James Murray-Wells: glassesdirect.co.uk
Focus: Online eyewear retailer
If you remember one name from this year’s Young Guns, remember this one. Murray-Wells is just 22 but he’s shaking the optical industry to its foundations. Confused at how a pair of glasses – “essentially some wire and two pieces of glass” – could cost £250, Murray-Wells has exposed and broken the big optician’s hold on the market. Using the final instalment of his student loan he started selling glasses over the internet last September and has already sold 22,000 pairs, saving UK consumers £2m. With a first year turnover of £1m, Murray-Wells is focused on getting “very big, very fast” and is in talks for VC investment.
With offices across the UK and sales spanning 50 countries, Glassesdirect.co.uk employs 150 people and claims to be the largest online retailer of prescription glasses in Europe. It has launched Hearingdirect.com, with the same model for hearing aids. The company took £10m second round investment from Index Ventures and others in 2009 to fund growth and acquired SunglassessShop.com in February 2011. Turnover was set to hit £13m by the end of that year. A premium designer eyewear site is set to launch by the end of 2012.
After achieving sales of £29.9m by the year ending April 2013, Murray-Wells sold Glasses Direct to private equity firm Cipio Partners in December 2013 and stepped down as chairman. Since then, the entrepreneur has been industry head of retail at Google UK, been heavily involved in political campaigns, as well as serving as an advisor on business and enterprise to the conservative government. He has also acted as a mentor in entrepreneurship schemes for Channel 4 and The Times, been a keynote speaker at the Federation of Small Businesses annual conference and been involved in events promoting enterprise to school children. Murray-Wells was awarded an OBE in the 2015 Queen’s Birthday Honours for services to business.