Ben Nolan is the CEO and Co-founder of Evode Group Limited, a company intending to disrupt the online retail sector by challenging the wholesale model.
Evode operates through its two online retailers:
Merchmaker.com lets fans customise apparel, accessories, art and homeware products based around the shows and sports they love. Evode has already acquired the rights for several global entertainment and sport brands to this end, including WWE, Star Trek and Liverpool Football Club.
Meanwhile, Choosey.com builds upon the popular concept of personalised greeting cards by allowing customers to record a personal video that the recipient can watch through the Choosey mobile app.
Holding no stock or warehousing equipment, Evode aims to bring its ‘zero-inventory’ business model to the consumer product space and heavily disrupt the wholesale model in the process.
Belart Holdings and Trade GmbH is leading Evode’s current funding round.
Evode’s ‘zero-inventory business model’ brings a much-needed change to the wholesale industry. We put the customer in the driving seat; they can be as creative and as selective as they like with the products they purchase.
– Artem Berlov, Managing Director of Belart Holdings and Trade GmBH
The company has been nominated for a number of industry awards, including Best Product Innovation 2015 at the National Licensing Awards. Evode’s Co-founder, Charlotte Clisby, won Licensing.biz’s Rising Star Award in 2016.
What’s your background?
Ben: I have spent the last 14 years of my life working in startup companies within digital and media. Predominantly as a co-founder, commercial director or business development director, I have developed a good understanding of the typical pitfalls and obstacles that a startup business will inevitably encounter and how to combat them.
I ran two successful digital agencies, working across a portfolio of clients ranging from public sector to manufacturing to music industry, and then later set up a startup consultancy assisting various companies with raising funds and bringing their ideas to fruition.
What gave you the idea for Evode?
The personal frustration of my favourite brands and designs never being in stock, or having to purchase them from a company one thousand miles away with huge shipping fees. In this digital world we live in, why can’t designs and artwork that form the principal basis of a tangible product be available 24/7 in the virtual world and then created only when someone purchases?
We took inspiration from companies like AirBnB, Uber and JustEat, where they’d created on-demand networks in various territories to deliver more choice and more availability to the end consumer. We wanted to create a world where products don’t run out of stock and can be customised to each person, promoting individuality and, as a byproduct, sustainability because there is no wastage when you manufacture on demand.
Do you and your co-founders, get on well?
Yes. We are quite unique in that we cover three generations in terms of age, with our Chief Commercial Officer being youthful and very much in tune with the latest fashion, trends and the digital social age. Our CFO is much older and comes with the wisdom and experience of over 30 years, including being on the board of Publicis Group. As for myself, I sit in the middle with 16 years’ experience in sales, business and commercial environments, but still young and ambitious enough to make a name for myself and the business.
This age and experience difference always proves useful in making key decisions as we look at things from three different angles and work out the most effective option. We have all worked together in at least one previous project, so have a very strong understanding of each other’s working style.
Being an entrepreneur is no easy life and requires you to tackle new challenges on a daily basis. What helps you day-to-day and motivates you to keep going?
Knowing that flexibility, collaboration, vision and perseverance will eventually lead us to the ultimate goal – a big exit and to change the landscape of online retail.
What feedback have you had from customers?
So far, very good. On the Merchmaker side, people love the fact they can customise designs they never really see in the shops for their favourite brands. On Choosey.com, we have great feedback on the whole concept of being able to send a video inside a physical printed card.
Do you have any major hobbies? How do these tie in to your professional life?
As a startup business owner, I’m constantly open to exploring new things – you have to be open minded! I enjoy many hobbies, ranging from culinary to sporting activities, but the two that probably best fit within my professional life are poker and leadership seminars. The former because it helps me negotiate better deals (I was once referred to as doing battle with Mike Tyson by a supplier whose rates I was negotiating down!) and the latter because I always get revved up after seeing one of my business ‘idols’ talk about their journey.
What’s your vision for Evode’s future?
To be the number one producer of licensed customisable products in the world without owning a single machine, warehouse or item of stock.
Are there any popular brands you would personally love to see on Evode?
I am a huge Batman fan, so definitely that one. Warner Bros, here we come!