The £4m venture that's 'Worth' it

Marc Worth, the former boss of WGSN, is re-entering the business world

Marc Worth, the former boss of WGSN, is re-entering the business world

Multimillionaire internet entrepreneur Marc Worth was sitting by the pool in Herzliya last Summer when he decided he was ready for his next business pursuit.

Mr Worth, 49, had been pretty much retired for five years since selling his online fashion information service, Worth Global Style Network (WGSN), to publishing giants Emap for £142 million in 2005.

But the Nottingham-born businessman says candidly that boredom motivated him to re-enter the industry. "I wasn't waiting for the next big thing. I wasn't even thinking of doing anything full-time.

"I had spent six weeks in our home in Herzliya, sitting by the pool doing nothing. All my pals were on the phone doing deals and I thought: 'This is ridiculous. I am letting my brain go dormant. I am too young, at 48, not to be doing anything'."

And so, Stylus Media Group was born, funded with £4m of his own money.

The company is an online global resource for the interiors, design and lifestyle industries.

Launched in September, Marylebone-based Stylus provides business intelligence to more than 70 clients, to help them improve their profitability. It was originally envisaged as being primarily for interiors, but Mr Worth realised there was a bigger market in consumer industries generally as they strive to be successful in an increasingly competitive market.

Snapshot

● Age: 49
● Married to Hilda for 25 years
● Four children: Patti, 22, Max, 20, Henry, 17 and Louis, 13
● Lives in Hampstead Garden Suburb, north London
● Member of Dennington Park Synagogue
● Chairman of the British-Israel Chamber of Commerce, Board of Governors for Shenkar College
● Supports Nottingham Forest but is an Arsenal season ticket holder

"As with WGSN, there is a syndrome where companies are thinking: 'What if my competitors get this information? I need it'. And that's already starting to happen with Stylus.

"Customers are investing in the product because they know they have to fight their way out of the recession. If there are fewer pounds around, they need to be more competitive and stay ahead of the game.

"Consumers are more discerning and you have to get the product right."

He admits that some people "questioned the sensibility of launching something like this in the middle of a recession, but actually I think it's just the right time to do so".

Besides, the entrepreneur - worth an estimated £95m together with his brother Julian, according to last year's Sunday Times Rich List - knows what he is doing.

WGSN, founded by Mr Worth and Julian in 1998, had become the most authoritative source of research, trend forecasting, and industry insider intelligence for the fashion industry, when the duo came to sell it.

Not a fan of school, he has been in business since the age of 16, when he joined Julian in the family firm Heatseal, manufacturing garment logos. "I got three O-levels, including spoken English, so not much to boast about to my kids," he jokes.

"We were lucky as my late father threw us in the business at the deep end." Aged 17, he was out selling the company's products across the UK. "I was driving up north with my L-plates on and my factory manager sitting in the passenger seat."

In 1997, the brothers came up with the idea for WGSN - initially funded with £1m leveraged against Heatseal. "We really put everything into it."

And there were times when a Herzliya home must have seemed like a pipe dream. As WGSN grew, the money started to run out.

Having already remortgaged the factory building and their homes in Nottingham, they raised £20m from Nomura.

But by the end of 2002, they were down to their last £700,000, "burning cash at a rate of about £200,000 a month".

By now, the brothers had moved to London and remortgaged their homes there. "We had no choice. We put everything on the line and took the knife out." They slashed overheads from £1.2m to £700,000 a month, and cut staff. Four weeks later, the company was making money again.

Emap approached the Worths in 2004. "They had been keeping an eye on us for quite a while. They had no digital strategy as a business and they saw that this was their way in.

"In 2005, we decided time was right for an exit. Emap got wind of it. In 2005, we got a call from the CEO in the US." Eight weeks later and the "dream deal" was closed - the day after Yom Kippur.

"It was quite nerve-wracking as I sat in shul. I went straight from breaking the fast at my mother-in-law's into the City to do the deal in the early hours of October 13. That was the day my life changed."

He took a couple of years out, travelled, spent time with his four children and invested in the odd start-up.

"You become every investment banker's best friend. There was lots of entertaining and I lapped it up until they realised I wasn't going to invest," he said.

Mr Worth, an Arsenal season-ticket holder, is relishing being back in the design industry. Three months in and Stylus has hired 40 trend specialists across the world, who will source information and compile content.

Surely the site is a rival to WGSN? "They think it is but we don't." In fact, he believes it can be much bigger than WGSN. "I've done it before. I know what works and I know the pitfalls, and I think we can get to where we want to get to in a much shorter period of time."

And it is not just Stylus on Mr Worth's agenda. This week, he replaced veteran retailer Michael Ziff as chairman of the British-Israel Chamber of Commerce, which facilitates trade between the UK and Israel. He intends to impose his own strategy and bring in new board members.

"Because I spend a lot of time in Israel - around eight weeks a year - I am passionate about all things Israeli. I don't really have any hobbies. I suppose business is my hobby, it's been all-consuming in my life, so this seemed like an interesting thing to do."

As for the future of Stylus, would he sell it in a few years time? "I don't know. There is no set plan. If someone came along with a stupid offer then who knows? Options are open.

"A year ago I would have said: 'Yes, an exit in four years' but that was before I realised how much I'd enjoy it."

Besides, if he does sell in four years he will "only be 54, back to square one, being bored again, sitting by the pool in Herzliya".

    Last updated: 10:44am, February 24 2011