“I’m not motivated by how much money can be made, that’s just not me. I no longer consider what I do ‘work’, it’s a lifestyle that I am passionate about.”
Just 29-years-old, Joshua Stevens is a new entry on the Sunday Times Rich List. In fact, he is the highest new entry on the list of the nation’s wealthiest young entrepreneurs, coming in third overall.
Worth £30 million, he has made his fortune importing and developing popular goods at a fraction of what they retail for in the UK. He has brought in gadgets from Asia and beauty products from Morocco, but Stevens says he has more to achieve.
“I couldn’t stop now, I enjoy what I do way too much. I have no interest in selling out and then having nothing to do.”
I meet Stevens at his offices in the heart of Camden Town’s Stables Market. Dressed in a white T-shirt, jeans and trainers, he’s laid back. “We have a no-suit policy here,” he smiles.
But Stevens is not used to media interviews – or the attraction his new profile will bring. “It is still quite surreal now. I still sit here as a normal guy.
I sometimes have to sit back and think, I’m running a major business.”
As the sole shareholder and founder of the One Retail Group company – which sells more than 2,000 in-demand products a day to seven countries, including the UK, the US and mainland Europe – Stevens has seen profits rise in the last year, on sales of nearly £14m.
And with so many popular products to offer the market, the Hampstead-based businessman is often guided by his “gut”.
The former Haberdashers’ Aske’s schoolboy explains: “I will spend hours researching a market; I won’t just decide to develop something. I have always been able to look at something and work out a way I can fix it, whether it’s a price or quality issue or whether a design can change. I don’t get it right all the time, but I get it right 90 percent of the time. I have that gut instinct.”
Despite always dreaming of owning his own company, Stevens never considered going straight into a start-up after school: “My mum wouldn’t have let me,” he laughs. “I was a Habs boy, I had to go to university… it was a fallback, just in case.”
After reading business management and computer science at Warwick University, he went onto work as a trader in the City, which he “hated”.
He explains: “I just didn’t get any fulfilment from the job, I didn’t get any excitement from clicking buttons and watching money move.”
After two years, he joined a retail luggage company, which brought back his passion for business. He spent unsociable hours setting up his own company, after hearing about argan oil, a Moroccan plant-based product said to improve the condition of hair and skin.
He recalls: “Only large brands were selling it. I thought, why can’t I start buying and selling it?”
Stevens contacted a local producer and bought 100 bottles of the oil, that he promoted on his website: “They took off much more quickly than I thought – it just grew from there.”
His side project income soon exceeded his salary, so Stevens quit his job and set up a workspace in his bedroom for six months, before moving to a one-person office in Finchley. On the drive to work, he taught himself conversational Mandarin in a bid to better communicate with suppliers for new products he would promote on his website. Was he not exhausted?
“Now I have a rule: I don’t work on weekends. Emails are off. I have done 50 years of work in the space of 15 years, so I need to give myself some chill time.”
He adds: “If I’m not making use of my mornings and evenings, I feel like I’m wasting time. While most of my friends will go home and stick the TV or FIFA on, I just don’t have an interest in that. For me, it’s getting on my laptop and Skype, getting on the phone.
“Nobody knows how Brexit is going to impact us yet…I never panic about business. Whatever happens, we’ll make it work.”
“I have always done that, ever since I was a kid. I still do that; I still work 18 hour days.”
It’s a drive and entrepreneurial flair he shared with his Vienna-born grandfather Freddie Weitzmann, a Holocaust survivor who came to the UK aged 14. He explains: “My grandpa came over on the Kindertransport with nothing. He ended up being the first person to import cameras into the UK, from Japan. He had the importing and trading buzz. My mum says she sees a bit of him in me.”
And he has always had the business flair. Aged 13, Stevens remembers tapping into his parents’ fax machine at their Arkley home and buying a motor scooter he wanted, at a discount. Two weeks later, a stranger offered to buy it from him as he drove it around the local park. Stevens then used that money to buy more scooters – and a business model was born.
“It started as a passion when I was a kid, a hobby” he laughs. “I enjoyed the process so much, I had to repeat it.
“I was not playing football at lunchtimes, I was running my own importing business on the side.”
It was going well. By the time he was 16, Stevens built up a savings pot of around £7,000 – until a fraudster took his investment into music players, without delivering the products from Japan.
“I had made the one mistake that I’ll never make again, that is [to] put all your eggs in one basket.”
“I was naive,” he says. “I had so much success up to that point I didn’t think I was at risk. My mum was a state over it. We got the local MP involved, we got Interpol and the police involved. We just couldn’t track him down. I had to start again from scratch. I had made the one mistake that I’ll never make again, that is [to] put all your eggs in one basket.”
And he has helped instil those values in young students he meets on mentor schemes, noting that despite popular perception, you do not have to launch an app to be successful today.
“I built an app once as a side-project – it failed,” he says.
“I think it’s a very saturated and incredibly difficult market to get into. There are thousands of apps added to the App Store each day.
“I’m an old school entrepreneur, I like consumer products and the buzz that comes from developing an idea, improving a product, and then seeing it in someone’s hands.”
And unlike so many business leaders, Stevens is not panicking about Brexit, despite one-third of his business coming from Europe.
“Nobody knows how Brexit is going to impact us yet,” he shrugs. “I never panic about business. Whatever happens, we’ll make it work. If I was able to lose that
money as a kid and build it up again, there’s nothing to stop us changing the way we work around it. I am not going to worry about it until it happens.”
So what’s next?
“We have grown so far, we are just trying to manage what we have,” he says noting that the company will soon send product to Australia.
“We are still an online business.It has always been a dream of mine to walk into a shop-floor and see my products on shelves. We’ve got lots to do.”