The last time Jolyon Bennett featured in Mobile, he was greeted with some sarcastic criticism on this magazine’s website. Announcing the launch of his accessories distributor Gusto Telecom in July, he confidently predicted between £5m and £7m of sales in its first year. Among the (rather rude) comments was ‘that’s a lot of 99p car chargers Joe, best get packing’. So how did he feel reading them back? ‘It spurs me on,’ he says. ‘When people sit there and make anonymous comments, it’s those who are sitting there in a comfortable ?9-to-5 job and who aren’t taking chances. They get their kicks from pointing the finger at others.’
Bennett’s rapid-fire speech and self-belief is rather infectious. He says everyone should get that feeling that he got as he literally bet the house on the future of his business. ‘It crystallises my thinking and spurs me on.’ He says he has no regrets about his predictions and says he is on course for hitting the targets.
Currently the business is split in half between trade sales and mass market sales, although Bennett expects the latter to dominate in time. Its Smartmobile entry-level range of accessories is stocked through Maplin, Fonehouse and Mobile Fun. Bennett says he is planning to bring enhanced products to market next year that will take advantage of NFC, allowing consumers to make payments using their case, for example.
He says the Juice brand of chargers is a key focus. ‘Around 30% of the accessories market is for power devices, so with smartphones having pretty crap battery life, it’s rare that people can go a full day using their smartphone to the full without having to charge it.’ John Lewis has begun stocking its products and they will go into 298 Currys and PC World branches next month.
Another focus is Cans, its headphones brand. Gusto is working with science company Bayer to develop a new range of headphones featuring its Vivitouch technology, which Bennett says will make the phones vibrate. In addition to Gusto’s Dis-covered cases and protection brand, Bennett says he is developing a new leather cases range. ‘We are working with a tannery in the middle of England to make cases for the iPhone, iPad and Samsung Galaxy S III. They are real leather cases, made in England, from English cows that are killed by English people,’ he jokes.
Bennett is well-travelled, having formerly worked at Unique Distribution, Brightstar and Shebang. He is building staff at Gusto, hoping to appoint a new UK sales director next month and have 16 staff in place by then. ‘I started as a telesales account manager,’ he says. ‘I was trying to sell to dealers so I know what the craic is with sitting and doing that sort of job. That’s what people need to do to get on. I want people to start in junior roles and work their way up in the company by working hard and earning their place.’
He says the opportunity for Gusto is taking risks in one of the key drivers on growth in the market. ‘There are big established players out there but I don’t think there’s anyone small enough to take some chances. We want to be innovative and try to be a bit more interesting.’ And aim high, obviously.
Bright times - Bennett’s career highlights
Time spent at Unique Distribution from working in telesales to becoming sales director between 1998 and 2005. 'It’s probably the job I had the most enjoyment from in working with (co-founder) Angus Dawe.'
Working for Rod Millar at Brightstar. 'People have a lot of opinions about Rod but ?I have a lot of time for him.'
When Unique got into trouble I was able to get 17 staff to come with me to Brightstar. 'This makes me sound like a saint but it was definitely the thing I am most proud of.'