Money makers: A trip to the Titanic

Stockton Rush
Stockton Rush: all the cool stuff is under water

Small, robust, deep-diving submarines are the spaceships of the deep, and they’re in short supply, says Josh Dean in Bloomberg Businessweek. Only four active vessels are capable of diving below 3,000 metres and all are owned by governments: France, Japan, China and the US. But thanks to Stockton Rush, that’s about to change. As a boy, Rush, 55, dreamed about exploring space. Then, while flicking through images of “fish out of nightmares”, “I realised that all the cool stuff I thought was out there is actually underwater”.

Rush earned his money “the old-fashioned way”, he says. “I was born into it [his grandfather was an oil and gas magnate] and then grew it.” While in his teens, Rush worked in aviation, then in 2003, bought his first sub. Six years later, he and Guillermo Söhnlein founded OceanGate with the aim of building a submersible that could dive below 4,000 metres. That sub, Cyclops 2, costing “tens of millions” of dollars, should be ready for sea testing by year-end, leaving just enough time to complete safety certification for the event Rush is eager to promote: a trip to the wreck of the Titanic next year. Tickets have all sold-out, at $105,129 each – or, in inflation-adjusted terms, the price of a first-class ticket in the Vanderbilt suite on the Titanic’s only voyage.

Doggedly pursuing a dream

“We had a dog named Dosi, who was a 45-pound accidental Goldendoodle,” Phil Blizzard tells Forbes’ Amy Feldman. “We get plenty of storms [in North Carolina]… She would shake, and her tail would go between her legs, and sometimes she would hide.” A friend suggested putting a tight wrap around the dog’s torso. So one rainy night, Blizzard and his wife made one from a T-shirt and packing tape. The shaking stopped. “We were amazed,” says Blizzard.

When the financial crisis struck, Blizzard, now 50, left his job in real estate to see if the dog-wrap idea had wings. But his entrepreneur friends “literally fell on the floor and laughed at me”, he says. “They thought I was pranking them.” Undeterred, Blizzard and his wife put together a simple prototype using a sewing machine, and came up with the ThunderShirt. Since then, they have sold millions of the shirts, which cost from $39.95, come in a variety of styles and are also available for cats. Forbes puts the annual revenues at more than $15m. ThunderShirts have even earned mentions on popular American TV, while there’s a whole Dilbert cartoon strip based around the ThunderShirt, says Blizzard. “We’ve become part of the public vernacular.”

Defying the Dragons

In the two years since Chika Russell, 32, turned down £30,000 from Peter Jones on Dragons’ Den, the former investment banker has raised £800,000 in funding from eight investors, while her Chika’s Snack range has been snapped up by Waitrose, Whole Foods, and – from October – Sainsbury’s, says Hazel Sheffield in The Independent. Russell now plans to use some of her profits to sponsor children in Africa, and “give back to the communities” where her inspiration came from.

The youngest of seven, Russell was born in London and schooled in England at the wishes of her Nigerian father. But, she says, “I feel like the [Nigerian] traditions, the food, the culture, are instilled in me and my children.” Following the birth of her second child, Russell decided not to return to banking. Instead, she turned her west African snacks, including hand-toasted peanuts and plantain chips, into a business, using her savings, and refinancing two London properties she had bought in her 20s. The support of big investors validated Russell’s instinct to turn down the Dragons’ Den money two years ago, says Sheffield. But Russell is more humble: “It’s easy to say now, because it worked… Dragons’ Den taught me to have conviction.”

RiRi’s 40 shades of brown

Last week, Barbadian pop star Rihanna added to her business empire with the launch of a makeup range, Fenty Beauty. For weeks, fans had lapped up hints about her new range, dropped on social media by the 29-year-old, notes the Daily Mail. In London, “a long, snaking line of women” queued for hours in the rain, waiting for Harvey Nichols, the UK stockist, to open, says The Times. Another 8,500 waited online, while a promotional video for the brand was “liked” on social media almost half a million times. Reports suggest the range has already sold out.

The singer – born Robyn Rihanna Fenty – says she’s out to plug a gap in the market: “There’s a void for women with all types of extreme complexions,” she tells The Sunday Times. “If you’re too pale or too dark, there’s not a lot of options.” In developing the products, she worked with women across the world “who struggled to find the right colour”. The end result is “40 shades across a seriously impressive spectrum”, at £26 each, reports the paper.

This isn’t Rihanna’s first foray outside of music. She has her own Puma x Fenty line with the sportswear brand, and in 2015 launched stylist and photo agencies and signed a $25m deal with Samsung. Forbes puts her earnings at $36m in the 12 months to June. She is also by no means the first celebrity to sell cosmetics, notes Fortune. US reality star Kylie Jenner introduced a “lip kit” last year – aiming to hit $1bn in sales by 2022 – and singer Britney Spears’ Curious fragrance, released in 2004, has made sales of $1.5bn globally. The line between stardom and business acumen is now so blurred that America’s Federal Trade Commission has cited Rihanna’s social-media posts in a letter warning celebrities to make clear when they are promoting their products, says The Times. But for now, Rihanna’s fans don’t seem to mind.