James Murray Wells started online spectacles retailer Glassesdirect.co.uk with the last £1,000 of his student loan. With the help of VCs he is now aiming to turn it into a £1 billion company. He tells GrowthBusiness his story.
James Murray Wells started online spectacles retailer Glassesdirect.co.uk with the last £1,000 of his student loan. With the help of VCs he is now aiming to turn it into a £1 billion company. He tells GrowthBusiness his business story.
Where did the business begin?
I had always been entrepreneurial and was searching for the right idea. I stumbled across the glasses market and realised that it hadn’t changed in 50 years. It was one of those stuffy sectors that needed updating.
How did you fund the start-up?
We convinced the suppliers to hold all the stock and distribute it for us. That means that the frames and lenses, even the packaging were being stored for us and sent to customers, so really we were just managing data. Within two months of launching we were getting about 50 to 60 orders a day.
How are you funded now?
The business had £750,000 of business angel money but I realised we were only going to grab a very small percentage of the market with that financial model. In 2007, we decided to take on some venture capitalists, who took two seats on the board and invested £3 million.
How did your competitors react?
The typical high-street spend on glasses is £149 and our range starts from £15 with lenses, so there was massive opposition from the high street retailers. We had everything from legal letters to hate mail from the big opticians. That was when I knew I was on to a winner.
Where next for the business?
We now market glasses as a fashion accessory. We are developing technology to allow people to upload a photo of themselves onto the web and try out pairs of glasses online.