"In a small business you don’t have the time to carry people or constantly work through mistakes and issues. Find a problem, fix it and move on. That’s a mantra that anyone in business should follow," – Simon Calver.
Those who get to know him attest to the fact that Simon Calver is very "hands on," accommodating, multitask-orientated and truly able to see the bigger picture. In his case, the bigger picture is actually the small screen as he has hauled what was essentially a startup operation into a consumer household brand name in a period of only a few years. Calver’s DVD rental company, LOVEFiLM has garnered 55% of the DVD rental market in the UK, but according to the effusive CEO has only witnessed the tip of the iceberg. Their household reach in the UK is only 4% and he estimates that there is nothing "stopping us getting to 3 million subscribers in the next five years," three times as many customers as the West London-based company currently retains.
Within the United States, DVD rental on demand is a fairly established concept, as Netflix has been around since 1996. It is unclear why the UK failed to notice this success until sometime in 2002, but the scramble for position eventually resulted in LOVEFiLM, in 2006, becoming the principal player.
Simon Calver grew up stocking grocery shelves and studied computer science, but jumped into sales and marketing, where he was to excel. He took very senior roles at Pepsi UK, Dell Computers and educational publisher Riverdeep. Several years of transatlantic commuting were replaced by an appointment as chief executive of Video Island, quickly leading to LOVEFiLM in ’06.
In his new position, Calver would endure a literal baptism of fire. The company’s distribution center in London burned to the ground, causing what could have been a terminal problem for an operation relying on DVD mail distribution. He endeared himself to the fledgling company’s financial backers when he engineered a way to keep distribution flowing by using existing office space, offering specially made "crisis" customer service deals and focusing on getting back to normal as quickly as possible, a position the company achieved within just 72 hours.
Calver has certainly learned his marketing skills from his days at the likes of Dell and Pepsi, but he is far from set in his ways or a product of corporate "sameness." He makes sure that he remains grounded, has no sense of ego and is always prepared to roll up his sleeves and get on with it. "It’s a question of mucking in to get things done. The longer you spend in corporate life, the further away you get from that," he observes.
Critics might say that DVD rental is sure to wane and that downloads are the thing of the future, but Calver argues that "there’s no substitute for the choice and convenience of DVDs; it makes up the vast majority of our revenues." The company is certainly developing its digital business but he expects the mix to be little changed over the next 5 to 10 years. At some point a truly hybrid economy will exist, involving digital downloads and physical disc distribution and LOVEFiLM is also positioning itself to develop an interface for UK television, pay-TV and home entertainment options.
Currently the company is developing digital streaming service for movies and TV shows, an area that the UK also lags the US. Above all though, Calver is ready to change with a dynamic market. "In the last five years we have all had to change, in the next 5 to 10 years we will have to change again," as he puts it.