Aneeqa Khan, the founder of online furniture platform Eporta, talks to Rachel Bridge at Drax about leaving a career in private equity to become an entrepreneur
Aneeqa Khan’s CV makes for impressive reading. At the age of 21 she was offered a job straight from Oxford University with Guy Hands’ private equity firm Terra Firma, making her one of the youngest people to work in the industry.
She says: “Terra Firma were trialling the concept of getting people in at a younger age, so I was kind of a test case.”
It turned out to be an amazing experience. She says: “I got to do things like go to Australia and work with the management team of a cattle ranch business that we had acquired. It was very exciting at that age, I loved it. The nice thing about private equity is you get thrown into business on day one rather than sitting at a desk number crunching.”
After two and half years there Aneeqa moved to another private equity house CVC. Then she became head of strategy at Zoopla, the online property search business, where at the age of 26 she successfully oversaw the company’s £1 billion IPO.
She had always planned to start a business of her own however and came up with her idea while trying to furnish her flat. Frustrated at the lack of choice available, Aneeqa realised there was a gap in the market for an online e-commerce platform which could connect trade buyers such as interior designers, architects and commercial property developers with manufacturers of furniture, lighting and accessories.
The platform makes the sourcing process significantly easier and cheaper for trade buyers, guaranteeing the best trade prices directly from manufacturers. They work with a network of over 8,000 companies around the world, with the likes of Candy and Candy and Ted Baker who are looking at renovating or building new commercial spaces.
Knowing that she wanted to grow a big business quickly, she began looking round for potential investors to back her idea.
She didn’t have to look far. Guy Hands came in as a private investor and so did Zoopla founder Simon Kain and serial entrepreneur Rohan Blacker, who founded Sofa.com. She also received Venture capital funding from Oxford Capital Partners and Local Globe.
Despite having worked for some of her backers, however, Aneeqa still had to pitch for their investment.
She says: “You always have to pitch, even to people you know. Guy didn’t want to just give me money, he wanted to know what I was going to do with it.”
Her business Eporta (www.eporta.com) launched in 2014 and has grown fast. It now offers more than 1400 brands on its website and has 25 employees, soon rising to 40.
As well as providing trade professionals with an easy way to source furniture for hotels and restaurants, Eporta also gives small furniture designers an unrivalled way of showcasing their products alongside much bigger brands.
Aneeqa says that having venture capital on board has been an extremely positive experience. She says: “I have had an amazing experience with my investors, I’ve always made sure I work with people I respect and they really do add value.”
She adds: “The great thing about investors is that they have seen many similar challenges you’ll face in different businesses. So if you get the right people on board, they’re very valuable.”
Not everyone wants to grow a really big business however and Aneeqa says that before seeking venture capital an entrepreneur should think hard about what they want to achieve.
She explains: “One decision that every founder needs to make at the beginning is what kind of business they want to create. Scalability is important because there is no point putting venture capital money behind a business that isn’t scalable. Ultimately, your personality will dictate what kind of business you want to create. Some people want to keep it small where they have a lot of control. Others want to create something at scale, that impacts more people, but will inevitably mean you have less control. What I’ve always been excited by is scale.”
She adds: “I would encourage everyone to be clear about what their options are with the idea they have, and then make an educated decision about what they want to do.”
Aneeqa herself clearly loves being an entrepreneur, something she has got from her parents, both of whom have their own businesses. She says: “I love building something. Frankly I would be bored rotten doing anything else.”
Drax sector lead: Ruby Sheera
Director, Technology and Tech-enabled businesses
Tel: 0203 178 3668