Money makers: brewing Dane on a Rick-roll

Mikkel Borg Bjergso
Bjergso: the world’s leading craft brewer

If you attended the opening party of the Mikkeller bar in trendy Shoreditch, east London, last week, you might have spied one of its partners, 1980s singer Rick Astley, among the revellers, says Toby Skinner in the Financial Times. You might have missed the possibly more important host – Mikkel Borg Bjergso, a softly spoken, tattooed Dane. He is the world’s most prolific craft brewer and a leading figure in a sector that has gone from a niche trend to something so mainstream that “IPA fatigue” is “now a thing”.

In just five years, Bjergso had expanded from Copenhagen to create an empire in 41 locations as diverse as his beery concoctions – from San Diego to Taipei, Tokyo, Bucharest, Warsaw and even the Faroe Islands – all with an atmosphere of airy Danish cool. Fans can buy hoodies and visit its beer festivals to get a Mikkeller tattoo. It’s not about the money, says Bjergso. “If I’m interested in an idea, whether it’s brewing a beer with Rick Astley, opening a ramen restaurant in Copenhagen or opening a little bar in the Faroe Islands, we make it happen, even if it’s not a cash cow,” he says. “I’m easily bored.”

Bjergso, formerly a science teacher, was fed up with lagers that all tasted the same, so, in the mid-2000s, decided to experiment with brewing his own in his kitchen. His brews, made with friend Kristian Keller, soon won awards. Early on, “we were very driven” by a desire to break all the rules, says Bjergso. The pair hired other breweries to make up their first recipes. They opened their first bar in Copenhagen in 2010, and others followed. Revenues for last year came in at €26.8m.

Expanding one T-shirt at a time

Youth fashion brand Hype started life in 2011 when Liam Green and Bav Samani entered a design competition run by a printing company on Facebook, says Matthew Caines in The Daily Telegraph. Their design – a defaced black-and-white portrait of Albert Einstein with a nose ring and tattoos – won. The prize was 100 free T-shirts adorned with their winning look.

Green and Samani sold all of those T-shirts through their website at £12 each within two hours. “We realised then that we had something,” says Green. They repeated the success with casual T-shirts featuring floral designs. Hype used a process called “sublimation” where paper prints are heated onto garment fibres, leaving an interwoven look. It was costly, but every penny made went back into the business.

“Selling one T-shirt meant we could make three, which meant we could make nine and so on,” says Green. Today, the Leicester-based brand has a team of 50 and an annual turnover of £13.5m. Its range, sold in 26 countries, now includes footwear and bags.

Making billions over a few pints

In the aftermath of the financial crisis, banks had stopped lending to small businesses, says Suzanne Bearne on the BBC. It was 2008 and Samir Desai was discussing with friends in the pub his idea for removing the banks from the equation altogether. In their place, he wanted to create an online marketplace where small firms could apply to borrow money from a pool of funds supplied by individuals and other businesses (that is, peer-to-peer lending).

Desai, James Meekings and Andrew Mullinger, friends from Oxford University, pooled £60,000 from their combined savings, raised a further £700,000 from a dozen investors, and launched Funding Circle in 2010. The following year, the company raised a further £2.5m in venture-capital funding. Earlier this month, Funding Circle became the first lender of its type to float on the London Stock Exchange. It is now valued at more than £1.3bn. Admittedly, that figure is down from its initial listing price of £1.5bn – but still, not bad for a business idea discussed over a few pints in the pub a decade ago.

Hilton’s turnaround king

Hilton Worldwide, headed by Chris Nassetta, is expanding its presence in Africa in a big way. “We’re talking thousands of hotels,” Nassetta tells John Arlidge in The Sunday Times. “My development team are crapping their pants.” After all, “Africa is like Asia 20 years ago”, he says. “There is a gargantuan growth opportunity. Off the charts.” Nassetta should know – he’s proven he knows a thing or two about turning a profit.

In 1991, he founded his own private-equity firm, Bailey Capital. There, he engineered hotel deals, before being headhunted in 1995 by Host Hotels – the world’s largest public owner of hotel real estate – taking over at the helm two years later. When private-equity group Blackstone bought Hilton and took it private in 2007, Blackstone’s boss asked Nassetta to take over as CEO. Blackstone was “the jolt… we needed”, says Nassetta.

But the timing was lousy. Earnings fell by 40% during the financial crisis. Blackstone wrote down its investment by 70% and put in more cash. Nassetta restructured the business and took it public again in 2013. Recovery followed. Blackstone checked out in June – it had made $14bn in a decade, making it the most profitable deal in the history of private equity.

Revenues are growing as fast as Nassetta can open properties (many of which are run under a franchise model). Net income for the second quarter of this year was $217m, an increase of 44% on the same period in 2017, while earnings rose 10%. Last year, Nassetta was paid $10.8m.

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