Money makers: British space firm shoots for the stars

When Mike Lawton realised he couldn't fly spacecraft, he decided to make parts for them instead. Chris Carter reports.

916-OSS-634

"As a kid, I wanted to pilot the Millennium Falcon [a spaceship in Star Wars], but then you get older and reality kicks in," British space entrepreneur Mike Lawton tells Matthew Caines in the Daily Telegraph.

So instead of flying spacecraft, Lawton builds parts for them. His start-up, Oxford Space Systems (OSS), specialises in deployable antennas, booms and panel systems the vital, if unglamorous, structures that enable a craft to operate in the extreme conditions of space. It develops its own flexible composite materials, which enables it to make products that weigh and cost less than those of its competitors.

Subscribe to MoneyWeek

Become a smarter, better informed investor with MoneyWeek.

Lawton came up with the nub of what OSS would become while serving as the entrepreneur-in-residence for a battery builder, ABSL Space Products, in 2011. "In the same way that spacecraft need batteries, they also need deployable structures even Sputnik 1 had four whip antennas," says Lawton. After leaving battery giant EnerSys (which had bought ABSL), he won £100,000 from Innovate UK in November 2013 to turn his idea into a company, and within eight weeks he had another £500,000 from venture capitalists.

Then OSS won another competition held by the UK Space Agency to fly its boom product into space. "Having high-definition photographs of our boom in orbit with the Earth in the background was gold dust," says Lawton. "I could sit in front of potential customers and show them that instead of being aspirational, we were flying our own hardware in space." Today, OSS has 32 staff and an annual turnover just shy of £1m, as it transitions from research to commercial sales.

Advertisement
Advertisement - Article continues below

Taking on the tech titans

In 2011 Adam Foroughi, 38, went looking for funding in Silicon Valley, say Devon Pendleton and Claire Boston on Bloomberg. "Everyone shot us down," says Foroughi. He and his partners ended up self-funding the start-up, AppLovin a mobile advertising platform that also helps video-game developers attract users on smartphones. Nevertheless, within a year, the company had generated $10m in revenue, leading to $4m in investment from angel investors. Since 2014 revenue has grown by more than 500% to $634m, due to the explosion in mobile gaming.

AppLovin expects to generate $100m in free cash flow over the next year, despite Facebook and Google making up 80% of the mobile advertising market. Foroughi owns just more than half the company. In 2016, Chinese private equity firm Orient Hontai Capital offered to buy a majority stake. In July, private equity firm KKR & Co bought a third of the company, valuing AppLovin at $2bn. Foroughi credits his parents, who left their business behind when they fled Iran for California in 1984, for giving him the drive to succeed.

The high priestess of YouTube yoga

There are more than 2,400 people in the main hall of Alexandra Palace in north London, breathing in unison, says Ellie Violet Bramley in The Guardian. They have come to take part in a yoga session led by Adriene Mishler, 34, a yogi and actress from Texas. Her YouTube channel, Yoga with Adriene, has four million subscribers. Search "yoga" on Google, and Adriene dominates. "She's quite a phenomenon," enthuses an attendee, who has travelled from Swansea to Alexandra Palace.

"Find what feels good" has been Mishler's motto since she started in 2012 her followers recite it with almost evangelical fervour. It's a mantra that has certainly proved lucrative. Mishler earns revenue from her YouTube channel (analytics firm Social Blade puts it at £284,000 a year) and she has a sponsorship deal with Adidas. Subscribers can also pay $9.99 a month to access extra content on her Find What Feels Good website.

An Oprah Oscar for eyebrows

916-Anastasia-634

Having studied beauty in Romania, Soare left the still-communist country in 1989 to join her husband, a defector from the navy, in Los Angeles. There, she settled into waxing and doing facials. One day, a customer, who was a modelling agent, returned with a van full of supermodels, including Naomi Campbell, Stephanie Seymour and Cindy Crawford. A-listers Michelle Pfeiffer, Faye Dunaway and Jennifer Lopez started visiting.

"Then, in 1998, Oprah [Winfrey] invited me to do her eyebrows on her show," says Saore. "It was like getting an Oscar. The phone would not stop ringing for six months."

Advertisement
Advertisement - Article continues below

The brand's Instagram account, set up by Soare's daughter, Claudia, who is also brand president, has 18 million followers. "Look, I went to the United States with a desire to be significant," she says. "If I started doing flowers, I still think I would have found ways to be the best floriston the planet. That's mypersonality."

Advertisement

Recommended

Visit/economy/small-business/600657/small-business-how-to-chase-late-paying-customers
Small business

Small business: how to chase late-paying customers

Many small business have trouble getting their customers to pay up on time. Here's what you can do about it.
23 Jan 2020
Visit/517964/dont-squeeze-our-entrepreneurs
Economy

Don’t squeeze our entrepreneurs with higher taxes

Britain’s entrepreneurs and business innovators get generous tax breaks. They should keep getting them.
17 Nov 2019
Visit/economy/small-business/600658/is-your-business-paying-enough-vat
Small business

Is your business paying enough VAT?

Any business with annual sales of more than £85,000 must be registered for VAT.
23 Jan 2020

Most Popular

Visit/investments/commodities/gold/600686/gold-and-silver-bull-market-2020
Gold

Want to make money in 2020? Gold and silver are looking like a good bet

If you want to make money from investing, says Dominic Frisby, it’s simple: find a bull market and go long. And in 2020 gold and silver are in a bull …
22 Jan 2020
Visit/economy/600691/money-minute-friday-24-january-the-key-to-uk-interest-rate-cuts
Economy

Money Minute Friday 24 January: the key to UK interest-rate cuts

Today's Money Minute looks ahead to the release of data that could hold the key to UK interest rates cuts. 
24 Jan 2020
Visit/economy/600690/money-minute-thursday-23-january-european-interest-rates
Economy

Money Minute Thursday 23 January: European interest rates

In today's Money Minute we look ahead to Christine Lagarde's second interest-rate-setting meeting at the European Central Bank.
23 Jan 2020
Visit/investments/funds/600697/how-the-boom-in-passive-investing-could-create-better-run-companies
Funds

How the boom in passive investing could create better-run companies

ESG investing, or "ethical investing" as it used to be called, is mostly about the marketing, says John Stepek. But it's not all bad.
24 Jan 2020