UCL Entrepreneurship Guest Lecture 2011/12: Andy Phillipps, Chairman, Reevoo
By Wendy J Tester, on 10 November 2011
The fifth lecture of this series took place on 3 November. UCL Classics student Carolina Mostert summarises the talk below.
This week’s entrepreneurship guest lecture was given by Andy Phillipps, whose several achievements filled the first minutes of his introduction. He would be “too modest to say”, the students at the lecture were told, but talking about Andy it is important to know that he won two great awards: he was named Entrepreneur of the Year as well as Best Employer of the Year by the Sunday Times.
The fact that he won not only one, but both at the same time provides in itself a description of Andy Phillipps. He aims for the best and is extremely ambitious, hence the first award; he is humble and well aware of how much the help of others is crucial to one’s business, hence the second award. Their combination is the key quality of Andy’s success.
After studying Natural Sciences at Cambridge, Andy Phillipps completed an MBA from INSEAD and got a PhD from Cambridge. He recalled that he had taken an interest in the olive and olive oil business at a time when the internet was growing quickly. He “dumped the olives” and dived into the world of the web, and Andy shows no sign of regret.
The first business the entrepreneur started was called Active Hotels, later known as activebooking.com. He launched it along with his cousin in 1999 “when it’s cool to do business and pornography was the biggest thing”. They decided their company would be about travelling and hotels; in those years, Andy explained, the internet was impenetrable for little hotel bookings and Europe was full of them. They started distributing and sending around leaflets – with cheeky and ironic sketches – explaining to hotels how the online booking process would turn out to be useful.
Active Hotels was not a success at the beginning. Andy mentioned the “crisis of confidence” he had three or four months into his very first business that made him seriously consider the entrepreneurial path he had started. Cutting short, he resolved by saying “in the end it went well, whereas lots of things went wrong meanwhile”; he wants to leave the Active Hotels recollection on a high note. Now, the company is merged with bookings.com and it is one of the biggest online booking companies in the world.
The reason for this? “Because we had some fantastic people in this business”, was the answer, and fantastic people in the team cover up “your own inadequacies”. From this first business, Andy concluded, there are three main lessons to be learnt: enthusiasm is necessary for an entrepreneurial business to kick off, team work is its core, decision-making a constant need. Even when one is “buried in uncertainty” and everything is going wrong, force yourself to make a decision, was Andy’s advice.
Andy Phillipps’s second company is Reevoo, a leading provider of social commerce solutions used by some of the today’s major brands such as Tesco and Toshiba. Basically, Reevoo asks customers for brief reviews about online products and deals with their enquiries.
One of the winning qualities of Reevoo is how quickly it solves the customers’ problems – within 24 hours – and how little time it asks them for – a few minutes. The process at the heart of Reevoo comprises three stages. The first is referred to as proactive harvesting, during which “we go look for comments from customers”. The second stage can be defined as aggregation and syndication, in which feedback is endorsed in the comments; the third one involves speaking to a trusted third party, in order to ensure that the views and comments are not distorted. The winning quality of this company in Andy’s view? Its team, always and again, for its “motivation, dedication and general getting on with things”.
Written by Carolina Mostert, UCL Second year student studying Classics