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Nick Robertson

Giving talent a voice keeps etail giant Asos ahead of its rivals, said its founder.

The rise of Asos has been meteoric, but how did it all begin?

Twenty-seven years ago I was working in advertising marketing, ironically in the same building, on the same floor, as Asos is now. In 1996 I started my own marketing business and then in 2000 I launched As Seen on Screen.

Asos is seen as a pioneer in the industry – how do you keep coming up with new ideas?

Ignorance. I had no fashion experience and none of the baggage of a traditional retailer, so my only aim was to make it easier for 20-somethings to shop online.

What inspires you?

The fact that fashion is always changing. I love the pace the industry operates at. We were lucky that through our journey from 2000 all the perceived barriers seem to have fallen away. First, everyone said no one would shop online, which they quite quickly did; then it was that the internet was too slow and broadband soon fixed that. And finally there were concerns about payment security, but even that seems to have fallen away. Now the biggest challenge is international. Up to three to four years ago we were still only thinking as a UK business but as the market slowed we had to look to international. Now 97% of the opportunity for Asos lies outside of the UK.

But although we have a £100m business in Australia, I’ve still never made it out there!

How have you risen to the top?

Well, I didn’t get promoted; I’m founder so I started at the top! It’s a case of believing in what you’re doing, sticking to the cause and listening to others but always making your own judgement.

How do you make sure you keep up with ‘the next big thing’?

We work online, we are in fashion and we employ 20-somethings who are passionate about what they do. Give that talent a voice and there’s your answer. We now have around 1,000 employees in London.

The biggest challenge now is keeping that culture alive in such a big company.

Does the fact that Asos is often seen as a benchmark in the industry put added pressure on the business?

Yes. We were paranoid for years that a competitor would swoop in, but roll forward 12 years and there is no new Asos but the high street has got much better online. I no longer see a threat of death by one stamp but we do have to keep trying new things to ensure we stay ahead. Look at Google, an industry giant that missed the social media phenomenon. That’s the danger.

What ecommerce trends do you expect to see in the future?

With the 20-something customer it’s the more choice the better, but going forward it’s about editing that product down to a personal level. In terms of technology we know mobile works. 19% of Asos traffic on Christmas day this year was via mobiles and we only see this growing.

What advice would you give to people trying to get into the industry?

For me, personality is key. It means that individual will be part of the team and also often defines what role will suit them. You need to know who you are. Be honest and be in it for the long game. And remember to work hard, there really are no short cuts.

What’s next for Asos?

Originally my aspiration was to be Topshop. Now, I look to the global stage and the likes of Zara, who are just bloody good at what they do. We want to be as good as we can in as many markets as we can but always stay true to the Asos brand.

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