Alisa Zotimova: a happy ending for a failed Russian actress

Alisa Zotimova
Zotimova: doing well for a failed actress

Alisa Zotimova, 38, the founder of AZ Real Estate, looks remarkably calm for an entrepreneur who specialises in buying London properties for wealthy Russians, says the Evening Standard. After all, Britain isn’t the welcoming market it once was. But she’s not fazed.

“While there has been some initial hesitation, don’t believe for one second that political tensions will substantially get in the way of property deals,” she counters. “London remains a safe haven for investors, with strong rental income and tenant demand… There are good, law-abiding and tax-paying Russians out there in abundance. I have, and will, continue to help them to buy buildings in England.”

While demand for £50m properties has dwindled, she says, there are still buyers looking to invest up to £5m. AZ Real Estate takes a commission of between 1% and 2%. Zotimova previously advised companies such as Chinese tech giant Huawei on opening offices in Russia before coming to London in 2007 to help her customers buy into the British property market.

Six years ago she came to terms with the fact that she would never realise her childhood dream of becoming an actress, so she decided to use her savings to set up AZ Real Estate, which now boasts an annual turnover of over £1m. Since then she has advised on around £30m worth of transactions ranging from student digs to Mayfair flats. “I’m not doing too badly for a failed actress from Moscow’s suburbs.”

Making money from muck

Wilhelm Myrer (pictured) set out to combine blockchain and recycling after a chance meeting with Simen Knudsen, chief executive of Nordic Ocean Watch, says Hazel Sheffield on Independent online. Knudsen had asked Myrer how distributed ledger technology could be used to clean up Norway’s beaches.

Myrer drafted an idea that, with help from Innovation Norway, a state-owned company that supports enterprise, became Empower. Myrer’s start-up is a blockchain alternative to the recycling system in Norway, where people get paid a small amount for returning plastic bottles, of which 97% are returned.

“The reason we have a high recycling rate in Norway is that you learn from being a kid that plastic has a value, you can pick it up and buy some candy with it,” says Myrer. Now, by paying $1 a kilo for rubbish through blockchain, Myrer plans to give people in developing countries a new way to make money and somewhere to save into (a “wallet”) at the same time.

Empower also offers a subscription service whereby users can pay up to $10 a month towards plastic waste collection; the company takes a 15% cut. “Ocean plastic is a problem that can be fixed,” says Myrer. “It’s just about getting the right resources to the right people.”

The next-gen budget hotel

Five years ago, Ritesh Agarwal, 24, decided to build a budget hotel that offered basic levels of hygiene and service, say Simon Mundy and Tom Hancock in the Financial Times – thus filling a gap in the Indian market. “I felt, well, this is a fascinating opportunity and maybe nobody’s seen it,” says Agarwal. Oyo Rooms has since grown into India’s biggest chain measured by number of rooms, of which it has 133,000 in India.

The company doesn’t actually own its hotels. Rather, it runs them under lease agreements or offers potential owners a franchising deal. It typically collects 20% of the takings. The hotels are renovated by Oyo at the owners’ expense – a cost that growing numbers of small hotel owners are willing to bear, Agarwal says, when provided with data on the leap in occupancy rates that similar properties have had after joining the network.

Oyo uses its software to tweak prices frequently, monitor staff performance, and provide a customer-friendly interface through which guests can make bookings and order room service. It’s a model that has impressed Softbank’s Masayoshi Son, who called it “next-generation… hotel management”. His Vision Fund has invested $800m so far, with a further $200m on the cards, in a funding round that valued Oyo Rooms at $5bn, making it India’s third-most valuable start-up.

Selling the Armed Forces’ skills to recruiters

“Transitioning from the military after 12 years of service was really tough,” Kayam Iqbal tells Matthew Caines in The Sunday Telegraph. Iqbal had joined the Royal Air Force as a medic but, following a tour of Afghanistan, he developed post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and was discharged. Outside the military, Iqbal had no idea how to get a job. “I slipped through the net, as I’m sure lots of soldiers do,” he says.

Finding a job selling lottery tickets over the phone for £6.10 an hour made him feel as though he was “starting all over again”. He took courses and secured employment as part of BT’s technology team. Iqbal realised there had to be others like him. “Armed Forces people… possess attributes that many civilians don’t: resourcefulness, perseverance, a relentlessness to succeed, and the ability to keep getting back up when they’re kicked down,” he says. “I wanted to set up a recruitment company to help people like me.”

OppO Recruitment was established in 2013. After he landed Vodafone as a client, others followed. Today, Iqbal manages the business of eight staff, turning over £5.5m a year.