Q&A with founder of Redbus, co founder of LoveFilm and chairman of WIE, Simon Franks

Why did you get involved in WIE?

I'm all about trying to make the playing fields level and I feel there still isn't a level playing field between men and women. Women are underrepresented in many boardrooms and entrepreneurial activities. WIE is trying to find solutions to the reasons that are holding women back and I'm happy to support that.

Where can women be looking to start businesses?

I see technology as the real leveller as you don't need huge amounts of money to create something innovative, whereas in other industry's you do. The Internet is a great tool for getting your idea out there. There are fewer barriers to entry when launching a business on the Internet as anyone can sit at home, have great ideas and turn them into a business from their laptop.

Why aren't women starting businesses?

I think the problem is we don't position running a tech business as a sexy business for women to be doing culturally. They also don't have the network of friends who they can turn to for advice like men do, as there are hardly any women running tech businesses. So that's what we're doing with WIE. We're trying to create a community of women who are trying to do something. I want women to come to WIE, be inspired by women who have done great things and realise that there's doors open to them and see that technology gives them a wonderful opportunity and meet people who they can leverage off.

So it's our British culture that's stifling new women led businesses?

We have a failure of self-belief and imagination in Britain. By that I mean people don't believe that they can be different and do something that no one else has done before. There are a few reasons for this, our attitude to winning and taking part is wrong. We teach children that it doesn't matter if you're no good; the main thing is that you took part. That's just rubbish. Also having a Royal Family and saying that a person is born to be special. No one is born special. You become special with what you do with your life, you're special with what you give back to the world, what you do in productivity and we don't instil that. A kid growing up on a Glasgow council estate can't even imagine growing up in London and running a business. We squash peoples dreams, we laugh at them. I reject all of that.

What's your secret to growing your businesses at such a fast rate?

I worked seven days a week for four years without a holiday. It was a passion and I dedicated everything I had to my business. I think if you work that hard eventually the luck comes and it pays off, plus you have to hire good people.

Why was your first business so successful?

I bought the online rights to films for people like Disney.  It was 1997 and no one got the Internet back then.  I'd ring up people and ask to buy the Internet rights, they'd say, 'The what right? Do those rights even exist?  Then in 2000/2001, everyone went maybe we should get some Internet film rights, then they all went ahh fuck, we've sold them to some guy in London working out of his spare room. 

How did you end up co-founding Lovefilm?

I sold Redbus (just before the dotcom bust) I had £26m in the bank and didn't want to blow it. So I ended up using it to buy lots of other businesses, which is how we grew so much. One of these businesses we heard about was Netflix. We looked at it, thought it was a great idea and we copied it to make Video Island, which then merged with Love Film.

Main challenges as founder of Video Island and LoveFilm?

One problem was that there was only going to be one winner in the space but there were three companies, Video Island, LoveFilm and one other. I tried to make a merger happen three years before it did. I do think we'd have been in a much better position if we were able to merge early. When you grow very fast and there are partners involved, getting everyone on the same page isn't easy.

What made LoveFilm stand out?

I was always getting parking tickets at the time and one great thing about parking tickets is once you open it, you just fold the envelope over and send it back with your cheque. We thought it was a great idea, so we developed our own envelope that was another envelope and that made it stand out, as it was so simple for people to send back.  Our success was thanks to Westminster Council.

LoveFilm has grown and exported abroad, what would be your advice for other small businesses looking to do this?

Focus - don't even think about expanding until you have your home market done ad you are a market leader or a number two. Only then look abroad as in my experience at least half the companies that I've brought out of bankruptcy went bust because they expanded too early. What happens is the business in the home territory turns down a bit and they are getting losses from the start-up in another country and that brings them down.

Also when you decide to expand, go for somewhere with similar characteristics. Don't be afraid to find a parent or buy someone. Local knowledge is a brilliant thing.

To apply or to book tickets for the WIE event on March 8 visit www.wienetwork.co.uk 



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