Money makers: An empire built on chocolate

Leaving behind their chocolate empire was never an option for Hotel Chocolat founders Angus Thirlwell and Peter Harris.


Angus Thirlwell and the School of Chocolate

Giving up their chocolate empire for a life of leisure was neveran option for Angus Thirlwell and Peter Harris,despite pocketing £40m from the £167m listing of HotelChocolat this year. "We had the £20m each already," Thirlwelltells Hannah Prevett in The Times. "It was just invested inshares." The money "enables us to do all the things we weregoing to do... just faster". Hotel Chocolat began life in 1993 asmail-order firm Choc Express, before opening its first outletin Watford in 2004. "If we can make it work there, we're on tosomething," the pair thought.

The chain has since grown into88 chocolate shops across Britain, two restaurants, a schoolof chocolate in Covent Garden and their 70,000-memberChocolate Tasting Club. But selling the end product wasn'tenough Thirlwell and Harris wanted to take control of thesupply chain. So in 2006 they bought a 250-year-old, 140-acrecocoa plantation in St Lucia. Five years later they opened ahotel, restaurant and spa on the Caribbean island. "I've gotthe best job in the world," says Thirlwell, "so the golf courseisn't very alluring compared with that."

The firm behind thebed-in-a-box revolution

A mattress is a logistical nightmare, as anyone who has ever tried to move one knows, says Jonathan Margolis in the Financial Times. James Cox, founder of "bed-in-a-box" start-up Simba, has tackled the problem head on. As the finished mattress comes off the assembly line, it goes into a bag and gets compressed to a tenth of its thickness under several tonnes of force. It is then folded in two, "rolled into what looks like a big Rizla machine", and packed into a box. Squeezing a mattress by 80%-90% of its original size makes delivery typically five times cheaper.

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The idea of packaging mattresses like this was developed in Italy 15 years ago, but it has taken "young, web-savvy entrepreneurs" such as Cox to make full use of it. Since Simba launched in February, it has sold 15,000 mattresses through its website and Cox expects sales to reach 25,000 in the first year. Turnover is forecast to hit £100m by 2019.

Online sales of mundane products are part of a wider trend for disrupting established markets. Dollar Shave Club, which was bought by Unilever for $1bn this year, has shaken up the selling of razors in America. The mattress market could be even more lucrative, reckons Cox. After all, everybody needs one.

How Sam Altman plans to save the world

"Like everyone in Silicon Valley, Altman professes to want to save the world; unlike almost everyone there, he has a plan to do it," says Tad Friend in The New Yorker. Sam Altman is the 31-year-old president of Silicon Valley accelerator Y Combinator (YC) an organisation that seeks to teach fledgling tech start-ups how to become billion-dollar successes, and counts Airbnb among its alumni. Altman has ambitious plans for YC to back thousands of new ventures in areas including biotech, artificial intelligence robotics and nuclear fusion.

In 2005, aged just 19, Altman co-founded Loopt, a mobile social media service, with funding from YC. Loopt was sold for $43.4m in 2012, netting Altman $5m. He joined YC two years later, replacing founder Paul Graham as president.

Even by Silicon Valley standards, Altman is driven, says Friend, ploughing through e-mails and meetings. His great strength is an intuitive grasp of complex systems. His weakness may be people skills. "I have no patience for things I'm not interested in: parties, most people. When someone looks at a photo and says, Oh, he's feeling this and this and this,' all these subtle emotions, I look on with alien intrigue."


What's a Nobel Prize worth to Bob Dylan?

"We have never shared the stage with a Nobel Prize winner before," Mick Jagger teased on taking over the stage from Bob Dylan last Friday in Las Vegas. "Bob is like our own Walt Whitman." Not that the crowd would have necessarily known that Dylan had just been awarded the Nobel Prize for literature. He hadn't mentioned the accolade once during his set. The permanent secretary of the Swedish Academy had given up trying to contact Dylan to invite him to the awards ceremony on 10 December. "I have called and sent emails to his closest collaborator and received very friendly replies. For now, that is certainly enough."

That might have been expected. The man from Minnesota, born Robert Zimmerman in 1941, has been known for his reticence throughout a career that has seen him sell more than 45 million albums, showing only limited interest in past awards. When he won an Oscar for Best Original Song in 2000, with Things Have Changed from the film Wonder Boys, he skipped the ceremony and accepted the award by video link from Australia. Ten years later he failed to show up at the White House to receive the National Medal for the Arts.

Still, Dylan's Nobel Prize will do his earnings no harm, says Madeline Berg on He'll get prize money of SEK8m ($0.9m) and is likely to see a rise in sales, even if his iconic status means the impact will be less than for some winners (when Canadian short-story writer Alice Munro won in 2013, her sales shot up by over 4,000% in Canada and by more than 700% in the US).

That said, he probably needs the money less than most. There are no reliable estimates of Dylan's net worth, but it is likely that he receives several million each year in royalties. Earlier this year he sold memorabilia for a reported $15m to $20m, while the 45 shows he has played this year grossed an average $405,113 each, according to Pollstar.

Chris Carter

Chris Carter spent three glorious years reading English literature on the beautiful Welsh coast at Aberystwyth University. Graduating in 2005, he left for the University of York to specialise in Renaissance literature for his MA, before returning to his native Twickenham, in southwest London. He joined a Richmond-based recruitment company, where he worked with several clients, including the Queen’s bank, Coutts, as well as the super luxury, Dorchester-owned Coworth Park country house hotel, near Ascot in Berkshire.

Then, in 2011, Chris joined MoneyWeek. Initially working as part of the website production team, Chris soon rose to the lofty heights of wealth editor, overseeing MoneyWeek’s Spending It lifestyle section. Chris travels the globe in pursuit of his work, soaking up the local culture and sampling the very finest in cuisine, hotels and resorts for the magazine’s discerning readership. He also enjoys writing his fortnightly page on collectables, delving into the fascinating world of auctions and art, classic cars, coins, watches, wine and whisky investing.

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