Shaper: James Hind

Show aired on 11th February 2017

Transcript

Elliot Moss
That was Jimmy Smith with The Cat. It has already put me in a good mood because if you listen regularly, I hope you do, you will know that’s one of my favourite artists ever. Good morning this is Jazz Shapers and I am Elliot Moss; thank you very much for joining me. Jazz Shapers is the place where you can hear the very best of the people who are shaping the world of jazz, blues and soul and right alongside them we bring someone who we call a Business Shaper and I am very pleased to say that my person shaping the world of business today is James Hind and James Hind is the co-founder and CEO of Carwow and they are and I quote ‘the easiest way to buy a car on line’. You will be hearing lots from James about how he has found his way and grown that business and it is a good story too. In addition to hearing from James you will be hearing from our programme partners at Mishcon de Reya some words of advice for your business and then we have got some cracking music today from the shapers of jazz, blues and soul, Nina Simone is in there, new music from Carmen Lundy and this from Richard Bona.

That was Richard Bona with Cubaneando. This is Jazz Shapers as I said earlier and my Business Shaper today is James Hind, and James Hind is the co-founder and CEO of Carwow – it is just a great name isn’t it – and Carwow are the people that make life as easy as you possibly can make it if you want to buy a car. James, hello.

James Hind
Hello, thank you for having me.

Elliot Moss
Thank you for joining. Now, you are very young and I know you don’t think you are very young but compared to me, you are very young and I meet all sorts of people here that have come out of University and then twenty years later they get their idea. Some people come out of University, they do their first job or they don’t even do that and they start. You I believe spent a couple of years, or a little bit of time doing a bit of skiing, ski operator, ski instructor excuse me and you worked in a fund management company. How quickly did you realise that you were going to not be happy unless you were running your own show? Before we even get into the idea for Carwow.

James Hind
So I didn’t even work at a fund management company, I interned at a fund management company. So I spent three months there and I realised pretty quickly that that wasn’t the path that I wanted to do.

Elliot Moss
How did you know? I mean people say that but how did you personally know this wasn’t for you?

James Hind
So I felt that that industry was kind of riding the wave of the market, they weren’t really in control of what they were doing so it lead me to think I’d rather kind of control my own destiny and start my own thing.

Elliot Moss
Okay then finding your own thing, how did you happen upon this idea called Carwow? Tell me a little bit about the background and then in your words, what the idea is?

James Hind
So the initial idea was trying to help people chose which car to buy by aggregating and collecting all this information out there and making it a very easy way to help pick which car you want. So what we did was collected a whole load of reviews and the idea for that came from a website called Rotten Tomatoes which aggregates what everyone’s saying about a film and gives a definitive verdict of ‘it’s good’ ‘it’s not worth watching’. So we thought if we could do that for cars then helpful for users, easy to understand, let’s do it.

Elliot Moss
And why cars out of interest?

James Hind
I love cars.

Elliot Moss
You love cars?

Elliot Moss
Since when?

James Hind
Since always, always have done.

Elliot Moss
First love as a car?

James Hind
A Ferrari 250.

Elliot Moss
You sound like one of my sons. And you interestingly went into business with Alexandra and Alexandra Margolis I believe. Alexandra is, was your girlfriend at the time?

James Hind
Is my girlfriend.

Elliot Moss
Is your girlfriend but was she at the time you…

James Hind
Yeah, absolutely.

Elliot Moss
Tell me about that. I mean we will cover in more detail, you are with the person you love the most in the world. What’s that like in terms of stress and strain every day?

James Hind
So we find it very easy. It’s kind of what we’ve always known so we only knew each other for a year before starting the business so we’ve kind of grown up together, working together and running a business is very stressful, time consuming etcetera so having your partner also going through the same thing means that you are kind of aligned with that and I know a lot of friends who are CEOs whose girlfriend or partners or boyfriend don’t work with them and they find it quite stressful not being able to relate with them and ‘why are you all so stressed’ etcetera.

Elliot Moss
You can bathe in the lake of pain together.

James Hind
Exactly.

Elliot Moss
Stay with me for more from my Business Shaper today, that’s James Hind, co-founder and CEO of Carwow. Time for some more music and another classic here, it’s Bill Withers with Ain’t No Sunshine.

Bill Withers with Ain’t No Sunshine. James Hind is my Business Shaper today and as I said he is the co-founder and CEO of Carwow. We were talking earlier about the relationship with your loved one, with Alexandra and that understanding of pain and sharing that pain. At what point from the inception of the business which I believe was 2010, seven years now. At what point did you realise you had a goer? That you were actually going to do this and it was going to work?

James Hind
So very quickly after we launched the website we had a lot of interest from ultimately our competitors at the time so car magazines etcetera, etcetera who liked the model and wanted to have a chat with us and offer some investment. So we knew quickly that we were on to something interesting. We declined their investment because we didn’t want to work with that kind of publishing company and we realised pretty quickly that while helping people chose which car to buy was a problem to solve, actually helping someone to buy a car is a far bigger problem.

Elliot Moss
And in terms of the different skill sets that it takes to put together any business but whether it is the financial stuff, whether it is the knowledge of the car market – though it sounds like you kind of have a sense of that – obviously the whole on-line capability piece and then all the coding and all that. That’s quite a lot to assemble. As someone who hadn’t set up a business, how did you know what to do?

James Hind
Yeah we didn’t, well I didn’t know anything about running a business so I read a huge amount of books, listened to podcasts, asked people for advice, constant learning all the way through. Alex had done a lot of web design and had done some development as well and we also brought on board David who is our other co-founder, technical co-founder. So he built up the actual website, the code base himself. So he was an expert in that field, Alex was an expert designer, I knew nothing but learnt on the job.

Elliot Moss
I was going to ask you, what’s your expertise James, I mean…

James Hind
I did study finance at University but it hasn’t been applicable or useful so far.

Elliot Moss
And of all the books, which is an interesting point in itself, of all the books you read and the podcasts you listened to. Do you remember any of them now and had they had a big enough impact that it actually changed what you were thinking about how to run your business?

James Hind
So the best business books I think are always the biographies or autobiographies of other successful business people. Because they really relate to again the pain and the uncertainty and the constant need to learn and re-develop your skills. They were always the most helpful.

Elliot Moss
And in terms of one message about you managing your uncertainty that someone listening might take from this. What did you do to overcome those nights when you went ‘what am I doing’?

James Hind
So again its… that’s why it helps to read lots, to talk to other entrepreneurs because everyone is going through the same thing. Some of them won’t admit it but they are. So having that kind of shared experiences, shared pain, shared problems really helps.

Elliot Moss
Stay with me to find out more and to get some insights indeed if you are thinking about setting up your own business from my Business Shaper today, that’s James Hind. Latest travel in a couple of minutes but before that it is another part of our Future Shapers series, it’s someone who is going to be shaping the world of business in the very near future.

You are listening to Jazz Shapers with me, Elliot Moss every Saturday morning I get to sit very close, not too close obviously, but pretty close to someone who is shaping the world of business, someone we call a Business Shaper. If you have missed any of the over two hundred and fifty now, go to iTunes, put in the words ‘jazz’ and ‘shapers’ you will find a few there. If you are travelling on British Airways any time soon you can find us there as well and CityAM.com is another destination. James Hind is my Business Shaper today, he is the co-founder and CEO of Carwow and they make life very easy if you want to buy a car. Now it wasn’t very easy in the beginning as James was alluding to and there were the nights of ‘what the hell am I doing?’ obviously and as you said James, you are not the only person to have been in that place even if they don’t admit it. When was the moment you realised that there was the need to scale and the need for investment and then how did you go about getting it because I believe your first round was a quarter of a million pounds back in around 2013?

James Hind
That’s right. So we started the business and ran it for two or three years without funding. We had no money so we had to grow it all ourselves, we had no marketing budget.

Elliot Moss
Is that a good thing though growing it yourself? Is that a good lesson in terms of…

James Hind
Yeah because you have to do everything. So you really get to grips with the business. You are very close to the small amount of customers that you have so you really get to know their pain problems. So we realised though that we would have to raise money to build the business, to employ more people, to actually spend any money on marketing so we sat out to try and raise money from Angel investors. So we didn’t know anyone but we sent a lot of cold emails to people who we had read about, who had built successful businesses and of course 99% of them never replied but we managed to meet some very, very good, successful entrepreneurs and managed to get them to club together to invest in us.

Elliot Moss
And that was round one. How soon after that, because I believe there was another million and another few after that?

James Hind
Yeah I think nine months later we raised a million and something and then nine months after that, five million and then a year after that twelve million.

Elliot Moss
So it got, I mean it sounds like once you had broken the back of it, like anything it’s like making a first film, it kind of comes after that?

James Hind
It does get easier for sure but getting it to the same, it’s the same challenge, it’s still telling a story, persuading them to invest but it does get easier, particularly when you have got very good investors from the previous rounds.

Elliot Moss
So they are backing the investors from the previous one but what else are they backing James?

James Hind
So ultimately they are backing the team. So not just the founders but the management team and they ultimately believe that’s the key thing. The market is important and the product’s important but particularly in the very early stages, it’s the people.

Elliot Moss
And looking back very briefly, was there a moment when you got it completely wrong in front of investors and if so, what did you get wrong?

James Hind
Yes we really struggled to raise investment the first, for the first year or so and I think it is because we just weren’t telling a very compelling story. Not helped by the fact that on paper we are worth nothing as in we had no real background or experience so that didn’t help but eventually we managed to get the story straight and also meet investors who had the appetite for a bit of risk.

Elliot Moss
Well that’s the secret then, all those things – story, right investors and just keep going it sounds like…

James Hind
Yep.

Elliot Moss
…which is important. Time for some more music right before we come back to James. This is from Carmen Lundy off her new album Code Noir, it’s called The Island, The Sea And You.

That was The Island, The Sea And You from Carmen Lundy and nice and lilting it was too. James Hind is my Business Shaper today. We have been talking about the trials and tribulations of raising money. It’s all very well having the idea but you’ve got to get your story straight and you’ve got to keep going. You’ve assembled your team now, we are seven years in, I believe there is around a hundred people working for the business. Your turnover is significant, obviously you’ve got proper investors and the list here, Borders & Capital Excel and I believe Alex Chesterman over at Zoopla is an investor as well. These are proper names. What are they now looking for? How patient are they being with you James? Have you got a… is it a get rich tomorrow plan or is there a kind of ten year trajectory?

James Hind
No we want to build a large business. We know that the market that we are in, people buying brand new cars, is a very big market, lots of people buy new cars and people tell us it’s a very painful, uncomfortable buying experience so we have a real problem to solve and there is a lot of people out there so we need to grow to be able to cater or all that. They are patient investors. They don’t want to make a quick buck and we chose those investors because they built very successful companies so first investors in companies like Facebook and Zoopla as you mentioned, Dropbox, Spotify etcetera, so they have been there on the ride before so they add a huge amount of value in helping us grow.

Elliot Moss
You seem incredibly composed and calm and I know you are seven years in and you were really very young when you started. Is this just your natural disposition or are you just putting on a really good front for me?

James Hind
No I think it’s a, it’s not a front it is just the way we always speak, it’s open, honest, that’s the culture we have within the business.

Elliot Moss
But you don’t get het up and stressed about stuff or if you do, you handle it in a calm way?

James Hind
Yeah it’s not my style.

Elliot Moss
And the culture, is there a strong culture at Carwow? Is that the culture?

James Hind
Absolutely, it’s key to I think any business. People is all that really matters at the end of the day so having people who match what we want, so that humbleness, the open and confidence that’s really, really important.

Elliot Moss
Some days you must just feel ratty right or a bit irritated or someone doesn’t quite deliver? I mean does James ever flash?

James Hind
No, no not my style. My co-founders they are more European have that sense sometimes but it all works well.

Elliot Moss
But that works well together does it?

James Hind
Absolutely.

Elliot Moss
In the sense that we know James is going to be calm, the other ones may be less so.

James Hind
Yeah.

Elliot Moss
But actually that’s quite enjoyable. A bit of friction is no bad thing. And your ambition is to just carry on growing it, there’s no great rush it sounds like. Is that going to work for you do you think? I mean have you got it all mapped out?

James Hind
Yeah we know that this market as I said is very big and the problems are very big so we offer a great solution but we still want to keep improving it constantly, constantly, constantly. Helping more consumers’ buy their cars, helping them find great dealers. That’s what we are really passionate about and yeah we are not going to stop any time soon.

Elliot Moss
Final chat coming up with James, my Business Shaper today plus we will be playing a track from Louis Prima, that’s after the latest traffic and travel.

The upbeat sound of Louis Prima with Jump, Jive an’ Wail. That gets you in the mood doesn’t it. James Hind is my Business Shaper just for a few more minutes and we’ve been talking about how he arrived at this point seven years into the business, funded, with a plan, it all sounds fantastic. Are there any black clouds on the horizon? I mean we are in a state of uncertainty, we are on the point, we will be leaving the European Union which makes a big difference to potential car sales. Have you factored those things in or do you just go ‘you know what, I can’t control it, we are just going to keep delivering on our plan’?

James Hind
Yeah as you said, there is no point trying to stress about the uncontrollable too much. We are just very focussed on really solving the pain point for the consumer so yes the car market might be a bit less but now is a fantastic time to buy a new car, there is a lot of great finance offerings from the manufacturers, a lot of great cars out there and people are happy to spend that money on it.

Elliot Moss
Now let’s just say that your Carwow business gets offered an obscene amount of money, silly amount. Would you go again? Would you, I mean how would it work, do you see yourself as a serial entrepreneur or do you see, or are you just kind of the guy who loves cars who happened to find the right partner, who happened to build the right business or is this something now that’s going to be in your blood a bit?

James Hind
I find running a business great fun, very challenging but really, really enjoyable so we are not in any rush to sell whatsoever but if we were, then definitely why not have another go.

Elliot Moss
And in terms of support and you talked in the early years about you know actually you looked externally to books and listening and obviously we mentioned your partner in life as well as your partner in business. Who else do you go to? Who provides you the best advice now that you are in a different stage in your businesses development?

James Hind
So again it’s the advice from people who have been there and done it before. So people who have built businesses so we have a couple of advisors and our investors, they’ve all been there before and they have seen the problems, they can give really good advice and say that worked here, that didn’t work here and it’s very, very helpful.

Elliot Moss
And it’s not generic, it’s real?

James Hind
Absolutely, real, candid and yeah, quite brutal honesty from them.

Elliot Moss
And in terms of you just before we go to your song choice, you, we’ve established that you are calm and we’ve established that you are clear and fair. How else would your team describe you James, as a leader?

James Hind
So I am fairly hands off. If we see someone who’s leading a team and doing a great job we will let them get on with it but we are also very tough on people who we don’t feel are putting all the effort in, who aren’t really performing. We will be very tough but fair with them.

Elliot Moss
You’re a fair man. I think… good… if there are any jobs going, let me know. Listen it has been really nice talking to you, thank you for spending some time with me. Just before I let you go, what’s your song choice and why have you chosen it?

James Hind
So I went for Nina Simone, Feeling Good. It’s a great song.

Elliot Moss
Very clear again. Here it is, just for you.

That was Nina Simone with Feeling Good, the song choice of my Business Shaper today, James Hind. He was calm, he was clear and evidently fair. A very straight forward view of how to make a business work. How about that. Really good stuff. Do join me again, same time, same place, that’s next Saturday, 9.00am here on Jazz FM for another edition of Jazz Shapers. Meanwhile stay with us because coming up next its Nigel Williams.

James Hind

James Hind is co-founder and CEO of carwow, ‘the easiest way to buy a car on line’. After studying Finance at the University of Nottingham, James spent time interning at Midas Capital in the city in the midst of the 2008 financial crisis, which put him off that career for life. He worked as a ski instructor for a season before finally launching carwow.

Listen live at 9am Saturday.

Follow James on Twitter @James_carwow.

I interned at a fund management company… I spent three months there and realised pretty quickly that that wasn’t the path that I wanted to do

We realised pretty quickly that while helping people chose which car to buy was a problem to solve, actually helping someone to buy a car is a far bigger problem

I didn’t know anything about running a business so I read a huge amount of books, listened to podcasts, asked people for advice, constant learning all the way through

I did study finance at university but it hasn’t been applicable or useful so far

Talk to other entrepreneurs because everyone is going through the same thing. Some of them won’t admit it but they are

The market is important and the product’s important but, particularly in the very early stages, it’s the people

We really struggled to raise investment for the first year or so and I think it is because we just weren’t telling a very compelling story

Helping more consumers buy their cars, helping them find great dealers… that’s what we are really passionate about and we are not going to stop any time soon