Two alternatives, one space : MESH Oslo, Startups & Art


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The startup scene in Norway is brewing. This time around I had a chance to visit Startup Lab an incubator nestled at the University of Oslo’s Science Park and MESH Norway a co-working space. MESH is of particular interest as its a space where an investor may be able to find two alternatives; Startups and Art. The MESH co-working space is situated just a stone throw away from the National Theatre subway stop (Prime Real Estate) in what used to be an Oslo nightclub. The space itself would do any interior decorator proud as it shows off its Scandinavian Boho Chic which can simply be described as ‘Soho House meets Office space’.

Speaking with the team at MESH that show me around the split level space, I am told that the gallery next door furbishes the art which can then be changed every so often and that it is also for sale. Having a look at the prices may not give Norwegians sticker shock considering that a bottle of water at Gardermoen (the airport) costs NOK60. The availability of great contemporary Norwegian art is just one of the features that makes MESH quirky and interesting. The presence of a bar upstairs and a well attended Cafe bar on the ground floor has the place filled with energy in a town that is better known for its quiet and modest reputation.

MESH Coffee Bar

MESH Coffee Bar

MESH Downstairs

MESH Downstairs

If you are on the hunt to meet interesting entrepreneurs and startups, MESH events should be on your startup safari for Oslo. The curatorial team is great and they have quickly established themselves as one of the leading spots in Oslo for all things Startup. One Nordic entrepreneur I met, who runs a startup foundry / studio helping co-build new ventures mentioned that he was going down to MESH to meet up with the media about to do a story on the launch of a new offering the startup studio called Norselab was bringing to market. Clearly all roads seem to lead to MESH in Oslo and a seat at the location is surprisingly affordable given the cost of co-working space in London!

For a more high tech startup focused experience I would also recommend visiting the Startup Lab. Packed with startups and feeling a bit more like a ‘sit down’ Techcrunch the office space cum incubator has been a real boon to Oslo’s startup community with mentors and investors like Creandum ( and NorthZone ( listed as official partners. I glimpse a familiar logo for Kahoot! the Edtech heavy founded by Johan Brand (arguably Mr. Startup for Norway) and best of all an all round gentleman that I had the fortune of bumping into 2 years back on a random Norwegian Airlines flight to London. They even have their very own Founders Fund and a rock star team with great corporate and global connectivity that can clearly open doors for their portfolio companies and possibly others as I am pleasantly surprised to hear that not all based there have to be portfolio companies.

Startup Lab Companies Board

Startup Lab Companies Board

The Startup Lab seems to be have a quiet central atrium giving entrepreneurs a space to relax amongst the crazy schedules dictated by startup calendars. Look forward to hearing from readers on what they make of the spaces themselves. Begs the question whether Oslo could really handle another startup space but stumbling on to a Startup Magazine at the University and browsing through the Norwegian text (I did take a 101 course) I realise that there is a lot more afoot that what meets the eye. I look forward to discovering more next time I am around. Most of the hosts I met at all of the spaces were incredibly hospitable and its great to know that I have a space to park myself next time I am around. Tusen Takk Alle Samen (Thank you everyone!). Hope I wrote that right!

StartupLab Atrium

StartupLab Atrium


The reinvention of Club Monaco in London


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Brands have a unique opportunity when they go abroad. In a manner similar to some personalities that have re-invented themselves, the lack of preconceived notions of brand free them to experiment and often try things that may not have been Kosher closer to home. Club Monaco is one of those Redchurch Street new comers that has taken advantage of this to move far away from the early days of its Zebra assortment. Early buyers from Toronto (yes its a Canadian Brand) will remember the Bloor Street Store – which if memory serves well was located in the old Home Economics building for the University of Toronto – as being a barrage of blacks and whites with little colour present. Firstly the mens and women’s stores have been wrestled apart, similar to many of London’s iconic educational institutions like Eton or Harrow, it seems like the boys have their own personal place to shop now! Entirely hipster friendly the store is a real treat for visual merchandise aficionados. The store management are incredibly knowledgable about the provenance of the products down to the name of the Italian river that runs next to the factory making the sunglasses stocked in the store.

Club Monaco (London) Vintage Rolex Collection

Club Monaco (London) Vintage Rolex Collection

The real jewels however are tucked away upstairs on the first floor. Vintage Rolex anyone? The store boasts a beautifully curated set of 1970’s and 80’s Rolex that hark to this generation’s vintage (of their own father’s lore) and drives that ‘must buy’ reflex. A few years ago I would never have associated Club Monaco with the rich assortment of accessories that are on display. The ability for the store to retail the vintage Rolex ‘may’ make them the only place on Redchurch to sell the watch brand! The anchoring of a premium luxury brand is uplifting for Club Monaco also which is reflected in the generous pricing across various product categories (there are a few £100 pair socks in their – yes they are wool!).

Insight: Vintage accessories can prove to be a quiet draw to a new establishment should the collection be curated well.

I am told that the curator employed by Club Monaco also applies his skills for Ralph Lauren. Clearly the visual merchandising style of the Lauren stable is seeping across. The question is can Club Monaco pull it off? If done authentically as in the case of the Redchurch store which was actually a gun shop many a year back and showcases gun schematics and parts of various types of arms around the shop, I believe the brand can carry it off! 12 years ago I would never have pitched the Club Monaco brand against that of Ralph Lauren. If the experiment in London goes to plan this may be a space to watch as the brand reinvents its positioning and establishes the ‘separate’ menswear store format as a winning formula. The women’s store sits right on Sloane Square. Not quite hipsterville and having secured the lease after Gieves & Hawkes decided to move out!

London Student Accommodation and the Experience of Luxury


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About 6 months ago I came across NIDO Student Living, a Student accommodation brand looking to create a truly differentiated student living experience for their tenants in London. With close to 3,000 residents across 3 sites (Noting hill, Spitalfields and Kings Cross) the student accommodation sector is finally getting a reboot.


View from NIDO (Kings Cross)


View from NIDO Nottinghill

With a leadership team that wants to shake up the category, NIDO is on a mission to create an experience that is witnessing the rebirth of the Spittalfields property. With a brand new coffee bar that looks like it belongs to a posh high street in West London (and get this – it sells by far the best bubble tea in London – hint: Ask for the Lychee Milk with black tea). There is great anticipation amongst the students of a Karaoke Room which has been backed by a leading NIDO agent from China (OSL). The team really know their customer and tenant demographic and have a finely tuned ear for what needs to change and rapidly.

Insight: With state of the art Karaoke systems for both English and foreign language content the Karaoke rooms at NIDO are poised to be an instant hit in 2015. Building culturally tailored experiential programmes is key to better serving ket customer segments.

The coming year is going to see an entire experiential programme unfold for the residents, reinforcing a brand that is looking to go way beyond its core offering, accommodation to add value and enrich the lives of its customers and residents.

Walk into the Spittalfield’s property and you hear the soothing noise of expert fingers gliding across one of the many piano’s scattered around the property and there is a real buzz afoot as school is back in session and all the students are back in action once again. Seeing the accommodations in person makes me want to go right back to University again. Great partnership potential exists for both brands and educational organisations that can see the NIDO experience in line with their own goals of engaging with the power of the future global elite.

Insight: With an increasing number of Chinese students hitting UK student residences there will be a renewed stress also on staff and their ability to leverage and communicate to the audience in Mandarin.

Insight: Chinese social media channels are also different from those prevalent in the west. Youku for instance is the dominant video player platform. Whether its the Singles Day (11-11) or the Golden Week it will becoming increasingly important for hospitality resources to be clued into expected behaviour.

Institutional investors in commercial real-estate would be well placed to understand the difference between commodity student accommodations that provide a low risk annuity cash flow to one like NIDO which delivers on its experiential promise and creates a stickier product which generates and keeps greater enterprise value.

Fintech opportunities to take on the big UK banks


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The Worlds Local Bank

HSBC Advert

The world’s local bank, HSBC is unable to make International Payments on the weekend. Does this strike anyone else as business practice that may be more likely to be from the 1980’s than today? But they are in good company most of the other larger players on the UK’s banking scene are also unable to facilitate international bank to bank payments on the weekend. I was told by a HSBC associate over a call that the ‘process is not manual but the departments were closed over the weekend’ in other words it is still manual!

Did I also mention that the international payments service is only available at present until 3 PM every working day as clearly that is when the entire United Kingdom works until! In case the sarcasm has missed its mark I just want to make clear that there is not a single Small Business or Startup that I am aware of that has teams that work till 3 PM. Even Scandinavia that is famous for its 4 PM and I am heading home lifestyle has workers that go beyond that ridiculous international payments cut off.

HSBC No International Payments over the Weekend

HSBC No International Payments over the Weekend

Finally the amount of time that large banks are using to complete their business account set up and payments verification and processing certainly provide an opportunity to disrupt the market also. This needs to be tempered with a small note on risk also given the need for greater vigilance on the flow of funds which are being used to finance illegal activity the Anti-Money Laundering processes are more important than ever.

Insight: Any Fintech startups looking to work a little harder and come up with clever ways to complete the Know Your Customer or Know Your Business processes online may have an opportunity to trump the establishment by providing 24/7, weekends inclusive service.

Launching Luxury


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Luxury brands have their work cut out for them today. Off course the basics of creating luxury brands remain core and fundamental to the longevity and appeal of the brand to the luxury consumer. In particular it is the challenge of knowing where and how to best engage with the customer base and other stakeholders and influencers that ‘land the brand’. Social media is often one of those areas that leaves a number of luxury marketers scratching their heads over where, how and what to do. The challenge with dealing with an exploding number of social media seems to see no halt as the range of channels to manage ranging from the micro-blogging world of twitter to the broad appeal of Facebook to often visually necessary Pinterest and Instagram (thank God Facebook bought them and the integration is getting better by the day). Then there is the question of the all important Asian markets when it comes to Luxury. China and numerous other markets seem to test social media companies patience and tenacity as from time to time various countries ban the channels due to reasons ranging from political to religious offence. Sina Weibo is off-course a necessary evil if you want to crack the all important Chinese customer. But first let me ask you an important cultural question: Do you know what Golden Week is? If the answer is yes then skip the next paragraph, but should you find yourself starting to read quicker to get to the answer please do take the time to read about the importance of understanding not only the who, the how, the where but also the when for luxury social media activity.

Too many luxury executives simply lack an understanding of cultural nuances and important periods for their all important emerging markets luxury consumer. London Marketeers take note how many honestly know:

– Many of Mumbai’s wealthy take flight from the Maximum City at Monsoon time to grace Mayfair, Bond Street and London with their custom

– Chinese customers hit London and various other international gateway cities in droves during Golden Week (September) and drop more coin on luxury shopping than any other segment at present

– Most GCC shoppers from Qatar, UAE and Saudi descend on London in the summer with their entourages and fill our Knightsbridge and Park Lane hotels alike 

It is essential that it is possible to speak to the consumers in a language that they are most comfortable with and through channels that make sense. From Luxury London, an app which allows Chinese customers visiting London to find the best deals on their iPhones to Sina Weibo micro blogging activity brands need to spend the necessary resources to develop a natural engagement with these consumers. 

Launching a Luxury brand comes with the added complexity of managing not just trade, media but also consumer expectations. Finding an excellent Public Relations partner is fundamental to achieving the kind of reach and coverage that very few marketeers can pull off through the help of just their black books. Here again the market is littered with PR agencies claiming to be experts in fields where they just simply do not have the credentials or the strength of relationships to pull of the kind of success that most brand teams dream of. It is fundamental for marketeers and senior executives new to an industry to get to understand who their competition is also represented by as often conflicts of interest prevent the very best option for representation. Specialist PR agencies may often be the way to go as an example the hospitality industry has PR houses that offer a lot more than just contacts and bright ideas, some have gone as far as to add real value to the business by setting up sales offices that can support brand sales teams as they travel the world and get important channels to buy into the product and more importantly the brand they are selling. Many of these PR machines also offer that all important service to help you manage your brand social media. Do not shy away from buying this service if you are a small in-house brand team. The constant coverage is invaluable as can be found in the case of the Corinthia Hotel who found themselves at the end of Rihana’s tweets when she got caught out in her jammies due to a fire alarm early in the morning.  

There is so much more to consider on the digital side of things and often what most brand marketeers struggle with the most is the creative agency selection process. Walking the tight rope of budget, capability and experience must  never be short changed. More importantly with smaller agencies take the time to really understand their ability to deliver and not simply outsource the work to too many providers to manage. There is also the all important and seemingly obvious: take the time to check their references and credit history to get a gauge of the kind of organisation you are doing business with. Often a simple google may reveal more than you may have bargained for! 

Starbucks powers on….When brands just get it and then they don’t!


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This post is entirely dedicated to the Starbucks customer experience. Be ready for a rant and a rave for the coffee store that just recently opened up at Gardemoen airport, Oslo towards the last quarter of 2012.
The rave is directed at the bright bulb in the customer experience or service innovation team that decided to back the idea of really nailing customer need so sqaurely on the head! Thats right I am talking about the one issue that no Mobile Phone manufacturer has been able to address…the battery recharge issue. Starbucks has graciously offered the PowerKiss at the airport coffee outlet in Oslo for a small deposit of Kr200 (which is somewhere close to GBP20). Built into the dark wood stained table, idea for communal sit down coffee consumption that starbucks is finally getting better at, is a charge point that when in proximity with the Powerkiss that has a ‘jack’ for your phone is able to charge the phone ‘wirelessly’. There are a few brands that just ‘get it’ and I have to tilt my hat towards Starbucks for understanding the traveller’s needs on this occasion.
Now for the rant. The taking of customer names on the coffee cup may have theoretically been a great idea but here is offering the Starbucks team some food, or drink, for thought:
– The activity looses its charm for regular customers; who are often disappointed that their favourite Barrista does not remember who they are
– At airports where the number of foreigners with difficult to pronounce leave alone spell names can often lead to more frustration with Barrista’s desperately trying to spell names right or disappointing customers with the wrong name

Insight: Its not just corporate brands that have an opportunity to understand customer needs. While recently traveling through Rio’s airport I was pleasantly surprised by the number of power outlets that were available to travelers and that too next to a comfortable seat! Running out of power remains a perpetual problem for all phones so until a terrific runs for 200 hours battery is designed there is a great opportunity for all brands across all sectors to ease this pain point.

Insight: Know your customer does not mean know their name! Not all solutions travel well across the pond. At some point large corporate brands may consider market research post implementation of an idea to understand its impact on the customer experience.

Finally got my black-card…from Cineworld?


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A senior executive I once worked with spoke of the magic of his British Airways black card. Special treatment everywhere from check-in to landing. Its exactly what the Loyalty Doctor ordered. You can imagine my excitement when I got offered a black card through no special feat other than having been a loyal customer for a period of 12 months by none other than Cineworld.

There are so many ways to win a customers loyalty and what surprises me is how such few brands actually act on this much needed space given the battle for customers in todays fiercely competitive market across any vertical and any geography.

Cinemas have been looking for ways for some time now to make their offering stickier and levers have included partnerships like Orange Wednesdays (where an Orange telecoms customer could buy two tickets for the price of one) or loyalty cards such as cineworld unlimited cards which brought the magic of subscription to the cineworld books and unlimited movie viewings to cinema going audiences. It was not long after that Odeon caught on to the importance of the subscription model and also launched its own loyalty card called the Odeon Premiere card. With the Premiere card at Odeon a card holder is able to get GBP1 of credit for 10 points.

Insight: Odeon fell into what I refer to as the loyalty opaque trap and offers points to consumers which can be reclaimed for movie tickets and concessions at the cinema. Businesses should try and move towards greatest transparency and simplicity by simply having a 1:1 relationship between points and funds available for use at the business i.e. if there are 20 points available it allows the customer to buy goods and services worth GBP20.

Insight: Brands will find it challenging to compete with a customer’s attention given the deluge of direct mail and digital offers. There are few real opportunities to surprise and delight a customer and a truly differentiated ‘black card’ experience can move the customer’s loyalty dial and build in greater stickiness to the brand.

Cineworld is taking a number of the right steps in the physical world but its digital offer is very far from what a consumer may expect today. The inability for the loyalty card to be an application on the smart phone is costing the company a valuable engagement opportunity. Its systems that are lagging behind the process and product innovation. Customers start to notice that quickly. The chain has invested in 3-D screening facilities which allow them to milk customers for those undesirable ‘men in black’ type 3-D glasses and the premium to watch the movies which very often fail to impress or justify the additional cost.

Insight: Companies are looking to monitise loyalty and retention while I feel that the Cineworld model can offer value to high frequency movie watchers brands should be careful around elasticity considerations as there is only so much that customers are willing to pay for perks in the difficult economic conditions that prevail today.

Odeon is already offering discounted tickets to Apple iPhone owners through the ‘Passbook’ which is a mobile wallet. With the loyalty card going digital they may yet pull ahead of Cineworld unless some clever marketing executive at Cineworld gets their act together and recognizes the importance of the digital channel and more importantly mobile to its customers of today.

Insight: The biggest pain point for Cineworld Unlimited customers today is that if they do not have the physical card with them they are unable to have a staff member look up and verify that they are infact unlimited customers and end up paying for full price tickets. This is a recipe for attrition and should be recognised and addressed through a mobile initiative to take the cards digital.

After all do we really have the space for another card in our wallets today! Happy 2013 to all.

Airlines, innovation and why Norwegian Airlines is taking off


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Many a moon ago the promise of wireless internet on board an airplane was viewed as the business travelers utopia. The was first the phone, then inflight entertainment modules for each passenger and now there is the ability to connect to the internet. While Norwegian Airlines is a somewhat Niche airline that does not make it to the top of the league tables by passenger volume it does have the claim to be the very first European airline offering internet onboard. This is not a business class feature but one for the non-business traveller. My hypothesis is that innovation such as this is exactly what is slowly killing off British Airways and other larger carriers which have become the proverbial air-borne Gorillas unable to leap on to new branches of innovation that are able to keep their growth numbers moving. I used to be a British Airways regular and quickly moved over to Norwegian for my weekly commute to Oslo once I discovered how I was able to stay connected on board what many consider to be a ‘discount carrier’. Norwegian is much more likely to be seen at Ballearic airports delivering cabin full Norwegian travelers to European holiday destinations however its ambitions seem far more serious.

Norwegian Airlines Logo

In January 2012 Norwegian announced that it had placed orders for 10Airbus A320neos, 100 Boeing 737 MAX 8 and 22 Boeing 737-800s aircraft. This was arguably one of the larger orders for the year and underlines the airlines growth ambitions. Currently owned by the listed company that has a total fleet size of 66 planes, Norwegian is yet to join any Alliance network. Perhaps its best if it stays this way as unlike a number of other brands they have chosen to create a loyalty programme that is also transparent, easy to understand as well as use. The cash points programme is driving greater stickiness with customers and is another example of how the innovation machine at the company seems to be hitting all the right buttons with passenger numbers increasing as new routes continue to be launched. One of the airlines regulatory challenges in its home market of Norway is not being able to offer the rewards programme which is only available at the time of writing on international routes.

SAS is the airline most likely to suffer as Norwegian continues to take market share, however British Airways is likely to also take a small hit on the chin with European customers now well in the grip of the recession and business looking for ways to lower costs embracing the airlines low cost and high efficiency service.

Insight: Norwegian airlines has a real opportunity to continue to build on their regional and international plans but should invest in a small dose of ‘English’ education for their staff as well as some accessible ‘content’ from mainstream international papers perhaps through digital channels.

New world travel patterns are somewhat discernable in the airlines choice of its longest route which takes passengers from one resource economy to another. Oslo to Dubai direct is Norwegian’s longest route.

One last observation is certainly worth noting in how the company is starting to leverage communications and working to cross sell other group products. The Norwegian Group consists of the parent company Norwegian Air Shuttle ASA, which also owns 100% of the telephone company Call Norwegian AS, 99.9% of NAS Asset Management, 100% of NAS Asset Management Norway AS and 20% of Norwegian Finans Holding ASA (Bank Norwegian AS). As of now passengers are able to purchase communications products to lower their calling costs.

Insight: A space to watch may be airlines following in the footsteps of mobile carriers with a growing focus on financial services revenue as ARPU started to fall. The ability for an airline to offer flight insurance and other travel related financial services perhaps even money exchange and remittances would be quite a feat to pull off should the regulators not strangle the idea first.

Please note that this is not paid for advertorial.

Entrepreneurship & support for women


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In 2012 I heard of Astia, Adidi, The Pink Shoe Club, 85 Broads. All of them have support networks and resources to help women entrepreneurs and leaders. Why did it take so long for me to discover these (somewhat embarrassing as some of these organisations have been around for a decade) and interestingly enough I have asked a number of women I know about these organisations and they are not as well known as they ought to be and hence this blog entry to do my little bit to spread the word.

Astia is a women’s angel club cum accelerator programme for women entrepreneurs running high growth companies and startups. Like many great things that have been borne out of Silicon Valley, this not-for-profit is now truly a global organisation with chapters or offices around the world. I had the pleasure of meeting one such woman entrepreneur who is behind, an online platform for women to custom build their shoes. The entrepreneur told me that she was a part of the accelerator programme, which sparked my curiosity around the impact that groups such as are having. Like the Startup Leadership Programme that I lead for the UK, where we track the investment raised by SLP Fellows that successfully complete the programme, Astia boasts an impressive haul of not only $1bn raised since 2003 but also 23 exits and 2 IPOs at the time of writing this entry. I will come back to these numbers in a few months to try and understand the pace at which they are accelerating women led enterprise around the world. You can find out more on:


Financial services have long seen female entrepreneurs and customers as a niche segment on to themselves and therefore Addidi did not strike me as an entirely innovative proposition. UBS for instance has an offer for wealth management for women. However Addidi as a wealth management boutique has also been making steady in-roads through innovative programmes such as its Addidi Angels programme that is aimed at increasing the number of women angel investors (currently estimated to be around 5%) and the Pioneers programme which is geared at helping clients deploy their wealth to create social impact and social returns. You can find out more about this wealth management company at:


The Pink Shoe Club does not have investment as a stated objective but rather is there as a platform to connect women leaders to one another. Led by Helen Martin Gee the group is fairly active hosting a number of events across the city. An interesting link to Pakistan is that one of the Pink Shoe Club’s founding members/patrons was none other than the late Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto. What is encouraging to see is the growing collaboration between these excellent groups as was recently the case between the Pink Shoe Club and Addidi. I remain confused about their logo which bears striking resemblance to the Thomas Pink Company. This would make sense if the group was in-fact backed by the company but there is no such reference anywhere on the website. Logos aside the group is clearly helping connect and invigorate the women leaders in the UK and boasts an impressive array of associated women in politics and business from Baroness Warsi (Chairperson of the Conservative party at the time of writing) to Sarah Haywood (Designer) – seen in picture below taken from the pinkshoeclub website entry for the icons awards.


You know that this is topical when the last few issues of Wired Magazine had mention of organisations such as Levoleague which is the super-sized network for young professional women co-founded by Brazilian born (Lebanese) Caroline Goshn and now counts 180K members on its website. Powerful female backers are giving these organisations additional PR which in turn is driving even greater membership take up.

Finally I come to 85 Broads which was started off by a few women from the NYC street address for Goldman Sachs offices now has 30,000 members. The global professional network aims to help women across its chapters that range from India, China, Brazil, UK and all across the United States not to mention numerous other countries by connecting them to jobs, events and opportunities.

Insight: These groups and/or organisations are B2B data gold mines for those companies looking to target women consumers for products and services and would do well to support their excellent work through sponsorships and partnerships where able to do so. Some of this is already happening.

Insight: There are opportunities for employers to be seen to back such organisations as in the case of White & Case which recently hosted a fashion focused event for 85Broads being seen as advocates for women empowerment organisations and truly walking the diversity walk.

With countless such programmes and initiatives mushrooming everywhere from India to the US, I rest easy that my daughters will have much to look forward to in the future should they be able to get the mentoring and support that these organisations are giving out. As for the men…don’t worry boys I wore a pink tie to my first pink shoe club event and was made to feel very welcome.

Celebrity U/HNWs and early stage investment


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Hollywood celebrities such as Ashton Kutcher who have invested in startups such as AirBnB and Foursquare are an excellent billboard for early stage investments around the world. Mr. Kutcher seems comfortable investing further afield as in the case of Berlin based Soundcloud and now Gidsy. Bollywood has always lagged Hollywood and here again there may be an opportunity for those that have made fortunes in entertainment and media in India and now have the means and appetite to look at early stage investment opportunities to get serious about start-ups that may be based in London, Berlin, Singapore, Kuala Lampur and a number of North American cities.

Ashton Kutcher Promoting Foursquare in Two-and-a-Half-Men

A number of wealth management experts based in India were recently quoted in the Economic times as stating that family offices and U/HNWs in India were starting to take an interest in early stage investment opportunities. This is clearly a natural progression for a country that is generating a large number of millionaires off the back of the incredible growth and FDI that the country has experienced over the last decade.

I would wager that most portfolio managers and professionals responsible for managing their clients wealth would not shy away from looking at a few higher risk early stage opportunities but are usually ill-equipped to showcase the best and most exciting start-up deals to their clients as they are so disaggregated from the startup scene. There are clearly exceptions to the rule here with some private banks setting up entrepreneur desks and investing in partnerships and resources that are able to plug into the very heart of the entrepreneurial ecosystem.  What is even more interesting is that in a world that is increasingly global a number of these multi-national private banks seldom have deep insight into the right opportunities at the right time when it comes to looking beyond borders. This provides a unique opportunity for boutique intermediaries to work with many U/HNWs as well as private banks to explore the world of some times unchartered early stage investment and help introduce a startup company into their portfolios which have traditionally been heavily indexed towards more traditional instruments and asset classes such as property and even some alternative assets such as art.

Superstar Salman Khan has become a poster child for what the Bollywood Angels could stand to gain from investments in the early stage space. The Times of India reported on Mr. Khan investing in a travel start-up in March 2012. The start-up stands to gain a lot from Mr. Khans ubiquitous face pushing its services as it expands across Tier 2 & 3 cities in India. Mr. Khan’s payoff comes not just by way of a potential exit somewhere in the not too distant future for the company but also through continued contributions to his NGO off the back of each transaction on the site. This is great not just from a CSR perspective for the start-up but also provides yet another excellent investment driver for a UHNW looking to further his venture philanthropy agenda.

Salman Khan as a brand ambassador for

Other stars in India have also invested in Indian start-ups as can be seen in the case of big brother winner Shilpa Shetty (featured in a recent article in the Indian Express) who together with entrepreneur Hem Tejuja launched — a group real-estate buying site. Ms. Shetty was quoted in 2011 as having crossed 35 Crore in revenue already. This trend is likely to continue and ‘sweat equity’ contributions from celebrity investors may prove to be invaluable for start-ups looking for that big marketing push in markets where some of these stars command the attention of consumers and businesses alike.

Shilpa Shetty advertising


I await the arrival of Bollywood investors in London and deal makers at UKTI and elsewhere have a great opportunity in encouraging those in emerging markets like India to invest in startups such as, a recently launched ‘Bollywood’ on demand platform that is competing head to head with Eros International’s portal as well as other Indian players like Reliance owned and Singapore based to jockey for the attention of the global South Asian diaspora. Speaking with Sanona CEO Adam Davies, who also happens to be the first entrepreneur in residence at London Business School, I was told that Bollywood is only the beginning and that the platform would also look to capture African and East Asian foreign language content. Bollywood investors in assets such as these would find the perfect fit in that they would not only be benefiting from the increase in sales and distribution of their own movies from the global platform as it feeds content across the world but diversifying their investment portfolios into markets outside of India. The exit then would be just another cherry on top of the benefits pie.

The UK has never seen a better time for investments into early stage companies due to schemes like the Seed Enterprise Investment Scheme and the continued Enterprise Investment scheme both of which can through the right structuring be helpful in making investments into UK startups more attractive than ever before for overseas investors. I am quite sure that in the not too distant future we will see private wealth start to see start-ups as a very serious opportunity area for growth while serving their customer needs and begin to bring ‘smart money’ to help grow the companies that are driving true job creation and taking brand UK global. In a few years time when the Monsoon season hits Mumbai I will most likely not be surprised if I see a few Bollywood stars attending early stage events in London. I can see it now Priyanka Chopra at an Open event for the Startup Leadership Programme in London…