Rediscovering the'buzz' for e-commerce

E-veteran Helen Bridgett has a passion for start-ups. That's why she left Tesco Direct to join Toby Poston...

E-veteran Helen Bridgett has a passion for start-ups. That's why she left Tesco Direct to join Toby Poston reports

When was your first experience of e-commerce?

I joined the Tesco Direct team at the beginning, as the marketing member of a six-person cross-departmental team exploring direct retail opportunities. We first looked at the Internet as a channel in mid-1996.

What was it like back then?

We tried to understand what people wanted from the Internet, but there were no examples we could draw on. We went over to the US to see what they were doing, but they were not much more advanced. There was no one buying over the Internet in the UK, and the media was saying that it was just a fad.

And when you finally got the Tesco Direct project going?

I loved the early days. I really enjoyed finding out what the barriers were and then overcoming them. The Internet was very pally back then and there were lots of cross marketing opportunities - people would support your Web site if you supported theirs. A little part of me was sad when we actually rolled out the Tesco site.

Why did you leave Tesco Direct earlier this year?

It was nothing to do with the company, I just love the passion involved with a start-up. By the time I left Tesco Direct it had become a core part of Tesco, and we didn't need to persuade anyone of the potential for Internet grocery shopping anymore. There was a bigger team working on the project and I became more involved in the politics of the rest of the organisation.

What is it you love about working on a start-up?

It is a bit of a roller-coaster. You get some real ups when things work out and some massive downs when you think that it won't ever happen. I suppose I am a bit of a masochist!

So what is life like at

It is just like the early days at Tesco Direct. We are a small team who pick up each other's roles if one of us is away. But it is also different because we are not building on an established brand. We are just trying to de-mystify gardening. We want our site to be a bit like a wine guide - telling people what plants to grow in what soil in a particular part of their garden. We fuse content with commerce, so that customers can get ideas and then buy the stuff they want on the same site.

What have you learnt about technology from your experiences?

IT is so important, not only for infrastructure, but as a source of ideas. An innovative IT person is the most useful source of new ideas. They can spot a cutting edge technology and see a use for it.

Top 5 Web sites

  • - daily news round up via e-mail and the ability to search for company information. An invaluable site

  • - I'm an outdoors freak and this site was put together by mountain-loving people - a great place to start looking if you are into hiking/climbing etc

  • - just a great idea. An e-mail address to suit your mood!

  • - a great place for industry data

  • - I love the simplicity of this gift store model

    Bridgett on E-teams

  • Don't underestimate the task ahead. Retail is not simple and putting a store on the Web does not reduce the complexity

  • Persevere - things will not always go according to plan but you have to keep the team motivated and heading for the vision

  • Employ well - you will need motivated, driven people with a passion for the idea

  • Communicate and network - you never know where the ideas or solutions will come from, so do keep talking to people

  • Be entirely customer-focused - when a company loses its customer focus, whether in the consumer or business markets, they usually lose their customers too

    My CV

  • Up to 1991 - Quantitative researcher - BMRB

  • 1991-1995 - Manager, research & planning - Abbey National

  • 1995-1996 - Corporate marketing manager - Tesco

  • 1996-2000 - Head of online marketing - Tesco Direct

  • 2000 - CEO

  • Read more on IT for small and medium-sized enterprises (SME)