He says he achieved this by focussing on small goals: growing from $20 million to $50 million, then to $100 million and so on.
“I wish it was more complicated than that. But most of the time, it’s that level of obsession about something,” he said.
Nash plans to follow a similar strategy when he becomes chief growth officer.
“My thing will be how we’re going to get to $300 million, and then $400 million, and then $500 million as fast as we can, as profitably as we can,” he said.
Booktopia’s search for a new CEO is currently underway with a focus on external candidates who have experience leading an ASX-listed company.
“We’ll be looking for someone who’s looking to collaborate. We’ve got a lot of talented people here, we’ve got a direction and a plan,” said Nash, who ranked third on Inside Retail’s 2022 Top 50 People in E-Commerce.
Nash will remain CEO until a new one is appointed, and he will continue to be a director and major shareholder in the business going forward.
He doesn’t anticipate his day-to-day work will change very much when he becomes chief growth officer, except that he will be able to relinquish the parts of his current job that he doesn’t really enjoy.
“I’ll be doing more of what I really want to do, and not any of the stuff that I really don’t want to do, which is managing the internal operations of the company, HR and working with fund managers and the board and the investor community and so forth,” he said.
Nash likens himself to Christopher Colombus rather than the King of Spain, and believes identifying and exploring opportunities that others have overlooked are his greatest strengths.
For instance, he realised early on that the book industry tends to ignore genres and authors they regard as niche, even if they sell well, in favour of trendier topics.
“They’re more interested in some new author, or crime thriller that’s going to be a hit or made into a movie. In the meantime, there are hundreds of thousands of different authors and titles that make up the book industry,” he said.
“Books on Bitcoin, or how to raise chickens…I think more about all these little veins of gold that sit out there and mostly get overlooked in book shops.”
When Nash considers how to grow the business going forward, this is what he plans to focus on.
“There are a lot of opportunities that we haven’t had a chance to exploit. It mostly comes down to holding the stock and working with the longtail [sales], but also strategically with publishers, he said.
That’s not to say Booktopia didn’t face obstacles. E-commerce was still in its infancy when it launched in 2004, and major publishers would provide book titles in a format better suited to libraries than online bookstores.
“I would get a feed from Penguin, and the title would be ‘Cat in the Hat, The’ because that’s how the librarians wanted it. That’s what I was dealing with,” Nash recalled.
Another major challenge was technology. The book business involves millions of SKUs, and at the time, building a website that could load that much data quickly required fairly advanced technical skills.
However, Nash’s experience running an internet software company and working in SEO gave him a leg-up on the competition.
“What appealed to me was that it had a high barrier to entry, it wasn’t for the faint hearted, but if we were willing to put the effort in and do the work, we would be lightyears ahead of everyone else,” he said.
“Thankfully, Amazon didn’t come in until 2017, so they gave us an opportunity to get up and get going.”
While some people might be reflective about leaving a role they’ve held for nearly two decades, Nash is not one to spend too much time looking backwards.
“I enjoy being in the present, even though the share market is a complete nightmare for e-commerce players at the moment,” he said.
“For some people, that’s a real worrisome burden, but for me, it’s like, meh. You’re on the wave. Sometimes you’re on top of the wave, sometimes you’re at the bottom, and guess what happens when you’re at the bottom? You start going back up and you get to the other side.”
To do that, he says, businesses need profitable growth and cash.
“If you do not have cash, you will sink to the bottom of the wave. If you’re not profitable, you’ll run out of cash eventually, and then you’ll sink to the bottom. If you’re growing, and you’ve got profit, and you’ve got cash, then you’re sustainable,” he said.
“That’s the measure. It’s the race that you’re running now that is the most appealing of them all really.”