In Italy, Lapo Elkann, 40, is well known as a scion of the Agnelli empire, a man-about-town who came close to self-destructing in spectacular fashion, but who has since gone on to build his own business empire, says Mick Brown in The Telegraph Luxury. There is Italia Independent – his eyewear and accessories business. Independent Ideas – his design and advertising agency, in which he sold a majority stake to France’s Publicis Groupe. And his most recent project, Garage Italia – a business customising cars, boats, helicopters; anything that moves.
Gianni Agnelli, Elkann’s grandfather, was a towering figure in Italian life. His empire included a controlling stake in Fiat, Juventus FC and newspaper La Stampa. His was a hard act to follow. As a child, Elkann had a peripatetic upbringing. When his grandfather died in 2003, he joined Fiat, slapping the carmaker’s distinctive logo on designer sweatshirts, handbags and wine, thus becoming the de facto face of Fiat, synonymous with life in the fast lane. And then he crashed.
In 2005, Elkann was rushed to hospital following a drugs overdose and he emerged from rehab a wiser man. He founded Italia Independent in 2007 and his first line of sunglasses, priced at €1,007, sold out. Elkann then drew on his experience of having created Ferrari’s Tailor-Made programme of personalised cars and launched Garage Italia. American billionaire Ron Burkle reportedly paid $1.12m for one car. “Having created for Ferrari, I have noticed that in the luxury world they tend to give you limitations,” says Elkann. “My world is limitless.”
Reid Hoffman: searching for diamonds in the rough
Because he made a pile of money from co-founding LinkedIn in 2002, has invested in companies such as Airbnb and is generally considered one of Silicon Valley’s most-high-profile angel investors, Reid Hoffman, 51, gets hit up for money – a lot, says Chris Kornelis in The Wall Street Journal. Hoffman’s inbox gets flooded with up to 200 cold pitches every week. Of those, he only looks seriously at six to eight. In good pitches, entrepreneurs shouldn’t just boast of their credentials and competitive edge, but clearly articulate the risks and challenges, and how they are going to overcome them, says Hoffman. But even in bad pitches, he looks for good ideas.
In one case, a founder told him, “I’m not sure I’m going to keep doing this. After the summer, I may go back to school.” He closed by saying, “Well, if you don’t like this idea, I have another idea…” Which was basically a version of the music file-sharing website, Napster. But Hoffman invested in the first idea anyway. It was Facebook and the man behind the pitch was co-founder Mark Zuckerberg. Hoffman’s $37,500 investment became $400m.
Carl Pei: taking a bite out of Apple
Few Brits will have seen many OnePlus adverts, says Matthew Field in The Sunday Telegraph. That’s because the rising popularity of the Chinese smartphone maker, co-founded by Carl Pei, 28, has mostly spread through word-of-mouth. Its phones feature premium features, such as edge-to-edge screens and dual cameras, yet retail at half the price of Apple’s £1,000 flagship iPhone.
Pei (pictured) dropped out of university in 2011 to work in the smartphone industry. He had pulled together pitch ideas for Silicon Valley’s prestigious start-up incubator Y Combinator after a friend, the British entrepreneur Josh Buckley, told him to try his luck. “If you want to start an internet company, you need to go to California,” says Pei. “But at the same time, China’s smartphone market was coming to this inflection point. I gave up on my Y Combinator pitch and went there instead.”
Pei began working at Oppo, an emerging Chinese smartphone company, under his boss Pete Lau. Lau now leads OnePlus, founded in 2013, with Pei overseeing the business’s deal-making, as well as the launching of new models. Just five years later, the company has revenues of $1.4bn, having grown from an initial production run of 50,000 phones to recently surpassing the 1,000,000 sales mark for its latest model, the OnePlus 6.
Dragons snaffle up pork scratchings
Nick Coleman, 36, was running a medical supplies business when his business partner, Udhi Silva, bet him a steak dinner he couldn’t turn a £500 seed investment into £1m in sales within 18 months, says Liam Kelly in The Sunday Times. Accepting the bet, Coleman came up with pork scratchings brand Snaffling Pig, and went on TV show Dragon’s Den in 2016 to raise more money. Nick Jenkins, founder of greetings card website Moonpig, gave him £70,000 for a 20% stake. Coleman has since bought back half the shares.
The bet won. Snaffling Pig’s sales were £3m in the year to July, notching up profits of £31,000. Silva, also 36, has since joined the business. Fatty snacks go against the trend for “clean eating”, but Coleman isn’t worried. “You can be healthy throughout the week, but at the weekend you need to unwind,” he says. “You cannot eat kale for the rest of your life.”