The Entrepreneur: Oliver Tezcan, The Idle Man

A week after raising £1.25m, fashionpreneur Tezcan talks growth, "comical" London office prices and building ASOS' menswear dept to £200m...

Founder: Oliver Tezcan
Company: The Idle Man
Website: theidleman.com
Description in one line: E-commerce retailer dedicated to young menswear.
Previous companies: Executive at ASOS.com and River Island
Turnover: £1.3m

Business growth

Describe your business model and what makes your business unique:

We are the first pure-play e-commerce retailer dedicated to young menswear.

What is your greatest business achievement to date?

Launching The Idle Man of course. Prior to this I built the ASOS menswear department from scratch into a £200m turnover business in eight years.

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

Sales, margin, basket value, conversion rate, cost-per-acquisition, repeat rate.

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

Despite doing no marketing outside of the UK, and not having international sites, already approximately 25% of our traffic is international, contributing 15% of  total revenue.

We plan to introduce Europe and US-specific websites early next year to realise our international potential.

Describe your growth funding path:

We were in the rare position of attracting institutional funding from the get go. We have since done two further rounds with our lead investor Foresight Nottingham and a selection of angels, to take our total funds raised to £2.4m. We are likely to do a further round early next year which will take the business through to profitability, and from there, who knows?

We are tapping a global opportunity as menswear has historically been so poorly served, so we may look at a truly “big” round in the future to quantum leap the business internationally.

What technology has made the biggest difference to your business?

The internet?! We’re a brand rather than a tech business, but our platform is built in Magento which has been great as it let’s us play with the big boys, but on a comparatively modest budget. During my time at ASOS we had all kinds of legacy issues as their in-house platform aged so it’s been a relief to use an open-source solution that is infinitely flexible.

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

The organic growth plan is to have exceeded £8m turnover, be profitable, and be trading from international sites in Europe and the US backed by local logistics.

One goal is for our private label to be contributing 50% of sales, and we intend to have a physical space where customers can come to experience our brand and products in the flesh – part shop, part studio, part event space which encapsulates The Idle Man brand.

Growth challenges

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

Raise funds. Investment decisions are far more subjective than anyone will admit to, and often have more to do with what’s on-trend in investment circles than actual business fundamentals. However we were lucky to get good people involved early and that has been huge help.

What was your biggest business mistake?

The age profile of our target customer was far too young at launch. We are about helping men to look good rather than fashion per se, but our original offer was very directional and so quite polarizing. We have evolved into an authority on what staples should constitute a 25 year-old man’s capsule wardrobe.

Piece of Red Tape that hampers growth most:

It’s not really red tape, but our biggest challenge is the cost of doing business in London – office space is comically expensive, and even if you have the money landlords don’t want to deal with start-ups. I feel the government could do more to nurture start-up businesses in the capital.

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

Creating solutions to a problem that doesn’t exist. I meet a lot of people with a social media concept that serves a market segment so specific as to be irrelevant.

How will your market look in three years?

The biggest single change within menswear is the growth in online stylist services which make men’s shopping decisions for them. I feel these will grow fast to their natural level, and then just as quickly hit a plateau as the vast majority of men still want to choose what to buy themselves.

The re-modelling of the high street will also continue until physical stores exist mainly to tell a brand story rather than merely shift product.

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

Start as small and organically as possible and learn from your mistakes as you go along.

Personal growth

Biggest luxury:

I don’t have luxuries, I run a start-up! A £3 wrap from Petticoat Lane market is about as glamorous as I get.

Executive education or learn it on the job?

Learn it on the job always.

What would make you a better leader?

Having more time to spend doing non-work stuff with the team. The team that plays together, stays together after all.

One business app and one personal app you can’t do without:

Google Analytics for business. MindBodyConnect for personal – I’m doing a lot of Pilates at the moment and this allows me to plan sessions in around my schedule.

Business book:

The Art of the Start by Guy Kawasaki. I actually read this after I had started the business, but I wish I had read it before. It’s a brutally accurate synopsis of the ins and outs of launching a start-up.

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