A business idea that proved to be a cut above

How an entrepreneur's hangover helped revolutionise the hairdressing salon experience. Russell Smith profiles a small business with a big challenge
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The Independent Online

Mike Anstey, 30, has an electronics background and worked in Hong Kong and Singapore prior to starting London-based i-vu ltd in 2002

Mike Anstey, 30, has an electronics background and worked in Hong Kong and Singapore prior to starting London-based i-vu ltd in 2002

Entrepreneurs don't like sitting still and Mike Anstey is no exception. "While having my hair cut one day, I longed for something to take my mind off an awful hangover," said Mike, "and I started thinking about interactive touch screens that could deliver in-salon TV."

The business idea he came up with was to offer top salons their own "in-house" television channel, delivered to 6 x 4in interactive screens via cable-free wireless technology. The content was to be a selection of lifestyle and news items mixed with salon-specific material. Since clients spend an average of £100 per visit to a top salon and stay for at least an hour, Mike realised that having an affluent captive audience for that length of time would be attractive for advertisers.

Mike presented his business ideas to venture capital organisations in order to obtain funding. And that's when he hit the big problem: their response was, "good idea but too risky". Mike then did what most people would consider unthinkable. He sold his house and raised £127,000 to fund the business himself. Sounds risky, but Mike is a "risk-reducer" rather than a "risk-taker": to start with, he assessed his own skills and hired the best he could find to fill the gaps. Key employees included Jane Holden, 28, as head of operations and ex-Carlton TV executive Sarah Whetham, 28, as head of media. Mike also sought hair care industry expertise via consultant John Blakemore, former global advertising director with GlaxoSmithKline.

In April 2003, the first i-vu screens were installed. An early convert was Trevor Sorbie who said: "I believe in-salon television is going to be huge." Within a year, the number of salons featuring i-vu screens had risen tenfold. Key to the success has been programme content including material from the BBC and a deal with the UK Film Council providing short movies from new UK film talent. Advertisers, such as Audi, have seen real value too, with response rates from the interactive i-vu screens well ahead of those seen from interactive broadcast television.

The young business is now growing rapidly. Mike will be launching i-vu in six cities across America and the United Arab Emirates by the end of November. A launch in Japan is scheduled for February 2005. So, a well-earned rest over Christmas? Not quite. Mike and his wife Emma, 34, are expecting their first child in December.

For more information, see www.i-vu.tv