It is often said that the UK struggles when it comes to successful start-ups compared to other regions such as Silicon Valley, California, and Israel. Yet internet entrepreneur Allon Bloch would disagree.
Mr Bloch runs mySupermarket.co.uk, arguably one of the most successful dotcoms in Britain at the moment. The popular website allows users to compare groceries across the largest UK retailers. Founded six years ago, the site has close to three million unique UK users, 100 per cent up year-on-year.
New-York-based Mr Bloch, who joined the company in 2010, says: “There is a belief that everything good in tech happens in Silicon Valley but unless there are different types of humans there, I think that’s wrong.
“Cleary Israel and certain places in the US have a lot of engineers and start-ups but I think you will see that in London too. There are British companies that are succeeding and there is no reason why Silicon Valley should be any better.”
He cites Errol Damelin’s online money-lending site Wonga, and takeaway ordering service Just-Eat.co.uk, as key examples of successful UK start-ups. “British people beat themselves up over the fact that no major company has come out of the UK but firstly, there is a huge e-commerce usage in the UK.” Seven per cent of the entire grocery market is online. “That’s why mySupermarket came to the UK. It’s a world leader in terms of penetration of online grocery. It’s much higher than in the US.”
He adds: “Sometimes you want to build something up outside of the US first and then bring it over as opposed to the other way round.” And that is exactly what has been done with mySupermarket. Founded in the UK in 2006, mySupermarket now has versions in Japan and Israel, where a lot of the development is carried out, and there are plans to launch in the US.
Shoppers fill up their virtual trolley, a running total is displayed indicating which grocer — be it Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Asda, Waitrose or others — can fulfil the order at the best price. There is also an option for consumers to split their purchases across multiple retailers. Mr Bloch says the service can save shoppers 20 per cent on their groceries. “That’s nearly £20 a week. Multiply that by 50-odd weeks a year and that’s big savings.
“Even if you are Bill Gates, why would you want to overpay on your deodorant.”
MySupermarket aims to give people more control over their shopping or, as Mr Bloch puts it: “We are the retailer that has your back.”
Since its inception, mySupermarket has grown from a simple price-comparison proposition to include a raft of consumer offerings. It provides insights data to well-known brands including Innocent and Kellogg’s, plus customised reports to the financial community.
The company recently received $7 million worth of backing from Sir Martin Sorrell’s WPP. Greylock Partners, the venture-capital firm that backed Facebook, and Israeli venture-capital fund Pitango Venture Capital are also investors.
Growing up in Israel, Mr Bloch has a biology degree from Tel Aviv University and an MBA from Columbia. He joined McKinsey & Company in London as a consultant, before moving to Israel where he joined Israeli venture firm Jerusalem Venture Partners in 2001, relocating to New York four years later. In 2007, he moved to consumer internet company Wix.com and became their co-chief executive. Then came mySupermarket.
Is now a good time to be a tech entrepreneur? “It is if you end up being successful. The markets are way more competitive right now.” He adds: “Just because Mark Zuckerberg left Harvard doesn’t mean everyone should leave school and start a company when they are 21. Usually it doesn’t work that way. It’s important to have life and business experience.”
He advises: “You should have both tech and non-tech business people on your team. Just because you think differently doesn’t mean you’re right. People say to me: ‘Well I’m going to go and counter the opinion.’ Google did it and it worked well, but you don’t know what luck and capabilities they had. You need to feel comfortable that you have the right experiences. I have seen a lot of people that still need to develop.
“But I think it’s great that people want to launch a start-up as opposed to have an aggressive job at Goldman Sachs or something.”