I have done, by far.
What was your biggest business mistake?
I spent many years at a blue chip corporate firm before going to business school, and pursuing what I always wanted to do. Many mistakes come to mind, but my biggest one was not pursuing what I really wanted to do sooner.
Piece of Red Tape that hampers growth most:
Nobody likes to fill in arduous forms, and meticulously sense check every rule. Having said that, we often forget the UK is one of the least regulated advanced economies in the world. So whenever I come across a burdensome bit of red tape, I know it could always be worse!
What is the most common serious mistake you see entrepreneurs make?
Losing sight of the big things which deliver value. Entrepreneurs have to stay grounded in the bigger picture. It’s easy to get sidetracked or attracted to new shiny opportunities in whichever form but keeping your business’ core mission in mind is so important. Work out what it is your customers want from you and value, and don’t steer too far from that.
How will your market look in three years?
The changing behavior of customers will be the driving force behind a more omni-channel shopping landscape. We’re already seeing more people not only buy online, but spend with our fingertips. In the next three years this is going to be taken to a whole new level.
By 2020, the average high street shopper may not be able to walk past a store without receiving an alert directly to their phones with bespoke offers enticing them to come in. Alongside this, retail will become more embedded in our day-to-day online experience. “Buy buttons” are increasingly invading the internet, especially on social media, and new developments in the world of payments mean we may soon be able to stock up on our groceries through Facebook messenger.
We’re seeing, on the whole, consumers have become savvier and fleeter of foot. Customers are becoming loyal to the best deals not always brands.
Retailers will look to adapt with more complex loyalty offerings. At the moment rewards are mainly given at the point of sale, but this transactional dynamic could change to a point where activities – such as interactions with a brand on social media, or simply visiting a store – are rewarded too.
What is the single most important piece of advice you would offer to a less experienced entrepreneur?
If there’s one thing, it’s this: Always stay true to your proposition. That may sound straightforward enough, but it’s easy to underestimate some of the headwinds, the distractions and the pressures that can take you off course.
Being flexible is sometimes the only way you can adapt and grow. Things won’t always pan out the way you expect, so being able to roll with the situation is critical. But don’t let that fundamentally change your core vision.
And of course, always deliver on what you promise.
A putting green in my garden? Ok … I might be slightly obsessed!
Executive education or learn it on the job?
Why choose? Do both. Further education is often seen as a breeding ground for safe and steady professional careers – not a place for gutsy entrepreneurs. In fact, the most famous businessmen are a roll call of dropouts from Bill Gates, Larry Page, Steve Jobs and many more.
The MBA really helped me out, I went to London Business School back in 2009. It gave me insight into a much broader set of business activities that I simply wouldn’t have been exposed to otherwise. It also proved to be a great place to find inspiration and meet great, like-minded people.
What would make you a better leader?
It’s always important to be a good listener and to spend time with all of your staff, but the job can get in the way. You can’t always be in the office, and sometimes workloads can really pile up – and there’s only so many hours in the day.
So if there’s one thing, it would be the opportunity to spend even more time with our great team. From our experienced senior employers, to our scarily smart junior staff.
What one thing do you wish you’d known when you started?
I’d gone through university, had a career at a consultancy firm and went to business school before I started. But not even that can prepare you fully for taking the helm of a vibrant, dynamic business.
With the full benefit of hindsight and knowing how things have panned out for some of our product lines, there are things I would have approached differently. But all in all, the business has scaled in a way which I would mirror if we were doing this again.
One business app and one personal app you can’t do without:
For business it has to be Evernote, but, as a keen cyclist, Strava is my personal favorite. I’m a data addict and that definitely spills over into my fitness. Strava has done a great job of mashing up complex GPS tracking with the game mechanics which drive a competitive sports person – who doesn’t want to be ‘king of the mountain’?
It’s hard but if I had to choose one, it’s James C. Collins' Good to Great. If I were to summarise our business’ ambitions it’s Collins’ “Big Hairy Audacious Goal” that orients our thinking. For Collins it’s an approach defined by setting realistic, unrealistic expectations, which, to outsiders may seem out of reach, but not for a visionary and motivated team on the inside.
We have always set ourselves bold and ambitious targets, and we have a clear vision of what we want to achieve – to make cashback mainstream.