Simon Carr: The Kitchen Capitalist

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The Independent Online

The story so far: the author has sold his house to finance a manufacturing project in the hope of making a small fortune to finance his old age...

Last week, I went to see my capitalist friend in his river view apartment on top of the Albert Bridge. He isn't a table-top capitalist, he's a proper one. He's in the Rich List. He's currently in one of the American glossies, driving an amphibious sports car (designed and built by himself) past his 100m boat (two helicopter pads) with two bikini-clad girls on the back. "Get the toys in the water!" is the headline.

It was his fault, this thing I'm doing. He was the one who got me into kitchen capitalism. A couple of years ago, I pitched him a newspaper start-up I'd got under way. We needed £10m. He listened to the exciting concept (he hears dozens of them) and then cut through to the essential question within a minute. Guess what it was? Market size? Market opportunity? Risk-to-reward ratio? No, it was much more brilliant. "Simon," he said. "Would you put 25 per cent of your own net wealth into this?" He watched me hesitate for one-fifth of a second and at the end of the second fifth his interest had died. Gone. It wasn't a proposition. It wasn't serious. It was a nice idea. And (as we all now know) ideas are easy. They're what you kick around the office to pass the time. I came away from that 60-second interview feeling very bruised. To have been rumbled so easily, so quickly!I applied the same test to my collaborators and colleagues and found that they failed far more comprehensively than I had. They didn't hesitate at all with their response (summarised as: "Don't be daft!")

The test grew dangerously, almost tumorously, in my head. If you want others to fund your project, you have to believe fundamentally in what you are pitching. If you don't, why would they invest? But if you do, why wouldn't you fund it yourself? Why wouldn't you want as much of it as you could get?

Yes, a dangerous process, generating convictions. You find you believe something you didn't believe before and the end of that process is very indeterminate (at least I didn't end up invading Iraq).

Anyway, I showed my friend the working production model of my little product. And for a moment we had a gentle sense of - what was it? Not equality, obviously. But community. Given the differences of scale, we'd both been through similar experiences. His recent multimillion-pound project suffered exactly as my kitchen table project had, from recalcitrant suppliers, lapsed attention, design flaws, knowledge gaps, missed deadlines, dead ends, false directions... the general Uncertainty Principle that governs making things for a new market.

And It's also true that we both live in relative waterside luxury. His penthouse overlooks the Albert Bridge and my garden goes down to the Oxford Canal. I can get my electric-powered boat on to the Thames. One up to me - his boat wouldn't fit on the Thames.