After $1 billion in departures, Gabby Leibovich is still hungry for more

Foundr Magazine publishes in-depth interviews with the world’s best entrepreneurs. Our articles highlight the key takeaways from each month’s cover feature. We speak to Gabby Leibovich, an Australian tech legend with a $1 billion business portfolio. Read excerpts from that conversation in depth below. To read more, subscribe to the magazine.

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Gabby Leibovich has no resume and has never interviewed for a job.

“It’s probably something that I’ve never shared with anyone before.”

The co-founder of Australia’s No. 1 e-commerce group, The Catchgroup, is 51 years old and doesn’t plan on having a traditional job any time soon.

Leibovich worked in his family business selling electronics and household items until he was 32 years old. It was there that he developed his fundamental business skills.

“By the age of 18, I was already selling in the Melbourne markets on Sundays, and I probably made more in five hours than most people make in a whole week. I was very enterprising.”

Below, you’ll learn how this family-owned retailer became one of Australia’s most successful tech entrepreneurs with outlets worth more than $1 billion.

imitation game

In 2002, looking for work on the Internet was not the norm. While looking for his next move, Leibovich stumbled upon eBay and began selling products from his garage.

“Most customers said, ‘Is it safe to put your credit card online?’” says Leibovich. “We all smile when we talk about it, but it wasn’t that long ago.”

After two years of buying and selling products on eBay, Leibovich discovered an American website called woot.com (eventually bought by Amazon) that offered daily deals on products for 24 hours or until the stock ran out. He decided to work with his brother to bring the concept to Australia, and Catch of the Day was born.

“One of us said to the other, ‘Are you crazy? Are we selling fish? This will never work,’” says Leibovich.

“Sometimes, in life and in business, it is better to imitate a successful concept than to be original and very mediocre.”

Leibovich began driving a van through the streets of Melbourne, knocking on vendors’ doors, seeking to buy excess product from them.

“I’m pretty sure as soon as we walked out of the room, they must have looked at each other and said, ‘This guy is crazy.'”

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The irresistible deal

Leibovich says that Catch of the Day’s early success was due to their ability to be smart shoppers. The team bought products at a discount and sold them on the website below the market price. Customers began to crawl the site like obsessive fans in anticipation of Catch of the Day’s roulette deal each day.

In 2006, Catch of the Day became Australia’s most viewed website and they didn’t have to spend a penny on marketing. What Leibovich calls the “FOMO effect” meant that customers never knew what product offering was available or how long stock would last. Leibovich recalls when they sold 4,000 laptops in one day and a million dollars’ worth of televisions in one hour.

“That created a lot of buzz and street talk among consumers, but also within the supply industry,” says Leibovich. “This was perfect for our vendors because we saw ourselves as a solution provider for those vendors.”

She misses those early days of excitement, especially the thrill of finding unique products and seeing the overwhelming reactions from customers.

“The strength of the deal created this incredible need to come see us every day at noon, and every day, the audience kept growing from thousands to tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands of people,” says Leibovich.

As the e-commerce industry went mainstream, so did the competition. As a result, Catch of the Day changed its name to Catch, focusing on a marketplace model rather than a flash sale site.

Over the past decade, Leibovich has invested in 20 tech companies and startups, including Luxury Escapes, Catapult, Zip, Tribe, hipages, Fiverr, RateMyAgent, Vervoe, and Flippa.

“The reason we were successful is in the execution,” says Leibovich. “It’s not the idea.”

200 lessons and counting

Leibovich does not withdraw. During the pandemic, he wrote a book called Catch of the Decade that is full of lessons from his entrepreneurial journey. He wrote the book to organize the frameworks that made him successful and inspire the next generation of entrepreneurs.

“There are 200 little lessons and about 25 bigger lessons, and one of the bigger lessons is actually about ideas,” says Leibovich. “I promise you that whatever idea you come up with, someone else is working on it right now all over the world. What makes the difference between an idea being successful or not.”

In the book, Leibovich draws on the retail DNA that shaped him as a teenager and spilled over into his businesses. For example, his cousin Cameron began working for Leibovich in 2008, sweeping warehouse floors. He became one of Catch’s most successful buyers and eventually came up with the business concept for selling grocery items.

“It had what we like to call ‘Catch DNA,'” says Leibovich. “He understood the formula, the mentality.” Leibovich says that instead of scouting for talent, he identifies the ‘entrepreneurs’ within the team.

“We give them the autonomy and the freedom to be able to execute,” says Leibovich. “We like to make decisions as a group rather than filter the decision as a founding team.”

But Leibovich’s book and career are not just about victories.

“We fail many times, but we don’t cry over spilled milk,” says Leibovich.

“You just keep moving, and that failure can cost millions of dollars…sometimes.”

When Leibovich launched EatNow, they were compared to Menulog, the largest food delivery service in the country at the time.

“After two years of running it, the business was losing about $300,000 a month in running costs, but we still believed in it,” says Leibovich. “We still stand by it.”

The support paid off. In 2015, the two companies merged just before Uber Eats and Deliveroo entered Australia. In an exit to remember, a British company bought the merger for $855 million. In 2019, Catch was sold to Wesfarmers for $230 million, resulting in total outflows of more than $1 billion.

In his book, Leibovich explains EatNow’s failure-turn-success as the 1 + 1 = 3 model.

“We are true believers that you can achieve more by partnering with your competition or direct competitor,” says Leibovich.

Leibovich also believes that entrepreneurs need luck. According to Leibovich, “luck” occurs when you become aware of your surroundings, know an industry and spot opportunities.

Essentially, you create your own luck.

“Intuition and luck are all mixed up, but at the same time, entrepreneurs need to back each other up and entrepreneurs need to have a high tolerance for risk,” says Leibovich.

“We are not afraid to take risks.”

Leibovich says risks come easier with repetition, and this mindset naturally leads to new projects. His next business, Little Birdie, is a coupon discovery website launched in 2022.

“What makes the difference between an idea being successful or not? It is those 1,000 little decisions that you and your team must make in the office every day that will differentiate you from the winner to the non-winner.”

Two hundred lessons later, Leibovich is still looking for more ideas. With his toolbox ready, there’s no telling what next business idea will catch his eye.

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