Money makers: Cutting out the middle-man in pop

Imogen Heap is using the distributed ledger – blockchain – to improve the music industry, says Gian Volpicelli in The Observer. In 2015, the British singer and songwriter launched an initiative called Mycelia, which uses blockchain (the same technology behind cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin), aimed at giving power back to musicians. By reducing the clout of middlemen – such as music labels and streaming services – the idea was that artists would be able to establish a more direct relationship with their fans.

Mycelia, a “fair-trade music business” as Wired magazine calls it, is now working on a “creative passport” – a digital document that will contain a musician’s personal information and discography, says Volpicelli. These passports, set to be rolled out later this year, will be stored on a cloud-based, tamper-proof distributed ledger and could incorporate “smart-contract” elements, enabling quick and easy direct payments to artists.

Heap is also doing her bit for our balance of payments, says Tommy Stubbington in The Sunday Times. A recent report for the Creative Industries Federation by the Centre for Economics and Business Research found that annual exports from the creative sector are £46bn, 37% higher than official data suggests – something blockchain records could help to address.

“When you’re out of the country on tour, there’s this sense of ‘Wow, you’re from Britain, what a fantastic creative hub’,” says Heap. “Here in the UK, maybe we aren’t seen as [being as] impressive as other sectors of the economy. But music, fashion, art – it’s part of our being.”

How backpackers saved the local pub

“I always felt a bit of sadness seeing a pub close,” Ben Stackhouse tells Joanna Bourke in the Evening Standard. Stackhouse, who grew up in a pub, believed he “could spruce up pubs and make the food and drink look more attractive to locals, but also use surplus space as accommodation to provide extra income”. So in 2007 he added £30,000 from his family to a £20,000 bank loan, and converted underused pub space into backpacker accommodation. Today, the business, PubLove, has around 50,000 guests a year, who pay up to £35 a day for bed and breakfast. Last April, pub company EI (formerly Enterprise Inns) bought a 51% stake, with the Stackhouse family retaining the rest of the company, which is on track to boost sales by 25% this year to £5m.

Innocent trio faked it till they made it

Richard Reed, Adam Balon and Jon Wright were on holiday together when they decided to quit their jobs to launch a drinks brand, says the BBC’s Will Smale. The trio – who had met at Cambridge University – decided they would use only fresh fruit for their smoothies, and that they would give 10% of their profits to charity. They started out from a kitchen in London, and partnered with a farmer  to crush the fruit.

But finding a financial backer was harder. “We went to 20 banks who all said ‘no’”, says Reed. “Then we went to 500 venture-capital firms in London. Most didn’t get back to us.” Eventually an American investor was persuaded to invest £250,000. By 2000, Waitrose had agreed to trial the smoothies in ten stores – prompting the trio to head out to the supermarket’s outlets and buy up all their stock (“it was largely an exercise in faking it until you make it”, Reed admits). Sales grew strongly until the financial crisis in 2008, when their manufacturer went into receivership. Facing a bank takeover, Reed, Balon and Wright sold their stakes to Coca-Cola in stages until 2013. Today, Innocent generates annual sales of £350m, and the co-founders have stayed on as advisers.

The first Silicon Alley billionaire

Shutterstock recently sold its billionth stock image since chief executive Jon Oringer founded the online photo library in 2003, says Elliott Haworth in City AM. Oringer was also the first billionaire to come out of “Silicon Alley” – New York’s answer to Silicon Valley. But it hasn’t all been plain sailing. Oringer started out building software products such as ad blockers, but struggled to find suitable pictures for his websites.

“I would shoot some of those images myself, and I would buy them sometimes,” says Oringer. “And I always thought this would be a good resource if it was possible to put it together – at the time I would have been one of its customers. So I decided to start shooting stock photography, and became a photographer.” Gradually, he brought in others, and a marketplace grew.

Oringer shunned venture capital in favour of building the firm from the ground up, which “forced us to be profitable”, he says. Today Shutterstock boasts a few hundred thousand active photographers and videographers, each hosting their individual businesses on the platform. In 2009 it listed in New York, and today has a market value of $1.7bn. Oringer still holds nearly half of the shares.