Money makers: how a selfie with Jesus led to success

With a limited budget for marketing, Lee Thompson and Radha Vyas decided to take things to the next level by heading to Brazil.


Lee Thompson and Radha Vyas: aspirational travellers
(Image credit: Simon Dawson)

Flash Pack, a travel start-up launched by Britons Radha Vyas and Lee Thompson, was born out of a first date in 2012, says Laura Begley Bloom on Forbes. After trading travel stories over four glasses of wine, Vyas revealed she was harbouring an idea for a travel-related business, but was reluctant to say more. "One more glass of wine convinced Radha to tell me the gap she had identified for an aspirational travel brand speaking to single people in their 30s and 40s," says Thompson. "I instantly saw the opportunity and the rest is history."

Vyas had been travelling solo for most of her life. Now she wanted something with a little more comfort, "a dynamic adventure with people my own age and a boutique hotel", she says. When she went on a group tour to Cambodia, "[I] found myself with a group of people ten years younger than me. The tour didn't cater to my specific needs or interests." With just £15,000, the now-married couple built a website, and paid for a little advertising on Google. What they needed, however, was some viral marketing.

To that end, in 2014 Thompson approached the Archdiocese of Rio de Janeiro to give him access to the Christ the Redeemer statue there, which was then undergoing repair work. The scandal-hit Brazilian city was gearing up to host the FIFA World Cup but was in need of some good publicity, and the Archdiocese agreed to Thompson's proposal. He "popped out of Christ's crown" and took a picture of himself, and the "First-Ever Selfie with Jesus" became an instant viral success. The business has been growing at "300%-400% every year since", says Vyas. Today, Flash Pack is valued at around $13m.

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Stylish shoes that were too cool for school

"I recall putting my head between my knees and sobbing: my entire life was over," says Emily Clarkson in The Sunday Times. In 2012, she found out that she had failed to get the A-level grades to take up her preferred university course, as numerous others like her will have discovered this month. Yet, not going to university can be a smart move, she says. Take Oxfordshire entrepreneur Archie Hewlett for example.

Now 23, Hewlett turned down a place at Durham University to found Duke & Dexter at the age of 18. His luxury-brand British-made shoes have become favourites with celebrities, such as actor Eddie Redmayne, and in 2017 the company was on course to turn over £2.5m, he told This Is Money last year. Hewlett insists he felt "no Fomo" (fear of missing out) at not going to university, he tells Clarkson. He barely sees his pals, who did go to university, he says, "because they've got to work so much".

Turning old boozers into craft-beer pubs

The Pimlico Tram pub in London was so bad that it was in the end shut down after yet another stabbing, says Jim Armitage in the Evening Standard. Greene King could hardly give away "The Tramp", as it was then known. Then, in recession-bound 2009, Martin Hayes reopened it as a smart pub, selling craft beer and turning over £1.2m a year. "In America, there had already been a craft-beer revolution in pubs and I felt it was ready to happen here," says Hayes.

Two years later, he and friend Peter Slezak created the Craft Beer Co, opening another pub in Clerkenwell, and others in similarly unloved areas. There are now eight Crafts in London and Brighton (all funded by cash flow), which last year turned over £5.7m and made £1m profit. Surprisingly, Hayes is teetotal. How does he know what's good? "I dunno really," he says. "I suppose I've just got an instinct for it."


Travel guides for the discerning

"We looked at the whole context of travel and destination guides, and what we found is that they're very limited," Hugo Campbell-Davys, founder of luxury lifestyle service Urbanologie, tells Luke Graham in City AM. "They are limited in how often they get updated," he says. "We wanted to create something that was highly curated, updated daily and enabled people to live and get that local experience."

This idea led to Urbanologie a website and app that, for £100 a year, gives members access to information on what's new in a city which began as an invitation-only newsletter for London in 2012. "It was very much a slightly under-the-radar business, strategically working alongside what I was doing within integrated communications," says Campbell-Davys (pictured), whose background is in PR and running private members' clubs in Mayfair.

As recipients grew, he raised the capital to create the website and app, adding new destinations (13 in all) to the service, which aims to keep its members in front of the crowd, nose out the best things to do, and give its users access to events. "As the world gets smaller, it's up to people to tell and inform others about the most extraordinary and enriching experiences, and that's what we try to do," he says. "Other guides are very reactive in this space."

Using editors in selected cities, "we try to be proactive we tell our members about new bars and restaurants before anyone else does". Urbanologie now has 16,000 members worldwide, while the service also partners with luxury brands to offer discounts and special rates. "Next year, we'll do a guide to the south of France, and we're doing Havana," says Campbell-Davys. "I have a local editor ready to engage there."

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.