INTERVIEW: Cally Russell, CEO Mallzee
‘We have gone from an idea to 23 staff in two years. I can’t wait for 2016.’
Cally Russell is checking the time and darting about his new open plan office, ensuring everything is in place before his VIP visitors arrive. He has invited Deputy First Minister John Swinney and Royal Mail chief executive Moya Greene to perform the official opening honours and he admits he is struggling with jet lag, having just got off a plane from New York where he has been speaking at a conference and meeting various business partners.
Russell loves what he does and wants everyone to share his passion. Hence the public speaking engagements, the regular media appearances and the bubbly enthusiasm about Mallzee, the shopping app which is taking mobile retailing by storm. In just two years he’s built a company that’s already the biggest in its sector, and he promises this is just the start.
He can hardly believe the rate of growth himself. “We have gone from an idea I had to 23 staff in just over two years,” he says.
That idea came from his personal frustration with finding clothes he liked. “I wanted to create something that would make it simple to find what you wanted. I’ve got a great team together and it’s been a tremendous journey.”
The app matches individuals with a vast choice of fashions which can be swiped “like using Tinder” and can be accessed through mobile, increasingly the way people prefer to shop.
“We were always hearing people saying ‘this will be the year of mobile’, then it would be the next year. Well 2015 really was the year of mobile,” says Russell, noting that last year 7% shopped via mobile, a figure that soared to 37% this year.
A new version of the app was launched just before Black Friday and at one point was being used to access 75 products every second. It received rave reviews from Apple.
The firm has moved from offices at the top of Leith Walk to a 3,250 sq ft office on the fifth floor of a modern block in Lauriston Street, Edinburgh, close to the college of art. As Mr Swinney later told the gathering of guests, it is in the heart of a burgeoning tech cluster in the city which includes the nearby Codebase technology incubator and the two unicorns, FanDuel and Skyscanner.
Russell has packed a lot into his 27 years, having worked as a salesman for Orange during his time at Dundee university, and launched an online student magazine. The son of former Scottish Cabinet minister Mike Russell, he says he owes a lot to his father’s own entrepreneurial background. “Growing up in that atmosphere obviously helped me. I was encouraged to set the bar as high as possible.”
Initial funding of £75,000 came from four private investors in Edinburgh with further finance from Par Equity, the investment house, and Russell quickly began to get noticed as one to watch.
His big claim to fame was applying for cash on BBC Television’s Dragons’ Den when he turned down an offer from Peter Jones and later admitted he could have made the biggest mistake of his life. Instead, he later received £2.5 million from a variety of sources, including Royal Mail. Hence Ms Greene’s willingness to join the opening ceremony for the new office.
At Friday’s opening she described the company as a “wonderful concept” and Russell says Royal Mail’s support has been hugely important to Mallzee’s progress.
He beams with obvious delight at how far the company has come in its short life. “To be the biggest app in our space is fantastic. 2015 has been a great year but I can’t wait for 2016 to start,” he says.
Birthplace: Lanark, grew up in Dunoon
Education: University of Dundee
Career Highlights: Senior sales adviser for Orange; Account executive Weber Shandwick; Owner and editor, StudentPunch.com; Founder and CEO, Mallzee
What are your personal weaknesses?
Right now? Lack of sleep. I’ve been on the go for 30 hours. Actually, it’s probably trainers. I have loads. And my tie. I’ve been getting abuse about it all day.
What keeps you awake at night?
Nothing, really. I have a great team around me.
Photo: Cally Russell (by Terry Murden)