The vast majority of independent retailers will go online. It might sound surprising to hear, but there are thousands of retailers still to make a move into eCommerce. Covid-19 has provided the catalyst for a mass shift into multi-channel commerce over the next five years.
As part of our series about the future of retail, I had the pleasure of interviewing Martin Bysh, co-founder of Huboo.
Martin Bysh is an experienced entrepreneur and technologist. He began his career as a computer games programmer for 20 years, launching his first game at the age of 16 (a European number 2 Gallop chart hit). He followed this hit with many more including Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Viz, before launching one of the UK’s first online dating sites in 2001.
Moving to the B2B space, in 2012 he founded the fastest agile market research platform in the world, beating Google Consumer Surveys to market and eclipsing it on speed. Martin stayed on as CTO and president when he sold the company to a PE-backed market research tech group in Jan 2016.
In the Fintech space, Martin co-founded Charity Checkout, an online payment and fundraising platform which, competing with Virgin Money Giving, services 2500 UK charities, and today remains on its board.
Martin is a frequent public speaker in the tech and fundraising space, and brings more than 20 years in development, 30 years in technology, and 20 years in B2B sales and entrepreneurship to Huboo.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Itwas my friendship with our CTO Paul Dodd that led us to Huboo. We met on a Saturday morning while trying to encourage our children to play football. They hated it but we became firm friends.
I’d been working in the software-as-a-service (SaaS) space for ten years; Paul had been working in global logistics efficiency at P&G for 20 years. Both of us needed a new challenge, so we began to chat about how we could potentially combine our experience and build something new.
In fact, we found that we were the perfect team to solve a multi-disciplinary problem such as eCommerce fulfillment. A lot of logistics providers lacked the software expertise to optimize what they were doing. And no software provider in the space had Paul’s grasp of the potential for operational innovation. So, we decided to join forces and put our minds to building a more productive warehouse, one that could operate to maximum efficiency while also giving employees more meaningful roles.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
Not so long ago I found myself in a taxi being pursued across Copenhagen by a venture capital investor on a bicycle. He wanted to give us more money that we were willing to accept and was trying to stop us from getting away!
It was a bizarre moment, but an example of a potential investor showing a refreshing strength of conviction at a very early stage. However, this was a seed round, and we anticipated going to Series A relatively soon after, so we really didn’t want to give away too much equity at that stage, however great the potential investor. This is a useful lesson for other founders — to think carefully about the longer-term implications of these early funding decisions, no matter how enthusiastic or persistent your potential investors.
Tell us about the funniest mistake you made when starting out, and what lesson or takeaway you learned from that?
I’ve started out on many different business ventures over the years, and I’ve made some mistakes several times over before truly understanding the lesson. The biggest one is recognizing when you’re gravitating towards what you know, rather than what’s actually the right solution.
For example, when a founder with a sales background is struggling to gain traction, they naturally assume that more leads is the answer, whereas a product person in the same position might well conclude that they need to add more features.
When we were marketing the first dating site that I founded, we were entirely focused on products. As the market around us was growing more and more competitive and user acquisition should have been key, we just kept on prioritizing new features. We ended up with the most amazing match matching service, but with far too few people using it!
Are you working on any new exciting projects now?
We’re taking Huboo into Germany, which is very exciting. This will be the first step in our European expansion plans, and as well as opening us to the German market will be a huge opportunity for UK clients to increase their sales in Europe.
And while Huboo is my exclusive focus when it comes to my day-to-day work, I also sit on the board of Enthuse, a company I helped found 10 years ago, which enables charities to improve how they secure donations and is currently doing fantastic work helping third sector organizations stay afloat through the pandemic.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
One tip that I think applies to everyone — irrespective of the industry — is to try and avoid spending your entire working life on Zoom. Many people have been forced onto video conferencing platforms because of the pandemic, and they’re now using them for all interactions, without recognizing that it is often a far more intense and draining experience than a face-to-face conversation.
A day of Zoom meetings, constantly staring into someone’s eyes via a video screen, is exhausting. It’s incredibly difficult to relax into these conversations, so I’d encourage any business professional to limit their amount of Zoom time and, if they aren’t able to meet face-to-face, to mix up their interactions with traditional phone calls where they can at least put their feet up while chatting!
Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are today?
I’m incredibly grateful to my wife and children for tolerating my business obsession. From a professional perspective, I couldn’t have made it here without the business partners I’ve collaborated with along the way.
Every business I’ve set up has been co-founded and every partner has been exceptional. Setting up a business can be a terrifying and lonely experience, so I’d always advocate for co-founding. It’s not just about having two heads to tackle difficult problems; I think it’s much more rewarding when there’s someone alongside you with whom to share the successes.
How have you used your success to improve the world?
I’ve always tried to give people jobs they enjoy, value and can thrive in — I believe this ought to be the primary responsibility of every entrepreneur.
Huboo is a good example. Right now, our industry is fixated on automation, without any consideration for the human consequences. At Huboo, our first priority was to take the human element of fulfillment and optimize what people were doing — enabling them to prove their worth and create sustainable, pleasurable, productive roles, rather than instantly choosing the path of automation and job elimination.
If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would it be?
Across the whole of the business world we’re moving towards greater use of machines, AI and automation, often at the expense of people’s livelihoods and, ultimately, social cohesion. We need an effective movement pushing in the other direction and exploring ways to mitigate the negative consequences.
I believe that people value and benefit from work, as long as it’s work that they find fulfilling. Given that we’re a long way from figuring out a welfare approach that adequately compensates for mass tech-driven unemployment, we need a movement that prioritizes future job creation for everyone, irrespective of background or skillset.
Can you share five examples of how retail companies will be adjusting over the next five years to the new ways that consumers like to shop?
- The vast majority of independent retailers will go online. It might sound surprising to hear, but there are thousands of retailers still to make a move into eCommerce. Covid-19 has provided the catalyst for a mass shift into multi-channel commerce over the next five years.
- The composition of global supply chains will change significantly — again, this has been triggered by Covid-19. The pandemic has forced retailers to rethink where they’re sourcing their products from and consider new ways of mitigating disruption and creating more robust models so that they aren’t over-exposed when future challenges occur.
- We’ll see more retail manufacturing moving back in-house. Where once it made commercial sense for retailers to shift manufacturing to China and benefit from lower labor costs, the reality is that many of these manufacturing processes are now largely automated, using machines that are readily available in the UK.
- We’re already seeing more and more high street stores reconfigured as showrooms. Over the next five years, we’re going to see the growth of showroom chains that cater for the huge number of retail manufacturers whose items don’t necessitate stores of their own.
- Finally, retail fulfillment is going to become even more complex as customers continue to demand faster delivery times. Some retailers will centralize distribution, which could be a challenge if they attempt to go it alone; others may double-down on local fulfillment. This could work well for perishables or consumables, but it’s unlikely to suit brands that need to tap into a wider market in order to turn a profit.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!