Led By Israeli Teddy Sagi, Startup Hub ‘Interchange’ Revitalizes London’s Iconic Camden Market
Israeli entrepreneur Teddy Sagi is moving forward with plans to renovate and expand the iconic Camden Market in London. Last week, his company Market Tech Holdings received approval for a £20 million plan to add 130,000 square feet of retail and office space to the 15-acre cluster of markets and other real estate properties it owns in North London. Work is expected to start later this year, with an estimated completion in 2017.
Camden Market’s historic shopping stalls, which sell everything from souvenirs to vintage clothing, have remained unchanged for decades, attracting millions of tourists looking for an authentic shopping experience featuring 800 retailers. But since Market Tech, led by billionaire Sagi, bought the majority of properties in the vicinity in 2014, the area has been en route to becoming a modern mixed-use site that now includes not only shopping, but also new offices, and even a startup hub.
NoCamels visited the reinvigorated Camden Market and sat down with Market Tech CEO Charles Butler to learn how the historic complex adjusts to the 21st century.
Sagi’s takeover of Camden Market started when Market Tech Holdings acquired this cluster of adjoining retail markets for roughly $650 million. It later bought additional adjacent buildings to expand Camden Market.
Since founding the giant gambling software developer Playtech in 1999, Sagi has acquired several startup and high-tech companies, including Crossrider, which uses big data to analyze digital advertising. Over the past year, Market Tech has acquired additional e-commerce platforms, such as Israeli startup Stucco Media, in order to enhance its online platform, reach international clientele, and bring the market into the digital age.
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“If young people work here, they will spend money here”
To drive additional traffic into Camden Market, Market Tech has opened a co-working space similar to those operated around the world by giant WeWork. Called the Interchange, this 1,000-seat space is located in a renovated building near the iconic restaurant Gilgamesh. The bright, open-space office building offers individual desks, common areas, but also small offices designed for budding startups, such as healthcare service search engine Doctify, which recently set up shop there. A plan for a similar building, also featuring shared workspace, was approved last week.
“If young people work here, they will spend money here,” Market Tech CEO Charles Butler tells NoCamels in an exclusive interview. “It’s a community of people with great energy.”
It seems that Butler, who recently returned from a visit to Israel – “Tel Aviv’s startup ecosystem is amazing,” he says – hopes to recreate the Israeli entrepreneurial vibe in the heart of the historic market, which is in the process of being revitalized by burgeoning new startups.
Butler and Sagi, both veterans of the online gaming industry, are considered experts in leveraging consumer behavior to encourage engagement and subsequently spending. With a free wi-fi network across Camden Market, the company can follow consumers’ behavior, tracking shoppers’ moves around the market – even those who haven’t downloaded Camden’s spanking new mobile app; they only need to be connected to the wi-fi network.
“We are taking our online methodology and applying it to real estate – our vendors also benefit from it,” Butler says.
Previously the CEO of NetplayTV, one of UK’s largest interactive TV gaming companies, Butler was appointed Market Tech CEO in September 2014, in order to implement an online-offline concept for the group. “92 percent of transactions are completed offline, at the store; the research prior to the actual buying is done online,” Butler says. In other words, Butler wants to ensure the deal is sealed – either online or offline.
He admits that it’s not easy to navigate the colorful, busy Camden Market, which is filled with hundreds of small retailers. “We don’t want people to get lost and not find what they need,” he says.
In addition to revamping the appearance of the market – which should help in navigation – the company strongly believes in the market’s online platforms, namely its e-commerce website camdenmarket.com and its mobile app, simply called Camden Market.
The company’s vision for a “Camden ecosystem” includes “synergizing online and offline platforms, which will enable us to offer products from our 800 existing Camden Market tenants to a global customer base,” according to Market Tech chairman Neil Sachdev.
“A sensitive approach to upgrading the market for the 21st century”
Last week, London’s Camden Council Development Control Committee approved Sagi’s plan for the development of Camden Lock Market, including indoor and outdoor market retail facilities, cafes and restaurants, galleries and a canal-side food hall, as well as additional office space and an auditorium for live entertainment. The plan also includes permission for 233 food and artisan stalls.
Designed by award-winning architect Stuart Piercy, the plan is considered by the company to be “a sensitive approach to upgrading the market for the 21st century with a high-quality, contemporary design that will preserve and enhance the surrounding area.”
Only time will tell if some of the market’s vendors who opposed Sagi’s takeover – fearing the market would lose its historic charm – will be appeased by this statement.
In any case, despite Market Tech’s bolstered moves to renovate and expand retail and office spaces at the site – with a new hotel in the making – it has no aspirations to overgrow. Says Butler: “We are not going to become Oxford Street.”