Stelios hasn't had it all easy, but his achievements deserve respect

The easyJet founder made hundreds of millions with what now appears to be a simple notion: to scrap frills and fuss, and offer European travellers cheap air travel. His was the first airline never to issue a printed ticket, relying instead on "e-tickets" where the passenger's data is stored on computer.

The entire industry is now hastily following suit, while many traditional airlines are trying to turn themselves into clones of easyJet. This is the second-greatest compliment to the gregarious Greek Cypriot who has yet to turn 40; the highest commendation comes from those of us who have discovered the joy of Europe. Instead of barriers, such as £500 fares for travellers with the temerity to book late, air travel has unlocked a sequence of opportunities. Stelios is one of the few entrepreneurs who has grown rich from starting an airline, and he should not be begrudged a euro-cent.

AS THE business-school adage goes, though: if you are not having failures, you are not taking enough risks. And Stelios has taken plenty of chances. He posed the question, "How can would-be easyJet passengers book online if they cannot access the world-wide web?" The answer was the easyEverything chain. The venture established internet outlets on an industrial scale. In some of the world's great cities, vast halls the size of small countries were filled with computers. Stelios and his partners lost millions, and today's easyInternetCafes are much smaller-scale ventures.

The easyRentacar business plan similarly began with the best of intentions. Stelios planned to use "yield management" (the black art of manipulating prices to maximise income) to transform the car-rental industry. His creation began life as the first all-Mercedes rental operation, and the first widely to quote prices by the hour.

Yet easyCar (as it has now become) soon hit problems; the "take-no-prisoners" attitude to damaged cars and late returns brought large bills to some customers and plenty of poor publicity for the brand. One Independent reader was obliged to e-mail a copy of a bus ticket to prove she was travelling away from the original London Bridge depot at the time she was asserted to have been still driving the car. After a tricky start, the organisation now also operates as a car-rental broker like Holiday Autos and SunCars, trading on the power of the easyBrand - and is doing so profitably.

A YEAR ago today, Stelios found his form again when easyCruiseOne departed from Nice. Unlike the first flight of easyJet a decade earlier, her destination was largely irrelevant. (Just as well, because we maiden voyagers ended up in the grim naval port of Toulon rather than amid the glamour of St-Tropez.)

The entrepreneur simply wanted to demonstrate that there was a new market of people who would be tempted on board a cruise ship if the cost and character were right. Oh, and the paint job.

When easyCruiseOne first docked in her home port of Nice, the locals were shocked by the big orange blot on the seascape; hundreds of gallons of paint of the shade Pantone 021C were used to, er, decorate the vessel. But Stelios now says: the future is grey.

I called in to inspect the colour scheme for his new vessel, unsurprisingly named easyCruiseTwo. The ship is being painted a distinguished graphite grey, with just a flash or two of orange. And in something of a first for the easyMagnate, Stelios employed a graphic designer to come up with a corporate look.

"It's different; easyCruise will never be a 100 per cent white ship, but I didn't want it to be dismissed as 'the orange ship'. With this new livery, we're being distinctive, but achieving it with a different colour palette."

YOU MAY not care to sail aboard the new member of the easyCruise fleet, because the closest she will get to the oceans is dipping a toe in the North Sea; the rest of the time, she will be plying the rivers of Benelux. It turns out easyCruiseTwo is an existing river cruise vessel. From July, €10 (£7) a night may be enough to buy accommodation and transport on a river-based route taking in three of the most cultured cities in Europe: Amsterdam, Brussels and Antwerp.

River cruising is a big and often profitable business, but like its ocean-going cousin its elderly clientele have an unfortunate habit of becoming ex-customers. So the ship's owner has bought into the easyBrand in order to attract a younger clientele.

Even if you have no wish to go cruising, you might find yourself aboard the vessel when next you visit the Dutch capital. "We'll probably try and have it as an easyHotel in Amsterdam in the winter," says Stelios.

Comments