Don’t call Monzo a “unicorn” (meaning a start-up valued at $1bn or more). “I hate that word,” Tom Blomfield, the 33-year-old co-founder of Britain’s biggest start-up digital bank, tells Liam Kelly in the Sunday Times. “I don’t think valuation is something that’s healthy to chase. It makes you do weird stuff as a company.” Instead, Blomfield is focused on growing the number of customers, having recently passed the one million mark – more than half of whom are under the age of 30.
Young people love the Monzo banking app and card because it breaks down their spending into categories such as “bills” and “eating out”, and comes with a budgeting tool that allows users to save money into “pots”. “We’re giving them the tools to feel like they’re in control,” says Blomfield. And despite being about to seal a deal for a £100m cash injection from venture-capital and crowdfunding investors, “fundraising is a milestone, at best”, he says. “I was out for dinner… and when the waitress saw my Monzo card, she said it was brilliant. That’s the stuff I really love.”
Nevertheless, in the year to February, Monzo reported pre-tax losses of £33.1m, compared with a loss of £8m the year before. Revenue was just £1.8m, mainly from overdraft charges and loans, while the average balance is just £250. Blomfield, who expects revenue to be ten times higher this year, is relaxed. Monzo even published its accounts early. “We’re trying to be transparent,” says Blomfield. “As a new bank we need to build trust with our users, and we don’t have the money for a big branch network or TV advertising. So we do it by being transparent.”
Cremations without the fuss
Catherine Powell was running a funeral business built on decades of experience with her husband, Bryan, when a woman walked in six years ago with an unusual request, says Matthew Caines in the Daily Telegraph. She wanted an unattended cremation for her mother, with the ashes returned to her so that the family could then hold a celebration of her mother’s life.
“We figured there had to be more people out there like her,” says Powell. So they launched Pure Cremation in 2015. Unattended or “direct cremations” have the benefit of allowing the business to book up low-cost cremation slots without any fuss, as well as sparing those who would rather not go to crematoriums the need to do so. “We handle the practical aspects of physical care and cremation, leaving families free to create their own farewell ritual, when, where and how they want,” says Powell. Pure Cremation has a staff of 24, turns over £1.7m (projected to reach £2.6m this year), and is set to open its own crematorium at the end of the year.
From launching tech start-ups to selling slippers
Serial entrepreneur Ankur Shah had already sold one tech start-up to credit-check agency Experian, says Alex Lawson in the Evening Standard. Now “I wanted to make money by buying a product for X and selling it for Y”, says Shah.
Observing the Scandinavian-inspired “hygge” trend in Britain for cosy living, Shah settled on selling slippers, and visited remote Polish slipper factories where puzzled veterans raised eyebrows at his quirky designs. Mahabis, launched in 2014, has since branched out into everything from backpacks to candles, using social media and television adverts to promote the brand.
Admittedly, there have been hiccups along the way, says Shah – “trying to sell a wool-lined slipper in 37-degree heat wasn’t fun”. Yet that hasn’t stopped revenues growing to more than £20m. Shah now has his eye on opening a shop in London’s West End next year, depending on how the high street recovers following recent closures, including the demise of House of Fraser.
How Ralph Lauren gave America its style
“The Bronx had certain… connotations,” Ralph Lauren, tells Anna Murphy in the Times. “I wasn’t poor, but my father was an artist and my parents had four kids… I grew up wanting to have certain things… I had to work for it.”
Born Ralph Lifshitz – he changed his surname to Lauren when he was 16 – the designer grew up in New York, the son of Jewish immigrants from Belarus. He didn’t know exactly what he wanted to do with his life. But he did know he “didn’t want to be a grey person”.
It was later, while working as a tie salesman, that he gained the attention of Bloomingdale’s, the department store. “Ties were important to a man at the time, but they weren’t a means of expression,” says Lauren. “I made these ties that were beautiful.”
Bloomingdale’s then asked Lauren to make the shirts to go with them. He borrowed $50,000 and the Polo brand was born 50 years ago. “I knew I had something going on,” he says. “I knew what I liked, and I knew what I liked wasn’t out there.”
The brand took on cult status, aided by Lauren’s approachable everyman image – a vibe he has hung on to over the years despite his ranch in Colorado and Gatsby-like garage of priceless Bugattis. Over that time, his net wealth has grown to $7.2bn, according to estimates by Forbes.