Napoleon, two Scottish Ministers and the birth of the Insurance Funds industry.

Napoleon is credited with many achievements, but most lists don’t include his contribution to the foundation of one of Britain’s most famous financial brands. 

On their website, Scottish Widows traces its origins back to March 1812, when a number of prominent Scotsmen gathered in the Royal Exchange Coffee Rooms in Edinburgh. It was a turbulent time for the UK with not only the Napoleonic wars but with war against the USA looming on the horizon.

The historic meeting was held to discuss the setting up of ‘a general fund for securing provisions to widows, sisters and other female relatives’ so that they would not be plunged into poverty on the death of the fund holders during and after the Napoleonic Wars. 

The discussions and planning took some time and it wasn’t until 1815, the year of Napoleon’s ultimate defeat at Waterloo, that the Scottish Widows Fund and Life Assurance Society opened its doors as Scotland's first mutual life office.

There is however a story behind the story and how in fact the origins of the brand, and indeed the industry, can be traced even further back in history to two Church of Scotland ministers, who actually deserve the credit for inventing the first true insurance fund way back in 1744.

Read more: Napoleon, two Scottish Ministers and the birth of the Insurance Funds industry.

No ordinary whisky, no ordinary name

Monkey Shoulder is not your ordinary whisky.

It is described as having a taste like “riding bareback on the wild moors of Scotland with a flame haired maiden on Christmas morning” or “007 wearing a tuxedo wetsuit”. (I must admit the first description had me desperately wanting to try it while the second nearly put me off) 

Launched in 2005, it was the idea of the then malt master, David Stewart, who wanted to create the first ‘triple’ malt whisky. He combined three different Speyside Single Malts - Glenfiddich, Balvenie and Kininvie to delicious effect.

The name which, at first sounds extraordinary, has roots thath are actually a bit more ordinary.

Read more: No ordinary whisky, no ordinary name

What do consumers know anyway?

Kerstin Robinson and Julia Kessler are friends, founders and have fire in their bellies…well chilli, at least.

Their brand of soft drinks, NIX&KIX promises “A little heat & a lot of happiness” and the special ingredient in each one is a little cayenne chilli.

They tell their tale of the origins of NIX&KIX on their web-site.

“The NIX&KIX story began 12 years ago after a chance encounter on a flight to London, when we made the decision to relocate to the UK. Following this fortuitous meeting, we enjoyed a long stint in the corporate world, all while experiencing the London nightlife to the fullest.

The pivotal moment came when we both realised that we had reached a point at which nights out fuelled by Vodka Red Bulls would no longer do. Instead, we wanted to enjoy ourselves without necessarily drinking alcohol every time. Along with this realisation, we also noticed a change in our taste buds, as we started to find the soft drinks available either too sugary or bland. This led us to set up a lab at the back of a small shop in Shoreditch, where we began experimenting with different drink combinations, involving customers to the shop, as well as the owners and their extended families.

Our product range is centered around chilli, and with good reason. Chilli was the one ingredient that just about everyone gets incredibly excited about. Additionally, we managed to develop the drinks such that the flavour from the fruit comes through first, with the kick from the cayenne chilli only setting in after a couple of seconds. The end product is a one-of-a-kind flavour experience that you are quite unlikely to find elsewhere.”

I recently had the pleasure of sharing a stage with Kerstin when she was a panellist at The Value Engineers’ “Think Small” conference and I was MC. Asking her about the challenges of being a small brand, she told us about their early struggles and just how important it was that they stuck to their original aims.

Read more: What do consumers know anyway?

How a standard lamp inspired one of the fastest growing on-line fashion brands.

Inspiration, like fashion, comes in all shapes and sizes.

The inspiration for the hugely successful on-line fashion brand, ASOS, came from a standard lamp, or more specifically from the statistics about a particular standard lamp. Co-founder Nick Robertson remembers that he and his partner Quentin Griffiths “read a stat back in 1999 that when the programme Friends aired, NBC got 4,000 calls about some standard lamp in one of their apartments asking where it could be purchased. So that was the real idea behind the business”.

The reasoning behind the brand was a logical development from this; “Anything that gets exposure in a film or TV programme creates desire among the public, so we based the shop around that.” 

Their choice of brand name for their launch in June 2000 followed naturally - As Seen On Screen.

Initially the focus wasn’t just on fashion but that changed with one of their earliest hires, Lorri Penn, whom they headhunted from Arcadia – Sir Philip Green’s retail group, which includes Topshop and Dorothy Perkins. 

Read more: How a standard lamp inspired one of the fastest growing on-line fashion brands.

The bank that likes to say NO

ING Direct (USA) was launched in September 2000. From the start it liked to do things differently.

“One way or another, most financial companies are telling you to spend more. We’re showing you how to save more,” said original CEO Arkadi Kuhlmann.

ING is an Internet-based savings bank, dealing directly with its customers. It has only a limited number of easy-to-understand products. It prides itself on speed, simplicity and low overheads. It claims to be the bank for the people on “Main Street, not Wall Street”.

But it says no to what a lot of other banks like to say yes to.

There are NO minimum deposits and NO customers’ fees.

It has NO ATMs, NO branches, NO advisors (it’s an Internet, virtually paperless organization). 

It doesn’t market checking accounts or auto loans. Not only does it not market credit cards, ING openly campaigns against them

“If you’re truly committed to helping people change their financial lives and to doing it step by step, then you should not encourage them to do things that could lead them to lose money,” says Chief Customer Service Officer Jim Kelly.

Read more: The bank that likes to say NO