Velocity Commerce began life as two guys with £3,000 worth of stock in their garage. Today, the business is worth £30m and is placed 30th in the Sunday Times Virgin Atlantic Fast Track 100 league table. We spoke to this dynamic duo to glean insights from their incredible journey…
In 2013, Eddie and his business partner PJ set up Velocity Commerce. Their idea was simple: buy stuff and sell it online at a profit, using their expert knowledge of web sales. One of their first entrepreneurial acts – when they were both still employed by Play.com – was to order 3,500 laptop rucksacks. Lacking storage, they had them delivered to PJ’s Cambridge home. They arrived on 26 pallets. The rucksacks filled every room in PJ’s house.
That gives you a taster of the early days of Velocity Commerce – two founders scrapping, ducking and doing whatever it took to get their new business off the ground.
Here they share some of the knowledge they’ve learned on their way to becoming the 92nd fastest-growing company in Europe (source: FT 1000 report).
Eddie: “In the early days we had to get up each morning at 5am to pack parcels. People at work would look on in sympathetic amusement. They’d say: ‘You’re getting up at the crack of dawn each morning – have you made any cash?’ And we’d be like: ‘Nope. Nothing. But we’re learning, and if that’s all that happens, that’s cool. All we’ll have lost is a bit of sleep. People thought we were nuts and that what we were trying to achieve was impossible. If we’d have listened, we wouldn’t be where we are today.”
PJ: “We started the business by investing £3,000 of our savings in stock. Two years later, we had £500,000 of stock. Those early days were tough, but the excitement was incredible. It was us against the world. We soon moved from a garage to a self-store unit and then to a warehouse. Every time we moved, we did it with a hire van to save cash. I remember staying up till 5am packing. For a while, we didn’t have enough space in our warehouse for all our stock. We couldn’t take deliveries if it was raining!”
Eddie: “When we were launching the business but still working for Play.com, we’d get paid on the 25th and we’d immediately plough of all our wages into stock. Then we’d have to sell enough stock between the 25th and 31st to take money back out of the company to pay our mortgages. We lived by the seat of our pants, but it was exhilarating.”
“We’re nothing special,” says Eddie. “But we had the confidence to try. We had the guts to say: ‘We’re going to grow this business and we think it can work.’ But at the same time, we’d have been happy if it hadn’t worked because we’d still have been learning and improving.’”
PJ adds: “You’ve got to ask yourself, what’s the worst that can happen? Often, people won’t make a decision because they fixate on the worst–case scenario. But if the worst case isn’t that bad and it doesn’t pan out exactly how you wanted it to, at least you’ve learned something. In the first three years especially, we thought: ‘Let’s not be afraid to make a mistake; let’s try things. If they don’t work, we’ll learn.”
PJ continues: “Mistakes are part of any successful journey and we’ve taken that ethos forward as we’ve grown. We’ve all messed up in our time. I once sold an £80 camera for £13.49 and lost the company £5,000. And one of our best employees once accidentally listed one of our products at half price. He was mortified, but we sent him a card saying: ‘You messed up – welcome to the club!’ and gave him six cans of beer.”
Eddie: “It’s the same for us as business partners. We never give each other a hard time about our mistakes. If we did, the other person would stop trying and we’d soon lose our creativity.”
Eddie: “You have to know what you’re good at. We know we’re online SEO specialists. We know how to monopolise online search results because we live and breathe online sales; we understand how the algorithms work for different platforms. We’ve built that knowledge up over a long time. For example, if you sell on Amazon you’ll sell more if your listings are optimised for Amazon. If you sell on eBay, you need to tailor your content for eBay.
“As well as selling our products, we help companies to sell their stuff by optimising their listings. We turn our clients’ brands into category leaders for generic search terms such as ‘dashcam’ and ‘water filter’. That means we catch most of the sales traffic in the first place. After that, we make finer adjustments. Ultimately, we turned £3k into £30m by knowing all this stuff. It’s our bread and butter.”
Eddie: “We’ve also learnt that succeeding in business is about carefully picking your battles and then when you find something you think is going to work, going for it. If you think it’s a good idea, go for it. It comes down to you. Ask others by all means, but ultimately it’s about what you believe in. If you believe in it, you will make it work, even if it’s a bad idea. Often, just having a crack at something – having passion for it and loving it – makes it work. Your passion, drive and commitment create a self-fulfilling prophecy. What you have to do is keep that passion going at all costs.”
PJ: “One your commitment reaps rewards; you’ve got to be ready to change the goalposts. Over time, our priorities have changed – it’s no longer about ‘making it’. When we started, we thought we’d one day sell £1m worth of stuff. We’ve eclipsed that and if we hit £100m, I don’t see that as much different as getting to £30m. Now, it’s about how we bolster the company and make it robust. Now, it’s about the pride we feel when we see 30 cars in front of the office. Now, it’s about how we improve the culture so everyone loves their jobs as much as we love the company.
Eddie: “If everyone comes to work miserable and you’re making £5m each year, what’s the point? You have to think about what values you aspire to. What new boxes do you want to tick? We want to create a good, happy, sustainable business, where people love to come to work and feel like they have ownership of it. You and your goals need to grow and change as the business does. That’s how you stay one step ahead and make sure that you’re always focussing on what the business needs to really succeed.”
For this business velocity really is the name of the game as they speed ahead to smash their new goals and set their sights on even bigger and better things. And we for one, can’t wait to see what’s next!