6 minutes read
The Virgin empire
Sir Richard Branson is the ultimate posterboy for school dropout turned good.
At 16, Sir Richard, who is dyslexic, left school and, with the help of a friend, founded a magazine for students. He made money by selling advertisements to local businesses and ran the operation out of the crypt inside a local church – the first of many enterprises.
But it wasn’t until years later when he was in his late twenties that Sir Branson really started making his mark as the entrepreneur we know and love today.
According to legend, the youngster was on his way to the Virgin Islands to meet a pretty girl, and was impatient to get there.
But he was out of luck – on arrival at the airport he was told flights to the Virgin Islands had been cancelled. He decided to charter a private airplane, picked up a small blackboard, wrote ‘Virgin Airlines: $29’ on it, and sold the remaining seats to other people who had also meant to be on his flight. The idea for Virgin Atlantic was born.
Sir Branson’s get-up-and-go attitude is an inspiration to start-ups across the world. It has not always been plain sailing and the billionaire has picked himself up after a number of failures throughout his career. But they have never stopped him.
His Virgin Group now holds more than 200 companies, including the recent Virgin Galactic, a space-tourism company – proving that if you’re armed with a can-do mentality, anything is possible.
Zopa is possibly one of the most exciting start-ups ever to emerge from the UK. It was the first lend to save firm to launch in Britain, and triggered a steady stream of similar technology companies, which have gone on to disrupt the financial sector as we once knew it.
Zopa allows savers and borrowers to bypass banks and their high charges. It works by matching borrowers looking for lower-rate loans with savers looking for higher returns.
This model has the power to seriously change how businesses and consumers are funded around the world. It was set up by a management team drawn from some of the founders of the bank formerly known as Egg, including Richard Duvall, David Nicholson, James Alexander, Bruce Davies and Giles Andrews, Tim Parlett and Linda Young.
Its first customers were the young and tech savvy – many of which were actually working in the financial sector – who were keen on the added control Zopa offered by cutting out the banks – particularly at a time when the industry was increasingly being viewed with suspicion by a public smarting from the economic downturn.
As Zopa has emerged into the mainstream it has attracted people from a wider demographic. Savers are older, wealthier and looking to beat inflation and save for retirement or even property deposits.
The lend to save pioneer, founded in 2005, has to date arranged more than £420 million in loans and boasts around 45,000 active savers, lending between £10 and £1 million. It has a team of 45 people based in London.
Back in the year 2000, not many people expected that a little-known start-up called Asos would one day take over the world of fashion.
Duplicating celebrity-inspired products, As Seen on Screen had only three employees – but big ambitions. Ten years later it has 2,000 members of staff, nine standalone country specific websites and six global offices.
So how did this tiny start-up become the UK’s leading fashion site?
Asos tapped into a burgeoning trend for speedy online shopping just as it was really taking off. By sidestepping the impending doom and gloom of the High Street and offering reasonable prices, young fashionistas began flocking to the site for their wardrobe fix.
Even more importantly, Asos makes it painless to return items – the firm has expanded globally in the way that it has because it understands that punters want the ease and flexibility of shopping online, but they don’t like to wait.
There are no return fees, items arrive in as little as one working day and it is free and simple to return unwanted goods. Asos also offers an online check for international deliveries, flagging up any problems that could affect shipping.
Over time, Asos has vastly expanded their product range to include beauty accessories, maternity wear and children’s clothing. It is a great example of an online business which started off in a niche market, has extended its product base to target new market sectors, but maintained a strong sense of their original brand identity.
And its shares? At 5,792p they are worth 16 times what they were five years ago
The most frustrating thing about taxis is that when you don’t need one, they’re everywhere.
But, thanks to Hailo, you should never again have to wait around in the pouring rain in the early hours of the morning having unexpectedly found yourself in the Bermuda Triangle for minicabs.
A mix of cabbies and internet entrepreneurs, including Jay Bregman and Caspar Woolley, founded the start-up.
UK start-up Hailo has emerged as a frontrunner in the tech boom, after its designers managed to come up with a truly useful service that the rest of the non-techy population can actually understand and appreciate. How did we live without it?
And, with the everyday use of apps continuing to soar, this start-up team couldn’t have been more on-trend.
It’s an idiot-proof downloadable iPhone or Android app that uses GPS to match black cabs and passengers nearby. It was first released in London in 2011, but has since been rolled out in New York City, Dublin, Chicago and Toronto.
Registered passengers can e-hail, pay and tip for taxi journeys using the credit or debit card details they have stored within Hailo’s secure cloud wallet.
In some city locations, taxi drivers can also use Hailo to process credit and debit card payments for street hail fares by manually entering passenger card details when they reach their destination.
Instant trip receipts are sent to passengers by email and contain journey and payment information along with instructions to help retrieve any property lost or forgotten in the taxi.
A Girl Called Jack
Jack Monroe offers a voice, from Essex, for the millions of people in Britain affected by the recession.
The 25-year-old has transformed from a single mum on benefits, who kept a roof over her toddler Johnny’s head by skipping meals and taking out the light bulbs so as to avoid the temptation of turning them on, to an online and media sensation.
A Girl Called Jack, documented her efforts to feed herself and her child on £10 a week – which is all she had spare after rent and bills.
She posted recipes for delicious, nutritious meals within the strict budget in an effort to help other people in similar situations. It now attracts around 1 million readers every week.
Recipes include Mumma Jack’s Best Ever Chilli (30p per person), Courgette, Tomato and Brie Gratin (26p), Moroccan Not-A-Tagine (24p) and Oh My God dinner (28p).
A Girl Called Jack is slightly different from the other start-ups on this list in that it is not purely profit-focused, but has earned a place because Jack successfully tapped into the mood of the nation during a time of austerity.
As well as running a flourishing business via her blog, Jack’s plight simultaneously highlights gaping social holes such as lack of childcare support for working parents, failings in the welfare system and the UK’s tumultuous attitude towards those on benefits.
Blog posts that caught the population’s attention also included day-to-day details in a life of modern poverty: failed job applications, the shame of referral to a food bank, and the wrench of selling off all the contents in her home, bit by bit, to cover rent arrears.
Jack, who has grown in popularity to the extent that she has developed a firm following and respected brand, campaigns for Oxfam and Child Poverty Action Group, is a freelance writer for a variety of national publications and has a book due out in February.
She has also recently launched a series of recipes, The Ready Meal revolution, where she takes on anything bought in a packet, box or container from a shop and demonstrates how to make it yourself for a fraction of the cost – without the nasty hidden additives.