The art of keeping it simple

You don't have to be a genius to run a fast-growth business, says Pharmacy2U CEO and ex-LOVEFiLM boss Mark Livingstone.

by Stephen Jones
Last Updated: 04 Apr 2019

When Mark Livingstone was appointed CEO of dvd-by-mail outfit LOVEFiLM in 2003, it was a tiny operation. There were less than 5,000 subscribers, and daily dispatch envelopes were collected by a single postman with a satchel. By the time he left in August 2006, the company was dispatching orders "using 40ft Arctics [articulated vehicles] every three hours".

While LOVEFiLM went on to be acquired by Amazon for £200m in 2011, Livingstone seized the opportunity to become a co-founding investor and director of food subscription business Graze until it was sold to US PE group Carlyle in 2012, and then to Unilever in 2019.

Now as CEO of Pharmacy2U, the UK’s largest online pharmacy (by delivery volume), he's responsible for ensuring that nearly a quarter of a million NHS and private patients receive their repeat prescriptions every month.  

He says that prioritisation is the biggest challenge of leading a rapidly growing business. The art of prioritisation? Keep it simple.

"At LOVEFiLM we had five KPIs that we looked at daily. They were: the number of registrations; how many signed up for a free trial; how many of those converted into paying customers; how much it cost to acquire them (both through partners and our own media); and finally our stock holding.

"So in real time I knew how many subscribers we had, how many sign-ups and how much it would cost to recruit those customers. Those really were our daily gods, and pretty much all we discussed in our management meetings. Everything else was prioritised outside of those.

"There is a horrible acronym KISS (keep it simple, stupid) but there really is no substitute for that. It really frustrates me that some people think that you have to be a genius to grow a business really fast. I don’t believe that. You’ve just got to be super disciplined.

"It sounds so simple but when you match consumer demands with being able to supply them, they love your business."

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Image credit: ilonatitova/GettyImages

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