James Davidson, 39, wants to take a large bite out of Britain’s dog-food market. The UK is a nation of dog-lovers and the market is worth $1.7bn each year, dominated by Bakers and Pedigree. But Davidson has a unique recipe. His company, Tails.com, makes bespoke meals for every pooch, blending ingredients to order at its warehouse in Heathrow, based on each dog’s breed, age, size and medical condition. It has enough ingredients to blend over a million different combinations, catering to every kind of pooch from Labrador puppies to cranky Jack Russell terriers.
It is now considering a move into cat food, Davidson tells the Evening Standard. Tails.com has 40,000 customers and sales of £2m, but believes it can boost revenue this year to £10m. Its most recent round of fundraising pulled in “several million pounds”, Davidson says. He has to put up with dogs bounding around in his office in Richmond and says there have been several incidents of “humping and weeing”. But he’s thankful. “Dogs are welcome and are the reason we are making money, so we can’t complain at the odd bit of havoc.”
Swimming with sharks
Peter Bronsman has grown rich making cider. But he only got into brewing after nearly being eaten by sharks. As a young man, Bronsman was working on a giant tanker transporting commercial waste when he fell overboard one night somewhere between Taiwan and Hong Kong. “I was alone in the water in the middle of the night, and I knew there were lots of sharks,” Bronsman tells The Daily Telegraph. As he clung to a floating sack, he concluded that he needed a new career, so after he was plucked from the water, Bronsman returned home to Sweden and started a business importing cider and beer.
“This was before the internet, so when you find something in Australia, or Fiji, and you bring it home,” he says, “it’s something new.” Eventually he got “bored” of selling other companies’ products. So in 1994, Bronsman responded to an advert in the newspaper and bought a mothballed brewery in the woods outside Kopparberg, a town in central Sweden, where he began making a range of ciders.
Bronsman has since grown Kopparberg into the world’s best-selling pear cider business. It is sold in 40 countries, with the UK the biggest market. “Listen to your gut feeling. Don’t listen to everyone. In any business, if it’s so easy, everyone would have done it,” Bronsman says. “If you don’t make mistakes, you’re not a good managing director.”
Reinventing the curry
Mahanta Shrestha left Nepal with nothing in 1976 to work as a chef in London. Today, he runs his own restaurants, owns a six-bedroom house and has met the Queen – but he has one regret with how his life has turned out: not patenting chicken tikka masala.
It was Shrestha and his boss, fellow Nepali Krishna Thapa, who pioneered the recipe – now Britain’s most popular dish – in Thapa’s Ealing restaurant, adding extra tomatoes, sugar and cream to curries to suit the local palate, he tells the Financial Times. “Our British customers loved it,” he says. “We never thought Indian food would become so popular. Then people only had curry to soak up the beer after a long night of drinking.”
In 1980, Shrestha opened his own restaurant. At the time, Indian restaurants in London had “flock wallpaper and dirty carpets… I made the floor white, the woodwork black and served drinkable wine. And as the British love beer with curry I decided to brew my own beer.” The result was Khukuri, named after the curved sword used by Ghurka soldiers.
His businesses have since grown to have annual sales of £1.5m. Shrestha is grateful to the UK – “this country gave me everything” – but sometimes regrets that his homeland is not better acclaimed. “Nepal is only in the news when there is a disaster… When the Nepalese team marched at the opening ceremony of the London Olympics there was hardly a cheer. I was a bit saddened.”
The MoneyWeek audit: Kenny Baker
Actor Kenneth George Baker, who died last week aged 81, was born in Birmingham in 1934, writes Chris Carter. His mother, Ethel, was a dressmaker, and his father, Harold, was a draftsman. The family split when his mother ran off with an American GI, and his father died two years later of pneumonia. By that time, Baker, who as an adult stood 3ft 8in tall, had been sent to a boarding school in Kent for children with disabilities. He joined the Burton Lester’s Midgets act in 1950 aged 16 and later teamed up with Jack Purvis to form the comedy duo the Mini Tones.
What was his big break?
The Mini Tones had reached the final round of TV talent show Opportunity Knocks when Star Wars director George Lucas asked him to play robot R2-D2 in the 1977 blockbuster. “Whatever for?” Baker replied. “I don’t want to get stuck in a robot.” But he reluctantly agreed to be lowered into the metal costume on the condition Purvis would get a part too (he plays the Chief Jawa).
“Then they put the lid on me like a boiled egg.” Baker endured stifling temperatures in the north African desert, but reprised the role of R2-D2 in the next six Star Wars films. But his favourite role was as Fidget in Time Bandits (1981), co-written and directed by Monty Python star Terry Gilliam.
How much did he earn?
Baker was asked to name his price to join Star Wars and requested £800 per week, the same as his weekly earnings in cabaret. That proved to be tiny compared to the $775.4m the first Star Wars film grossed worldwide. Since Baker, like most of the cast, did not get royalties, he made nothing directly from the film’s success, but he became a regular at sci-fi conventions where he earned money meeting his legion of fans.
“I’m not making a fortune but I’m bouncing along,” he told Metro in 2009. “I’ve got a nice Rolls Royce, a nice bungalow and I’ve got a girlfriend who I first went out with in the 1960s, so I’m the happiest dwarf in Europe. It’s great to be involved in the Star Wars phenomenon – but 30 years later, I’m still not a millionaire.”