Inspirational thinking that’s not at all Farfetched!
One of our most innovative (and certainly most fashion aware) clients is Farfetch.
They describe themselves as the #1 destination for high-end fashion, offering the world’s greatest selection of luxury.
Now a public company, their inspirational founder and CEO, José Neves has raised over $1.7Bn with Farfetch from some of the biggest names including Alibaba, Richemont, JD.com to name a few.
Working across the globe we frequently enjoy seeing members of Farfetch teams we are engaging with calling in from NYC, Portugal, Hong Kong, London, Germany etc – and all these conversations have a natural cross cultural vibrant feel to them.
José is the epitome of entrepreneurialism starting off in the mid 90’s with his footwear business SWEAR leading to where he is now, heading up a truly pioneering company combining his twin passions of technology and fashion – a winning formula it seems.
A recent podcast with Harry Stebbings in conversation with José provides a fascinating insight into how this charismatic entrepreneur has built his success on a set of beliefs and experiences that continue to shape not just his thinking but his whole way of how he chooses to live his life and lead his company.
To get you in the mood for listening to the podcast in full (or maybe just enjoying these extracts will be enough for you) we wanted to share some of José’s thoughts and insights that especially resonated with us. As the man himself would say, ‘for full disclosure’ they are not necessarily verbatim but they are true to what was said.
Entrepreneurialism / Start Ups / Learning From Mistakes
In describing the genesis of Farfetch José describes;
’It felt like a continuum -I always had a passion for revolutionary technology, things that could change the world for the better…and a passion for fashion’… So, ‘It was simple, the industry needed a platform and someone needed to build one!’
Later on in the conversation José expounds in more detail on the spirit of an entrepreneur in the context of risk taking; what sets them apart and how integral these qualities continue to be for him in driving Farfetch forward to achieve ever more audacious goals.
Scanning back into his past with his initial start up SWEAR José references ‘a useful arrogance’ coupled with naivety standing him in good stead when describing some of the ups and eventual downfall of the enterprise.
‘Fashion is of course cyclical in its trends, it’s a difficult business. So, I woke up one morning and platform shoes weren’t hot anymore – and we nearly went bankrupt!’
His honesty and willingness to describe his failings as well as his triumphs is refreshing. Key to José though are the learnings from mistakes;
‘How to avoid pitfalls and help others learn from them too – to still keep the magic and creativity yet get a win/win for all involved with faster business success’.
José clearly distinguishes the individuality of the entrepreneur profile;
‘The entrepreneur has a completely different risk calculator to other people – our circuitry is wired in a different way’.
It’s a great reminder of what’s at stake for the entrepreneur listening to his observations;
‘They take huge personal risk, you’re investing your passion, energy, ego, sense of security and certainty’.
He goes onto to talk about how your risk calculator calibration becomes more moderate as you mature but how vital it is to keep risk in the culture of the business or you will die. Jose makes the point of emphasizing that any change represents a risk but we have to venture into areas outside of our comfort zones, especially in business but generally in life too if we are to thrive.
Role of CEO and Founder
‘Being a CEO and Founder is one of the most humbling exercises in life – it’s a very lonely position as a sole Founder. You have to decide impossible things – if they weren’t impossible others would have already solved them’.
Here’s someone who absolutely gets what it is only he can do and leaves the rest to others he trusts to get the job done – one of our Maier mantras.
Although José is the sole founder of Farfetch he does have an astounding 27 year business relationship with Cipriano Sousa CTO which he describes with such eloquence and feeling;
‘The essence of a long term partnership is a shared passion for the same thing along with revolutionary spirit, love of new things and products that express creativity. Plus of course a mutual respect, trust, friendship and LOVE’
So refreshing to hear a businessman using such open and warm language.
Making Decisions / Risk Taking
In describing the components of difficult decision-making José refers to relying on;
’…experiences, intuition, left and right brain thinking -then you have to live with that decision. So, when things don’t go well it’s very sobering and brings you straight down to the ground if not below ground sometimes…It’s part of the journey’
But, José as a keen martial arts practitioner and student adds;
‘It’s more important to know how to fall than to know how to attack’
‘You can’t make good decisions without involving your emotions …the heart is part of your nervous system…the aha moment is a very bodily moment with heart, body, mind alignment and intuition…bring your gut and heart’
José talks compellingly of adopting a ‘risk appetite’ instead of ‘risk aversion’ – describing entrepreneurs as ‘risk curious’ and linking this to an essential aspect of the Farfetch culture in wanting his senior leaders to ‘be revolutionary’ in their thinking and ultimately in their decision making.
It would be exciting to hear more top leaders having the confidence to encourage their Execs to be revolutionary wouldn’t it?
Life Long Philosophies
As a Zen Buddhist by philosophy not religion José draws on its teachings constantly and they pepper the whole conversation.
‘Having a philosophy is important – you need one…. Consciously or subconsciously we use it – it’s essential to my life in trying to be conscious of how my mind is processing reality.’ ‘Being aware of the here and now, what’s arising and embracing it’
‘You need clarity and humility (and detachment at times)in that you don’t have the power to control the events in life. But you DO have the power to control your reactions to those events and in that lies our freedom’
As he added, one can’t always handle challenges with serenity, sometimes ‘you will freak out and lose it’ but it’s exciting to then learn from that.
As you can probably tell from some of these extracts Neuroscience (the scientific study of the nervous system and the brain) is another passion for José and massively influences his thinking and approach to life.
‘It’s central to life. If I don’t understand how my mind works how can I make sense of the world?’
Finally, it’s good to hear his thoughts on self-doubt which he describes as being ‘perfectly healthy just don’t let it cripple you’.
At Maier we often refer to cultivating your ‘inner voice’ as a guide and touchstone, José talks of the ‘mental movies’ we construct inside our heads and that ultimately we have choice as to whether they are a negative or a positive force.
That seems a very positive note to end on!