One night in Paris…

One night in Paris…

rainy night in paris 2

As 10cc famously sang “One night in Paris will wipe the smile off your pretty face” and it will, especially when you are standing there on a winter’s evening in the rain trying to hail a cab.

And it’s on just such a winter’s night in 2008 that our tale begins. Two old friends, Travis Kalanick and Garrett Camp, had been attending the LeWeb, an annual tech conference. Both had reasons to be cheerful as in the previous year they had both men had sold their start-ups for sizeable sums of money. Kalanick had sold Red Swoosh to Akamai Technologies for $19 million while Camp sold StumbleUpon to eBay for $75 million.


Getting over their frustration and the cold, they briefly discussed the germ of an idea, a timeshare limo service that could be ordered via an app. However, nothing happened immediately, and they went their separate ways.

Camp, now back in San Francisco, was still working as CEO of StumbleUpon but he continued to mull the idea over. Increasingly he thought there might be something in it and started to work on it as a side project. He bought the domain name

In 2009, he contacted and persuaded Kalanick to join as UberCab’s ‘Chief Incubator’. The service was tested in New York in early 2010 using only three cars. The official launch took place in San Francisco in May.

The service started to catch on. The ease and simplicity of ordering and paying for the ride made it really attractive.

This led to the company receiving its first major funding, of $1.25 million in October 2010 – a round led by First Round Capital. It would be followed by other larger funding rounds – a $11 million Series A round of funding led by Benchmark Capital and in December, back at the 2011 LeWeb Conference, Kalanick announced that Uber raised $37 million in Series B funding from Menlo Ventures, Jeff Bezos, and Goldman Sachs.


The funds helped the brand expand to New York, Seattle, Boston, Chicago, Washington D.C. as well as its first foray abroad into Paris, of course.

In 2012, the company broadened its offering by launching UberX, which provided a less expensive hybrid car as an alternative to black car service

Its growth hasn’t always been a smooth ride though. In 2014, traditional taxi drivers staged large scale protests in London, Berlin, Paris, and Madrid. Taxi companies claimed that since Uber avoided their expensive license fees and bypasses local laws it created unfair competition. There have been legal challenges in many European as to whether Uber is a transportation company or a company offering what they call ‘information-society services’.


There has been a long running case in the UK where there have been challenges to Uber’s position that its drivers are self-employed rather than employees. In October 2017 Uber lost its license to operate in London where the company has 40,000 registered drivers. Transport for London (TfL) said Uber was unfit to hold a license; Uber felt that the Mayor had caved in to a minority who wanted to restrict consumer choice. On June 26, 2018, a London judge overturned the ban, effectively allowing Uber to operate under a 15-month license, albeit with certain conditions.

Despite these bumps in the road Uber continues to grow and expand.

According to their website they “ignite opportunity by setting the world in motion.
Good things happen when people can move, whether across town or towards their dreams. Opportunities appear, open up, become reality. What started as a way to tap a button to get a ride has led to billions of moments of human connection as people around the world go all kinds of places in all kinds of ways with the help of our technology.”

My favourite story – Tom Speed

My favourite story – Tom Speed

As I’ve said before “Stories are meant to be told …and re-told” so from the recent launch of my new book ‘Inspiring Innovation’, here is another story re-told by a fellow Value Engineer.

Here Tom Speed tells his favourite story about a brand I know he personally loves…

Thanks to Tom Speed and the other Tom, Tom Langridge, the man with the video skills

The Supermodel with socks appeal

The Supermodel with socks appeal


Kathy Ireland was one of the elite group of 1980s supermodels; a group that included Christie Brinkley and Cindy Crawford. She may not have been quite as famous internationally as Chrissie and Cindy, but her career post-modelling suggests she was by far the most business-savvy.

She was scouted by Elite Model Management when she was 16 and became best known for appearing in 13 consecutive Sports Illustrated swimsuit issues. During Sports Illustrated swimsuit’s 50th Anniversary event, Ireland’s 1989 cover was awarded “The greatest Sports Illustrated swimsuit cover of all time” by its publisher.

In 1993, now 30 and pregnant with her first child she was approached by John Moretz, a marketer and asked if she wanted to model some socks.

For some models this might seem a little bit beneath them or a sign that their best years are behind them. Kathy saw things differently, a natural entrepreneur, she made a counterproposal – a partnership to produce and sell her own brand of socks.

“I wanted to make it clear to them that I didn’t want to just put my name on it,” says Ireland. “An endorsement wasn’t interesting to me.”

Looking back, she recognised that “It would have been easier to do a swimsuit line, but if I could put my name on socks and be successful, then I must really have something.”

Equally open to new ideas, Moretz too could see the potential; “She’s the girl next door who happens to be beautiful, that forms an emotional bond with the consumer.” So, he bought the rights to use her name on a line of socks and agreed to pay for manufacturing and distributing the socks that Ireland would design and promote.

In return Ireland would get a royalty on every pair sold.

She took out a $50,000 personal loan to launch Kathy Ireland Worldwide.

Moretz got her athletic socks into a number of sporting goods stores like Big 5. They did well enough for him to buy the rights to license exercise clothes, bodysuits and eventually swimwear.

Moretz became the master licensor for Kathy Ireland, sublicensing her name to companies that made things besides socks and collecting 30% of that revenue stream to Ireland’s 70%. His biggest coup of those early days was in helping her get an exclusive deal in 1994 with Kmart.

In 1998, thanks in part to some advice from her famous mentor, Warren Buffett, who appreciated their shared childhood experience as newspaper deliverers, when she decided to expand into furniture.

He told her that fashion changes, but the home remains far more secure. And that in apparel every celebrity already had a line or was pitching one. There was a market gap in home furnishings and Kathy Ireland range was a huge success.


kathy ireland Worldwide (or kiWW, for short) has now grown to become one of the world’s most valuable global licensors covering Home, Fashion Apparel, Wedding, Fine Jewelry, Baby, Children’s Toys and books, Publishing, Pet Care, Crafts and Gifts. It is consistently ranked among the top 50 licensors, In 2015 it was No. 31 on License Global’s “Top 150 Global Licensors” 2015 list with $2 billion in retail sales.

The brand’s appeal may have been launched on her fame, but it is now built on providing products that are at once aspirational and relatable. Kathy Ireland Worldwide has thrived by imbuing the most unglamorous products with glitz – desks, end tables, beds, headboards, rugs, carpets, ottomans, bookcases and windows.

She also has a real affinity for her core target audience, perhaps her most famous quote is about the trials and tribulations facing busy moms – . “Recognizing that for a busy mom, getting in the car when you’ve got car seats and temper tantrums, making it out the driveway is a victory. Making it into the store, that’s heroic.”

The company’s motto is “Finding solutions for families, especially busy moms,” and Kathy has found lots of those solutions.

Interestingly her commitment to her core audience is also reflected in the fact that she avoids store openings and may public appearances, despite her drawing power. “We’ve tried it, and it doesn’t work,” she says. “What happens is the store gets cluttered with guys who are there with 500-year-old copies of Sports Illustrated. How does that help a busy mom? These people are just in her way.”

Moral: Sometimes the most obvious thing, isn’t the right thing

Post scripts

Kathy Ireland is known to have an eye for an opportunity – She inherited pal Elizabeth Taylor’s dogs, Gracie and Delilah, and designed a pet collection inspired by the Maltese canines.

She is approachable but has an inner strength – As a teenager, Ireland reported that a photographer once “crossed the line” with her and wanted her to pose topless. She did not feel comfortable and he did not respect her “no.” He reportedly pushed her and got physical and she “decked him.”

My favourite story – David Holland

My favourite story – David Holland

“Stories are meant to be told …and re-told” is something I have long held dear, so at the recent launch of my new book ‘inspiring Innovation’, I asked some of my fellow Value Engineers to retell their favourite story from the book.

Here David Holland tells his – a story set in Italy…


Thanks to David and Tom Langridge, the man with the video skills

So, let’s play “Guess that brand?”

So, let’s play “Guess that brand?”


Guess the brand

How many clues do you need before you can name this Great British brand?

  1. It was created in 1908 at 19 Granby Row, which if you don’t know, is in the centre of Manchester


  1. Its inventor was (John) Noel Nichols


  1. Noel was at least in part inspired by the Temperance Movement


  1. It contains the juice of grapes, raspberries and blackcurrants


  1. He first registered a trademark for his new brand in the medicines class, that was in 1912.


  1. Early claims included that it “eliminates that out-of-sorts feeling” and gives the drinker “vim & vigour”


  1. In 1913 it was registered as a beverage for human use, not alcoholic, not aerated and not medicated.


  1. It was originally available only as an herbal tonic


  1. Nowadays it is available in cans and bottles and as a draught soft drink in pub and as a sweet and an ice lolly.
  1. In the 1990s, print advertisements featuring the cartoon character Purple Ronnie were used to promote the brand


So how many clues did it take you to guess the brand? Or have you still not got in?


Well the biggest clues are in the sixth statement and the eighth.





The brand name was originally a combination of one of its benefits and what it was – “Vim Tonic” which was shortened to become VIMTO.

A Latte for Jiles and a salad for Kylie Minogue.

A Latte for Jiles and a salad for Kylie Minogue.

strabucks wrong

I have bought quite a few cups of coffee in Starbucks over the last couple of years and, more often than not, I have then been asked my name.

They have never got it right.

I’ve been Charles, Jules, James, Childs, Jiles and perhaps more confusingly, Nigel

Not once has someone been able to get Giles right, even when I have spelt it out to them.

So, their attempts at personalisation have backfired on me, rather than feeling more special, I’m either left feeling a bit frustrated or a bit of a freak.

For a while I wondered if this was just something that happened to me and that I was particularly unlucky.

Then one day my son spontaneously mentioned the same thing often happened to him.

Ewan, for that is his name, is clearly smarter than me.

Nowadays, he doesn’t even bother to try and get them to use his real name.

He calls himself “Fernando” after Fernando Torres and more often than not, they get this right.


I asked some colleagues at work about their experience and a number of them mentioned Tossed Salads.

It’s clear that Tossed have either been speaking to Ewan or have come up with a similar ‘solution’ for themselves.

When you order your salad to take away in Tossed, you are allocated a famous person’s name rather than being asked your own name.

Tossed receipt

It avoids all the difficulty of trying to spell out your name but also has the potential to make you smile.

Ollie was clearly amused when he became Barbara Streisand.

Tom and Susannah enjoyed their time as Kylie Minogue.

And the moral of this story is that I’ve decided to add Tossed to my portfolio of places for lunch and am going to name myself ‘Bruce’ (as in Springsteen) in Starbucks.

A name that will make you smile, I’ll drink to that

A name that will make you smile, I’ll drink to that



I’m far from being a whisky connoisseur but I do know that when a new distillery wants to produce its own whisky it will take some time. Legally the spirit they distil must mature in oak casks for three before it can legally be called “whisky”.

The first legal distillery on the Isle of Raasay, in northwest Scotland near Skye, began distilling in September 2017, which means the good folk there won’t be bottling the first legal Isle of Raasay Single Malt Scotch Whisky until 2020.

This left them with a challenge. They needed to find other sources of income to help keep the distillery going.


Visitors are therefore welcomed to tour the distillery and are encouraged to stay at Borodale House, the newly restored Victorian-era villa that now serves as a luxury whisky hotel, executive lounge and visitor centre.

In addition, they bought in some malt whisky from another distillery to demonstrate their whisky skills and to create a taster of what’s to come. In the case of the Isle of Raasay Distillery they blended two expressions from one distillery; one peated, one unpeated and then finished it in French oak Tuscan wine casks.

Creating this type of whisky is not anything new, it’s similar to what many other nascent single malt producers do.

For me the stroke of genius and the real distinctive comes in the name.


They called it, While We Wait. When I first heard it just made me smile.

Having now tried the whisky I can tell you I think it’s pretty good too, but as a self-confessed non-connoisseur don’t just take my word for that, it’s won numerous awards.


Is this a trend I see merging

Is this a trend I see merging

the old and the new

It is always exciting to see the front cover of your soon-to-be-published book and doubly pleasing to see how it is establishing a theme for my books of brand tales.

The ‘old’ book, “How Coca-Cola took over the world” which features 101 tales about all aspects of marketing and branding has been on the market for a couple of years. It’s still available if you haven’t got your copy yet!

The new book, “Inspiring Innovation” has 75 tales all focused on innovation and is published on March 21st

The brand that keeps on giving – one for one

The brand that keeps on giving – one for one


What would you do if you went to Argentina on holiday – learn the how to tango? Have a go at the national sport – polo? Or maybe just spend your time enjoying the many different Malbecs… Well when Blake Mycoskie went there in 2006 all of those were on his ‘to-do’ list but it was chance meeting towards the end of that holiday that was to shape his future and be the inspiration for a hugely successful brand.

While away, Blake had added alpargatas to his wardrobe – soft, casual canvas shoes which seem to be worn everywhere on the streets of Buenos Aires. It did cross his mind that maybe the alpargatas would have some appeal in the United States, but he just put the idea on his mental ‘one-for-later’ list.

So perhaps this was in the back of his mind when he had a chance encounter with an American woman who was volunteering on a “shoe drive”. This was a concept that Blake knew nothing about. She told Blake that it was basically a charitable initiative to collect shoes for the many local children who didn’t have any.

She went on to explain an unforeseen complication, namely that as the organisation relied on donations they had little or no control over when the money came in and if shoes were donated what type and size were given. Many were simply far too big for the children who needed them most.

Blake hadn’t realised the problem and decided to do some of his own research. Traveling from village to village he quickly saw for himself the severity of the situation and the many downsides of being shoeless: the blisters, the sores, the infections.

He decided he wanted to do something about it. He briefly considered setting up is own charity but didn’t think he would be able to create anything on the scale that was needed.

An idea did however dawn on him – what if he could create a for-profit business which would have as part of its business model a means to help provide shoes for these children. The core principle would be a simple One for One. For very pair of shoes bought, one would be given to a child in need. If it worked, it could create a constant flow of shoes, not just whenever people decided to make a donation.


Even though he had no experience and no connections in the shoe industry or business in general, it felt so right, he was sure he could make a success of it. He even had a name for the new business. He’d been playing around with the phrase ‘Shoes for a Better Tomorrow,’ but that became ‘Tomorrow’s Shoes’ which in turn became TOMS.

Alejo, his Argentinian polo teacher, and a friend, came on board as a partner and played an essential role with contacts and translating. After many meetings they finally found a local shoe maker called Jose willing to try and answer their somewhat loose brief – a more comfortable and durable version of an alpargata, but also more fun and stylish which would better suit the fashion-conscious American consumer.


Working with Jose and other local crafts people they got 250 samples made, which Blake stuffed into three duffel bags before setting off back to L.A. Recognising his lack of contacts he decided to ask some friends over to dinner and pick their brains. They loved the concept of TOMS, and loved the shoes too. They helped him draw up a list of stores they thought might be interested in selling the product, and even better for Blake, they all left that evening wearing pairs they had bought from him.

A website was launched and orders trickled in and it soon become apparent that TOMS needed more in-store, on the street presence.

Having tried phone calls and e-mails without success, Blake decided he needed to get ‘out there’ in person. He packed up some samples into one of his trusted duffel bags and set-off for ‘American Rag’ which was one of top stores on the list his friends had created. He was still worried that TOMS would still be just one of many new ideas the buyers would be seeing but straight away it was obvious that the buyer loved the idea. American Rag quickly became TOMS’ first retail customer.

Another break followed soon afterward. A leading fashion writer for the Los Angeles Times, Booth Moore, heard about the shoes and the story and loved them both. A few Saturdays later TOMS was headline news.

Sales rocketed and by the end of the day, TOMS had received 2,200 new orders!

However this level of success was a double-edged sword. They only had 160 pairs of shoes in Blake’s apartment which served as TOMS office. What’s more they had been promising four-day delivery.

Blake had to act quickly and immediately posted an ad for interns on Craigslist and soon had three new colleagues. They spent their time calling up or emailing the people who had ordered. They explained the situation, letting them know their orders wouldn’t be coming in the next four days but in fact might take up to eight weeks. Amazingly only one person out of those 2,200 initial orders cancelled, and that was because she was leaving for a semester abroad.

More media coverage followed with articles in Vogue, Time, People, Elle, and Teen Vogue. The retail customers expanded to include Nordstrom and Urban Outfitters and it wasn’t long before celebrities like Keira Knightley, Scarlett Johansson, and Tobey Maguire were spotted around town wearing TOMS.

TOMS sold 10,000 pairs of shoes that first summer and donated as many to those children in Argentina.

TOMS has now given over 60 million pairs of shoes to children in need. TOMS Eyewear has been lunched on the same ‘one for one’ principle. Since launch 400,000 people have had their sight restored or improved through the provision of prescription glasses, medical treatment and/or sight-saving surgery.

TOMS eyewear

Like water off a rocket’s back

Like water off a rocket’s back

space heroes

Even before WWII, The “Space Age” was an established genre in fiction and popular culture. Buck Rogers made his first newspaper appearance on January 7, 1929 and the Flash Gordon comic strip was first published on January 7, 1934,

However, after the end of WWII, things really started to take off in the aerospace industry – both metaphorically and literally – as new technology, missiles and rockets were being rapidly developed allowing people to fly further faster.

In 1950 the UK got in on the space hero act with the first appearance of Dan Dare in the Eagle comics, soon to be followed by a daily dramatized version on Radio Luxembourg

Perhaps partly inspired by these three superheroes, but also recognising a potential gap in the market, three friends, Norman B. Larsen, Gordon Dawson and John B. Gregory, launched the Rocket Chemical Company on September 23, 1953.

What the three men saw was that while incredible new machines were being invented they were all made of metal, and metal rusts, so if they could come up with a chemical compound that would keep the newly invented rockets and missiles from rusting it should be a winner.

Chief Chemist, Larsen knew that the secret would be to find a substance that could displace the water, stop it from clinging to any of the many metal surfaces’ rockets had. The aim was to get the water to roll harmlessly away, like water off a duck’s back.

The three men set to work developing new compounds and testing them. None of the first ten showed any promise. The next ten weren’t much better. Still no luck by the time they reached thirty. They kept going but then with formula forty they finally found something which worked beautifully. However they had not only created a successful compound but found their brand name – ‘water displacement, fortieth attempt’ or WD40 for short.

WD 40 original

The first company to use WD-40 commercially was, as the founders’ had hoped it would be, a real ‘rocket’ company. Convair, an aerospace contractor bought it to protect the outer skin of the Atlas Missile.


As sales grew so did the uses. Workers at the factory started to take samples home and applied it all around their homes, using it as a protectant, solvent, and all-purpose lubricant.

By 1955, Larsen and the team realized they might have a market for their compound that was much broader than the aerospace and defence industry. It led them to develop an aerosol can version.

In 1960 the company had more than doubled in size, growing to seven people, who sold an average of 45 cases per day from the trunk of their cars to hardware and sporting goods stores in the San Diego area.

A year later the first full truckload order for WD-40 was filled. It was for a special event and required all the employees to came in on a Saturday to produce additional concentrate. It was all for a good cause though the WD40 was used to recondition flood and rain damaged vehicles after Hurricane Carla had struck the U.S. Gulf coast.

WD40 range

Nowadays it’s an iconic brand with that market, and the yellow and blue can is found in 75% of American households.

It’s known as ‘the can with a thousand uses’ and while many are obvious a couple of the lesser known instances include when a bus driver in Asia used WD-40 to remove a python, which had coiled itself around the undercarriage of his bus and when police officers used WD-40 to remove a naked burglar trapped in an air conditioning vent!