During a brief stint at a now-defunct software maker, Alasdair Field, 52, came up with the idea for Reveal Media. He had helped develop software that tagged videos from the Big Brother reality television show, to enable editors to search for specific footage, says Liam Kelly in The Sunday Times.
Friends John Barker, Tim Hooper and Steve Jacome joined as co-founders in 2002. Barker, who had previously worked for the police, thought the software could be useful in streamlining investigations.
They were getting ready to ramp up when an angel investor, who had promised to invest £500,000, pulled out after putting in just £125,000, and “we suddenly had to tighten our belt”, says Field. He remortgaged his house to buy back the shares, and now owns 90% of Reveal (the other co-founders have since left the business). The rest is owned by his father and some of his 60 staff.
In 2009 Reveal started making body cameras. Today they are worn by most of Britain’s police forces and prison guards, as well as those in other countries. Pre-tax profits rose to £1.2m on sales of £8.2m in 2016, while sales topped £10m last year. His advice? “Don’t start a business if you don’t have fire in your belly,” says Field. “It can be brutal.”
A business with good karma
In Boston, Massachusetts, Nichole Mustard landed the job that would change her life, says Julie Bort for Business Insider. She became the sales director for a tech start-up called Compete.com. It was here that Mustard met Kenneth Lin. Lin had the idea of making consumer credit scores easier for people to see, and together with Ryan Graciano, founded Credit Karma. Mustard relocated to California and took a 60% pay cut. Thanks to their connections in finance, the founders persuaded TransUnion, a credit reporting agency, to give them free access to the credit-score data they needed.
An article in the press saw business boom. “Our waitlist went from ten people a day to ten people every minute,” says Mustard. When TransUnion threatened to pull out in 2008 “it was terrifying”, she says. “I was sick to my stomach for days.”
At the last minute, TransUnion agreed to remain onboard and the issue was resolved. By 2009, 300,000 people were using Credit Karma, which makes its money by taking commissions from the products it recommends based on analysis of credit profiles. Today, the business has raised $370m from investors, has 80 million users, and has been valued at $4bn. To have built Credit Karma “in a way that’s really actually helping consumers… feels great”, says Mustard.
Top Gear for the Facebook generation
Adnan Ebrahim, 27, from Surrey, sold his first business (a blog explaining how internet marketing works) just before his 18th birthday for a “very low five-figure sum”, he tells Laura Onita in the Evening Standard. He set up his second venture, Car Throttle (a website for “petrolheads”), in 2009 while studying economics at University College London.
An avid fan of television show Top Gear, Ebrahim began writing about cars and making videos that were being watched up to 100,000 times a month. “There’s something here with video content that no one’s really tapping into,” he thought. After graduating, he emailed venture investors Passion Capital, who gave him the seed money to turbocharge Car Throttle and he went from being a one-man band to employing a 22-strong team with an office in New York.
“Top Gear for the Facebook generation” is how Ebrahim describes the business. Car Throttle uses “video advertising” on the web, social media, and its app to engage with its 13 million viewers, dubbed CTZENs, to whom it sells over 3,000 products, from air fresheners to exhaust systems, at its shop. Ebrahim says the business is profitable and revenue is on course to hit £3m this year.
Investing $28m in teens playing games
In 2013, Jack Etienne (pictured above), 34, spent around $20,000 buying out the contracts of a group of professional computer-game players, says Eric Newcomer on Bloomberg. The esports team chose a new name: Cloud9. That summer Cloud9 went on a winning streak, beating other teams in a league based on playing the game League of Legends. As a result of its success, Zachary “Sneaky” Scuderi, then 19, joined the team and rose to become the star player.
Cloud9 pays him well over $100,000 a year (it won’t say exactly how much), while Sneaky earns many tens of thousands more on Twitch, an online channel for viewers to watch others play video games. While Sneaky won game after game, Etienne (pictured) recruited top players around him, attracting sponsors and investors, in order to buy Cloud9’s way into the top League of Legends competition.
It’s all part of an emerging trend of professional video-game playing. Last year Etienne convinced World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE), itself a $6.1bn business, along with some of the technology world’s top investors, that video-game competitions were worth a punt. Peter Thiel’s venture-capital firm, Founders Fund, is among those who bought in, along with former Facebook executive Chamath Palihapitiya and Reddit’s co-founder Alexis Ohanian. Together they invested $28m.
That same year, Etienne spent $30m buying a spot in two of the world’s top esports leagues for his 70 players. Today, the Santa Monica-based team is the most popular in America. Whether Etienne will be the first to turn an esports team into a billion-dollar business remains to be seen. But his investors expect nothing less.