Cassandra Stavrou had a brainwave while watching Top Gear. There was an item on the show where they would paint cars with a special spray kit that gives a fine mist, she tells Matthew Caines in The Sunday Telegraph. Stavrou bought a kit online and used it to spray her popcorn to ensure an even coating of flavour. She came up with the idea for the product after noticing the growing popularity of organic, healthier snacks, but which tasted like cardboard. Popcorn was a tasty alternative and “everyone knows what it is”.
That was the easy bit. Getting the firm off the ground was another matter. “I would turn up to industrial estates and the people there would basically tell me to go home,” she says. Richard Reed, co-founder of Innocent Drinks, who she met through a friend of a friend, advised she get a business partner. Enter property developer Ryan Kohn (pictured, with Stavrou).
Together they launched Propercorn in 2011, using their lack of experience to their advantage. “We went to sales meetings thinking that we had to dazzle people,” says Stavrou. “So we made popcorn necklaces for them… We didn’t realise that was quite refreshing for buyers at the time.” It was an effective strategy, says Caines. Propercorn now sells three million packs a month and is on course to turn over £15m this year.
From shooting heroin to dealing in juice
Khalil Rafati should be dead. Instead, he is the founder of SunLife Organics, a chain of six high-end juice bars dotted around the greater Los Angeles area, where its Solstice, Joy and Fast Eddie smoothies have proved a hit with A-listers. But things haven’t always been so rosy. Having escaped a life of abuse growing up in Ohio, Rafati almost died from an intentional heroin overdose in 2001.
He was nearly killed a second time a year later when intruders fired through the bathroom door where he was shooting drugs. A stint of homelessness followed, then jail. In 2003 Rafati cleaned himself up for good. “I’d finally reached the bottom of all bottoms,” he says. “There was no more digging left to do; all of my shovels were broken. I was done.”
Rafati opened a home for recovering addicts in 2007, where he concocted the Wolverine, a date- and banana-based drink that also contained maca, bee pollen and royal jelly. “It was meant to rejuvenate and strengthen the patients, and give them some much-needed strength,” he tells Walter Kirn in The New York Times.
“Lethargy in early sobriety is pretty brutal, especially if you’re coming off a long run with hard-core drugs.” Realising he was onto something, Rafati invested the savings he had somehow hung onto in the difficult years and found a backer to open his first bar in 2011. “I remember it clearly,” he says, “since I was one of those customers who needed healing.”
The fall of “lads’ mags” such as Zoo and Nuts left a hole in titles aimed at young men. That hole, in digital terms at least, has been filled with Unilad and LadBible. But while both have a sizable social media presence, both have struggled to shake off their downmarket connotations – a mistake that Irish site JOE.co.uk is determined not to make.
“We are absolutely convinced that the assumptions that other titles make about young men are a little bit flawed,” Will Hayward, the chief executive of Joe Media, tells The Guardian’s Jaspar Jackson. “Young men’s attitudes towards homosexuality, towards mental health, towards women have all shifted very significantly and there’s an opportunity not to be the successor to Zoo or Nuts, but to be both a new product which works well on mobile and social, but also has a new mentality about how to do it.”
Hayward, who has held senior positions at BuzzFeed and Dazed Media, was handpicked by JOE’s founder, Niall McGarry, to head the site’s expansion into Britain. He expects JOE.co.uk to turn a profit this month, and for staff numbers to grow from 30 to 100 in a year’s time. The website already attracts up to five million users a month, while its Facebook page has 3.6 million “likes”.
The young dynasts investing to change the world
There’s nothing unusual about millennials wanting to make the world a better place. What is less usual is having the financial muscle to actually do it. That’s not a problem for the young scions of the Rockefeller, Ford and Pritzker dynasties. Last month, they and a group of other young dynasts met at Kykuit, John D Rockefeller’s country pile 34 miles outside of New York, to talk about using their family offices for “impact investing” – investing capital in ways that “offer a measurable social or environmental return as well as a financial one”, says Stephen Foley in the Financial Times.
Together they are The ImPact – with a capital “P”. The older generation gripe that no one can read balance sheets, says Justin Rockefeller (pictured), the great-great-grandson of the oil tycoon and philanthropist. Millennials complain that no one is focusd on the bigger picture. “Impact investing has provided a bridge for inter-generational dialogue.”
ImPact is modelled on Warren Buffett and Bill Gates’ “Giving Pledge”, which calls on billionaires to pledge at least half their wealth to charity. “I want to build on the family legacy and the best way I know how to do that sits at the intersection of philanthropy and capitalism,” says the younger Rockefeller. “Impact investing continues both family traditions, but with a new spin.”
Rockefeller is ploughing his money into Modern Meadow, a company that uses living cells grown in a laboratory to make real biological leather without the need for animals. Jason Ingle, the great-great-grandson of Henry Ford, has his own fund, Closed Loop Capital, which invests in agricultural technology such as Beyond Meat, a vegan venture that produces a vegetarian burger that cooks and tastes like beef. Philanthropy alone is not going to be able to address the challenges we face, Ingle says. Investing has a part to play too.