‘Let’s get rid of this thing that cap­i­tal­ism is evil. Cap­i­tal­ism isn’t evil. Be­ing greedy is evil’

Jamie Con­way talks to Ben Gart­side about how his sim­ple, qual­ity busi­ness model is reap­ing re­wards ‘You need to have ev­ery­body fac­ing the same di­rec­tion’

The Daily Telegraph - Business - - Business -

In­spi­ra­tion for busi­nesses can come from many dif­fer­ent places – from a board meet­ing, a fo­cus group or in re­sponse to a so­ci­etal prob­lem. For WhyBuy’s Jamie Con­way, it came from a choco­late foun­tain he’d last used in 2012.

“I have a choco­late foun­tain be­cause I hosted New Year’s Eve for friends eight years ago, I’ve not used it since – it’s still in a cup­board”, Con­way said, as he spoke from his flat in Lon­don. “I can’t throw it out, be­cause it’s a per­fectly good ap­pli­ance. But at the same time, I never used it. And it be­came a thing of re­al­is­ing how much stuff and clut­ter you have”.

Con­way and WhyBuy’s busi­ness model is sim­ple – an ef­fi­cient ser­vice to rent ap­pli­ances you’d oc­ca­sion­ally use but don’t want to own. Be­fore launch­ing, Con­way had en­vi­sioned tools and house­hold ap­pli­ances as the main uses, but the coro­n­avirus pan­demic had forced him to adapt.

“If you’d asked me a year ago, pre Covid, I would have said we are a tools com­pany. It’s about ‘I need a lad­der. I don’t want to own a lad­der I just needed tem­po­rar­ily’. It was about ‘I need a hard­wood floor cleaner, or a paint strip­per’. It was that sort of thing.

“Now it’s very much about en­ter­tain­ment and hav­ing friends over and de­cid­ing I’m get­ting a pro­jec­tor and we’re do­ing movies or foot­ball or Euro­vi­sion or what­ever your event is that you and your friends love. That’s what it’s go­ing to be. The thing is to up­grade your life­style.”

Con­way’s crafty ap­proach is re­flected by his re­ac­tion af­ter the UK en­tered lock­down. While most peo­ple were hun­ker­ing down and pre­par­ing for the worst, Con­way spot­ted a busi­ness op­por­tu­nity, and ap­proached his lo­cal gyms with a propo­si­tion.

“I said, give me your gear and we’ll rent it out for you, and we’ll share the rev­enue,” he says.

“And spin bikes have ac­tu­ally been re­ally popular.”

De­spite the pan­demic, it seems like Con­way will be mov­ing up a gear soon.

While there are sim­i­lar­i­ties to hit apps like De­liv­eroo or Uber, Con­way is keen to out­line that, un­like them, WhyBuy is tightly fo­cused on the qual­ity of its prod­uct.

“We com­pleted our fundrais­ing doc­u­ments with our fundrais­ers in Jan­uary. We were meant to launch in April, and we ac­tu­ally paused [due to the pan­demic]. Then we de­cided there is an op­por­tu­nity here; the big­gest change that we saw was, ob­vi­ously, we need to be de­liv­er­ing stuff that you trust.”

Con­way’s qual­ity-first ap­proach ex­tends to ser­vice too. Un­like De­liv­eroo or Uber, he be­lieves the qual­ity ap­proach should ex­tend to staff. “We don’t do free­lancers as our driv­ers or de­liv­ery guys. They’re all em­ployed di­rectly. So it’s not like the Uber model or any­thing where it’s just a ran­dom punter rock­ing up to your house. Our first point of con­tact with the cus­tomers is our driv­ers as the guys who are rep­re­sent­ing the com­pany … No way am I hav­ing a ran­dom punter who works for us five or six hours a week rock­ing up.

“You need to have ev­ery­body fac­ing the same di­rec­tion, I want to al­ways pro­mote from within. It’s so much eas­ier. And even with a sim­ple con­cept like ours, the ex­e­cu­tion is so com­plex. Even the lo­gis­tics of bring­ing a vac­uum cleaner to you, that it’s in the right place at the right time of the day, it’s in­cred­i­bly com­plex.

“I would say that with the col­leagues I have at the mo­ment, they are evan­gel­i­cal like me.” Con­way spoke of how one of the cus­tomer sup­port staff came up with the idea of us­ing the 1999 film Fight Club’s mantra of “the things you own end up own­ing you”. Con­way says he was per­turbed by the staff de­scrib­ing it as a “re­ally old movie”, to which he replied: “It’s not re­ally old! It’s from my teenage years!”

Tyler Dur­den’s min­i­mal­ism is a co-op­tion that rep­re­sents his scep­ti­cism with own­er­ship. “Peo­ple are look­ing around and say­ing ‘this is not sus­tain­able’. I also think peo­ple are a lit­tle bit more sen­si­tive en­vi­ron­men­tally as well. If you look at a sub­ur­ban street, and just think to your­self 25 houses means 25 lawn­mow­ers, 25 this, 25 that, 25 the other.”

Con­way spoke en­er­get­i­cally about the tri­als and tribu­la­tions of own­er­ship, be­fore stop­ping him­self.

“I’m not sug­gest­ing com­mu­nism, I’m not try­ing to start putting stuff in some sort of weird com­mu­nal shed … I am unashamedl­y cap­i­tal­ist. If you’ve in­her­ited it or you just have loads of property, hav­ing £100mil­lion and then go­ing out and buy­ing 50 more apart­ments and in­creas­ing your value, that’s not cap­i­tal­ism. You haven’t cre­ated any …” Con­way catches him­self be­fore fin­ish­ing his sen­tence. “Well, that’s just be­ing com­pletely hon­est. And let’s get rid of this thing that cap­i­tal­ism is evil. Cap­i­tal­ism isn’t evil. Be­ing greedy is evil.”

Jamie Con­way spot­ted a busi­ness op­por­tu­nity dur­ing lock­down that helped his WhyBuy project take off in a new di­rec­tion

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