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To boldly go where no contact lens retailer had gone before – the story and lessons of the launch of Hubble

To boldly go where no contact lens retailer had gone before – the story and lessons of the launch of Hubble

The genealogy of Hubble is connected with Warby Parker one of the original next generation of start-up brands. Its co-founder Ben Cogan worked at Harry’s; the internet based shaving company which in turn was founded by one of the co-founders of Warby Parker.

It was a great learning experience for Cogan and when in 2015 he was confronted with a sudden rise in the price of his contact lens, he got to thinking whether there might be an opportunity for someone to undercut the current market and go straight to the consumer. In many ways it was a direct parallel to Harry’s where people had been starting to think they were being “ripped off” when buying Gillette razors.

With a little research, Cogan discovered that there are four big players in the contact lens market – J&J’s Acuvue, Valeant’s Bausch & Lomb, Cooper Vision and Novartis’s Alcon and that between them they had dominated the market for a long time. As he suspected their margins were very high. There were a few online retailers, but they re-sold the  existing brands and while they offered some discounts their mark-ups were still high so savings were great.

He decided it was time to get more serious.

Cogan had met Jesse Horwitz at a summer internship at hedge fund Bridgewater, and they had stayed friends and it was to him he turned when he started to plan the venture more thoroughly. Horwitz is a contact lens wearer too and recognized the issue and immediately saw the potential.

Together they decided to focus on the daily disposable market as it was the fastest growing sector and in the US prices were 25-50% higher than the rest of the world, which suggested to them that they should be able to undercut the current players if they could find the right supplier.

“Finding the right supplier was one of the most important things, because we felt it would give us a competitive advantage that would be difficult to match” said Cogan.

It didn’t prove to be that easy though. Firstly, they had to go through all the databases of FDA approved companies, a pre-requisite for the US market. They found several dozen but not sure who to focus on, the pair sent emails to them all, and got …not a single reply.

It dawned on them perhaps this wasn’t so surprising. As Horwitz later told author Lawrence Ingrassia that “they [the suppliers] had no idea who we were. It was a cold-call e-mail, and they didn’t get back to us”

They realized that they needed expert help which they found in Bret Andre who was a consultant who helped steer foreign countries through the process of getting FDA approval. Another was Brian Levy, a former chief medical officer at one of the industry big players Bausch & Lomb. 

Now able to drop Andre and Levy names in a new round of approaches, Cogan and Horwitz started getting a good response. With a shortlist emerging, they asked for samples to allow them to judge quality and comfort and in the classic start-up approach they got friends and family to act as their research sample.

The big question was however going to be price as their business model depended on securing an attractive wholesale cost. The best prices were available on lenses made with hydrogel and not the newer, slightly higher quality and higher priced silicone hydrogel. Both have similar properties when it comes to important features like pliability and porosity, though silicone hydrogel does allow some more oxygen through.

What Levy was able to tell the two co-founders was that whilst most studies showed some preference for the newer material it wasn’t a huge or fundamental difference and indeed sometimes it just came down to personal preference. Levy also knew that the older hydrogel lenses were still commonly used and were perfectly safe. In the end as with other next generation start-up brands like Dollar Shave Club and Harry’s that compete heavily on price, it wasn’t about having the best and latest technology but having a good enough product at a very attractive price.

This helped further narrow the list down and the four went to Taiwan to visit the short-list of four companies who were all based there. Three fell by the wayside leaving just one but just as Cogan and Horwitz were getting close to finalizing a deal and a price with the last candidate, Levy and Andre came to them with a problem. They had found evidence that FDA had concerns about the company’s testing procedures. As Cogan would later say “We dodged a bullet”

There was a real danger that the trip would end without a deal, so they decided to visit one last and additional potential supplier in Taiwan who hadn’t even been on the original short-list.

Luckily for them they did and even more luckily the company St. Shine was actively looking for a way into the US market. A deal was struck, and they had managed to secure not only the lenses they needed at a good price but they agreed an exclusivity clause so St. Shine would only deal with them in the U.S.

Things moved quickly from there. With a deal in place Cogan and Horwitz secured more backing to the tune of $3.5million allowing them to quit their jobs and focus on getting the company off the ground.

Recognizing that how they came across to what they expected to be a young and fashion-conscious audience, they now focused on developing the brand look and feel and the choosing of a name.

With regard to the look and feel, the brief they set themselves was would the user be happy to take the packaging out of the medicine cabinet and put it on their coffee table, which led to them choosing a stylish baby blue pack.

“Having a nicer box makes a difference. We designed them with this firm in Brooklyn called Athletics. There’s nothing magical about it. But if you look at the other resellers, they haven’t been redesigned in 20 years”, says Cogan.

As for the name, Cogan’s dad deserves the credit according to his son. Cogan (Ben) told “Ventures Unplugged” that his dad was inspired by Ben’s girlfriend, who went to Princeton and is an astrophysicist. She worked with the Hubble space telescope and he thought that it would make a great brand name. The team really liked it because it was modern, aspirational and was related to vision. Much to everyone’s surprise when they checked it hadn’t been trademarked so they quickly registered it for themselves.

The brand launched in November 2016 and whilst not without some challenges the brand has been growing fast ever since.

And the moral is, well the morals are…

Solve a personal problem…one that affects you and is something you care about

Find a partner, a co-conspirator who you like and trust to help and don’t be afraid to find expert help.

Find the right producer, not necessarily the one with the latest technology

Add a coolness factor in a staid product field.

Zwift – an archetype for a new age

Zwift – an archetype for a new age

Zwift is an archetypal new generation brand.

It was founded by a serial entrepreneur, someone who had previously set up other technology-based brands, in this case Sakonnet Technology. There are parallels here with Uber, Chewy and GoPro, to mention just three others founded by serial entrepreneurs.

It’s a brand that has allowed Eric Min and his co-founders to turn their passion into profits. Chewy set up by its dog-loving founders is another classic example.

It solved a problem the founder had personally, in this case the monotony of indoor cycling. For the founders of Warby Parker it was the high price of new glasses.

 It’s a technology-based brand rather than a brand that sees itself in a market to disrupt. Uber sees itself as a technology platform brand, as does AirBnB. Zwift too sees itself as a platform, though sometimes it describes itself as an entertainment company.

It has cleverly combined different elements and made 1+1=3.

It has an aspirational vision “to create the most engaged and socially active fitness platform.” Maybe not as worthy as some, like Google, but clear and directional, allowing scope for expansion.

It has and tells its own story…and this is my take on that story based mainly on interviews Eric Min and Jon Mayfield have given and shared on the Zwift website.

It begins with a seven-year-old Eric learning to cycle, a good start but as in many stories then came a setback. Just as he was getting proficient his family relocated to NYC, not somewhere conducive to young children cycling. It would be another seven years before Eric was able to rediscover cycling. One of his friends, Travis Millman, introduced him to what he now calls “proper cycling” showing off his Kotobuki touring bike, Bell helmet, and leather gloves. Eric remembers being hooked instantly and he joined a local racing club. While still enamoured with riding and the gear that went with it, he remembers that “it was the sense of community, camaraderie and competitiveness that led me to fall in love with cycling.” He found he loved the friendly competition during training or social rides even more than racing.

Eric Min

Despite it being “a mind-numbing experience” he started riding indoors when he was 15 years old, as it allowed him to maintain his fitness over the cold, wet and snowy winters or leading up to an important event. However, h really missed the social aspect of training.

He continued to cycle over the years while he was working at JP Morgan and then in 1998 he set up Sakonnet Technology with Alarik Myrin. They sold it in 2012/3 and decided to look for the next venture. Eric’s older brother Ji told him to stick to what he knew best which fitted with Alarik’s suggestion that he should take a look at cycling.

So reflecting on his current cycling routine, he realised that because of work and family commitments he rarely got outside on his bike and he was doing most of his riding indoors, which just wasn’t as enjoyable.

This led to what Eric calls his “moment of eureka”. He thought “What if we could take something that was historically mind numbing and turn it into entertainment? What if we could take advantage of video game technology, social networks, and friendly competition, and package that experience for the indoor cyclist?”

He started to sound other cycling friends out about the idea and they were all encouraging. He decided to explore the possibility more thoroughly and convinced an old friend and fellow cyclist to join him. They travelled across the US and Europe speaking to enthusiasts and industry professionals seeing if they were interested and also checking no-one else was working on something similar already. Getting a positive response and hearing no-one else had the same vision they decided to ramp up the project.

It was about this time that Min saw an online post by a programmer called Jon Mayfield in which he described a “3D trainer program” he was developing as a hobby project. Min promptly contacted Jon and arranged to meet.

Jon Mayfield

Jon was a cycling ‘addict’ too and rather like Eric the realities of being a responsible adult and father got in the way of his riding. So, he too had taken up riding indoors and like others found it “awfully boring”.  With few other options and having made video games for a dozen years he decided to see if he could do something for himself. Starting in the Christmas vacation in 2010 he began writing the first lines of code in his spare bedroom. Over the next 2-3 years he would do another couple of hours here and there when he could, creating both the code and art.

Jon’s hobby project

Occasionally, he’d post about his software on various Internet forums and it was one of these that Eric saw. Jon too remembers the first meeting. “Hands were shook, partnerships formed, and at the end of January 2014, I quit my job. The future of indoor cycling was underway.”

Looking back on that first meeting Eric recalls how impressed he was with what Mayfield had already done: “It helped us to visualize the experience we wanted to create. It didn’t take long to convince Jon to join us as a founding member of Zwift. The rest is history.”

So early in 2014, Jon Mayfield, Eric Min, Scott Barger and Alarik Myrin co-founded Zwift Inc. Zwift was chosen as the name as the team felt it combined motion and fun, two of the key elements of the brand.

The first ‘world’ the team created was “Jarvis Island” and it was released as an invite-only beta product on September 30, 2014. They had 1,000 places to fill but were surprised and delighted when they got 13,000 applications.

The launch reflected the global ambitions of the brand and its ability to link people across continents, it took place simultaneously in Rapha Clubhouses in London, New York City and San Francisco.

By May 2015 Zwift had moved into open beta and a virtual version of the Richmond (Virginia) 2015 UCI Road World Championships Course was introduced on September 3, 2015.

On October 30, 2015, Zwift launched as a fully-fledged product with a $10 monthly subscription fee. Since then it has accelerated away and today sees itself as an entertainment company catering to the cyclist and the runner but looking for further future potential.

And the moral is … some stories have lots of morals, lots of lessons

Eat more beef you bastards, and drink another bloody water

Eat more beef you bastards, and drink another bloody water

In my first book of brand stories, The Prisoner & The Penguin, I told the tale of how the cattle farmers in Queensland, Australia came up with their (in)famous, straight-talking advertising campaign to encourage Aussies to buy and consume more of their product.

Now to join “Eat more beef you bastards” is another equally blunt brand “Another Bloody Water”.

It is, as the name suggests, another natural spring water. Luckily it isn’t actually ‘bloody’ but clean and pure coming as it does from an Aquifer 70 meters below the surface of the Kiewa Valley of Victoria’s Alpine High Country. It has one of the lowest sodium contents of any major brand in Australia and has approval from the Biological Farmers Association, Australia’s largest representative organic body.

Co-founded by Didi Lo and Jay Dillon and Michael Derepas. They have poured their life savings and their sense of humour into producing the bottled water brand.

“Our strategy has very much been to be seen in the right places such as small organic food stores, cool cafés and the smaller independent supermarkets in the right suburbs. We don’t want to stocked everywhere. We want the people who do find us to be able to enjoy us privately or tell a friend of their discovery,” said Derepas.

They target savvy and cynical consumers with what they say is great water and some real attitude. As their home page exemplifies

‘Lets get to the business of why you’re here shall we?

  • You feel a certain kinship with our straight up, no mucking around philosophy of pristine drinking water and would like to display it proudly in your shop/café/corner store/dining experience.
  • You are a media-type person who would like to be a little more informed about what makes us and our refreshingly clean and tasty water tick.
  • You are a competitor who is probably waving your fist at your computer screen right now muttering ‘Smartarses!’
  • You think the word ‘bloody’ is crass and is responsible for the decay of society and therefore wish to lodge a complaint. Alternatively you’re from the British Advertising Clearance Centre and you STILL can’t take a joke.”
  • You’re at work and killing time on the web. That’s ok too, corporate time-waster. Your boss ain’t watching.’

“Our company isn’t backed by a large player. We are a small and passionate enterprise. We’ve scrimped and saved to develop the brand which is now competing alongside brands with much bigger marketing budgets,” Derepas says.

“Besides PR, events sponsorship and attendance at trade shows, most of our promotional efforts are simply related to what’s in the packaging and what’s on the label. You know you are doing something right when you have people emailing you just to thank you for entertaining them and promising they will buy it wherever they can find it.”

So it quite clear that you should eat more beef you bastard and wash it down with another bloody water (and not a pint of Victoria Bitter!)

And the moral is often differentiation isn’t about what you do but the way you do and the way you talk about it. Do you have a distinctive tone of voice?

Brotherly Love?

Brotherly Love?


As an AFOL (Adult fan of Lego) a number of colleagues, friends and clients have sent me information about the Addas Lego partnership and the new trainers. I may or may not succumb – though possibly not as I think there isn’t enough building, construction/deconstruction element. However thinking about Adidas  reminded me of the story of its origins of Adidas… and how it is linked to the launch of Puma whose trainers are my trainers of choice.

I thought it would be timely to share it

Brotherly love?

Christoph Dassler worked in a shoe factory. He had two sons, Adolf and Rudolf.

Returning from World War I, the brothers went different ways. Adolf – known as Adi – kept the family’s interest in shoes going and began producing his own sports shoes in his mother’s wash kitchens. Meanwhile Rudolf, or ‘Rudi’, took up a management position at a porcelain factory, later joining a leather wholesale business.

Rudi returned to their hometown of Herzogenaurach in July 1924 and joined his younger brother’s business. It was renamed the Gebrüder Dassler Schuhfabrik (Dassler Brothers Shoe Factory) and began to prosper.

Black American sprinter and athlete Jesse (James Cleveland) Owens (1913 - 1980), who won 4 gold medals for running and field events in the 1936 Berlin Olympics.   (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
 (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

With the 1936 Summer Olympics in Germany pending, Adi spotted an opportunity. He travelled to the Olympic village with a suitcase full of their shoe spikes, and there persuaded U.S. sprinter Jesse Owens to use them. It was the first commercial sponsorship of an African American.

When Owens won four gold medals, the reputation of Dassler shoes rose. Letters from around the world landed on the brothers’ desks, as sportsmen and coaches of other national teams became interested in their shoes.

Business boomed, and by the late 1930s the Dasslers were selling some 200,000 pairs of shoes a year.


Like most brothers, Adi and Rudi had many arguments, but it was during the course of the Second World War that they were to fall out. Though both brothers joined the Nazi party, relationships were strained, and reached breaking point during a bomb attack in 1943.

Rudi and his family were sitting in a bomb shelter when Adi and his wife arrived. Rudi heard his brother say:  “The dirty bastards are back again”.

Thinking that Adi was referring to him, and not to the Allied war planes, Rudi was furious.

It didn’t help that their wives didn’t like it other.

The situation continued to worsen but when in the aftermath of the war Rudi was picked up by American soldiers and accused of being a member of the Waffen SS, it reached boiling pint. Rudi was convinced that his brother had turned him in.

The brothers split in 1947.

Rudi formed a new firm that he initially called Ruda – a worger (word merger) of Rudolf Dassler – later rebranded Puma, while Adi formed  Adidas AG. While it is sometimes claimed that the name is an acronym for ‘All Day I Dream About Sport’, the name is actually another worger of ‘Adi’ and ‘Das(sler)’.

Dassler brothers

The rivalry between the two businesses was fierce and bitter. Herzogenaurach was equally split and acquired a new nickname: “the town of bent necks”, referring to the townspeople’s habit of forever looking down to check which brand of shoes strangers were wearing. However, both brands prospered.


And the moral is, competition can often be good for both parties. How can you use your competition to your advantage?

The brand that broke the first rule of economics – Warby Parker

The brand that broke the first rule of economics – Warby Parker

I studied economics at University and was taught that the first rule was ‘When price increases, demand decreases, all other things being equal”. However as with every rule, there was an exception and in economics it is called a ‘Giffen good’. For a Giffen good demand actually increases when the price increases, however we were told that it doesn’t happen very often, if ever

The early days of Warby Parker and the price of their first spectacles show this can and did happen.


Warby Parker traces its origins back to 2008 and a discussion between four graduate students attending business school at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.

David Gilboa had lost his glasses on a backpacking trip and the cost of replacing them was so high that instead of buying them he spent the first semester of grad school without them, squinting and complaining. Another of the four, Jeffrey Raider, had broken his glasses and had to pay $500 to replace them. It dawned on them and the other two, Neil Blumenthal and Andrew Hunt, just how hard it was to find a pair of great frames that didn’t leave your wallets severely depleted.

Blumenthal had previously been involved with a not-for-profit organization called Vision Spring that provided eye tests and low-cost prescription glasses for developing (countries?). He had been to the factories and seen companies “producing glasses for people living on less than four dollars a day, and literally ten feet away on that same production line were some of the biggest names in fashion that you would find on Fifth Avenue”. He knew producing glasses was dominated by a few firms who clearly were earning significant mark-ups.

They decided there was something in the idea and started doing more research and agreed that they would each put $25,000 into the venture. They also enrolled in a class where the requirement was to develop a business plan. Doing this allowed them to get a credit towards their degrees but also have access to the teaching staff to get their opinions and advice.

They took an early draft of their plan to one professor but when he saw their planned price, he baulked. “He looked at us and slid our PowerPoint back at us and said ‘That’s not going to work. Listen guys, one-tenth the price is just outside the realms of believability’” recalled Blumenthal.

They decided they needed to check this out and arranged an on-line survey looking at how willing people would be to buy glasses on-line at a range of prices starting at $50 and ending at $500. The results showed that at least in part their offer was that exception to the first law of economics. Demand went up as prices rose from $50 it was only after $100 that the ‘normal’ results came into play and demand started to drop off as prices rose.

They decided that they would pitch their glasses at $95 a pair. “If we had priced at $45, first nobody would have believed the quality would be good. And [as they learnt] we would have had no gross margin to run the business and market to people” explains Blumenthal. In all the interviews and reports I have seen there is no mention as to whether they knew they had a Giffen good.

That extra margin became vital pretty quickly, as the team did more research. People said they liked the idea but were not sure they would actually buy them unless they could see them in advance. The team’s first solution was a virtual try on feature on the website. The idea was that people could upload a photo of themselves and virtually try-on the different frames. However, what sounded like a good idea didn’t work, the technology at the time wasn’t sophisticated enough, scaling was difficult, and the glasses often looked distorted.


It was only then that they struck upon the idea of a free home try-on service, whereby the customer would get five pairs to try on at home. They could order or not at that point and return/mail-back the rejected frames once they had decided.

The whole home try-on service cut into the profit margins and every gram counted; as the lighter the packages were, the less they costed to ship. The team had what they call their “Apollo Thirteen moment”. A reference to the famous situation where the team trying to save the astronauts in the malfunctioning spacecraft had to identify every piece of non-essential ‘weight’ so it could be dumped. They used lighter cardboard, cut out metal straps and used lighter weight packing materials.

By mid-February 2010 they were ready to launch, under the brand name “Warby Parker” a name which had been agreed only after a long process: “It is a combination of the names of two characters  that appear in a journal by author Jack Kerouac. They liked Kerouac, most famous for writing, ‘On the Road’ as they associated with his rebellious spirit, his aim to break free from the shackles of social pressure and embark on an adventure.


With limited funds, they couldn’t afford advertising, but they hired a PR agency who managed to get them coverage in GQ and Vogue. The launch was a success and they quickly sold out of their limited inventory.

From there, via additional funding and lots of hard-work the brand took-off and one example of the brand’s success is that investors’ nowadays regularly see pitches where budding entrepreneurs pitch their idea as “The Warby Parker of…”


I normally like to draw a moral from the brand stories I write but there are lots in the Warby Parker tale:

  • If you can identify an industry which is dominated by a few players and consumers are paying higher than necessary prices, it is a new business opportunity (Just ask Richard Branson who built his Virgin brand on the premise)
  • Most brands aren’t built on a single good idea and will probably need a number to overcome challenges along the way
  • There is such a thing as a Giffen good, sometimes an extremely low price means people will assume what’s on offer is low quality, whether that’s true or not


Actions speak louder than words

Actions speak louder than words


I read the story about Doc Martens repaying the money that the UK Government had given it for furloughing some of its employees, something that it was under no obligation to do and thought again how it is actions rather than words that demonstrate whether a brand has real principles.

However it was only when a friend re-posted the story on Facebook (thanks Kate), that I remembered that I had written the story of the birth of the brand in my latest book “Inspiring Innovation”. I decided my little action could be to share it publicize the boots and the brand.


Accidents will happen but then so can innovations

One measure of success for a brand is for it to acquire a nickname.

Dr. Martens doesn’t have one. It has at least four – Doc martens, Docs, DMs and Bovver boots and even the soles which are trademarked as Airwair are known colloquially as Bouncing Soles.

It is a British brand but the original inspiration came from a German orthopaedic surgeon.

Klaus Märtens was a doctor in the German army during World War II.  While on leave in 1945, he went skiing in the Alps but unfortunately had an accident in which he injured his ankle. It caused a lot of pain and he found that his standard-issue army boots and even ordinary shoes were just too uncomfortable.

He had to find a solution and so started work on ways to improve the comfort provided by his boots. Inspiration came from seeing some tyres and he landed on the idea of air-padded soles.

After the war he started making and selling the boots but without much success. Luckily for him about this time he met up with an old university friend, Herbert Funck who had become an engineer.

Funck was intrigued by the new shoe design, and the two decided to go into business together. In 1947, in Seeshaupt, Germany, they started producing a revised and improved boot, using discarded rubber from old Luftwaffe planes and airfields.

The comfortable soles were a big hit with German housewives, and about 80% of sales in the first decade were to women over the age of 40.

In 1952 they opened a factory in Munich and by the end of the 50s the pair were looking for new sources of growth and started exploring opportunities to market the footwear internationally.

British shoe manufacturer R. Griggs Group Ltd. were immediately interested and quickly agreed to buy patent rights to manufacture the shoes in the United Kingdom.

Griggs decided to anglicise the name to Dr. Martens. They slightly re-shaped the heel to make them fit better and showing their flair for branding added what would be the trademark yellow stitching. They took out the British trademark on the soles as AirWair.

martens griggs

Launched on April Fool’s day 1960 the first Dr. Martens boots in the UK were the 1460s, a style which is still in production today. It was an eight-eyelet, oxblood-coloured, smooth leather design.

Sales quickly proved that it hadn’t been a foolish decision to buy the patent rights. The immediate appeal was amongst people who were on their feet a lot and wanted the extra comfort – people like postmen, policemen and factory workers.

However as time passed the brand started to appeal to other groups of people. In the 1960s, skinheads started to wear what they called “dms”. In the late 1970s, they became popular amongst punks, new wave musicians and a number of other youth subcultures.

In 2006, Griggs’ 1960 Dr. Martens AirWair boot was named in the list of British design icons which included Concorde, Mini, Jaguar E-Type, Aston Martin DB5, Supermarine Spitfire, Tube map, World Wide Web and the AEC Routemaster bus

SPARKPOINT: Surprisingly personal misfortune can be a source of inspiration.

A story about a story-telling brand

A story about a story-telling brand

They say that branding is about differentiation but if you think about luxury watches and you’re thinking of Rolex, Breitling, IWC, Zenith, Tag Heuer or Longines, you are thinking about a brand based in Switzerland and which was established over 100 years ago. Not so very different from one another then.

There is however a smaller but highly respected brand. It is based in England but named after a French Farmer. It was founded less than 20 years ago, in 2002.

What differentiates it, is not that their watches are more accurate and reliable, though they are both accurate and reliable. No, what differentiates them, is their story and the stories behind their watches.

In homage to that, this is my take of the story of the birth of the brand and the roles two former pilots played in its creation…

Euan English

Euan English was an ex-RAF pilot with a PhD in Aeronautical Engineering. He had a passion for restoring and flying old aircraft and a love of mechanical timepieces. He would often buy old clocks at auctions and try and get them going again.

He had two sons, Nick and Giles, and as they grew up, they spent much of their childhood helping him make and restore things in his workshop.

The three of them even built an aircraft that the Nick and Giles still fly.

english brothers

Then, in March 1995 tragedy struck. Nick and Euan were practicing for an air display in a 1942 WWII Harvard aircraft. it was involved in a dreadful accident; Euan was killed, and Nick was seriously injured. He had broken over 30 bones and the doctors were worried that he might die too.

Giles had been waiting to take off for the next sortie when was told about the accident and the death of his father.

Six months later, things looking were looking a bit better. Nick was recovering and back in the air, being flown by Giles.

Together they agreed that life was too short to waste and they should find something they could do together and which they both loved. They decided they wanted a life dedicated to crafting beautifully engineered mechanical devices.

A few years later Nick & Giles were flying again, this time across France in their 1930’s biplane. However, on this day, another fateful series of events was conspiring to come together; with the weather closing in and a rough-running engine, they decided they would have to make an emergency landing.

They landed in a field and were met by a friendly farmer. It turned out that the farmer, like their father, had also flown aircraft during the war and was a gifted engineer. The brothers stayed in his home and their aircraft was wheeled into a barn.

The boys soon noticed another similarity with their father, as, along with numerous engine parts there were half-restored clocks on the walls and tables all around the farm. The farmer wore his father’s old wristwatch.

The brothers couldn’t believe their luck and enjoyed his warm hospitality. When they left, they promised him that he wouldn’t be forgotten.

His name? Antoine Bremont

True to their word, when the brothers launched their own brand of luxury pilot’s watches, there was never any doubt that the brand would be called Bremont.

bremont watches

The brand has carved a successful niche amongst those much older and mostly Swiss brands by making what their website describes as “beautifully crafted pilot’s watches of exceptional quality”… that are all “tested beyond the normal call of duty”.

All their watches are hand built in limited numbers only and of course they come complete with a story.

Stealth pilot

There is a range inspired by a B-2 Stealth bomber pilot who wanted a completely black watch to match his completely black aircraft.

They tell a story about how they are the only company to test their watches for supersonic ejector seat deployment from a fighter plane. They will also fit your watch with a special red bezel if you are a pilot who has successfully ejected from a plane, though they hope they don’t have to fit too many of those!

And the moral is we all love a good story and telling one can help lift and differentiate your brand. What’s your story?

Making healthcare better

Making healthcare better

 The tale behind the NHS and how storytelling played a role (along with many other things)


I have long thought that the NHS is an amazing brand and, as someone who is fascinated by the stories behind brands, I’ve been doing a little digging and was fascinated to see how storytelling, a hot marketing topic, played a part in the brand’s birth.

Like so many innovations much of the credit is given to one founding father and the rest of the ‘family’ are forgotten. While Aneurin or ‘Nye’ Bevan does deserve much praise for the birth of the UK’s National Health Service (the NHS) it is worth telling the full story and celebrating some of the other characters along the way.

The story begins nearly 40 years before that momentous day, the 5th July 1948; the day when The National Health Service, was launched by the then Minister of Health in Attlee’s post-war government, Aneurin Bevan, at the Park Hospital in Manchester.

In those days at the turn of the century, if someone found themselves needing a doctor or to use medical facilities, they were generally expected to pay for those treatments themselves. In some cases, local authorities ran hospitals for the local ratepayers especially the less well off, an approach originating with the Poor Law.

The specific ‘germ’ of the idea for the NHS is generally traced back to 1909 and the publication of the Minority Report of the Royal Commission on the Poor Law. The committee was headed by the socialist Beatrice Webb.  She and her fellow committee members argued that a new system was needed to replace the ideas of the Poor Law as those ideas were now antiquated as they had been around since the times of the workhouses of the Victorian era. The report said that it was narrow-minded and unfair to expect those in poverty to be entirely accountable for themselves and their health. The ideas were however ignored by the then new Liberal government.

However, beyond parliament, the report did prompt others to start advocating changes. These included Dr Benjamin Moore, a Liverpool physician who wrote about the need for “The Dawn of the Health Age”. Moore was probably the first to use the phrase ‘National health service’. He went on to set up State Medical Service Association which held its first meeting in 1912.

The next landmark came in 1929 when the Local Government Act of that year pushed local authorities to run services which provided medical treatment for ‘everyone’. On 1st April 1930, the London County Council took over responsibility for around 140 hospitals, medical schools, and other institutions. Adoption elsewhere was piecemeal.


The next character to join the fray was Dr. A.J Cronin and his contribution was a work of fiction. He wrote a novel “The Citadel” which was published in 1937. It was both controversial and provocative. It strongly criticised the inadequacies and failures of the prevailing healthcare system. The book told the story of a doctor from a small Welsh mining village who climbed the ranks to become a leading doctor in London. Seduced by the thought of easy money from wealthy clients rather than the principles he started out with, the doctor becomes involved with pampered private patients and fashionable surgeons. But when a patient dies because of a surgeon’s ineptitude, the doctor sees the error of his ways returns to his principles.

Cronin said of his book “I have written in The Citadel all I feel about the medical profession, its injustices, its hide-bound unscientific stubbornness, its humbug … The horrors and inequities detailed in the story I have personally witnessed. This is not an attack against individuals, but against a system.”

The novel was made into a 1938 film which features some of the biggest stars of the day including Robert Donat, Rosalind Russell, Ralph Richardson and Rex Harrison. (In later years it inspired a number of re-makes, and a television series)

All the interest helped provoke more discussion and debate about the notion of a national health service and it was increasingly apparent that there was a growing consensus that the current system of health insurance should be extended to include dependents of wage-earners and that voluntary hospitals should be integrated into a broader service.

However, discussions were to a degree put on hold by the outbreak of the Second World War but, with the importance of health, they were picked up again.

By 1941, the Ministry of Health started to draw up a post-war health policy reflecting a vision that services would be available to the entire general public. A year later the Beveridge Report put forward a recommendation for “comprehensive health and rehabilitation services”, a proposal that was supported right across the House of Commons by all parties.

In 1944 the Minister of Health, Henry Willink, put forward a White Paper, which set out the guidelines for the NHS. The principles included how it would be funded from general taxation and not national insurance, that everyone would be entitled to treatment including visitors to the country and that it would be provided free at the point of delivery.

It was endorsed by the cabinet.

In 1945 Clement Attlee was elected Prime Minister and Aneurin Bevan became Health Minister. He was charged with taking the ideas from Willink’s white paper and turning them into a reality.


Making it happen was a mammoth task. It took three years but ultimately brings the story back to 5th July 1948 and the hospital in Manchester.

So while Bevan took, and still takes most of the headlines, he wouldn’t be remembered if it wasn’t for Beatrice Webb, Dr Benjamin Moore, Dr. A.J Cronin, Henry Willink and many others.



MORAL:  Storytelling is a powerful tool for persuading people. Can you use storytelling more in your organization?

How a Welsh harpist helped create one of the world’s most famous marketing icons

How a Welsh harpist helped create one of the world’s most famous marketing icons

Nansi record

Mary Ann “Nansi Richards” (nee Jones) was a Welsh harpist, sometimes known as the “Queen of the Harp”. She was an expert on both the triple and pedal harps.

Her interest began at the age of 10 and at 12 she owned her first harp. She won the National Eisteddfod harp competition three times in succession and went on to enrol at the Guildhall School of Music but left after a year. She teamed up with American comedian “Happy” Fanny Fields on the Music hall circuit.

Fanny Fields was famous for her Laughing Songs and for the Frog Dance, and the two young women devised tricks for Nansi to do while playing the harp, such as playing with her back turned, or playing two harps simultaneously.

They were very successful and went on to tour America. As well as many theatres the pair played for the Kellogg family and Nansi became friends with W.K. Kellogg.

It was during this time that Nansi pointed out that Kellogg sounded very similar to the Welsh word ‘ceiliog’ which means rooster or cockerel.

sweetheart 2

Kellogg’s Corn Flakes had been promoted using various concepts including ‘the sweetheart of the corn’ but the connection with a cockerel and the start of the day was clear.

The idea was given life by advertising agency Leo Burnett and Cornelius was ‘born’. The name is, depending on your point of view, inspired or – sorry – very corny. In some accounts the colouring of Cornelius reflects the Welsh flag with its green, red and white but that focuses on a more modern version of the character. In his original guise Cornelius had a green body, red comb, yellow beak, and multi-coloured (red, green, and yellow) tail and yellow legs and feet.


In early television commercials, Cornelius can’t crow until he eats a bowl of Corn Flakes because “Nothing gets you crowing in the morning like Kellogg’s Corn Flakes.”

A later, longer-running series was the Tall up campaign. These featured a little boy who we see eating his Corn Flakes for breakfast  suddenly the image of Cornelius on the box comes to life and takes the boy on a mini adventure. There is always an obstacle or danger and Cornelius produces a box of Kellogg’s Corn Flakes and sings, “Tall up and up and up and up and up with the tall corn taste of Kellogg’s!”  The little boy grows duly very tall allowing him to save the day.



Cornelius still features prominently and proudly on the pack some 63 years after he first appeared

Corn flakes

And what happened to Nansi?

Well, she continued to play and tour and frequently appeared on radio and television.  She was the official harpist for the Welsh Eisteddfod for a number of years. In 1967 she was awarded the MBE for her services to music in Wales and received in 1977 received an honorary Doctor of Music from the University of Wales. She published a volume of her reminiscences, entitled CRWPWRDD NANSI, in 1972.


However, as far as I know the marketing industry hasn’t honoured her contribution to marketing iconography in any particular way .

The Clever Widow

The Clever Widow


This tale works for me on many levels. I love champagne, I love brand stories and I want to find more brand stories where the lead character is a woman.

So, when I heard about Barbe-Nicole Ponsardin and her role in creating and building the Veuve Cliquot brand I decided I would have to write my version of the inspiring tale.

Barbe-Nicole Ponsardin was the daughter of an affluent textile industrialist in Reims, France. Next door lived Philippe Clicquot who also ran a successful textile business. They decided that coming together would be better than competing and following a custom prevalent in the 18th century they agreed the best way to seal the alliance was to arrange a marriage between their children.

So, in 1798, when she was 21 years old, Barbe-Nicole married Francois Clicquot, Philippe Clicquot’s only son. Happily, it seemed to work out well.

While the Cliquots’ focus was textiles, they also ran a small wine business. Reims, where the family lived, is in the Champagne region and though sparkling wine had been invented, the Champagne region was at that time more famous for its still white wines. Philippe Cliquot would buy from wine producers and export on; he had no real intention of expanding or moving into production. He used the wine to help fill out the boat loads of textiles he exported.

Francois and Barbe-Nicole had a different plan, and despite Philippe’s reservations  they set about learning the wine trade. Despite their passion for the industry, with the Napoleonic wars raging, their champagne business stalled and looked ready to collapse.

In 1805, Francois fell ill and died soon after, amongst rumours that it wasn’t a fever but suicide. Both Barbe-Nicole and her father-in-law, Philippe, were devastated by Francois’ death. Philippe announced that he would exit the wine business.

Barbe-Nicole however had other plans and approached her father-in-law with her ideas. Though he knew she was highly intelligent it is still somewhat surprising that he agreed. He however stipulated that she must first go through a period of apprenticeship. For four years she worked with the well-known winemaker Alexandre Fourneaux trying to make the business profitable.

It wasn’t really working and so Barbe-Nicole went to her father-in-law again, asking for more money, and again he agreed.

This time things aligned better for her. The Napoleonic Wars were ending, and she had plenty of wine in her cellars wine that would become the legendary vintage of 1811, but her success still depended on her taking a huge risk. She knew that there was huge potential in the Russian market for the kind of champagne she had been making – an extremely sweet champagne (it had  about twice as much sugar as there is in today’s sweet dessert wines). She wanted to get in early and corner that market.

The problem was that there were still naval blockades. She wanted to get ahead of potential competitors so smuggled much of her best wine to Amsterdam, which would mean a faster route to Russia. When peace was declared the shipment left immediately and her champagne beat that of her competitors by weeks.


Not long afterwards Tsar Alexander I announced that it was the only kind of champagne that he would drink. With this royal endorsement, her wine was a huge success.

Her next problem was that demand was potentially going to outstrip supply. Champagne making, at that time, was a tedious and wasteful business. Champagne is made by adding sugar and live yeast to bottles of white wine, creating a secondary fermentation. As the yeast digests the sugar, the by-products are alcohol and carbon dioxide, which give the wine its bubbles. The problem however is that once the yeast has consumed all the sugar, it dies leaving a winemaker with a sparkling bottle of wine but dead yeast in the bottom of the bottle. The traditional solution was to pour the champagne with the dead yeast from one bottle to another. It was this process that made production so time-consuming and wasteful. It also could ‘damage’ the wine by constantly agitating the bubbles.

To overcome the problem Barbe-Nicole introduced a revolutionary new method, known as riddling. Instead of transferring the wine from bottle to bottle to rid it of its yeast, she kept the wine in the same bottle but consolidated the yeast by gently agitating the wine. The bottles were turned upside down and twisted, causing the yeast to gather in the neck of the bottle.


Not only was this a quicker method, it produced better quality champagnes. Luckily riddling remained a house secret, testimony to the loyalty of her employees. It would be decades before competitors like Jean-Rémy Moët would find out how to replicate her method.

Barbe-Nicole, the clever ‘veuve’ (French for ‘widow’) went on to expand the business and the Veuve Cliquot brand globally before she died in in 1866. She never remarried and some historians believe that was because it would most likely have meant she would have had to relinquish control of her business.


In the later years of her life she wrote the following advice for a grandchild: “The world is in perpetual motion, and we must invent the things of tomorrow. One must go before others, be determined and exacting, and let your intelligence direct your life. Act with audacity.”

The advice rings true for marketers today.

And the moral is if at first you don’t succeed, but you truly believe in what you are doing, try and try again. Is there something you truly believe in that deserves another chance?


Footnote: thanks to Paul Graham, Marketing & Communications Director, UK, Moet Hennessy portfolio who mentioned the story during a webinar hosted by the Marketing Society Scotland