Ed Bussey: The forces are strong with this one.

We meet and interview the uber-successul British businessman that's served Queen and country

By James York, 29 October 2013

ed bussey

There are few people in business that can say they've achieved amazing things before their first major liquidity event. But Ed Bussey has done just that. He's served Queen and country already, in a long a distinguished career that spanned the Navy through to a more tailored role with the Foreign Office. Aside from his notable career of selflessness, Ed has expertly transitioned from that to become one of Britain's most creditable digital entrepreneurs - trekking the Himalayas along the way. We caught up with him to find out about Quill, his B2B content business, that looks like it might just shake up the publishing model entirely.

He's also one of our men to watch in 2014. So, let's kick off with his time serving the nation.

"I was working within the Foreign office in an area that was fascinating, interesting, if I had my time i would absolutely do it again. But, with the specific area I was working in, i would probably have got divorced if i'd carried on doing that. And i'd met my now wife… so i was working in the counter-terrorism field… an amazing experience, it was a real privilege." Says Ed.

Whilst those days of service are behind him, they still run through his outlook and culture of business to this day. Fast-forward, though, he's in the game of dice, and any new startup faces large digital incumbents. That's a far cry from the World of untouched digital frontiers that Ed first faced when he began working in the private sector - in digital, of all the sectors. At the time, digital was new, un-tested stuff - an exploration. And Ed was one of that first wave across the beaches. What shunted him from agent of bureaucracy to free spirited entrepreneur?

"…i'd set up a small business at University and i'd sold that to another undergraduate [Mike]. That entrepreneurial seed had been sown at that point. And that had been there at that point.

"So while i was running around doing all this other stuff with the Foreign Office, it was in the back of my mind.

"It got to '99 and the whole internet thing was kicking off and Mike had left McKinsey and started what was to become Figleaves.com and that was the time I decided it was time for me to make the move." Says Ed, with a reminiscing smile.

Do you remember 1999? When you look back, that was Web 1.0 coming to its peak. Back when a browser wasn't ubiquitous or your general knowledge based on a search engine's ease of use. The period where applied commercial use of all that fantastic technology and code had really begun to prove itself as viable. It was a time when most of the people innovating were writing the textbooks as they went. Ed, it seems, was well positioned to maximise the opportunity and add to the various skills he'd polished in service.

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I don't necessarily buy into the argument that London is competing with Silicon valley. You know, we are different. We're different. This is global city...

Ed Bussey on

digital London's prospect

"That [working for the Foreign Office] period for me, I learned a huge amount about leadership and people, and being adaptable and resourceful. And being dropped into places on your own for periods of time, you've gotta do X, Y, Z. There's no scope to sit around and naval gaze and have discussion by committee. It's about getting things done in specific timeframes." He adds.

Eds first major dot com adventure was a part of the well-known online retailer, Figleaves.com. A British digital brand that quickly scaled itself to become a major international destination for women, and now stocking vast selections of lingerie and swimwear. Then he moved on and quickly exited the successful startup, ZYB. But throughout this pattern of success, Ed has remained true to his roots, seeing value in the men that, like him, have served. Many of us have friends we admire and respect for their service to the country, it's heartening to know that they have employment options beyond that covenant, and none are more focused on making use of their skills than Ed.

"I was interviewing a guy the other day who was out of the Parachute Regiment. When I talked to him, I immediately recognised certain characteristics, within two minutes, which are: I know I can depend on him. If he says to me he's going to get to point B, by a particular time: he will get to point b by a particular time come hell or high-water. Because that's what he's trained to do.

"Clearly you've got to make sure 'b' is the right place. But there's something about that very task orientated no-nonsense approach to operations that I think is drummed into you in the forces." He adds, sensibly.

Ed's early success has given him a unique perspective on the evolution of the UK digital environment. So, besides his focus on recruiting from those cut of a similar cloth, it stands to reason that you should take stock in his views on how the UK, and London's Tech City initiative, can feasibly compete in David Cameron's global race. He's bullish, to the extent that his vision of that future doesn't overlap too abrasively with existing status quos.

"I don't necessarily buy into the argument that London is competing with Silicon valley. You know, we are different. We're different. This is global city. You've got more nationalities in this city than in any other city on the planet. It's a financial services centre. We're on the doorstep of Europe, we're very outward looking. (I'm not saying Silicon Valley isn't.) And then you bring all that together with all the talent we've got here and you've got a different sort of hub to Silicon Valley. So I think the two will sit alongside each other." Ed said.

For any British dot com, Ed's insight here is poignant. Having helped a retail business scale, and exited to an international telecoms conglomerate, he's well positioned to point out the gaping competitive hurdle that UK digital faces. Clearly, that's something Ed is going to have combat, again, with his latest venture. How does he some up that challenge in his latest context?

"At Quill - and this isn't about PR'ing Quill - our ambition is to build a global, next generation media company. We want to build that out of London and we have a global vision to do that. I think there are some new sectors emerging where some other companies doing completely different things hopefully now stand a chance of creating the businesses of that sort of scale." Ed adds.

Having worked for Her Majesty and, more recently, proven his mettle in the dazzlingly competitive digital World, Ed seems ideally placed to advocate and help mentor the British startups of the future. We wonder, to whom does he look to for advice?

"I'm not good on following big names. In my experience, with a few exceptions, the substance is often not there. I am much more interested in people that are doing real stuff. In that respect I would much rather spend my time with, say, Karen Hanton who built TopTable, who's invested in us. Me getting half an hour with her, giving her real business problems we've got and getting feedback on it, that's where I get mine." He says, as if a matter of fact.

Businessmen like this are an inspiration for anyone looking to change their life, progress and work in new areas. He also highlights that the very people we rely on, daily, and often undervalue are certainly made of sterling stuff. Perhaps a little bit more of a "forces" mentality in your day to day life wouldn't do you any harm - it's made Ed beyond the mark of successful.

Ed Bussey will be speaking at LikeMinds, London which takes place at The Digital Marketing Show at the ExCeL from 26th – 28th November. To book your ticket, vist the LikeMinds website.

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