My Week: Philip Letts of Blur Group

Having run several Silicon Valley companies, Letts decided to start his own firm, which aims to be the 'eBay of business services' allowing companies to buy and sell from each other around the world, using his exchange.

by Michael Northcott
Last Updated: 19 Aug 2013

We’re a tech company, and we’re focused on reinventing how businesses buy products and services from each other. You go to the website, submit your brief for a project, your specs, how much you’re willing to spend, and then we list it on the exchange for you and match the most comfortably fitting buyers and sellers for each project. It is basically an e-commerce platform for businesses. We started with the kernel of the idea in 2006 - me and a computer in my garage - and after a few years of development we had a full formal launch in January 2010, and today we’re list on the London Stock Exchange on the AIM market. 

I spend as much time as possible inside the business: managing our new projects, speaking to our engineers and IT teams as well as internal recruitment, and doing my best to help develop new talent. In fact, that is one of my favourite things about having my own business - hiring great people and nurturing their talents to get the best out of them for our projects.

I also spend a lot of time working with our digital marketers thinking of the best ways to bring in new customers. What are my major concerns at any given time? I worry a lot about our metrics, financial and otherwise, but a fundamental one is our customer satisfaction rates. We work with both buyers and sellers so it is a full time job making sure they are all happy with what we’re doing.

Time spent ‘outside’ the business is focused mainly on press relations, investor relations and partner relations - keeping all of these things ticking is essential for a global business like this. We have our HQ in west London, an office in Dallas, Texas, and a small one in Los Angeles, too. The range of locations doesn’t actually involve that much travelling for me: our entire business is about helping other firms to do business online, so I try and do as much of my own work online as I can. We do a lot of video-conferencing to achieve this, and most of our offices have a video-conferencing system setup to allow meetings with colleagues elsewhere in the world.

We’re a public company, so we cannot be too open about exact finances, but we’re forecasted to turn over $9m this year. We have about 50 staff working for us internally, so in a sense we’re classic ‘lean startup’. In the early days, we were founder-backed - I had to put my money where my mouth was - and that has helped us to remain lean until we found angel backing, and then eventually we took the company public.

Everyone is very ambitious for the company. We’ve set the objective of being a billion-dollar business by 2020, so even though we’ve been going for a few years, we’re ‘at the end of the beginning’, so to speak. We’ve got a fantastic s-commerce platform, and we now need to develop it and do exactly what Amazon did for the consumer, but in business.

The best thing about setting up my own company was that I can be a longer term guardian of my own strategy. There’s a lot of hobbledy-gobbledy around about how ‘you can make your own hours when you own a business’, but the truth is that you will work harder than you have ever worked before. But in that comes the freedom to build whatever you want.

The most challenging things was the whole period of the first three or four years when we were focused on being lean. It was incredibly stretching and we were juggling 15 different things at the same time. My passion is nurturing talent, which is something you get to do once the business is a bit bigger You feel you can give people really exciting opportunities to be creative. But when it’s just you and a couple of people you’ve hired to help you out, you don’t feel that you’re doing any ‘nurturing’ in quite the same way.

If I had to offer some advice to other would-be entrepreneurs, I would say: ‘Accept that if you want to build a great company, it takes at least 10 years before anything really arrives.’ Think about how much you want to do it, and whether you’re really up for 10 years (minimum) of really hard work. You need to put those 10 big numbers up on thw wall and spend some time staring at them before committing to it, because that is the time it will take.

I believe that high failure rates have a lot to do with people not fully appreciating that fact. The truth is, it takes a long time to build a business that has a chance of lasting.

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