Coupon king cashed in on being agile

Q. Do you consider yourself to be an agile leader?

A. Everything I’ve done in my career has been unchartered territory and agility has been key. I started with a vision in mind; if I had been foolish enough to set my plans in stone I wouldn’t have achieved what I’ve achieved.

Q. How did your education or early career prepare you for being flexible in business?

A. I didn’t take a traditional route into business and I didn’t have the easiest start in life, and so it’s been important for me to adapt to situations as they happen. No one has ever told me how to run a business, so I’ve never been opposed to chopping and changing my plans.

When I first moved to London from Liverpool, I worked in Claridge’s as a chef under Gordon Ramsay. It was a fiery, fast-paced environment and you had to think on your feet. I definitely learnt a few agility lessons there.

Then, when I started my own internet business, I was like a one-man band. I did everything from dealing with products, marketing, customer care, admin – everything. There was no chance of becoming stuck in my ways.

Q. Can you think of a particular example when you’ve had to be super-agile?

A. At the start of we launched in 12 countries at the same time. I knew it was a gamble, but my mantra was as long as we win more business than we lose, I’ll be happy. We hired international staff and went for it. Naturally, surprises came out of the woodwork; for example, the fact that people like to pay cash a lot in Germany. By being flexible we were able to make the necessary adjustments.

Q. Which business situations most require agility?

A. I don’t think there’s a right time not to be agile. It’s what I love about being an entrepreneur – agility is what helps us to win against big corporates. Large companies would be able to gobble up the whole world if it wasn’t for entrepreneurs and their ability to respond to things quickly, without all those layers of management slowing everything down.

Q. What are the defining characteristics of an agile leader?

A. They have to be good listeners for a start. Looking at and understanding data is a big part of it – you need to be a real problem-solver. Being agile is also about taking risks – you should always try new things and don’t see failure as failure, but innovation.

Q. Who do you look up to as an agile leader?

A. As the risk of sounding clichéd, I look to Silicon Valley for inspiration here. I don’t know the ins and outs of the businesses there, but people like Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg made huge successes of their businesses in competitive markets by being agile.

I’m also impressed with Warren Buffett. He says minutes can make a difference and, for one of the world’s best known businessmen, I was surprised to see how small his team is – you can see how decisions are made so quickly.

Q. How has agility in your own career affected you as an investor?

A. I do look for the traditional signals of growth potential, but I also give people a chance. If I take a risk, we all agree on what success is and what looks good, and go for it with an open mind. If you don’t risk you might not get that big opportunity, but you have to be prepared to admit when something hasn’t gone well.