Masayoshi Son founded SoftBank in 1981 to distribute software in Tokyo. He had two part-time employees. On day one, the diminutive Son stood on two apple cartons and announced that in five years the firm would have $75m in sales, says The Economist. They thought “this guy must be crazy”, Son later admitted. His two workers quit. But his drive and ambition would eventually lead to SoftBank distributing 80% of PC software in Japan.
When it comes to taking risks, Son has form. By 2000 the company had grown into a global conglomerate, and Son’s personal wealth briefly overtook that of Bill Gates. Then the dotcom crash struck a year later, wiping out 99% of SoftBank’s market value. One far-sighted investment – regarded as one of the best in history – saved the company: a $20m bet on Alibaba, the Chinese online marketplace.
SoftBank’s 28% stake is today worth $140bn. Son’s latest project is proving no less controversial. His $100bn Vision Fund places outsized bets on fledgling tech start-ups, which his critics say is tantamount to force-feeding young firms with more capital than they deserve, thus encouraging indiscipline and a bubble in start-up valuations.
Son argues that stuffing companies with cash allows them to focus on growing their businesses instead of looking to their funding round. In fact, if entrepreneurs quibble over the amount, Son has been known to threaten to plough the cash into rivals. Like many of Son’s bets, the Vision Fund will either fail dramatically or succeed beyond all expectations. Either way, it will be grand.
The day Fortnum & Mason called
“When I first had the idea in March 2013 [for skincare range Skin Design London], I’d been completely confident it would work,” says founder Fatma Shaheen in The Sunday Telegraph. Although positive, department store buyers described the minimalist packaging as “underwhelming”, so Shaheen calculated that she would need £450,000 to invest in design and marketing.
She began cold-calling investors, but no one wanted to be the first. Fortunately, friends and family rallied round, with one friend writing a cheque for £50,000 without being asked. “I believe in you,” she said as she handed it over. “That gesture meant everything,” says Shaheen. Months later, the money had been raised, and then the buyer at Fortnum & Mason called. She said she loved the product, and wanted to stock it. “It was the best day of my life,” says Shaheen. With the product now on shelves in Britain and the US, the business is turning over almost £1m a year and is already profitable.
The Turtle winning the race in the restaurants sector
Under the pretence of needing to buy a car, Ajith Jayawickrema applied for and got a £10,000 bank loan to open the first Las Iguanas restaurant in Bristol in 1991 with friend Eren Ali, Jayawickrema tells Liam Kelly in The Sunday Times. Money was so tight he had to borrow the door handle from his flat for the restaurant. Jayawickrema and Ali chose to serve Latin American cuisine because “nobody else was doing it”.
In 2009, the Sri Lankan-born entrepreneur bowed out of the business, and in 2015 sold his stake in the restaurant chain to Casual Dining Group in a deal that valued Las Iguanas at £85m.
Wanting to “do it all over again”, Jayawickrema started Caribbean-themed restaurant chain Turtle Bay in 2010. As with Las Iguanas, but this time with more money, he wrote the menu and “went to the islands to drink a lot of rum”. Today, with 45 outlets and 1,500 staff, the restaurant chain posted sales of £63.7m and pre-tax profits of £8.2m in the year to February 2017.
Dreams come true in Barry
“We were brainstorming with mum and dad around the pool [on holiday],” Sophie Pycroft (pictured left), 30, tells Chris Pyke on Wales Online. She had been working as a freelance photographer, while her sister, Hannah, 28, was a videographer.
“We saw there was a gap in the market for trend-led beauty tools and we wanted something that would combine our love for fashion and beauty,” she says. Taking over Sophie’s garage in Barry, south Wales, the sisters spent a year researching their products before launching make-up brush brand Spectrum Collections four years ago. Today, it is valued at £12m, Wales Online reports.
“We were doing everything ourselves, working 12 hours a day, packing up to 2,000 orders a month,” says Hannah. Customers shared photos of themselves with the brightly coloured brushes and bags online, saving the company money on marketing. Being made from synthetic hair, the brushes are also cheaper (a lip brush costs £3.99). “We wouldn’t spend £30 on a make-up brush,” says Hannah.
Last year, Spectrum signed a three-year deal with Hollywood studio Paramount, leading to products based on the 2004 film Mean Girls. A Disney tie-up followed, with bags featuring characters from The Little Mermaid. “We love Disney and the nostalgia it brings which has inspired our collections,” says Hannah. “It really is a dream come true.”