Money makers: the £1.4bn venture founded over a pint

Gareth Williams
Gareth Williams collaborated with his friends from university

Skyscanner, the travel website sold to Chinese rival Ctrip last week for £1.4bn, began life in very British surroundings. In 2001 three friends from university, Gareth Williams (pictured), Barry Smith and Bonamy Grimes, met down the pub for a drink.

Williams, from Norwich and then aged 30, was an avid skier who was frustrated at being unable to find cheap flights to France. “I had a spectacularly unsuccessful career as a programmer in London for about ten years,” Williams tells Graham Hiscott in the Daily Mirror. But “it was right after the dotcom bust, so we figured it was the best time to start an internet company”.

Getting their venture off the ground wasn’t easy. “We didn’t have rich parents. We had to split two salaries between three people.” But the firm has grown strongly: sales rose 30% last year to £120m. Still, the founders’ decision to sell has attracted some criticism.“Made in Britain, customers globally and now sold to an international buyer,” notes analyst Dan Ridsdale. “Skyscanner’s sale to China’s Ctrip is following what is fast becoming a familiar path for Britain’s fast-growing technology innovators.”

Food for thought

“I thought I could hack a real job, but I hated that I had no say in the decision-making,” Jamie Bolding tells the BBC’s Sarah Finley. So three weeks after starting his entry-level role at a drinks company, he made the decision to quit, returned home to live with his mother and set up a website that shared videos and stories from across the internet.

That site grew into Jungle Creations, which makes food-themed videos for customers such as restaurant chain Yo! Sushi and biscuit maker Oreo. Bolding charges a minimum of £20,000 a time with the aim of getting at least a million views online (if the video doesn’t attract a big enough audience, the client company gets another video for free). Jungle Creations’ videos are watched more than 2.5 billion times a month, largely on Facebook and other social media, making it the sixth most-viewed online media firm, says Finley. To put that into context, Disney is the fifth.

Bolding, 25, set up his business in 2014, with no outside investment. Jungle Creations has since grown to employ 36 employees in an office in the Shoreditch area of London and has turned over £2.5m in the past 12 months. It’s a rapid rise, but that’s what Bolding has been used to since his site first attracted attention. “Instead of earning 6p from advertising, all of a sudden it was around £600 a day,” he says. “The first thing I did was say ‘look, Mum’ – that was the moment I knew I could actually make it into a business.”

A fascinating venture

Neil Rimer is “the most insanely curious man… Just look at a cross section of his investments. There’s no other way to stay at the top of your game for two decades”. So says a colleague of the man who founded Europe’s premier venture capital company, Index Ventures, in Geneva in 1996. In that time, Index has invested $5.6bn in start-ups, from Skype and ASOS to Deliveroo and King, the makers of Candy Crush Saga, the popular mobile game, says Madhumita Murgia in the Financial Times. The 160 Index-backed companies now have 35,000 employees globally, generating $9.2bn in annual revenues.

Yet Rimer, now 53, ended up in venture capital (VC) by accident. While studying biology at Stanford in the early 1980s, he borrowed a friend’s word processor to write up coursework and in return helped his friend read up on NEA, a VC firm in Silicon Valley. “He enjoyed his moonlighting so much that he swapped his science courses for economics,” says Murgia. He remains fascinated by the business today. Failure among the start-ups that he backs is common, but it doesn’t pay to be too cynical and averse to risk. “For me, the more valuable exercise is: what happens if it does work?”

How Murray made a mint

Tennis ace Andy Murray has won Wimbledon twice and been awarded an Olympic gold medal. Having now risen to the top of the world rankings, the 29-year-old Scot is arguably Britain’s greatest living sportsman, and a star signing for companies with a brand to promote. Yet so far Murray has been slow to cash in, says Murad Ahmed in the Financial Times.

That’s partly down to his reluctance to sign any advertising deals that take him away from the courts. A number of deals signed by other sporting stars require attendance at corporate events. Hence the $23m, including $15m from endorsements, that Murray earned in the year to June pales in comparison with the $68m netted by Roger Federer, according to Forbes. The $56m banked by Novak Djokovic this year is the same amount as Murray’s career winnings.

However, if Murray can stay on form over the next two years, earnings from endorsements could double, says Ahmed. To date, his biggest deal has been the £15m four-year agreement he reached in December 2014 with American sportswear challenger brand Under Armour, but he has also signed deals with bank Standard Chartered, worth £1.5m a year, and with racket-maker Head and carmaker Jaguar, both worth an annual £1m.

Still, as Murray approaches his 30s, the decade during which most tennis players retire, his investments have increasingly been made with his post-playing days in mind. These include a deal with crowdfunding platform Seedrs to act as an adviser, having invested in a number of start-ups on the platform, including ice-cream maker Oppo in February.

He also bought the five-star Cromlix hotel near his hometown of Dunblane, Scotland, for £1.8m in 2013. The same year he set up a sports management firm, 77, with his manager and agent to put their experience to work for the next generation. “He needs to do stuff while he’s hot,” said an insider, quoted in the FT. “Then, he can slip into it seamlessly after his tennis career is over.”