Daniel Loughlin founded Export Technologies, an eCommerce platform provider and consultancy, in 2005. To date, their eCommerce platform, the IRP, has transacted over £1 billion in retail eCommerce sales in over 180 countries. I caught up with Dan in order to delve deeper into the world of eCommerce and entrepreneurship.
How would you define an entrepreneur?
From my point of view, it is someone who can create a viable business out of an idea.
How did you come to be an entrepreneur?
I was initially a programmer and had a big interest in eCommerce and still do, and an opportunity arose. Because I was able to facilitate the eCommerce side of it, from there I really developed the business out of that. I didn’t set out thinking I wanted to develop the business but it happened because I knew how to do the eCommerce part of it so it was a very quick and natural thing to do. I’m sure a lot of people in the technology sphere materialise in a similar way – they start with an idea and the business comes afterwards.
If you could go back ten years, would you do it all again?
I’d possibly do it slightly differently. I think one of the bad things in many ways about technology is that it’s not quick. It takes a lot of detail and a lot of time. The length of time you have to sink into these projects makes you question doing it. Saying that, I still enjoy the area that I’m in and it remains very interesting. As you get to learn things, you do realise you could have made a few quicker decisions in the early stages.
How would you encourage someone to get involved in the world of eCommerce?
I am positive about eCommerce, but it has moved on from where it was 4-5 years ago when my answer would have been “get involved” and it was still possible to grow businesses very quickly. I would say now that people should get involved to maintain or expand the market share. To find areas of huge growth in a pure selling sense, you’d have to pick your market very carefully and have absolutely the right technology.
I think the best time to start a pure eCommerce company would have been between 2000 and 2004, after the end of the first boom. There is a lot more money to be made on the technology side of things: efficiencies, solving problems et cetera. On the shop and selling side of things, it’s definitely getting more competitive. For serious growth markets I think people should be thinking about selling internationally instead of selling here. Look for demand and think about selling some of the high quality products that we have here and carve out a niche.
You were partly responsible for growing Chain Reaction Cycles into the world’s largest bike store, achieving a turnover of £180m. How did working alongside CRC have an influence on shaping Export Technologies into the company that it is today?
I think it had a big role to play because it essentially allowed us to fund our R&D and was a very nice position to be in. So because of CRC, we became an R&D organisation instead of a selling organisation and remained there for a long time creating a great product. It was also a great opportunity to learn a lot about the way that online markets work in depth.
You’ve previously mentioned that you got involved with CRC at a time when there were strong tailwinds in the cycling market. In which markets do you think we are currently seeing strong tailwinds?
In my view, you can make money in most markets. You need the right technology and the right choices – it will not just happen. Unusually, there isn’t enough focus on a pure sales angle. Probably because the world of online selling is a bit more opaque. But companies need to get real skills in that area in order to really get on top of the key metrics and they key channels. Unfortunately, these require a lot of detail in order to make them work properly. Not being able to physically see your customer is a challenging thing. Normally, you meet your customer. You can watch them, talk to them, and learn, and in the online world you’ve got to shift your thinking into a different way of doing that.
If I was to pick a niche, I would be thinking carefully about what the populations of the growth economies are consuming, and whether or not we can supply them from here. For much of the world’s history, China has been the largest economy. I’m not sure about the restrictions, but I’d look at Eastern markets e.g. do they consume something that we can supply from the UK? If there are no export barriers then whiskey might be an example. There will definitely be growth areas like that. People need to look at poorly serviced markets where there’s a demand – companies like us are useful in trying to analyse these markets.
What are your main aspirations for Export Technologies over the next three years?
I would like to really strengthen our technology and simplify it so that it reduces the barrier to success – that is a key thing. Commercially, I’d like to see a wider adoption of the technology because I believe it’s very strong. And also to grow the business in a structured way, based on a strong value proposition. I believe our IRP technology and our vision of “Commerce in a Connected World” can have an impact.
When you’re not doing all things eCommerce, what do you like to spend your time doing?
I spend time reading about the area I am in, business in general, and current affairs. I enjoy competitive sports; playing them rather than watching them and getting away from the computer screen in the outdoors.
Sometimes I think about the impact our work has, and the bigger impact of Information Technology; the area we are in. There are competing forces in our own area of Commerce – between ‘buy local’ and ‘buy global’ so it will be interesting to see how this shakes out. I think most of us are spending more time interfacing with technology, and less with other people which is a change for society. There are also issues of personal data and security brought about by the way communication has changed that society is yet to catch up on.