The Entrepreneur: Michael Ross, eCommera

The former Figleaves.com chief executive on building a £19m digital commerce firm, gripes with British laws and retail's "complete transformation"

Founder: Michael Ross (co-founder along with Andrew McGregor)
Company: eCommera
Website:  http://www.ecommera.com/
Description in one line: eCommera is a cloud software and big data business that helps retailers drive more profit from their digital commerce businesses.
Previous companies: Shop Direct, Glasses Direct, Figleaves.com
Turnover: £19.3m for 2013
12 month target: £29m for 2014

Describe your business model and what makes your business unique:

  • We aim to deliver growth, expand globally and unlock profit for all of our customers around the world.
  • We differentiate ourselves by our services lead approach, built around our unique omni-channel predictive analytics.
  • Our technologies and services are built by retailers for retailers. We have extensive retail experience by running online businesses ourselves.

What is your greatest business achievement to date?

Conceiving a Jeff Bezos/Anna Kournikova tennis match to launch Figleaves.com in the US (Growing Business recognised Ross as a Young Gun in 2003 for his role in growing Figleaves).

What numbers do you look at every day in your business?

I try and avoid looking at numbers every day. I try and think about the frequency from which I can make decisions. It’s easy to look at numbers every day that you can only action every month or every quarter, particularly in this business, so I don’t look at numbers every day.

To what extent does your business trade internationally and what are your plans?

Our clients trade in over 30 countries and many of them ship globally. Increasingly, retail and online is globalising therefore we see the opportunities to take our clients international and at the same time work with clients all around the world who want to expand globally. We see big global opportunities over the next few years.

Describe your growth funding path:

We started the company back in 2007 and since then have had three series of funding with our latest series C fund raise totalling $41m – the largest in our category in Europe. We aren’t planning a move to IPO just yet, but are thinking about it for the future.

What technology has made the biggest difference to your business?

Amazon web services and related technologies that the cost of tech storage and processing has come down so rapidly and enables us to do things that would have been prohibitively expensive even three or four years ago.

Where would you like your business to be in three years?

I’m not so obsessed about turnover; we want to be the global leader in the technologies that are going to transform multi-channel retail.

Growth challenges

What is the hardest thing you have ever done in business?

I think it’s probably the start-up of a business. Starting with a complete blank sheet of paper and the energy and effort that goes into creating a vision and hiring people. Creating something out of nothing is a never ending challenge – balancing the focus of a vision with the day to day reality of making things happen.

What was your biggest business mistake?

I think the biggest mistake was when I was working at Figleaves.com, where we failed to understand the drivers of our business growth and profit. We believed that none of the old rules of retail applied to online and we re-invented everything from first principles- and in practice much of traditional retail, in terms of merchandising, stock management and cash management, are even more important in the online world than they are in traditional retail. The mistake we made was not to understand which bits were new and which bits should stay the same.

Piece of Red Tape that hampers growth most:

The laws around options in entrepreneurial business is a calamity for British business. Most businesses who are trying to incentivise employees spend more time and more money on lawyers and accountants than running their business. The notion that options might trigger an income tax charge in advance of any capital exit is a travesty for entrepreneurial businesses.

What is the most common serious mistake you see entrepreneurs make?

Massively underestimating how much time and money it will take to actually make things happen. Entrepreneurs often think things through from first principles and think they can do and see things that other people haven’t (which is both a great strength and a great weakness). The mistake I see entrepreneurs make is ignoring advice from people who can save them masses of time, energy and money.

How will your market look in three years?

I think retail is at the beginning of a complete transformation. I think the economics, the winners, the losers, the speed of change are getting ever faster. We’re right at the beginning of a complete transformation in what multichannel retail looks like and the tools and technologies that are required to succeed.

What is the single most important piece of advice you would offer to a less experienced entrepreneur?

To know what you know and know what you’re good at, and also know what you don’t know and what you’re not good at, and to surround yourself with the people that are good at things that you’re not good at!

Personal growth

Biggest luxury:

Children!

Executive education or learn it on the job?

A healthy combination of both.

What would make you a better leader?

To be more patient.

Business book:

The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon by Brad Stone.

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