Interview: John-Paul Savant, ATG Media

Experience gleaned at worldwide brands such as Paypal should bode well for the next step of John-Paul Savant’s career. Adam Aiken reports.

Photo by Phil Adams
Photo by Phil Adams

Keeping abreast of the latest technology and making sure customers enjoy their online experience are two of the most basic challenges faced by many digital businesses.

Get those building blocks in place and you’re in a good position to thrive.

That’s the message from John-Paul Savant, the new boss of online-auction operation ATG Media. Mr Savant, who boasts a CV that includes senior roles at the likes of Paypal and Elevate International, says these fundamentals will be behind the success of the business.

“One of the most important things I learned from my Paypal days and from my time at Elevate was the focus on the consumer experience,” he says.

“At ATG, it’s a chance to transform that consumer experience and the opportunity to look at what the consumer is going to expect down the road. Their expectations are rising all the time, and for the auction market to keep pace with that we need to be able to bring them a steadily better consumer experience.

“That will benefit the consumer and the auctioneer through better conversion. What auctioneers are really looking for are more bidders, and to have those bidders convert to buyers at a steadily higher rate.”

Mr Savant says the buyer experience needs to be clean and easy from the get-go.

He adds: “The entire funnel, from how they find our site, what they see on the site… Are we allowing their registration to be quick and clean? Are they able to bid and pay and get delivery in the way they expected? That’s a huge part of where we are focused.”

Mr Savant, who spent about a decade at Paypal, ultimately as vice-president of product and experience, says joining ATG “was a great opportunity to take an interesting set of industries – both art and antique, and industrial and commercial – and to help it with its next phase of evolution towards the next stage of digitisation”.

He is bringing his skills and experience to a well-established business. ATG’s portals – Thesaleroom.com, i-Bidder.com, Bidspotter.co.uk and Bidspotter.com – sold 1.6 million lots worth more than £315m last year. There has been further significant growth this year, and Thesaleroom.com has more than a million unique visitors a month.

One of the biggest threats to ATG – as is the case with many businesses in the digital world – is the need to fight for attention.

“The number one challenge that’s out there is that there are so many choices,” says Mr Savant.

“The internet has led to a proliferation of choice for consumers. But I think consumers are more and more looking for unique items and one-of-a-kind items, and we think we can give them that in the art and antiques side.

“In the same way, on the commercial side, while an industrial auction might previously have had all the bidders in an outdoor area, now you can double the number of people who can bid on your items by using the internet.”

The constant increasing technological expectations of consumers is another potential minefield, but it’s a challenge Mr Savant believes plays to one of ATG’s biggest strengths.

“This is where we play a key role for auctioneers,” he says.

“For individual auction houses to steadily invest in what consumers will expect, and where regulation might lead them in terms of compliance, is going to be too high for them.

“Therefore you need a company like ATG, which can be the platform on which auctioneers lean. We make sure we keep pace for them so they can focus on what they do best.”

The business’s portfolio gives it some protection against factors outside its control, with the arts and antiques, industrial and commercial, and retail-returns operations balancing each other.

“When you look at arts and antiques, they definitely fluctuate to some degree, based on a combination of macro-economic trends and income,” says Mr Savant, who started his career at JP Morgan.

“So we are subject to that, but the key advantage we have is that because we also have an industrial and commercial group and a retail-returns group, if the macro-economy is dipping a bit and we see art and antiques slip slightly, it leads to more insolvencies and businesses going bust. That means the opportunity for us to sell those assets should rise, and we’d have more opportunity there.”

Amongst the discoveries Mr Savant has made during his first few months at ATG is the make-up of the business’s customers.

“When people may think of arts and antiques and second-hand industrial, what exactly does that mean? It can mean anything from selling a second-hand tractor to a factory that does bottling. Or it could be a high-end piece of art all the way down to a piece of jewellery or a Rolex watch,” he says.

“People tend to think of it as a kind of older demographic industry, but what has been interesting to me is the interest we are seeing from of all demographics.

“I think that’s exciting because it means the potential for the business is huge.”

Whatever the potential at ATG, Mr Savant takes a long-term view of his work.

“When you’re in an entrepreneurial-type environment, you sometimes think very short-term – just tomorrow or the next month,” he says.

“But it’s sometimes important to think about what sort of legacy you want to leave, and how you led a business or built one. I think it’s important not to lose sight of what you’re going to look back on when you’re 80 or 90.”