29-year-old Alex Margolis is the co-founder of www.carwow.co.uk, the website that aims to put the buyer in the driving seat when buying a new car. Born in Sweden and raised in London, she previously worked in digital media before launching the company alongside James Hind and David Santoro in 2013.
In the last couple of years, the carwow team has grown from seven people to more than 100 members of staff working from the company’s central London offices in High Holborn and its Munich office in Germany.
Did you ever sit down and plan your career?
Not at all, I’ve never been focused on that. For me, the most important thing has always been to do something I’m passionate about, knowing that I’m serving a real purpose and making things better in some way. I’ve always been very inspired by entrepreneurs and dreamt about starting my own business from an early age. I knew I preferred working for myself and wanted to utilise my creativity as I used to do freelance design and website projects, and any work experience I did confirmed that I didn’t want to feel like a cog in a wheel.
When the idea to launch carwow.co.uk came about we knew we were onto something that had the potential to solve some huge consumer pain points, whilst also helping dealers respond to changing market dynamics, which felt like a very exciting challenge.
Have you faced any challenges along the way and if so, how did you deal with them?
Of course, it’s all par for the course and we have learnt a huge amount along the way. One of the biggest challenges as we started to scale was the realisation that we couldn’t be ‘doing’ everything in the way we did when we were just a team of three co-founders. It’s always hard initially to give up having that control, especially if you’re a bit of a perfectionist like me! Learning how to delegate and empower your team to achieve great things on your behalf, is a skill that only comes from experience and I’m sure it’s something you never stop learning.
What advice would you give someone who wishes to move into a leadership position for the first time?
I think the key thing to leadership is clear communication, which isn’t always easy to achieve. It’s important to constantly speak to your team to find out what’s working and what’s not, what they aspire to and what motivates them.
The other hugely important factor is hiring great people. If you hire amazing people they will be easy to lead and help you develop to be a better leader, hiring poor performers will mean it always feels hard to lead.
When faced with two equally-qualified candidates, how would you decide who should have the role?
At carwow, our strong company culture is something we value greatly and credit a lot of our success to, so making sure that we hire people who are going to enrich it is key. We look for people with a self-starter mentality who won’t require a huge amount of management. They’re the sort of people who will just get things done and know how to prioritise what will make the biggest impact.
Confidence is important, you need to be able to speak up and have bold ideas but we’re always put off by egos, we want people who will work well together and realise they have a lot to learn from others. We also look for curious people who are always problem solving, looking to develop and improve themselves. Passion normally really shines through as well which is a great indicator that they will really commit to the business.
How do you manage being your own boss?
It’s easy to be too tough on yourself when you’re your own boss. You have really high expectations of what you want to achieve and you’re impatient to get there and create the best product and company as quickly as possible. You need to constantly remind yourself of how far you’ve come and that things don’t change overnight! The hardest thing is feeling like you’re responsible for absolutely everything in the business. It’s easy to just see all the faults.
I really couldn’t do it without my co-founders James and David, they’re strong, decisive characters that I can always depend on for support. At this point, we’ve been through a lot together with the launch and growth of carwow, and knowing that I have their backs, and they have mine, is a constant source of comfort.
On a typical workday, how do you start your day and how does it end?
We think it’s really important that everyone at carwow has a good work/life balance, so it’d be somewhat hypocritical of me not to practice what I preach!
I’m fortunate that I live close to our office as I really value my half hour walk to work as time to think and reflect. I grab a good coffee on the way in and have the chance to really prepare for the day ahead, thinking about my schedule and what I’d like to achieve. Twice a week I bring my dog Moshi to the office, so we’ll pop to the park which is a nice way to start the day.
I have to force myself to be really organised. It’s not something that necessarily comes that naturally to me, but it really helps me stay focused when juggling multiple priorities and requests coming in from all over the business and helps me avoid getting stressed when things are really busy. No two days are typically the same, and as we’re constantly growing and expanding the company, that’s one of the best parts about my job.
In the evenings I like to wind down with a yoga class, take my dog for a walk, read a good book or meet friends for dinner. At the weekend I see family or try to get out of the city to really switch off as it can be really challenging as a founder to not think about the business 24/7, downtime is critical.
What advice can you give to our members about raising their profiles within their own organisations?
This may sound somewhat cliché, but if you want to raise your work profile amongst your senior colleagues and make improvements within your professional life, you can’t sit around and wait for them to happen, you need to make them happen yourself.
If you have a creative idea that you think will greatly benefit company stakeholders, don’t be afraid to speak your mind and approach decision-makers to share your insights. Similarly, if you don’t agree that something is working well, for the best interests of the business, then say something. You never know the doors that might open for you if you take a few bold steps.
Do you think networking is important and if so, what 3 tips would you give to a newbie networker?
I think that meeting like-minded individuals to connect with and share learnings with is becoming increasingly important and technological advances make it so much easier to work with people and companies all over the world.
Don’t be afraid to ask for intros if you share a connection to someone you admire or would like to have a chat with. Equally if you have investors, they tend to encourage their various companies to connect and share learnings, it’s more efficient to learn from one another than all go off and try to reinvent the wheel on everything.
What does the future hold for you?
It feels as though we’re only at the beginning of a very exciting journey where we have the opportunity to have a really positive impact on a very traditional and complex industry, empowering both consumers and dealers and removing the friction in the car buying journey.
There’s still so much we want to achieve so the future is all about really knuckling down and getting closer to realising our vision of being the no.1 destination for car buyers to choose and buy their new car. There are constant opportunities we could take advantage of, there’s endless work to be done and things are moving so quickly that it’s vital we really focus and choose the right opportunities, only doing those things which will significantly improve the product and grow the business. We have a long way to go!