Five minutes with Rowan Gormley

Five minutes with Rowan Gormley

For Rowan Gormley, business is done best when it is done sustainably.

In 2008 he founded Naked Wines, the crowdfunding wine business, whose ‘Angels’ fund winemakers and gain access to their products at wholesale price. The company built up a base of more than 300,000 Angels, and in 2015 was acquired by wine retailer Majestic, with Gormley becoming CEO of the combined group.

“People want to deal with companies that have ethics like their own”

We believe that the best way to drive growth is to do the right thing by staff, customers and suppliers. We are not a charity, the idea is not to be about philanthropy. The idea is to come up with a better business and I think that eight years ago the idea of making money in a sustainable way by doing the right thing sounded a bit intangible, but it’s a lot more fashionable these days.

“There has been a general decline in faith in institutions and increase in faith in each other”

People have lost faith in the church, in government and the banks… We are out to offer a business model that is an alternative to placing lots of trust directly in a business. The millions of reviews that we are able to collate are a better indicator of whether the wine really is good than anything else that you could get out of marketing or shop assistants on commission.

“Clever marketing can only get you so far”

Starting the business in 2008 meant the outlook of many people I approached was very negative. When times are tough people are conservative, and when they’re conservative it’s harder to get them to change their habits. To succeed, you need to give them a very powerful reason to do so… To deliver a business with a real change in substance, not just in style, we had to find a way of changing the normal supply chain.

“A vibrant economy is one where good ideas bubble to the top”

I spent three years in the States and when I came back to the UK, I was pleasantly surprised at how many people were thinking about setting up their own company and secondly, the quality of the ideas. It wasn’t just a bunch of overindulged rich kids who wanted to do a startup because they want to make a lot of money. It’s people with genuinely great ideas that do something new and fresh, and have the potential to be really significant businesses.

“Don’t worry too much about what happens in the short term”

Something you learn working with someone like Richard Branson is a long-term view of business, and if you do the right thing then eventually you will make money, one way or another. The second thing is that he has this enourmous faith that you can do anything if you try hard enough. Most big companies find lots of reasons why you can’t do stuff and they are good at finding shortcuts that ultimately cut the potential by short-changing people and suppliers.

“For a better working culture, focus on the entrepreneurial spirit”

Majestic had a long history of a great entrepreneurial spirit, but when I joined it had been dampened for a few years through too much bureaucracy and outside control. The one thing I wanted to change was to fan the flames of that entrepreneurial fire again. Practically, that takes the form of celebrating people who give things a try, even when it fails. Also, having an environment where instead of going away for six months and undertaking a big study, you test things on a small scale. I have seen ideas experimented with all over the company and that’s really exciting.

“The UK economy is vibrant because there are great ideas that are getting funding and being made real”

There is more than one route to funding is the critical thing – you can now get assistance early and that increases the chances of making it through to the stage where you can go through a traditional VC and expansion finance. Having been international traders for centuries gives Britain an international outlook and a trading outlook, which in an economy like the US is sometimes missing. Good old-fashioned British eccentricity means people are more willing to be different and to do their own thing.

“Whether I’m there five days a week or not, it won’t change the company”

I think the ethos has to be strong. The core of it, to make money by doing the right thing, is one that we try to spread across the entire group and that’s been welcomed by colleagues. I don’t think there’s a danger of that changing.

“For growth to be sustainable it has to be done the right way”

Our growth strategy is less about hitting the financial targets as it is about creating sustainable growth. That’s why we set three-year goals, not a one-year goal. I think that’s the ultimate test to see if we are being true to the ethos.