Retail comparison site Kelkoo’s sole in-houser Chris Davies has been instrumental in making the ex-Yahoo! subsidiary a top three player in its own right.
Kelkoo is one of the pioneers of the shopping comparison website model. Launched back in 2000, it spent four years as part of internet giant Yahoo! before being sold to a private equity house in 2008.
The loss Yahoo! made on the deal (it is understood to have bought Kelkoo for e475m (£418m) and sold it for less than e100m) says as much about the risks inherent in the internet as it does the market conditions at the time.
But more than two years on from that sale Kelkoo appears in rude health. It is Europe’s largest e-commerce advertising platform and the third-largest e-commerce website, and has at any one time around 56 million offers on its site.
It also claims to be the UK’s favourite shopping comparison site, with around five-million offers from more than 3,000 online merchants, including 23 of the top 25 European retailers.
For Kelkoo’s sole in-house lawyer Chris Davies, this level of activity means that the 18 months since he joined the company have been hectic. They have also, he says, marked “a transitional period”.
“When I joined at the end of 2009 I was effectively joining a start-up that was 10 years old,” Davies says. “There was a new management structure in place, so one of my first challenges was to convince management that the legal function should be at the forefront of commercial decisions and not just be reactive.”
Davies’ previous experience at the Financial Times, where he spent four years, influenced significantly the commercial approach he brings to being an in-house lawyer.
During 2011 much of Davies’ time and commercial nous will be aimed at helping Kelkoo implement its long-term strategy with the aim of improving its financial outlook.
This will include optimising its traffic capabilities; building a stronger brand and a more relevant and personalised service; and beginning to explore its international expansion plans.
Back when Davies started at the company, however, it did not take him long to realise that, with nine separate Kelkoo companies across Europe responsible for individual national websites, one of the key challenges would be communication.
Legal, risk and compliance issues in particular could not be overlooked, ignored or left unresolved as Kelkoo had just one in-house lawyer in Davies based in the UK.
Consequently, last year Davies lobbied for and arranged the installation of videoconferencing equipment in each of the offices to provide an accessible, client-facing legal service to every country manager.
He also set up confidential @legal email addresses, enabling employees to email the legal department on a confidential basis without disclosing their names.
“We have 10 European websites and offices, and I realised that as far as legal issues are concerned the buck stops with me,” states Davies.
The weekly video-calls and the email service have, according to Davies, made “an immense difference” and resulted in the identification and resolution of several previously unknown legal risks to Kelkoo.
Being the company’s sole lawyer Davies gets to handle a wide range of legal areas, including corporate and commercial, litigation, IP and data protection compliance.
When he does need to go outside for specialist legal advice on major projects he tends to turn to Olswang partner Rob Bratby or Simmons & Simmons partner Alex Brown.
As for the in-house function, Davies says he is looking to expand it.
“Definitely,” he adds. “Although, to be honest, I haven’t really had time recently.”
He plans to spend the next six to 12 months on the expansion. “I want to keep as much work in-house as possible and only use external firms when needed,” he says. “At the FT there were only four of us handling legal issues internationally, so moving to Kelkoo and being on my own wasn’t that much of a shock.”
What did probably came as a shock was a French Court of Appeal ruling against Kelkoo in October last year that resulted in the company having to implement fundamental changes to its French website.
Although Kelkoo is appealing the decision, Davies admits that some of the changes it was forced to make, such as updating all product prices on a real-time basis, have benefited the site and its users. Which could be useful, as Kelkoo is also looking to expand around the globe, following recent launches in the US and Canada.
Name: Chris Davies
Industry: Internet retail and advertising
Position: General counsel and company secretary
Reporting to: Chief financial officer Craig Dixon
Annual legal spend: £500,000-£1m
Legal capability: One
Main firms: Olswang, Simmons & Simmons