Alex Lovén on the the rise of Net World Sports
Alex Lovén may have just returned from a charity bike ride in the Alps with Richard Branson to a business that could easily be compared to Jeff Bezos’ Amazon, but he doesn’t really count anyone among his business heroes.
The 30-year-old Brit runs the online sports retailer Net World Sports. The company began with Lovén selling cricket bats to his friends and teachers in his Welsh hometown of Wrexham.
The company now has revenue of £20 million ($26 million) and has amassed Lovén a £55 million ($72 million) fortune, which meant he was named the wealthiest young entrepreneur in Britain by The Sunday Times earlier this year. He has now made it into Business Insider’s list of the 100 coolest people in the UK tech industry.
Lovén says his success is largely down to his focus. “My story isn’t a normal story. It doesn’t involve private equity, doesn’t involve a wealthy family, wealthy backers,” he says. “It’s a bit of grit and determination, just getting your head down.”
Growing Net World Sports into a £20 million business
Those cricket bats he bought cheaply from India and sold to acquaintances in 2002 soon became shop fronts on Ebay, Amazon, and a website of his own. He quit college, built up £13,000 in savings working as a builders merchant and spent the lot on a container of sports nets, which he housed in a shed in his parents’ garden.
His parents were now helping out pretty much full time and even moved to a house with more space to help fuel the growing demand for Lovén’s sports gear. By 2011, he took out a lease on a warehouse and two years later, Net World Sports started manufacturing its own football goals, which are now the biggest selling in the world.
There were times in the early years that were “horrendous,” Lovén reflects, adding that it took “incredible” mental strength to keep up with demand from customers all over the world.
Net World Sports had its first £1 million month in December 2014 and by the end of 2016, Lovén had led the firm into six new countries and purchased new premises in Wrexham. He now has 100 staff and Net World Sports turns over £20 million in revenue. He owns 98% of the company, while his parents own the rest.
The US is one of his biggest export markets and he is creating new products all the time. Last year, for example, Net World Sports bolstered its golf range with balls, tees, and putting mats among other things. It’s why he considers the company a retailer first, and a tech company second. Or as he prefers to put it: “Making money first, retail second, tech third.”
Humble beginnings were a big motivator
Lovén says his upbringing and environment are big factors in his drive.
“If you’ve lived in comfort all your life, you may never quite know what it’s like to hear your parents say, ‘It’s a bit tight this month.’ Every month basically. That was one of the motivations,” he says.
“I’ve gone about it in my way, I haven’t listened to pretty much anybody. Plenty of people doubted me. I’m not from a fashionable part of the world. I wasn’t a cool person at school. I’m dyslexic… I am who I am I suppose.”
He’s a firm believer in the theory that every business is different. What works for an online retailer like Amazon won’t necessarily work for an online retailer like his. And he runs his company accordingly. He is evidently knowledgeable about the work of other tech titans, talking fluently about Elon Musk’s views on artificial intelligence at one point in our conversation, but he doesn’t try to replicate their ideas.
“There is no one formula that is guaranteed to work or guaranteed to fail. You’ve got to have the right one, the right business,” he explains. Not that he is shy in offering advice to other entrepreneurs.
“I find myself saying a lot, it’s important to keep things simple. The moment something becomes difficult to understand or overly complicated, you know you’re doing something wrong,” he continues.
“Business, certainly from a retail side, should not be complicated. All we’re doing is designing a product, manufacturing a product, retailing a product, selling it, and distributing it.
“That clarity of thought. That brutally simplistic yet delightful understanding of something and how it works… means you’re much more agile.”
Net World Sports’ growth may be wild, but Lovén is not a lavish spender. He counts his Range Rover as his biggest luxury and he wants to create some parkland on some land his parents’ own. He also hopes to use his growing profile in Britain to help inspire others from less well-off backgrounds to make their mark in business.
“Make the impossible possible, you only get one shot in life, make the most of it. Don’t stargaze, trail blaze… in a blink of an eye it can all be over,” he says. Lovén may run his own business with a single-minded agenda, but his plain advice is universal in its appeal.