Chapter 2: ‘Charging to the sound of the guns’ (2007-2012)

Chapter 2: Search engine, international growth and ‘charging to the sound of the guns’.

2007 to 2012: £12m to £120m,

2009 – debt funded buyout of Mitch Dall 25% shareholder (Livingbridge 42% to 67%),

2012 Livingbridge sold Wiggle to Bridgepoint LLP for £180m,

2012 Wiggle Retail Week Award Pure-Player of the Year

Wiggle winner – 2012 Retail Week Pure-player of the year

In June 2007, I joined Wiggle as a Pay-Per-Click (PPC) Executive – young and keen to impress. I had a gut feeling my understanding of search engines could make a difference. But I never in a million years could have predicted the life changing, wonderful journey I and many others were about to embark on. Strap-in.

On my first day, after putting together my desk and chair, I went to report in to one of the founders (Harvey Jones) for my briefing. Harvey said “Dean, you can spend as much as you like as long as you bring Wiggle £20 return on every £1 you spent” [meeting over]. Harvey returned to his favourite spot, the sofa at the end of the office for a mid-morning power-nap.

That was it, no other instructions or guidance. There was no one else at Wiggle that knew anything about PPCs. Having effectively no boss and a clear, no-nonsense goal was absolutely perfect for me (I didn’t have a Marketing Director to report into until 2010 when Martin Talbot joined from Play.com. Martin provided the team and I with crucial learnings and direction to build upon the early growth).

I came up with the simple strategy, set all keyword bids at £1, add as many cycling keywords as possible and make adjustments to keep within the ROI.

I bought as many cycling magazines, books I could find. I mapped out a campaign / keyword structure and spent literally every working day for 1.5 years adding keyword after keyword. Taking the number of keywords from a few thousand to millions. With virtually every single one top of search engine – Wiggle owned the cycle space on Google!

All the Google invoices were addressed to me, I was running out of company credit cards in the early days. I was spending money so fast, that Google high command noticed, and I was invited to their exclusive Zeitgeist event in 2008. Among the 200 attendees were Google’s owners Larry and Sergey, Chad Hurley – the founder of Youtube, UK Prime Minister – Gordon Brown and Dean Maskell originally from Paulsgrove council estate, Portsmouth (I felt I couldn’t put PPC Executive on my name badge – so I just wrote “Wiggle Marketing”).

Wiggle’s online marketing spend went, well UP. From c. £80K (2006) to £250K (2007), £600K (2008), £1.3M (2009), £2M (2010), £3.2M (2011), alongside traffic and sales. It was unreal at times.

Online Marketing Spend

Wiggle Traffic Per Territory

Wiggle Traffic Per Source

To be clear, I was only one spoke in the wheel of this growth story. There were so many other great people. There was Steve Mills, who every single day was working out how he could increase the website conversion rate to process all the new traffic. Then there was Scott Millett, who was having to build I.T. systems to support this phenomenal growth. There was Nick Pink busy organising extra warehouse capacity to store and ship out all the thousands of product deliveries each day.

There are literally too many other people I really should mention here (I am really sorry). Basically, as Humphrey Cobbold (a future CEO) put it to me years later – Wiggle were effectively “Charging to sound of the guns” – finding opportunities, capitalise on them before the competition. We all wanted to be the best we could be.

Wiggle.co.uk website in 2007

Wiggle.co.uk website in 2010

Steve Mills, Scott Millett, Paul Bolwell

Now, we were only demi ‘retail’ gods (lol), above isn’t the whole truth. In my mind, there is no doubt, Wiggle had great people and we did a lot of great things much faster than anyone else that got us to the front of the pack. But in reality, Wiggle had a tail wind blowing a gust into its sails.

The UK cycling industry was absolutely flying off the back of the 2007 Tour de France starting in London, the eight gold medals won by the GB cycling team at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, the 2012 Olympics in London, and of course Bradley Wiggins and then Chris Froome winning the Tour de France. In addition, the UK Government and media were heavily promoting health and fitness drives, cycle-to-work schemes and much more besides. Lastly, there was huge migration from offline to online shopping behaviour. I just needed to keep Wiggle top of the search engines and the traffic just kept on increasing year after year, after year.

Wiggle Football Team – 2008

Collecting Awards (left to right) – Daniel Glyde, Maddy Turley, Steve Mills, Dean Maskell, Daniel Hoare

And then the global recession hit, which changed Wiggle from a sole domestic proposition to a world market disruptor. The perfect storm was brewing with Wiggle about to hit the foreign cash jackpot.

During 2008 to 2010 the pound’s trade weighted value fell by 20%. And the Japanese yen strength nearly doubled relative to Sterling (£1.00 bought 4.3 Yen instead of 8.2) and the Australia $ strengthened by 40% too (£1.00 bought 1.5 $AU instead fo 2.5).

The public and even small retailers could now buy from Wiggle (and Chain Reaction and European sites) at less than the wholesale costs from Japanese and Australian distributors. UK and European internet sales rocketed. (Japanese and Australian distributors were badly damaged).

 

Japanese PPCs and Blogs

Wiggle.jp – fully translated

After allowing overseas customers to shop on Wiggle.co.uk, we were taken aback with Japan, as sales jumped to £1M a month within 3 months of flicking the switch. I fully embrace the ‘charge to the sound of guns’ mantra again, by using online translator tool Babel Fish to write PPCs in Japanese and setting up Japanese affiliates networks. I also started the process to hire Wiggle’s first international team comprising of native Japanese, German and Spanish speakers.

Wiggle Japanese Adverts

Wiggle designs Tokyo Cycling Club kit

To continue the growth, Wiggle recruited Humphrey Cobbold as CEO in November 2009 just as the business posted a record £55m in sales. Whereas overseas customers had been buying from the English website (Wiggle.co.uk) up till now, Wiggle started to ramp up the overseas offering:

  • In 2007, 2% of Wiggle revenue was from overseas, to 60% in 2011
  • Sales were in 90+ countries
  • 12 local websites with the appropriate local domain name were created
  • 10 languages – English, French, Spanish, Dutch, Portuguese, Italian, German, Japanese, Chinese and Russian
  • Responding to over 35K customer service email p/m, in 9 languages
  • 7 localised payment methods e.g. IDeal in Holland
  • Localised operations e.g. returns in Spain, servicing in Australia
  • Local regionalised marketing including press, TV and presence at events

Wiggle flying internationally

Wiggle events van on top of Alpe d’huez in 2011

In business it is key to know when to cash-out your chips and head to the sun.

In 2011, LivingBridge ran a sale process for Bridgepoint. In August they hired Andy Bond (the former CEO of Asda UK) as Chairman to help that process [4]. The sale of Wiggle was a hotly contested auction, concluding in November with the sale to Bridgepoint LLP for an eye watering £180m. From originally sending out parcels from a Mitch’s kitchen to a £180M valuation in 13 crazy years.

The question was, could the profit growth continue?

Click here to read Chapter 3 of the Wiggle Story (2012-2015)

Click here to read Chapter 1 of the Wiggle Story (1999-2007)

Left to right – Humphrey Cobbold, Richard Pearman, , Derek Bouchard-Hall, Andy Bond 

[1] https://www.poundsterlinglive.com/bank-of-england-spot/historical-effective-exchange-rates/eerspots/GBP-history#charts
[2] https://www.ofx.com/en-nz/forex-news/historical-exchange-rates/ (select Yen)
[3] https://www.ofx.com/en-nz/forex-news/historical-exchange-rates/ (select $AU)
[4] http://www.cyclingweekly.com/news/latest-news/cycling-asda-boss-joins-wiggle-58021

Wiggle make front page news

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