20 Questions: Rohan Blacker, Sofa.com

The co-founder of the online furniture shop talks houseboats, archaeological digs and getting rid of his iPhone.

by Rachel Savage
Last Updated: 31 Jan 2014

1. IF YOU HAD DONE SOMETHING ELSE WHAT WOULD IT HAVE BEEN?

I always tell my daughter that I would have loved to have gone into the medical profession. I’d like to have been a doctor, because I’m just amazed by what they do, and I think it would be wonderfully uplifting, although hard work.

2. WHAT ELSE WOULD YOU NAME YOUR BUSINESS?

We decided we weren’t going to launch this business unless we could buy the URL Sofa.com. It wouldn’t exist without that name.

3. IF YOU COULD BE BASED IN ANOTHER CITY WHERE WOULD IT BE?

If we could be based elsewhere in the world it would probably be New York. Like London, it has a very densely populated, affluent, aspirational, cosmopolitan mix. 

4. WHEN YOU STARTED, HOW DID YOU RAISE MONEY?

We were lucky: as we sold our previous catering business, Deliverance, so we were able to fund it out of the proceeds of the previous sale. [Blacker and his partner are reported to have made £5.5m from the sale].

5. WHAT HAS BEEN YOUR MOST IMPORTANT DECISION SO FAR?

Spending $200,000 ($121,000) buying the URL. It gives you instantaneous heritage and credibility as a brand.

6. WHAT HAS BEEN YOUR BIGGEST MISTAKE?

About six years ago we made a couple of manufacturing mistakes that were large enough to warrant us stopping all marketing for three months to rectify the issues. We ended up replacing an awful lot of sofas. It was reasonably punishing.

7. WHAT IDEA DO YOU WISH YOU HAD COME UP WITH?

The internal combustion engine, because that completely changed the world. 

8. HOW DO YOU HANDLE STRESS?

I took our sales software off my computer at home, because I banned myself refreshing the screen almost every 5 minutes, even at home in the evenings, to see if we’d made any more sales. I’m even contemplating getting rid of this iPhone and going back to a nice, sensible old phone that just takes phone calls. I don’t think there are any emails that can’t wait 24 hours, and if they can’t wait then someone can call me. Not being attached to the constant flow of data is important.

9. WHAT WAS YOUR FIRST JOB?

I did an archeological dig when I was 15. It was paid, but barely. It was thrilling  - we were on a potentially Roman site in Sussex. We didn’t find much, but it was very exciting.

10. WHAT WAS YOUR WORST JOB?

I found selling advertising space incredibly difficult. In fact, I couldn’t do it. It was for a company that produced magazines with basically no editorial at all, all cold calling. It involved having the phone slammed down on you 100 times a day.

11. WHAT WAS YOUR BEST JOB?

The early days of Deliverance were incredibly exciting: very, very fast-paced, intensive work. In terms of my working life, I reckon those were the best two years. I really like the set-up part of a company - I find it thrilling.

12. IF YOU WERE ON THE APPRENTICE WOULD YOUR TEAM BE NAMED?

I don’t know what they call their teams. I’d try and think of something funny. Team put your feet up and have a cup of tea?

13. WHAT COMPANY WOULD YOU INVEST IN RIGHT NOW?

I would continue to invest in Google, because it’s impossible they’re not going to take over the entire world. Even though their share price is so many times what it was when they floated, it just feels like a certainty that Google are going to march on. As an investment, I think they’re about a safe a bet as you can possibly get.

14. APART FROM PROPERTY, WHAT IS THE MOST EXPENSIVE THING YOU’VE BOUGHT?

A houseboat. I’ve always wanted to buy a one, and I only bought it a month ago, so I’m still pretty excited about it. It’s in London, and London property is a joke. But they’re still quite a luxury, because it’s very difficult to raise money on them as they are not property. I like the bohemian life, hanging out on the river. I’ve never met anyone who lived who hasn’t said it was the best fun they’ve ever had. 

15. SUIT OR JEANS?

Jeans. I never wear suits.

16. FLEXIBLE WORKING OR OFFICE HOURS?

Flexible working - I like it that way. For example, I come up to London quite a lot, but I try to avoid the rush hour. I very often work late at night, because everyone’s gone to bed. Also, I don’t like to feel guilty if I go and play tennis in the middle of the afternoon. I do plenty of work, I just want to choose my own hours.

17. WHAT IS YOUR FAVOURITE THING ABOUT THE OFFICE?

This is going to be really cheesy: we work with great people. There’s a great atmosphere and we enjoy ourselves.

18. WHAT APP CAN’T YOU LIVE WITHOUT?

None. It’s as simple as that. I can live without all apps.

19. WHO IS YOUR BUSINESS IDOL?

Muhammad Yunus, who set up the Grameen Bank in Bangladesh. It set off this incredible new culture of micro finance, which no one had ever considered before.

20. IF YOU WERE PRIME MINSTER FOR THE DAY, WHAT WOULD YOU CHANGE?

I would get rid of Heathrow and build a new super airport to the east of London, because it’s blindingly obvious that, long-term, that is what we need to do to support the infrastructure of this country. Heathrow is never going to be able to keep up with demand. If we build something way out east, it’ll be a massive investment, but long-term it’ll pay off. I find it incredible how long it takes - the report on these airports is not going to come out for another two years, even though it’s been debated for the last 10. I understand Britain is a very crowded island, but it needs to make some radical changes.

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