Movers & Shakers Q&A – Simon Calver, partner, BGF Ventures

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Simon Calver, partner at BGF Ventures

1. What is the greatest opportunity for the retail businesses you are involved with?

We are all beginning to collect more data but the biggest opportunity now is to use that data to build customer insights that can differentiate your own proposition and create really sticky customers.

2. What is the biggest challenge to these businesses?

Hiring the right talent is the hardest thing to do. We continue to be short of great analysts and product / UI people in the UK but we are getting much better. We all need to invest much more in this area. ‘AI’ over time is going to become a commodity service so you cannot build differentiation based on that alone.

3. With the benefit of hindsight what would you have done differently so far (career-wise)?

I have been lucky to have some amazing experiences in my career, from start-up to large public multi-nationals. I have learnt so much from each one. My main advice to people would be that is it rare to have the perfect job, everyone has harder, more challenging parts. Stick with things for as long as you can and shape the direction of the work rather than go somewhere completely different and have to start again.

4. With the issue of digital wildfire how do you understand and control growing digital landscapes?

You have to throw yourself into constant learning to understand how the digital landscape is going to change. Go to events and find out what others are doing, learn from their mistakes and where you don’t understand things ask the stupid question to people you know won’t mind. Spend time with the new cohort of founders who are looking to disrupt the retail scene as they will look through things with a very different lens.

5. What will the high street look like in a decade?

In a decade even more retail activity will be online. The high street will need to become an entertainment destination and that includes how we shop. We need to take the lead in driving great inter-changeability between devices, content etc to be relevant for all shoppers more of the time. If your retail outlet is not fun to visit people won’t!

6. Will mobile devices be the primary sales channel in the future?

Yes, many years ago I was worried the digital divide would get bigger and bigger between different social classes but in truth the smartphone is levelling out the market much more. All e-commerce platforms need to be built mobile-first, they need to operate real-time and if your legacy systems do not allow you to do this then you need to change them and quickly. The good thing is that Saas-based solutions exist now to help speed up this migration away from old systems.

7. What [traditional] retail businesses do you admire?

I like businesses which have redefined the value chain to build sustainable differentation. Inditex/Zara looked at fashion to say it was ‘disposable after a few wears’ and rebuilt their supply chain on the back of that and look at what they have created. Those that think how technology can impact all aspects of strategy and supply chain will win in the long term.

Clearly Apple continues to define the market for tech but increasingly companies such as Trouva are doing an amazing job providing the platform for many different Boutiques, getting them online and growing their businesses. Curated services will have a greater role in customer selection in the future.

8. If you hadn’t been a retailer/service-provider-to-retail what would you have liked to do?

Be a physics teacher. I was fascinated by science at school and I now feel privileged to be working with some of the most amazing founders in the UK looking to use science and technology to disrupt traditional markets.

9. Who would you place in the top 25 Movers & Shakers?

Matt Truman at True Capital for picking a sector and going deep and focussed to find the winners. Seb James at Dixons Carphone for his strategic thinking and vision. Andy Bond for having retailing in his blood and now leading a different end of the market. Mandeep Singh at Trouva for bringing the curated boutiques to the mass market, and Timo Boldt for taking on the big grocery chains and building a great business at Gousto

This is one in an ongoing series of Q&A’s with individuals that are featured in the annual ‘Retail Insider Movers & Shakers in Retail Top 100’ report.