By Michael Northcott Monday, 11 February 2013

EXCLUSIVE: Made In Chelsea's Francis Boulle talks business

Francis Boulle, a central character in E4's hit TV show, Made In Chelsea, speaks to MT about his early days repairing surfboards in Florida, his own mineral exploration ventures and how he inspired the other cast members to get entrepreneurial, too.

What made you want to be an entrepreneur?

It’s mainly my family - everyone in it is an entrepreneur pretty much. It’s very much part of being in my family that you go out and do something, and they have all been incredibly successful, so I thought I’d have to start early to be able to match or even eclipse what they have achieved.

When did it all start?

I tried a couple of different things when I was younger. At age 14, I was in Florida and had a small trade repairing old surfboards and selling them to tourists. It was edifying for me to learn at such a young age that you really can do it (business, that is), and it was definitely a good way of learning how to drum up a bit of custom and learn some salesmanship.

We’ve heard that you had a little diamonds enterprise going while you were at university. How did you get into that?

It all started originally when I was at school: I helped out some friends of friends with sourcing their engagement ring. I had done some work in the diamond industry with the family business, and I knew I had access to people that others didn’t. 

So I started marketing portfolios of rough and polished stones and then diversified into other gemstones and some gold – marketing these to family offices, hedge funds, private banks and even some private clients. I made a lot of connections doing that work, so after university I dabbled a little in commodity broking and trading.

What projects have you got on the go at the moment?

I’m working mainly on Fundmine, which is an angel investment networking platform for people to invest in companies, or for entrepreneurs to raise funding for their business. It’s closed to the public at the moment as it’s effectively in ‘beta’, but we will open to the public when the time is right.

My other projects are still in early stages. I have a venture capital fund with which I invest in various start-ups – I am involved with some of the companies I have invested in. And finally, I am also involved in some mining and exploration projects for minerals in various places around the world. 

What’s the latest with Fundmine?

I’ve been investing my own money in it with my business partner Jacob Harmer, and we have over £20m pledged to the system so far from our network of investors. They are looking to invest in projects coming through the system. We probably won’t try to raise any more finance until the service is available to the public.

It’s in base stage; currently it’s a free application process, and we pick from the pitches to find the best ones to put on the site. There will be a fee when we eventually open to the public.

Why is it not yet open to the public?

It is a bit of a chicken and egg situation: you need good pitches on there for investors to be interested enough to join the network, but then you need good investors on there so that entrepreneurs are interested to post their projects. So at the moment we’re flooding it with good projects to get the balance right before opening it up.

What about being on Made In Chelsea? Has it helped or hindered your business endeavours?

The reason I did the show in the first place was to take advantage of the platform and draw some attention to my businesses. I have no aspirations to be a celebrity, but I thought it would be a good way to promote my work.

But there isn’t any direct PR for your businesses on the show?

No there isn’t, but with any actual selling exercises to promote them, I would prefer to have editorial control. I’m a bit of a perfectionist so I would not want the TV producers to decide how the projects are promoted. The point of being on the show is just to get some exposure for me as a businessman.

Were you ever worried that investors wouldn’t take you seriously if you went on the show?

It’s amazing how little it has negatively affected my business work. It’s been massively helpful – it has drawn attention to what I actually do and that has opened a lot of doors. I’m a pretty serious person when it comes to my businesses, so all it takes is to get the meeting with somebody and then they can see that I’m not messing around.

Will you be appearing in the next series of Made In Chelsea?

Yes I will be in the next series. There will come a time when I feel I’ve got everything I need from it. But the show is still growing, so I think there is still a big opportunity there to continue promoting my business work. Having said that, it can be extremely disruptive to have to be on camera a lot of the time – you can get called up at the last minute and have to go and do a scene. 

What do you think of the businesses started by your fellow cast members?

Well, when the whole thing started, I was the only one who really had an interest in starting some kind of venture. I feel that I’ve inspired some of the other cast members to start businesses, which is nice. I think I’ve also inspired them to do something other than just ‘getting famous’, which I think a lot of them were focused on when the show first got going.

Where do you think you’ll be in five years time? Still on TV, or firmly in business?

I’ll continue to use the promotional power that broadcasting offers for as long as I think it will help to raise the profile of my projects. It will eventually stop. As far as the actual companies are concerned, I would love to be considering an IPO at some stage, but we’ll have to see if we get there!

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