James Murray Wells
|James Murray Wells|
While studying for his final university examinations, Murray Wells discovered that he needed to start wearing spectacles. Surprised by the high price quoted by an optician, he contacted first manufacturers and then individual workers until a technician told him that a pair of glasses selling for £150 costs only £7 to make. Inspired by this, he created a website selling spectacles directly to the public, initially funding his business using the remains of his student loan, he joined the small existing group of online spectacles retailers in the UK's traditionally highly controlled, arguably oligopolist spectacles market. (See the article UK Opticians (retailers) for a discussion of industry structure.)
In its first year of business, Murray Wells' new company Glasses Direct sold 22,000 pairs of glasses, and had an annual turnover of £1m. In 2009 Glasses Direct had 70 employees and sold a pair of glasses every three minutes. Turnover reached more than £10,000,000 per annum in 2013.
Feud with Specsavers
Several established chains of conventional bricks and mortar opticians attempted to close down Glasses Direct with legal and regulatory threats, leading to a particularly bitter feud between Murray Wells and the offshore based chain Specsavers. These attempts have to date failed, with Specsavers itself now attempting to sell spectacles online.
When Specsavers tried to stop Glasses Direct from trading, Murray-Wells published their lawyers' letters on his website, where they remained until the embarrassed lawyers used copyright to force their removal. Murray Wells then replaced the letters with a note explaining why they were no longer there. Murray-Wells also sent out men dressed as sheep to Newcastle city centre to hand leaflets explaining how much cheaper his products were than those of high street opticians, suggesting that spectacle wearers were being "fleeced". Specsavers threatened and then abandoned legal action.
In February 2010, Jamie Murray Wells set up hearingdirect.com, mirroring the business model of Glasses Direct, by selling digital hearing aids online at a fraction of the price of those offered by high street retailers. Aimed at the 8 million people in the UK with mild to moderate hearing loss, customers complete a short online hearing check devised by audiology experts, before choosing a hearing aid.
Murray-Wells won the 2005 Shell LiveWIRE award for entrepreneurship, the 2005 Startup Award, the 2005 Wales and West Country Entrepreneur of the Year Award, the 2005 Natwest Business of the Year and Entrepreneur of the Year Award, and the 2006 Isambard Kingdom Brunel Young Entrepreneur Award.
Promotion of entrepreneurship
In addition to his involvement with the taper relief campaign, Murray Wells has been a keynote speaker at the Federation of Small Businesses annual conference and has taken part in events aimed at promoting entrepreneurship to school children. More recently he has performed as a mentor in entrepreneurship schemes run by Channel 4 and the Times, as well as investing his own funds in start-ups.
Murray Wells has taken part in the campaign by UK entrepreneurs against the changing of UK taxation laws to end taper relief, arguing that this change will damage the prospects of future entrepreneurs and start-up companies. He took part in organizing a Flash Crowd event as part of this campaign.
He was one of 68 business leaders to publicly pledge their support to Conservative proposals to reverse part of Labours planned National Insurance rise in the run up to the 2010 General Election  This became a key issue in the campaign
He was also a co-founder of StartUp Britain, which was announced in the 2010 budget Chancellor George Osbourne, and launched by David Cameron as an initiative conceived at No.10 Downing Street  the aim of which is to inspire entrepreneurs and influence the government's business agenda.
Murray Wells has served as an advisor on business and enterprise to both the UK's then Labour Party government and the then Conservative Party opposition. As a member of the New Enterprise Council he was an advisor for the then Shadow Chancellor, George Osbourne.
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