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One CEO is Redefining Luxury Retail Online

José Neves, a software-savvy executive with fashion cred, is changing the e-commerce landscape

Striving to live up to his company’s name, José Neves, the founder and CEO of Farfetch, talks about his business like a concierge at Claridge’s—no request is too extreme. Case in point: Farfetch’s new yacht-delivery service. “Let’s say you order a fantastic swimsuit from a store in Miami, and ask for it to be delivered in Mykonos to your yacht,” he says. “We can do that.”

Launched in 2007, the fashion website has grown into a dominant retail platform with a network of more than 300 shops in over 30 countries. And the endeavor has won Neves a slate of business awards and honors from the likes of Vogue, Britain’s Walpole and Ernst & Young.

Neves, who began his career in computer programming at the age of 19 and went on to found the shoe brand Swear in 1996, has carved out a niche in the online luxury marketplace. Technology is the most critical component of his business, whose unique back-room digital infrastructure keeps precise tabs on inventory for retail enterprises. “Let’s say I need to know that a certain pair of shoes exists in five shops around the world and is available in certain specific sizes in real time,” says the Portugal native. “We’ve built a solution, and that’s really the secret sauce behind Farfetch.”

Aside from adding to his own net worth—the enterprise’s valuation exceeds $1 billion—Farfetch is a powerful tool for independent businesses around the globe, connecting high-end merchants with discerning buyers through a commission-based model. Headquartered in London with over 600 employees, the company, whose major investors include Condé Nast International and several top venture capital firms, is highly localized, facilitating bespoke websites in nine languages.

“The traditional e-commerce model is where you have these huge warehouses with robots and conveyer belts and hundreds of people working. And we are the opposite,” says Neves. “We have hundreds of tiny little warehouses where we stock products—all around the world in the most beautiful places.”