An exclusive with… Aidan Fitzpatrick, IT Director of

What is Wiggle? Can you explain a bit about your history?

Wiggle is a pure play cycling and tri sports e-Commerce site.

The business started as Butlers Cycles, a small independent bike shop in Portsmouth that had been trading since 1920. After early successes selling bike parts and other items online, Wiggle was launched in 1999. From there, it expanded to the current 45,000 square foot warehouse where at any time there can be more than 250,000 products in stock.

In 2010, we have won several awards including the title of Cross Border e-Retailer of the Year at the e-Commerce Awards for Excellence, Online Bike Retailer of the Year at the BikeBiz Awards, and the Sunday Times Fast Track 100. We have also been named Britain’s most visited cycle website by Experian Hitwise UK every year since 2006 and readers of Which? magazine recently voted us top sports and leisure site.

The business has experienced a lot of growth in the last year. Why is this and how has it been achieved?

Our success is driven by the fact that we have always believed the customer is central to everything we do. We are committed – as fellow active sports enthusiasts, Internet users and hardworking people – to ensuring our customers are always satisfied. The majority of people who work at Wiggle are keen cyclists and sports fans and this is reflected through our passionate service, attention to detail and extensive range of exclusive brands and products.

With brands such as dhb, Verenti and Focus Bikes we deal directly with the manufacturers, shaping and tweaking the features and specifications to ensure the product our customer buys is exactly what a true sports enthusiast would want.

We reward our most loyal customers with free gold and platinum discounts of up to 12%, and the last year has seen massive growth in sales to the UK and abroad.

How important is technology innovation to the business? Tell us about the Wiggle platform.

As we’re solely online, technology and the web are tied to everything we do, and apart from a few key partners the whole of Wiggle’s technology stack is home-built. We use agile and Kanban in our software development, and we’ve got buy-in on that right through the businesses. Not every development team is able to count on the Marketing Director attending the scrum meeting each morning! (One of our Tech Leads recently wrote about this on the Wiggle Blog.)

In the past we’ve had both developers and designers putting “what if” work together and had it go live: the Japanese version of our site was a good example of this. As well as encouraging experimentation in the teams we’re working with some very innovative technology. We have a major site update coming out soon, and you’ll see more interesting work from us in 2011.

Who are Wiggle’s competitors and how do you seek to differentiate from them?

We have a much greater reach than independent bike dealerships and high street stores. Our site has tens of thousands of products with a broader range of sizes and colour-ways, at a much better price, and we can get them to your front door next day. Bike stores just don’t have the stock. Bike buyers can specify the custom bike they want and have it built and shipped by our expert mechanics. Our quality of service, delivery options and international reach and pricing set us apart from other online players, and we have some fantastic exclusive brands.

I always like seeing what some of the newer entrants to the market are doing. There’s a lot we’re looking to do, and disruptive start-ups with interesting technology should come and talk to us: perhaps we can help.

What are Wiggle’s biggest challenges and opportunities online right now?

From a technology perspective it’s all about growth. There are a number of metrics I keep an eye on to monitor how we’re doing, and the ones that have doubled in the last 12 months are the slower ones! A year ago a lot of our IT was quite ad hoc: now there’s a healthy amount of structure and repeatability in what we do. 75% of my team have been with the business fewer than 9 months, and there’s a balancing act between growing so quickly and delivering reliably at a breakneck pace. With so much change and so many things we want to do, a lot of careful coordination is required.

The international side of the business is sizeable and growing rapidly, which gives us some extra dynamics. With large customer bases in Australia and Japan, we really are a 24/7 operation, and our site has a high level of internationalisation with translation, payment and delivery options that few others in the UK are doing.

Google’s recent BCG report had the UK as the largest ecommerce market by capita in the world, and being at the forefront is an exciting challenge.

Can you tell us about your background? Why did you join Wiggle?

I have a technical background and have always kept my hand in over a number of CTO roles. I’m most excited by rapid growth businesses and Internet start-ups, so Wiggle fitted me well. I’d not cycled much since moving to London and had needed an excuse to get back into it! Wiggle had originally brought me in as an interim, but I loved the business and the challenges and just couldn’t leave.

Prior to Wiggle I spent some years raising investment, mentoring and doing early-stage technology with start-ups at a venture incubator, and earlier still was the CTO at Confetti. I spent some time in Norway building what was essentially a B2B version of Spotify several years before its time: at one point we had the largest SAN in the country.

Who ‘fits’ the Wiggle team…

Speaking for IT, we like fantastic, driven, coder superstars. It’s not easy when we’re growing so quickly, but we’re not trying to hire good people. Good isn’t good enough, as Jason Calacanis says. We are dealing with some very tricky and exciting challenges scaling up infrastructure, capacity, team, and international content.

We look for people who are very active with technology in and outside work: on github, releasing iPhone apps, presenting at hackathons, building webapps in Rails or Django in their spare time, talking about Agile, Kanban or Scrum and so on.

After we ran out of space in Portsmouth I took half of the team up to a serviced office opposite Waterloo Station, and next month we’ll be moving into a fantastic new-build Wiggle office, metres from the river between London Bridge and Waterloo. We’re going to create an excellent environment for talented engineers there.

We have a lot of greenfield work to do and there’s plenty of responsibility to be taken on by capable, can-do people. A lot of developers got a great career boost from during the dot-com boom, and I think we’re going to do something similar for our own team.

What do you see as the biggest technology challenges today for e-Commerce businesses?

There’s a lot going on at the moment, and I’m paying attention to some of the retail apps coming out on the iPad and how well they’re really working. Most e-tailers have a significant amount of traffic coming in from smart devices, and aren’t doing much to support it.

More broadly, I see a new wave of businesses working successfully with personalisation, group buying, marketplaces and comparison models. Web 2.0 came very quickly and has made our sites as important as ever in communicating with customers. Web 3.0 and the semantic web won’t arrive nearly so quickly, but it strikes me just how ill prepared a lot of UK e-Commerce sites are. Our data, how we expose it, and how we let users consume it is going to be very important.

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November 2010

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