Money maker: tracking the origins of food

Entrepreneur Jessi Baker is using blockchain technology to track down the provenance of food.


Jessi Baker was inspired by her mother to set up Provenance

Jessi Baker's mother "raised me, my brother and sister,to care about what we eat and buy, but also helped usunderstand from an early age where things come from",Baker tells the BBC's Matthew Wheeler. Years later, herexample inspired Baker to put her PhD in computer scienceon hold and found Provenance in 2013, a firm that usesblockchain technology to track the origins of food. "You canthink of a blockchain as a shared data system that everyonecan use in order to be able to trust information," says Baker.

Dressed for success

Nick Wheeler founded the shirt brand Charles Tyrwhitt in 1986 because he thought shirts were too expensive, says Natalie Graham in the Financial Times. Initially, selling shirts was a hobby alongside his day job but a couple of "fortuitous events" helped him turn it into something larger. In 1989 his great aunt died, leaving him £8,000. He borrowed another £17,000 from his bank and bought an old Aston Martin DB1 for £25,000. One year later, Wheeler sold the car for £100,000 and "rushed out and spent £100,000 on shirts", he tells Graham.

That wasn't the best-thought out approach to growing the business. "It left me with nothing for marketing." But it paid off. Soon, he was producing four catalogues a year. In 1997, Wheeler opened his first shop on Jermyn Street, followed by a website in 1998, and shops in Paris and New York by 2002. Today, Charles Tyrwhitt employs 980 people and has 28 stores worldwide. Turnover hit £185m in 2015. Yet it's 1993, when Wheeler made £1m in sales for the first time, that stands out in his memory. "It was a sign that this little business that I believed in was going to work," he says. His advice to entrepreneurs is to keep things simple. "You must offer very good quality, service and value for money. Nothing else matters."

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The music of the markets

"Larry Richards, a trained jazz pianist and former phone-company executive, is an unlikely entrepreneur in the esoteric world of stock options," say Tom Redmond and Brian Fowler on Having studied music at the University of North Texas, Richards travelled to Japan on a scholarship to research the country's pre-World War II jazz history. There he met his wife, settled down and became fluent in Japanese.

But he realised that "if I were to pursue a career as a performer, I would be doing bar mitzvahs and weddings for $100 a night for the rest of my life". So in 1994, Richards started developing wireless infrastructure for companies in Japan, before retiring early to pursue his interest in options trading. Three years later, he had written his own trading software and co-founded his own business, Iota Technologies, in Japan. Michael Mescher, the founder of Wall Street hedge fund, Gammon Capital, was so impressed he bought the software and the business, taking Richards as part of the package. "They say one in ten start-ups succeeds," says Richards. "To be among the 10% is such a relief."

The short-seller the bad guys fear

"Legitimate companies don't know who the f*** I am. And they don't care," Marc Cohodes tells Tom Redmond in Bloomberg Markets. "The bad guys? They know. And they do care." Cohodes, who carved out a fearsome reputation as a short-seller, is returning to Wall Street, eight years after his hedge fund closed under "controversial circumstances".

Cohodes, now 56, cut his teeth in 1983 on a pinball machine maker that he and a friend believed would lose out to arcade machines. They shorted the shares (borrowed the shares and sold them on, hoping to buy them back later at a lower price). By the end of 1984, the shares had halved. The following year, Cohodes joined the newly created Rocker Partners, a hedge fund with a short-selling bias, where his dogged persistence in exposing companies' often illegal accounting won the respect of colleagues. "He has the biggest balls of anyone I've ever known," said one. Analyst Herb Greenberg agrees. "When he gets his jaws on the leg of whatever he's going after, he can't let go."

Trouble came in 2008 when the market crashed. That's usually a golden time for short-sellers. "We were having an outstanding year. Outstanding," says Cohodes. "We were knocking the ball out of the f***ing park." But Lehman Brothers, one of their brokers, collapsed, owing $100m to the hedge fund, by then renamed Copper River. Changes to trading rules sent shares soaring and one of their other brokers, Goldman Sachs, started demanding more margin from them. The game was up.

"It's almost like a bomb blows up near you or near your brain, and it sort of blows your eardrums out, but it doesn't kill you," says Cohodes. He retired to his farm in California to raise chickens, but now he's planning his comeback. "Yeah, I have chickens, and yeah, I sell eggs in the city, but I spend about 1/32nd of my day doing chicken work. I'm happy that he thinks I'm a chicken farmer," says Cohodes of the former boss of Concordia, a pharmaceuticals firm that is suing him. "I will knock their heads off."

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.

You can follow Chris on Instagram.