A Cambridge graduate with seven companies under his belt to date – it’s unlikely we’re going to find more practical entrepreneurship experience than in the young but brilliant Ivan Mazour. Set to launch his brand new ecommerce company, Ometria, and with a heap of advice for young job-seekers, we sat down with him to steal glorious magic from his brain…
Ivan Mazour, you are exhaustingly productive. Having set up companies such as Park Street Estates Innova Kapital and 42Tasks, you’re now turning your hand to ecommerce. So, what is the problem Ometria is setting out to solve?
E-commerce is an extremely competitive space right now – margins are small and competitors spring up on a weekly basis. The only way for an online store to beat the competition is to optimise through many incremental improvements, and to do this they need to understand the e-commerce technology landscape, and to have all of the necessary data directly in front of them. Ometria solves the problem of getting the right data, the right insights, and the right suggestions in front of the relevant people within an e-commerce operation, so that they can use it to optimise the performance of their business. Amazon is an amazing company and a great success story. We help online retailers be more like them.
You’ve headed up a lot of ventures in your time, what was it that made you decide ecommerce was the next project for you?
I had been following the progress of successful web analytics companies like KISSmetrics for a few years, watching businesses in the space grow very quickly. That market was highly competitive and by 2012 it was too late to enter it. I’m a part-time angel investor and having invested in a few e-commerce businesses I noticed one issue they were all facing. They were trying to get access to vitally important data, but it was taking them days to use Google Analytics and Excel spreadsheets to achieve something that should have been instantly available to them. The e-commerce market was large, growing quickly, and really needed this product – the exact environment you need when launching a new startup.
As an entrepreneur from a young age, what is it you value in the people you work with?
There is only one thing that matters, and that’s the team. When starting a company, you go through a long period of balancing a lack of an idea and a lack of a team. You need an idea to inspire a good team, but you also need the team to turn an initial idea into something of real value. I knew that I could not make Ometria a success as a sole founder, so I networked full-time until I successfully put together a team of four co-founders with highly complementary skills.
I’ve founded some companies myself, and others with co-founders, and it’s amazing how wrong my expectations of people have been. Initial impressions are not always correct – it takes years of working with people to truly understand their character. So I guess what I value the most is that people act and perform better over time than how they initially present themselves when you first meet them – that they are more loyal, more honest, more professional and more diligent than I originally expected.
If someone was desperate to work for you, what would be the way to impress you?
We actually used Enternships to make our first hire for Ometria. It was for a research analyst internship position, a three months placement to produce a full report on technology providers to online retailers. We shortlisted ten people from the applications and got them in for interview. Some had MBAs and experience, but made it seem like they felt like they should be providing strategic guidance. Others had no experience or skills but came with completely unreasonable salary expectations.
The person who got the role impressed for three reasons. He clearly had entrepreneurial flair, but knew that this was the time for him to gain experience – he was willing to contribute to any level of discussion, but let other people get on with their jobs when necessary. He did not argue about salary – he knew that exceeding expectations and performing tasks of increasing responsibility would lead to higher salaries automatically. And finally, he wouldn’t stop until he learned every aspect of whichever task was given to him. Retail analytics is not an area that many people understand, let alone are passionate about, but within the first few weeks it was clear that he was as keen to understand every detail of it as the rest of us were.
We are currently hiring a marketing manager, and I’m looking for the same character traits – understanding how a startup works on every level while knowing to focus on the part that they are responsible for, letting the value they add come before salary expectations, and having a perfectionist approach to learning everything about the role they are performing.
Do you think the future of economic growth lies with young entrepreneurs?
Absolutely. And luckily so does our government. The United Kingdom has run out of options – other major economies have recovered quickly, but we are facing yet another dip. Retail, manufacturing and financial services have all but disappeared, leaving tourism and property as the main reasons for foreign investment. The country needs to rebuild from the ground up, and we are in the extremely fortunate position of having a fantastic environment to do this in.
The EIS and SEIS scheme mean that angel investors are willing to take huge risks and fund companies based on just a concept. The ER scheme means that entrepreneurs who succeed get enough personal capital to be able to reinvest it further into the economy. Many startup loans, grants and prizes are available to help great young entrepreneurs develop businesses from their ideas. A huge variety of courses, events and meetups allow people to learn every aspect of running and growing a business without spending two years at an MBA programme, to learn to program and develop their own application themselves, or to find the perfect co-founder and build a team.
My own long term vision centres around the idea that in twenty years’ time I see London being a hive of successful technology entrepreneurs, and this group will have both the skills and the capital to create even greater businesses which will rival those coming out of Silicon Valley. This is the future, and it will position the United Kingdom as the global leader in science and technology that it deserves to be.
What do you love best about your day to day?
What I love best, actually, is knowing that I love being in the office. This is probably the best barometer of success – no matter how disciplined you are, if you do not enjoy what you do then ultimately your patience and attitude will be worn down and it will be hard to succeed. Every morning, I jump out of bed – I look forward to being surrounded by the people I work with. Knowing that this is true, knowing that I can’t wait to get on with my work, gives me the energy and the faith to continue building my company.
On a daily basis I am quietly impressed by each person in my team, as they do something that I know I would not be able to do as well. We are at the cutting edge of an industry – our technology is brand new, our mathematical models are highly complex, and our interface has been carefully crafted to exceed today’s UX expectations. I have studied and understand each of these areas myself, but the people responsible for each one are at the top of their game – so I get the opportunity to learn, and the peace of mind of being able to rely on them.
And what was/is the hardest thing about setting up on your own?
The fear of failure. When leaving Cambridge after my degree I noticed that most people felt that they were so good at taking exams, they didn’t want to leave academia because it meant that there was a chance that they would fail. By staying for a further degree, they would remain in an environment they understood and were successful in. The same is true if you are in a career, and you are good at it. There is no way of knowing if you will you succeed on your own.
My solution has been to accept failure as part of the process, and enjoy the journey while doing everything I can to succeed. I have had many failures and my blog has a detailed story of my companies, including the ones that have succeeded and the ones that have failed. I have no fear of failure anymore – if it goes wrong, I will learn from my mistakes and start again. And if it goes right, I will also learn from my mistakes and start again. You will always make mistakes and you will always fail. Ometria is my 7th company – you just have to keep going. Long-term, if you learn, focus and work hard, the trend will be an upward one.
Any words of advice for budding entrepreneurs?
Keep learning. The world moves too quickly now to rely on anything you studied at school, at university or in your last job. Every morning, set aside an hour to do an online course or read a relevant book. When you do it, take notes, and approach it like you are studying for an exam. Think about how this will position you long-term, compared to other people who do not do this.
Find the right team. Don’t just find a team – many people set up a company with someone they know, or with the first person they meet who wants to work with them. This is a short term strategy. Think long term – keep networking until you find people who are genuinely great, who complement your skills, who push you to achieve more than you already do.
Just do it. I don’t mean this motivationally in the Nike sense. I mean go out and fail. By doing something, even if it turns out to be a bad idea, you will build relationships, you will get knowledge and you will understand more about how starting a business works. The next time you do it, it will be easier, you will have a better team, and you will have a better understanding of which ideas to run with. Don’t expect to succeed and get upset when things don’t go as planned – enjoy the journey, and the success which comes will be an added bonus.
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