The serial entrepreneur predicting the future

Ivan Mazour is often referred to pejoratively as “the son of a Russian billionaire”, says Elliott Haworth in City AM, yet the Old Etonian is “very much his own man”. Just 33 years old, he has founded his seventh company, Ometria, a “customer insight” and marketing platform that aims to be the best yet at predicting how customers will behave in the future.

We’re all used to websites predicting what advertisements we might like to see. But the difference with Ometria is that instead of using third-party data showing what websites you’ve visited, it analyses first-party data – past store visits, online purchases, interactions and behavioural insights. When run through machine-learning algorithms, it will attempt to predict that customer’s next purchase, and target advertising in a way that is “highly personalised and non-intrusive” and across multiple devices. 

Ometria knows its “customers by name”. Marketers have traditionally been wary of such profile building because of privacy concerns, but Mazour says that the modern consumer wants to “feel special”. Old-school carpet bombing – mass emails and the like – repel far more people than they attract. The consumer of today expects “super-personalised” messages “delivered at the right time” before they decide to buy.

Peerless kit that may go mainstream

When UPS Airlines Flight 6 crashed near Dubai in September 2010, French inventor Pierre-Emmanuel Calmel thought he might be finished, says Simon Parkin on Bloomberg Technology. The plane’s cargo contained the first shipment of his new stereo amplifier. It had been destroyed. Calmel had quit a comfortable job and sunk his life savings into the project, but now everything was at risk. The cargo was not insured. Dusting himself off, Calmel convinced the factory to build replacements, even though there was no guarantee that he could pay them back in full. The pitch worked. Within 12 months, Calmel’s Devialet firm had sold 250 amplifiers, each retailing at $12,000. That’s one of the priciest on the market, but “they are also, many agree, peerless”. Interest is now growing in premium audio products and the companies that make them. Autonomous cars will require high-grade technology so as to safely communicate with their occupants, and TV and smart-phone makers are looking for ways to give their products an edge. Calmel has shrunk his amplifier chip down from 200cm2 to just 1cm2. Add in $106m of investor funding and that chip could prove to be “Devialet’s ticket to ubiquity”.

Selling “cruffins” to tine in-crowd

When Aaron Caddel was 19 he was told there was a tumour growing on his brain, says Lydia Belanger in Entrepreneur magazine. Doctors said he could have surgery, but that it might leave him paralysed. Seizures meant that he couldn’t keep his driving licence, forcing him to drop out of college and move to San Francisco, where he could use public transport. He worked as a barista and lived “in a closet”. “Life stopped being an experience and became a series of critical decisions that I’d make before I kicked the can. I wasn’t depressed. I was motivated.”

He moved from working in coffee shops to setting up his own craft bakery, maxing out five credit cards to fund the venture. Today his Mr Holmes Bakehouse attracts “crowds of Instagramming twentysomethings”, tempted in by products such as “cruffins” (a cross between a croissant and a muffin). Now 25, Caddel knows how to tap into what his millennial peers want: “handmade, small-batched and authentic” grub. His bakery chain has several outlets in California and South Korea, and launched a wholesale partnership with national brand Intelligentsia Coffee in January. Venture capitalists are backing Caddel’s plans to scale the business. He has had surgery, and shortly after Mr Holmes opened its doors he received the news that the tumour had not been cancerous. “Though I’m far from it, I don’t think my mind will ever let go of the need for success,” says Caddel. “It almost seems superstitiously tied to my chances of living.”

The coffee shops turning off the Wi-Fi

Go into most coffee shops and you will find them “crammed with people silently working on their laptops”, says Elle Metz on BBC Capital. But while cafes can be pleasant places to work, rows of workers glued to their laptops can sometimes make cafés “feel more like open-plan offices than centres of community”. Café owners are now fighting back. “Wi-Fi-free cafés have popped up all over the US, in London, Vancouver and beyond.” Chicago’s Kibbitznest has “banned all laptops’”, says Cailey Rizzo in Travel + Leisure magazine. They are getting back to the original purpose of coffee shops, says Metz: to “act as places for lively debate and intellectual discussion and… social interaction”.

Some London proprietors are taking a more confrontational approach, says Jimi Famurewa in The Guardian. Café owners are hiding plug sockets and disconnecting their routers in an effort to fend off the “MacBook-clutching” hordes. Others are trying to profit from them. The Daily Telegraph reported in February that Vienna’s Hundertwasserhaus charges customers €1 per device for charging up. Some offer their clientele free food and drinks, but charge for the time they spend inside. The Russian pay-per minute coffee chain Ziferblat now has 14 locations in Europe, including the UK, says Clinton Nguyen on Business Insider.

Charging for extras is one thing, but is banning Wi-Fi altogether a sound business strategy? New York’s Birch Coffee shop “eliminated Wi-Fi about a year ago, prompted by yet another customer griping about the slow internet connection”, says Anne Kadet in The Wall Street Journal. Yet its owner reports that, far from receiving complaints, sales are up. Likewise, the August First café in the US state of Vermont ditched its Wi-Fi in 2012 before banning laptops altogether in 2014, says Metz. Their sales rose by 20%.