17 May 2021|Latest Posts, Meet the Successful Founder
A highly driven entrepreneur, Cas Paton is the founder and CEO of UK-based OnBuy.com, the fastest-growing marketplace in the world. Cas utilises years of business insight to drive OnBuy’s mission of bringing fair and transparent eCommerce around the world.
A strategic thinker and doer, Cas was inspired to launch OnBuy to fill the gap in the market between Amazon and eBay. During his time as an eCommerce consultant, Cas was advising SMEs to tread carefully when using marketplaces so frequently that he soon saw the clear need in the industry for a fair marketplace. OnBuy has the convenience of Amazon but the level playing field of eBay. It doesn’t hold or sell its own stock and never will, meaning OnBuy doesn’t compete with its own sellers. It provides a trusted route to market for retailers of all sizes.
Cas is responsible for driving the marketplace to the next level and, just over four years after the company’s launch, March 2021 revealed a record 13x growth in 13 months, vastly outpacing competitors and solidifying OnBuy’s already strong market position.
Can you tell us a little about your background and the company?
I joined the Royal Navy to train as an aircraft engineer at 17 and after four years, I was selected to be a pilot. This required a degree, so I was released from the Navy to study Law at Bournemouth University. While there, I launched my own business and by the end of the 3 years, I had over 20 staff so I decided to focus on it full-time.
I started my web development business at 21 to help businesses grow. I’m not a software developer myself, so I would work with clients to identify ways for them to be more efficient and more profitable. I’d then recruit the technical skill needed to build the system and we’d make it happen! Within the space of a few years, I was consulting technical solutions for the likes of NATO and the NHS.
Along the way, the idea behind OnBuy formed in my mind. I started building the solutions needed in 2014 and launched officially in November 2016.
I created OnBuy.com to offer customers a better shopping experience and to level the playing field for online retailers. We’re on a mission to revolutionise the eCommerce sector by providing a fair and transparent marketplace. OnBuy offers customers more choice, savings and convenience while championing retailers’ success and generating growth for them. This ethos is at the core of everything we do.
OnBuy is now the world’s fastest-growing online marketplace and we offer customers a huge variety of more than 35 million products. We have just under ten million monthly website visitors who can shop from household names through to independent retailers across a range of categories.
We’ve had a record-breaking start to 2021, having reported 13x growth in 13 months (as of March). Following a landmark 2020 with 605% year-on-year growth, our sales have soared from a run rate of £14 million to £200 million and we’re quickly gaining market share.
How did the idea come to you for the company?
I saw a gap in the market for an online marketplace that would offer a better experience and benefit both retailers and buyers.
Some marketplaces don’t always give customers the full picture, and some even promote their own products over those of the retailers selling with them. Naturally, this can lead to a lack of consumer confidence while also stifling sellers’ sales.
OnBuy does things differently – fairness, transparency, quality and trust for both retailers and customers are at the top of our agenda. We’ve grown by offering retailers a more sustainable platform to trade on, which has attracted the attention of millions of customers. Trust among customers has been built from our transparent business model. We list all retailers selling a product on the product page – including each retailer’s price, delivery information and reviews – to ensure our customers are fully informed before purchase.
How did you achieve awareness?
We’ve built awareness through marketing and other tactics, however we’ve really pushed forward proactively in the last few years. We invested £5 million into a wide-scale marketing campaign during November and December 2020 to expand our market share and further increase sales for our retailers. Part of this strategy included a major national TV advertising campaign with ITV to coincide with Black Friday and the busy Christmas period. The advertising campaign was seen by more than 44 million people and appealed to the audience to “Shop smart, shop at OnBuy” – the advert introduced our mascot Obie, a fluffy blue character. Not only did this campaign increase our brand awareness and engagement, but it brought huge success for our retailers: their sales totalled nearly £2.5 million on Black Friday alone!
We’re also active on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, TikTokand LinkedIn. We use each channel to emphasise our personality and brand values of fairness, transparency, and equality, which drives traffic to the site and helps bolster our brand identity. By sharing exciting, engaging content and campaigns, such as competitions that require sharing and tagging to enter, we’ve reached brand new audiences, got a wealth of people talking about OnBuy, and spread awareness of our brand even further.
How have you been able to gain funding and grow?
Initially, I used my own finances to kick-start OnBuy. I pitched to Dorset Business Angels back in 2019 and this grabbed the attention of an investor. The opportunity was subsequently referred to fellow Angel investors at the Surrey Investors’ Club, leading to a team of investors investing a total of £125,000.
We attracted our first venture capitalist in our seed round, which is really unusual but it set us up massively.
In July 2020, OnBuy secured a £5 million investment following a Series A funding round. This funding was raised from leading London-based VC firm Fuel Ventures and other experienced investors including Nathalie Gaveau, the co-founder of Priceminister, a premium French marketplace later acquired by Rakuten.
We’re also seeking new investment: our current funding round opened at the start of April and it’s nearing close already. With more venture capital backing and strategic partners on board, we’ll be able to bolster the OnBuy team and propel our marketplace to the next level.
What are the key successes?
I’m pleased to say that OnBuy has grown exponentially. Despite a worldwide economic slowdown, 2020 was our third consecutive year of 600% revenue growth and this further cements our position as a major player in the marketplace sector.
We’re outpacing competitors and solidifying our already strong market position with each new month – we’re growing substantially month on month across all metrics. Our investors are impressed with our drive and ambition that’s coupled with success in terms of growth and customer and retailer satisfaction.
To accommodate our rapid growth, we scaled our workforce by 4x in just nine months and we’re continuing to hire. We have over 85 full-time staff with many more to come, and we’ve just made the first two in a series of C-suite hires to oversee the team and drive OnBuy forwards. We’ve recently appointed ex-eBay director Mark Lister as our CCO and James Watts, previously the Finance Director at Richmond Group, as our CFO.
We’re already valued at an estimated £130 million ($180 million) and we’re on track to achieve over £1 billion in GMV by 2023.
Witnessing incredible growth and swiftly overtaking competitors, it’s an exciting time for OnBuy and this is only the beginning for us!
What were/are the challenges and how have you overcome these?
Marketplaces are notoriously tough to launch. Open your doors on day one and you’re faced with what I’ve labelled ‘the marketplace conundrum’ – you’ve got no retailers, which means no products for customers to purchase, while retailers want to see that the platform will make sales.
To overcome this, we had to keep chipping away at retailers and find those that were willing to give OnBuy a shot. It only took a few retailers to join, then it snow-balled and we were away. Ultimately, retailers realised the value in what we offered and saw that our model would change the eCommerce industry.
We hit a critical point in April 2020 meaning we could really begin enhancing our customer experience. Brands such as P&G, Swan, Paladone and other high street names joined OnBuy. In the latter months of last year, we increased our retailer base by 10 per cent month on month and we’re now seeing upwards of 600 new retailers signing up every month.
What are your plans now/for the future?
We’ve embarked on an international expansion plan, which will see OnBuy live in a range of countries – including the US, Germany, France, Spain, and the UAE – by the end of 2023. We’ll have the widest reach of any online marketplace in the world – and as we’re a true marketplace, not a retailer, all of our success and growth is directly shared by the independent businesses that sell with us. The first phase of this worldwide scale-up is currently in progress and we’re rolling out the country-specific websites to retailers in stages.
We’re launching an OnBuy app this year for both iOS and Android as well. We wanted to make the OnBuy experience even more accessible and seamless for our customers, so we’re creating the app to do just that. We’ve got plenty more in the works, so watch this space!
What would you like to share with others to encourage them to start their own entrepreneurship journey?
The one thing I would strongly advise all entrepreneurs is that if you’re looking to secure investment, get some insight from someone who has been through the funding rounds. This will really help your business journey. You don’t just need to know your industry inside out, but you need to be able to sell this concept to investors whose perception of the market and your proposition could be completely different.
The most valuable piece of advice I’ve been given is to get off the hamster wheel, stop spinning and look back at what you’re doing. It’s easy to get caught up in the day-to-day, but it’s important to take time to step back and reflect.
It’s a cliché – but don’t give up, keep pushing and keep pushing. The hard work is always worth it.
Can you share your top 5-10 tips for entrepreneurial success?
● If you’re looking to raise capital, seek advisors not just investors. There’s so much more to raising capital than people first expect, and I know now that it’s almost impossible to go it alone. Investing time in building a network of contacts helped me secure the funding I was looking for – it was one of the best things I did.
● Expand your networks – We all know the phrase “it’s not what you know, but who you know.” Networking is a great way to expand your professional relationships and gain insight into opportunities that exist in your industry and how others in the businesses are coping.
● Think ahead – When making decisions to scale up your infrastructure, such as moving to new premises, think long term. You want the investment to serve you now and in five years’ time. So, if you’re planning on doubling your team over the coming years, make sure the investments you’re making now will still be suitable when that happens. It can be daunting to think bigger, and it can feel like a gamble in some cases, but don’t sell yourself short.
● Be smart with recruitment – As you grow your business, don’t lose focus on hiring the right people. You might be tempted to fill roles as quickly as possible when things get busy, but don’t forget to align your team strategy to your business strategy. Your team are critical to the future of your company (not to mention, recruitment is a time-intensive and often costly process), so it’s important to get it right first time. Look to hire a team that are well-equipped to help the business grow and will bring their own tenacity to the table, then make sure you onboard them well. Make sure you have processes in place to support a wide range of employees and ensure diversity and inclusion, too – being flexible and agile is crucial here.
● When choosing suppliers, choose those that believe in your vision and share similar values to you – Synergy between you and your suppliers is key to a valuable working relationship.
What are your favourite inspirational /motivational quotes?
“What if you’re right and they’re wrong?” I’ve got a picture of this quote in my office that’s been with me since day one. It reminds me that the best ideas weren’t inspired by doing what’s always been done – you have to be bold enough to do things differently.
1What are your social handles and website links so our readers can connect with you?
Instagram – @onbuy_gb
Facebook – @OnBuyGB
Twitter – @OnBuy
LinkedIn – OnBuy.com