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Nickyl Raithatha’s rapid ascent to become the boss of a £1.6bn listed company at the age of 38 is largely down to two things: a book and a retirement party.
In his twenties, the chief executive of online card seller Moonpig read The 100-Year-Life, which advocates having several careers in your lifetime.
Around that time, he was also invited to a farewell reception for a partner at Goldman Sachs, Raithatha’s first employer after he studied economics at Cambridge University.
“During his retirement speech, he said he’d worked for 26 years, and he’d never taken more than two weeks off,” says Raithatha, who took a year off to travel before he joined Moonpig.
“By every external metric, he is one of the most successful people I still know. But it really hit me - that’s not the life I want to lead.”
The revelation pushed the young banker down a new path which was to lead all the way from high finance to online greetings cards.
“I kind of applied that lightbulb moment to this concept of ‘actually, I’ve probably got a 60-year career, rather than a 38 or 40-year career [ahead] and so I’m going to take, quite deliberately, a more methodical, but not a vanilla approach to my career,” Raithatha says.
“I just wanted to immerse myself in learning and take some risks, explore some things and see what fits.”
Some of those “things” included becoming a hedge fund investor; being a senior executive at start-up creator Rocket Internet; setting up his own fashion company and selling it to retail entrepreneur Touker Suleyman; and latterly, steering Moonpig through a stock market float.
One industry source describes Raithatha as “intelligent and five steps ahead of everybody else”. They add that although he wasn’t the obvious candidate on paper to run Moonpig, he was the right fit.
In the four months since the company’s £1.2bn listing in London, the share price has gone up by roughly 30pc. Although he doesn’t show it, as we sit at a tiny table surrounded by plants at Moonpig’s offices in central London, he is probably relieved.
The company warned in its registration document that it will face increased competition as brick-and-mortar stores shift to internet orders, and that it may not retain or attract new shoppers once lockdown restrictions are lifted - something Deliveroo also cautioned about when it listed a month later. The takeaway firm’s stock is down 11pc.
But despite the recent relaxation of restrictions and the return of in-person celebrations, Raithatha insists there is a future for the firm in a post-pandemic world.
Moonpig is not a “flash in the pan”, he says, but a business with 21 years of growth.
“This is a business that what it has consistently done, it has just grown,” EIt’s not a market that is saturated,” he says.
“We’ve had a very big year [due to Covid], but it has just accelerated a long-term trend.”
Forecasted revenues for the 12 months to April 30 are expected to be around double the £173m Moonpig earned the previous year, with sales likely to be boosted further by Father’s Day next week. The firm commands almost two thirds of the online card market in the UK.
Retail analysts at broker Peel Hunt are bullish, too, saying that the company is on track to make £100m of underlying profits within a few years.
Raithatha could pocket an £8m payday if Moonpig’s sales for the year to April 2023 top £275m and underlying earnings are more than £70m.
He says he is carving out a new category that he calls “emotional commerce” in the digital realm - which is probably partly why the firm has no plans to pay a dividend for the foreseeable future, following other technology firms by reinvesting in the company.
“We’re in the business of making it easier to deliver emotion. We’re a platform that makes gifting thoughtful and easy,” he says.
“And I think we are actually pioneering it… I don’t think anyone else is, and so there’s an entire industry out there that we have to define and the size of the opportunity is enormous. The assets and the platform we have to execute it, I think is extremely compelling.”
Moonpig was founded in 2000 by Nick Jenkins and became instantly recognisable for having a space pig floating in an astronaut’s helmet as a logo. The firm has now revived the mascot after it previously ditched it a year before Raithatha joined Moonpig in June 2018. Jenkins sold out in 2011 in a £120m deal.
Customers can now choose to receive reminders for family and friends’ birthdays and pick from an increasingly wide selection of gifts such as flowers, hampers, champagne, socks and Lego toys, which encourages repeat transactions.
Harnessing this type of granular, personal data gives it an edge over rivals and even Amazon, which still remains its biggest threat - a subject that comes up frequently during conversations with investors, Raithatha says.
“Amazon is all about convenience, all about transactions. The data architecture that they use is about understanding what you like, and then trying to get you to buy it as quickly as possible. That is very different to understanding what you need to buy for a certain person. That [data] would need to be completely rebuilt in order to actually market to you at the right time because otherwise you’d be getting adverts for your mum’s birthday card six months before, which means it’s still quite a big investment.
He adds: “Secondly, if you think about cards already offline, it’s very easy to find a shop that sells cards. I think there’s one in six retail stores that sell greeting cards. So it’s available as a commodity, but we’re not selling a commodity, right? Apologies for repeating, but I just had this vision of… our entire thing is, how do we make that card powerful?”
The son of refugees, Raithatha was born in London and grew up in Surrey with his younger sister.
His parents started a pharmacy business from scratch in 1972 after the then president of Uganda, Idi Amin, ordered the expulsion of his country’s Asian minority, giving them 90 days to leave. His mother later ran a post office next door in the village of Oxted, and Raithatha and his sister helped out with the family business “every single holiday weekend”.
“From nine till six, we worked in the store, managing the stockroom, or filling the shelves,” he says.
“I think the impact that it had on me was about creating family values, which are typically strong in an Indian culture anyway. It was a genuine partnership.”
Some of those values kicked in during the Moonpig float process, when his daughter was also born.
“It is widely known as the most intense process anyone can go through. I remember speaking to a bunch of different chief executives who said, ‘forget anything else, you’re going to be doing 18-hour days for four months’.
“And I said, ‘no’. For my mental health, I would go for a run every morning, and I’ve run every single morning for the last six months, without missing one. And I said I won’t miss bathtime from 6pm to 7pm. There were a lot of lawyers and accountants and advisors and bankers just not understanding why.”
He also tells of the importance of striving to be a more inclusive and diverse employer, beyond prioritising mental health in the workplace.
“We have started to address it as a society, as an industry, but we are a long way from [diversity] not being a conversation, from when minorities are not feeling like minorities and feeling there is truly equal opportunity for all.”
At 38, Raithatha is still a long way from his own retirement party.
But his career is already shaping up to be more varied than any Goldman lifer’s.