We continue with our section “Barcelona Personalities” and this time we are pleased to share an interview with Jose Manuel Villaneuva (known as JM to his friends), a co-founder of Privalia, the online fashion group. “Thank you for coming so early, it´s only 8.30. It´s just I´m rarely here, so I try to spend as much time with my team as possible.” Seriously? It was a privilege to get an invitation to Privalia´s headquarter and be able to talk to Jose Manuel despite his busy schedule.
Privalia, founded in 2006, is a private club that offers sales of products from leading brands at exceptional prices and only to its members. Now it has over 15 million members around the world and in 2012 achieved a 32% increase in sales in comparison with previous year.
There are so many online stores, so I started the interview by asking Jose Manuel how was he able to separate Privalia from the competitors and becoma successful. “We have always had a very clear understanding of what we want to do and how. The main factors for our success are the best offers, combination of brand/product/price, and big buying community. We are extremely focused on these factors and I think this is what separates us.“
Privalia operates in Spain, Italy, Germany, Brazil and Mexico and is the market leader in all these countries. Jose Manuel says that their biggest challenge is to manage the hyper roll of growing business. “We started with just two people and now the group employs a team of around 1 000 people all over the world. We have to bear in mind that it´s all about people, about supporting and inspiring them. The company has a structure, culture and we have to make sure that everyone knows it.” He highlights that saving the company culture is especially important when facing new business challenges.
So how it is possible that in Privalia everyone sails in the same direction?
“I spend time in all the five countries we have offices in. I believe in leading by example. If I respect people, they will respect me. We are not just a name, we are a group of people that has to behave and act in the certain way.” Privalia have values and they could be applied to any company. The first states that everything is theory unless you get results. The second – if it´s not fun, it´s not work. The third – we are all in the same team, not different teams. The fourth is especially important for Jose Manuel – we say things as they are. “When a company grows, politics arrive and people may be afraid of saying what the really think.”
Privalia has achieved a lot but I wanted to know what was the proudest and most memorable moment for Jose Manuel personally. “Five years ago we closed the deal with Nike and it was a big break-through. It was difficult to work with them but I knew that after Nike, the other big companies will follow.” He also mentioned that it´s always emotional and memorable when someone leaves, someone who has been working next to him.
With more than 15 million of members around the world, do you see difference in customer behavior?
“Not really, I think it is a global rule that people like good brands for reduced price. There has been a difference in labor market. In Brazil, during last three years, the economy growth was big. A lot of people came and went and it was tough to get talents and keep them.”
In order to deal with stress and pressure, Jose Manuel does sports and tries to relativise. “Companies do well until they do badly, it changes. Sometimes it is easy to lose the point but I try to see the big picture. To be honest, I haven´t invested too much time in my personal life lately. Now, I´m working on it and I try to keep close to my family and friends. People have big expectations of the business but I don´t want to forget where I come from.” He recalls the Roman emperors that were greeted by the city after winning a battle. “They had slaves behind them telling “don´t forget you are a human, don´t forget the basics” and that was great way of celebrating.”
What motivates you?
“Growth. I set personal and professional goals and objectives on a yearly basis. When I had the first personal interview 10-15 years ago, I was asked what the three aspects I want to improve are and I couldn’t reply. The more I know myself the more I know where to go and now I really want to invest in my personal life. What comes to Privalia´s goals, it is 10% profitable growth. We will achieve it only if the whole team works, if everyone is happy.”
Jose Manuel always points out people and their wellbeing, so I asked his opinion about team building activities for the employees. “For Privalia corporate social responsibility is very important and it is usually combined with team building activities. It is not only about the employees but also communities, suppliers and clients. Next week we are going to paint a school next to the office. We always help those who are close to us. You know, this school is very old with no resources and parents bring their kids there only to have a meal. Our CSR program focuses on education for young generation because without it there is no future. We have to teach them how to live and survive.”
How has the current situation in Spain affected your business?
“It hasn´t affected us. We are still growing 10-15% in Spain, in other countries even more. When economy is bad, some people buy less but, at the same time, more of them buy for reduced price. Because of that Privalia was able to keep the growth. When brands can´t sell for the full price, they come to us, so it´s actually good.”
Privalia is actively using social media and mobility and I wanted to know how it really helps the company. “It has been extremely important marketing aspect for us since the beginning. It helps to have more fans and bring the brand closer to the clients. We sell a lot through Facebook. Our mobile application is crucial because the offers are available for three days only and we want our members to have access to them. In fact 50% of Privalia´s sells come from mobile. Summer used to be a bad season; people are at the beach or on holidays. But now they can shop while enjoying the sun.”
When asking Jose Manuel for advice for the companies considering starting a business in Spain, he says that the most important thing is to know where you want to go right from the start. “It is difficult now, not only in business but in life in general. We have to persist all the time. I like a phrase “the world was full of talent but it lacked people with persistence”. It is not about being very smart, it is about pushing. Unfortunately we give up too fast.” He still points out that there must be a balance between pushing and personal life. “You may come to a point where there is no more sense to push. And it applies worldwide.”
I would like to thank Jose Manuel Villaneuva for his time, open discussion and a piece of advice for all of us.
Web site: Privalia.com
Headquarters: Carrer Llull, 113-119, 08005 Barcelona, Spain