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Month: February 2016

Absolutely Fabulis? No. Fabulously Fab, absolutely! How two wrongs led to a right.

Absolutely Fabulis? No. Fabulously Fab, absolutely! How two wrongs led to a right.

Are you willing to admit you’re wrong? Not once but twice. 

Are you brave enough to go to your million dollar backers and tell them you’ve got it wrong?

Luckily for Jason Goldberg and Bradford Shellhammer, they were. Even more luckily, their backers were willing not only to listen, but also to agree to the changes.

Jason and Bradford got together in 2010 to start a company they called Fabulis. Their aim was to create a social network for gay men but competition from the likes of Facebook and Grindr meant uptake was limited. They quickly realised there was no gap in the market. 

So, in December 2011, the pair decided to change direction and Fabulis became, a daily deals site for gay men. Their new ambition was to become the Groupon for gays. They raised $1.75 million from First Round Capital, The Washington Post Company, Baroda Ventures and Zelkova Ventures to add to the $1.25 million they had already raised in angel funding. got off to a reasonable start, reaching several thousand customers and earning tens of thousands of dollars in revenue in just 20 days of sales but for the ambitious duo, it still didn’t feel big enough. Interviewed by Inc. In 2012 they recall: “we just didn’t see how that [it] had a path to become a huge business.”

Looking more closely at those initial figures they saw that less than 1% of the most popular selling items were gay specific and in fact, over half of the people making purchases weren’t gay; they just appreciated the selection of products and the discounts.


They sat down again and this time asked themselves what Jason explained was to prove an inspirational question “If we could do anything what would we do? Which was a great exercise for us and we kinda had this decision matrix of looking at three things; One is, what are we most passion about? The second is what could we be the best in the world at? The third is could we do it in a great market where there’s a big opportunity? And every answer of those questions came down to design, design, design.”

The certainty of their answer spurred them into action and a dramatic three weeks followed; “We went from 10 employees here in New York to three. We really wanted to focus just on the people who were gonna be part of the next phase of the business. The second thing was we went and got our board of directors to, very quickly, say; ‘Hey, we’re behind this and we support this move.’ The third thing was we immediately shut down the old site. “

The clarity of their answer gave them focus and direction; “We immediately took this mentally that we’re gonna do one thing, do that one thing better that anyone else in the world, and we don’t want to be distracted at all by anything else beside our one thing. We are just focusing on design. That’s all we do is design. Everyday we wake up and all we think about is design. And basically [we] went from dinners in February where we said, ‘We’re gonna change the business,’ to shutting down the site in March, to launching some initial features in April, to launching ourselves in June to 1-1/2 million members, 50 million plus run rate at the end of the year.”

Looking at the business now they can smile and indeed they think part of their success is in making others smile too; “We’re growing fast because we make people smile everyday. We’re breathing kind of freshness, color into an otherwise, kind of fairly black and white, kinda boring e-commerce world. And everyday we delight people with the daily dose of design and it’s just stuff that makes people smile.”


Seeing the bigger opportunity and teaching yourself the skills to seize it – the redBus story

Seeing the bigger opportunity and teaching yourself the skills to seize it – the redBus story

It was approaching Diwali in 2005 and Phanindra Sama was trying to get a bus ticket from Bangalore, where he was working for Texas Instruments, to his hometown Hyderabad. 

His regular travel agent didn’t have any, nor did the many others he approached. Tickets for buses in India are traditionally sold in lots of little kiosks, but none of the ones Phani, as he is widely known, visited, had any left. 

So disappointed, he returned to his flat in Koramangala, a flat he shared with six friends, all of whom had studied engineering at BITS Pilani.

There after bemoaning his bad luck, he got to wondering was there a travel agent somewhere in city who had had a ticket left. Had that ticket remained unsold? In which case everybody – him, the travel agent, and the bus operator – had lost an opportunity.

And how many other opportunities had been missed too?

It didn’t take long before Phani could see a bigger opportunity.  

When his flatmates returned, he put his idea to them. Could the internet be the solution, a web site where all bus operators could put in their seat inventory and people could buy those online.

It was simple. It was brilliant but there a problem. “We didn’t know anything about the bus industry. We didn’t even know anything about software or websites. I was designing microchips and he (Charan Padmaraju, one of his flatmates who would join him in the venture) was doing embedded design. We actually bought textbooks on how to write software and started learning,” 


They met with various people – bus operators, passengers and venture capitalists – to gauge how well the concept could do. Everyone they spoke to was excited. 

They then put together a business plan and presented it to TiE – The Indus Entrepreneurs, Bangalore Chapter who act as mentors and inubators. The idea didn’t need much selling to TiE members either. 

The founders decided to quit their jobs and the real journey began.

India has more than 5,000 inter-city bus operators with 5 to 500 buses each. They were used to dealing with traditional brick-and-mortar travel agents, so changing their mindset of the bus wasn’t easy. Along with developing the website, it took a few months for everything to fall in place.

The name redBus is a combination and a bit of borrowed inspiration: “We wanted a colour in the name of our site. And an easy, short word is always best for the Web. ‘Red’ was the shortest. It also denotes energy, youthfulness. I was then reading Richard Branson’s autobiography and that was hugely inspiring, and his Virgin was red,” Phani says.

Finally, they were ready and in August 2006, they took their first booking. Perhaps surprisingly there was as much nervousness as there was excitement at the website’s office. Would the conductor allow the traveller in? He might never have seen a computer printed bus ticket before.

“We were scared,” recalls Phani “So we all went to the bus stand to board the customer, who was a lady from Infosys going to Tirupati. It was an auspicious beginning.”

Since then the brand has gone from strength to strength. They now have 1500+ bus operators and 80,000 routes covered. They sell over a million tickets a month. In 2012, ‘Fast Company’ named redBus amongst the world’s 50 most innovative companies, alongside Apple, Facebook and Google


2 incisive Ks and 3 unpronounceable Ls – the unconventional approach to brand naming

2 incisive Ks and 3 unpronounceable Ls – the unconventional approach to brand naming




George Eastman created the name Kodak partly because he liked the letter K: “I devised the name myself. The letter ‘K’ had been a favorite with me – it seems a strong, incisive sort of letter. It became a question of trying out a great number of combinations of letters that made words starting and ending with ‘K.’ The word ‘Kodak’ is the result.”




Chip Wilson has founded a number of a sports and fitness brands, the most famous of which is lululemon. It’s another brand whose name is based around the multiple use of a particular letter.

The reason behind his choice of the letter ‘L’ is perhaps at first surprising for a brand he wanted to have global appeal. Wilson chose it specifically because the Japanese couldn’t pronounce it.



His reasoning was that North American brands have strong appeal in Japan and consumers there are willing to pay a premium for authentic products that genuinely come from the USA.

He further explained his reasoning in a blog on the company website: “It was thought that a Japanese marketing firm would not try to create a North American sounding brand with the letter ‘L’ because the sound does not exist in Japanese phonetics. By including an ‘L’ in the name it was thought the Japanese consumer would find the name innately North American and authentic.

In essence, the name “lululemon” has no roots and means nothing other than it has 3 “L’s” in it.  Nothing more and nothing less.”




Though, he did go to give another reason when talking to Canada’s National Post Business Magazine; “It’s funny to watch them try and say it”. It is typical quote of his outspoken approach to brand building.


Evoking an emotional response – the Birds Eye’s way

Evoking an emotional response – the Birds Eye’s way







The best brands should appeal to more than your rational self, they should evoke an emotional response.

So while it might have started with a Birds Eye Beef Burger, went through an awkward phase over a Ready Meal, who could have thought that the humble Fish Finger could end a romance.

In the 1970s, Mary’s unrequited love for Ben, who only had eyes for his Birds Eye Beef Burgers, entertained the nation in one of the most famous TV advertising campaigns of the time. (If you haven’t ever seen them enjoy )

In a famous ad from the 1990s, Ben Wishaw starred as Steve whose mate Sean is distracted from his curry by Steve’s mum who is getting ready to go out. Sean, slightly embarrassed, confesses: “I think I fancy your Mum” (another 30 seconds well spent of you’ve never seen it before )

Fast forward to 2013 and real life and some Fish Fingers appeared to have helped end scriptwriter Peter Morgan and Lila Schwarzenberg’s marriage.


Peter Morgan, the scriptwriter behind films such as The Queen, The Last King Of Scotland and Frost/Nixon married Lila Schwarzenberg — born Princess Anna Carolina zu Schwarzenberg — in 1997. The celebrity couple had five children and divided their time between Vienna and London.

Following their divorce, in a series of columns for a leading American magazine. Lila shed light on their tempestuous marriage and some of the moments that led to their parting of ways.

‘Peter . . . always says you can gauge the state of our marriage on the number of fish fingers he gets served up in a week,’ she wrote in 2013. ‘And it appears I went too far once again with my culinary neglect towards Peter as . . . I served him the leftovers of the kids’ meal (guess what it was). He took one look and said: “I am neither five years old nor a f***ing penguin.” He left the table and left the house in the search for a decent dinner.”

And the moral is …be careful what emotions you play with, you never know what might happen


The Purr-fect model for the sophisticated sell

The Purr-fect model for the sophisticated sell

The latest high earning French model has long, silky, white-blonde hair and brilliant sapphire blue eyes. 

She has over 100,000 followers on Twitter and like all the best models appears regularly on Instagram

She is very particular about who she works with, “She doesn’t do foodstuffs, she is too sophisticated for that” says her manager. In fact she accepted only two assignments in 2014 – a collaboration with the cosmetics brand Shu Uemura and a photo shoot for a Vauxhall Corsa car calendar. They did however earn her a cool £2.2 million which is nearly as much Cara Delevingne got for all her assignments in the same year. 

Choupette, for that’s her name, is small even by model standards but clearly needs constant pampering. She has two full time maids: Françoise and Marjorie. It is said, that of the two, she prefers Françoise.

Karl Lagerfeld has said of her, “She is the center of the world. If you saw her, you would understand. She is kind of Greta Garbo. There is something unforgettable about her, the way she moves, the way she plays. She’s an inspiration for elegance. For attitude.”

She moves with feline grace, probably because Choupette is feline. 

She is a Birman cat and her smitten owner is of course none other than Karl Lagerfeld.

She is living proof that cats and celebrities sell and it seems like celebrity cats sell even better. 


Footnote or should that be Pawnote: It had been rumoured that another feline internet sensation Grumpy Cat earnt $100 million dollars in commercial deals last year, but owner Tabatha Bundesen, told The Huffington Post this was “completely inaccurate”.