There are two main schools of thought when it comes to going to market.
The first is to launch your proof-of-concept as soon as possible and test it with early customers; the second is to ensure that your first product is as solid as possible before putting it into the hands of clients. Naturally, the nature of the product or platform is key to that decision.
For Al Gerrie and ZigZag Global, the latter approach made more sense.
Gerrie founded the company in 2015 after witnessing ever-increasing product returns over two decades in the retail industry – and the problem has only worsened since that time. A SaaS platform that helps retailers manage and resell returned stock in local markets – via a white-labelled returns portal that links directly from their website – it has enabled customers in 130 nations to return items.
It processes around 50 million returned orders a year – around £1.5 billion worth of refunds.
“We gave lots and lots of demos [early on] so when we were ready to go to market, we had a solid platform that had been in development for 18 months,” Gerrie explains to TechBlast. “It was a mature product.
“We weren’t trying to put retailers live on a flaky proof-of-concept – we waited a bit longer and made sure that the product was ready for going to market.”
In essence, ZigZag helps its retailer clients to save money on returns; enables customers to get faster refunds; and ensures stock can re-enter the supply chain and be available for sale more quickly. This also lowers the carbon footprint for the whole process.
Gerrie, who held management positions at the likes of Mountain Warehouse and Office Shoes prior to launching ZigZag, says they networked like crazy in those first few months.
“Traction is really important: we got out and spoke to as many retailers at as many events as we could,” he says. “We took speaking slots all over the world to try and promote the brand; we entered lots of awards to make sure that we were prominent.”
The London-headquartered company, which featured in 12th spot on our sister company BusinessCloud’s RetailTech 50 ranking this year, now employs 150 people across five European offices.
Maturity has also been central to its hiring strategy. “Pretty much everybody we’ve hired in the business has been very mature – they’ve got years of experience in the industry, either in retail or in logistics,” Gerrie explains.
He adds with a smile: “We’re not hiring kids out of school – we’re hiring industry professionals that have been there and bought the T-shirt – and then returned it again!”
Following several rounds of investment including crowdfunding, angels, VC and private equity, ZigZag was acquired in 2021 in a strategic deal. The exit generated a record return for investors on Crowdcube, a fact which holds true today.
“Our first major client was Arcadia – owners of Topshop – which went bust in 2021,” says Gerrie. “But by that time ZigZag was well-established and very well-regarded in the industry with a very good customer base.”
The CEO, whose passions include ice hockey and speedway – determined by the season – is still very much involved in the business for the long-term.
Asked for a nugget of advice for startup founders, he answers: “Make sure your product-market fit is there. That’s really important.
“In our case, I’d seen the problem first-hand – we weren’t trying to fit a solution to a problem that didn’t exist.”