- Aaron Simpson runs private concierge club Quintessentially, which promises to deliver “anything, anywhere, anytime, as long as it’s legal and moral.”
- The company is believed to have around 100,000 customers globally, including 800 billionaires who pay up to £150,000 ($US195,000) a year in fees.
- Members have reportedly included Madonna, Richard Branson, and J.K. Rowling.
- It once had a metal detector delivered to an address in the French Alps for a member who lost his house keys in the snow.
When 45-year-old Aaron Simpson graduated from Oxford, chances are he didn’t predict that his future would involve organising flash mobs in New York City or hiring an Egyptian landmark for marriage proposals.
However, as co-founder and group executive chairman of global private concierge club Quintessentially, a company that has called itself a “wish-fulfilment empire,” an average day often involves making insane ideas a reality.
If that’s not an extravagant enough career, alongside heading up the company’s 65 global offices, Simpson is also in the process of building a £250 million 220 metre superyacht that will be the “world’s largest floating private members club for the global elite.”
So how did Essex-born Simpson end up with one of the most impressive little black books in the world, packed with names of billionaires in the top 1% of the 1%?
After finishing a degree in geography at Oxford, Simpson started out as a film producer making movies in London, both with his own companies — Hot Air and Flashlight Films — as well as working with Elton John’s Rocket Pictures.
But working in film was more of a “recreational sport” than a career, and along with two business partners, he began to explore an entirely new idea.
Making the “inaccessible accessible” for the “time poor but cash rich”
In an interview with Real Clear Life, Simpson said that one year Elton John asked him to go and buy Christmas cracker fillers, and gave him a “few hundred thousand pounds in cash” to do so.
The task, which was for a dinner party of 12, inspired him to think: “Why not create a company for time poor but cash rich people?”
He had met lawyer Paul Drummond, who “had a bit of a brain on him,” while studying at Oxford. The final piece of the jigsaw was Ben Elliot, the nephew of Duchess of Cornwall Camilla Parker Bowles. He was introduced through Camilla’s son Tom Parker Bowles, who was the PR agent on one of his films.
“It all went uphill from there,” Simpson told Business Insider.
The trio created Quintessentially in 2000 as a way to “access the inaccessible in London.” They managed to pull together money from private investors, and the company took off largely due to their connections and word of mouth.
“We had lots of access at lots of different points because of our connections,” Simpson said. “I was looking after film people coming into London — that gives you great access, I just got to know everybody. So did Ben, he had nightclubs, and Paul put all the legal framework together.”
“Anything, anywhere, anytime, as long as it’s legal and moral”
When the company started, it had four employees. “We’re now 2,500 people in 60 countries looking after lots and lots of very happy, wealthy people,” Simpson said.
The company’s biggest hubs are London, New York, LA, Hong Kong, and Dubai, and it also has offices in the likes of Berlin, Munich, Geneva, and Milan. It has 28 businesses under the Quintessentially umbrella, including Quintessentially Estates, Events, Travel, Weddings, Wine, and Gifts, as well as the insurance service Quintessentially Covered.
“We can do anything, anywhere, anytime, as long as it’s legal and moral,” Simpson said.
Most of the company’s time is spent looking after the top two tiers of its membership: The Dedicated and Elite members. The former is more for the “professional class,” such as CEOs, while for Elite members “time is money, so they just want to get it done.”
Each is given a lifestyle manager who can be contacted 24/7. Quintessentially has a website and an app — both of which it is in the process of relaunching — but most interactions happen over email or on the phone, according to Simpson.
“We find people prefer to talk to human beings at our level,” he said. “At the luxury end they really want to deal with someone, they want to make sure that their preferences are right and that they’re well looked after.”
While the company declined to reveal the names of any of its members, reports have suggested that the likes of Madonna, Richard Branson, J.K. Rowling and P Diddy are amongst its past and present clientele.
An Instagram post showing a collection of first edition Harry Potter books being delivered to the Quintessentially office in London suggest the reports might be true.
The company did, however, send Business Insider a testimonial from the “PA to Coldplay” who said that the service has been “indispensable,” adding: “They have never failed to come up with a restaurant booking or any other bespoke service offering for us regardless of what time, place, or country it is in and no matter how last minute.”
From Times Square flash mobs to James Bond chase scenes
Requests can involve absolutely anything, according to Simpson. From sourcing a rare Patek Philippe watch — which normally has a near-10-year waiting list — within the hour, to having metal detector delivered to an address in the French Alps for a member who had lost his house keys in the snow.
The company once organised a flash dance mob in Times Square to Pharrell’s “Happy” as a birthday surprise, complete with a personalised birthday message displayed on nearby advertising boards.
The BBC reported that the company even arranged for a man to “hire to Egyptian pyramids” and fly in 300 family and friends so he could pop the question in front of them, though the company told Business Insider the event did not, in fact, take place at the pyramids, but another “Egyptian landmark.”
Building an exact replica of the Batcave and recreating a James Bond chase scene are also among the things it has done for members.
It also deals with corporate clients and luxury brands, including Ferrari and Gucci. It provides “white label” concierge services, as well as helping them with services such as public relations. And it works two ways. Ferrari, for example, has also helped boost Quintessentially’s client base by offering free memberships alongside car purchases.
The company declined to reveal the exact cost of its memberships, and Simpson said the price points often change. However, he estimated that members are looking at around £7,000 a year for the Dedicated service, and up to £20,000 for the Elite.
The BBC reported that the firm has an estimated 100,000 customers around the world, including 800 billionaires who pay up to £150,000 a year.
The company “never deals” with more than 5,000 clients in one city and has waiting lists in some locations. “Personalisation is key,” Simpson said. “A lifestyle manager will look after a certain number of people. That hasn’t changed.”
A move to ‘mindful entrepreneurialism’
Alongside the extravagant requests, Simpson said the company has seen another, perhaps more surprising, trend among its members. He calls it “mindful entrepreneurialism,” which is a move “away from purely hedonistic entrepreneurialism and ‘bling’ more towards how people are thinking about how their activities impact both environmentally and socially.”
For example, one of his clients is building one of the largest yachts in the world, which is actually a marine research vessel.
“When he uses it for the two to three weeks a year he uses it, it’s a superyacht, but the rest of the time it’s a marine research vessel, and it’s been built for that purpose,” he said.
“Whereas people used to fly and flop and sit on the beach drinking pina coladas, getting burnt, now they’re very much more active in ecosystems.”
“It’s not just about going up the Eiffel Tower anymore,” he added. “It’s about how it was constructed, and why it was constructed, and what is it made of.”
Wellness requests are also abundant. “Everyone wants to live forever, don’t they? I can’t think of anything worse,” Simpson joked. “Social media is absolutely awash with it. Everyone’s got a fitness video, everyone’s got a makeup video, everyone’s got a diet plan.”
The Rich Kids of Instagram
The impact of social media on these luxury lifestyles has been complicated.
Simpson said there’s no doubt the company gets requests based on what and where Instagram photos. “Do bloggers influence as much as they think? They probably do. But I think a lot of our clients are very savvy and [already] live that life,” he added.
He described how instead of showing their “real self” — “you basically have your 200 friends, you look crap in the morning, and the cat’s been sick on your bed” — many Instagram users project the person they “really want to be.”
“You wake up surrounded by roses and chocolates with four guys massaging your feet,” he said. “There’s endless supplies of Champagne, you’re in Monte Carlo one day, and Venice the next.”
These accounts sound strikingly similar to those featured on the Rich Kids of Instagram accounts which, over the past few years, have gone viral around the world. Business Insider has previously documented the lives of these privileged youngsters, including the Rich Kids of Hong Kong and the Rich Kids of Switzerland.
“They probably do have a follower base who really dig what they’re putting on Instagram,” Simpson said, adding: “I get the concept of ‘I’m so rich I don’t care.’ We have certain clients where next generation issues are different. Children spend their money and advertise it on social media, and the only way you’ve got is to cut them off.”
One of his clients, a 23-year-old, had his annual allowance cut from £40 million to £18 million and “couldn’t do it” according to Simpson.
“That’s an extreme example of what is [happening across] wealthy families,” he said.”If you’re a good parent they will probably end up OK. If you buy them out of every situation, you’re training them.”
“If I saw my daughter or son sitting next to a pile of cash on a private jet, I’d say land it, take it back home,” he added. “It’s damaging [to the] family brand.”
However, he said Quintessentially’s clients are less likely to be the ones bragging about their lifestyles on social media.”We’re dealing with people who don’t need to pretend about that lifestyle.”
‘No average day’
There’s no average day for the cofounder, who is based at the London office, pictured above, and has two young daughters with his wife.
“I meet some members, sometimes they want to meet about talk about business networking ideas,” he said. “More generally I’m chief troubleshooter through all the issues that arise, mainly around humans. Machines don’t complain.”
The company recently underwent a restructure to bring all of its 28 businesses under one roof, which has been a major focus for Simpson, and has meant lots of behind the scenes work. “It’s one for all and all for one rather than separate camps,” he said.
The strategy appears to be paying off. Since the restructure, Simpson told the BBC that Quintessentially’s revenue stands at £150 million. This is significant jump on its most recent Companies House earnings for the 12 months to April 2016, which put its revenue at £22.1 million. This produced a pre-tax profit of £396,000.
He told Business Insider that the annual membership fees are what make the money. “Without it, we wouldn’t be here,” he said, though he added: “We also make money other ways depending on the business. We have 28 business threads. If we found you an apartment or house, we would make a percentage commission on the transaction.”
Like some of its clients, the company is also determined to do some good. In 2008, the Quintessentially Foundation was launched, which has since raised £9.5 million to “improve the education, health and welfare of disadvantaged children and young people worldwide.”
Building the world’s largest superyacht
The next big project on the horizon for Simpson? Quintessenially One, the world’s largest superyacht.
Pictured below in an artists’ impression, it will “provide the opportunity for the global elite to tour the world and attend the world’s most desirable events,” such as the Cannes Film Festival and the Monaco Grand Prix, and will play host to mega parties with star performers.
Due to make its first voyage in 2019-2020, Quintessentially One is billed as the “the world’s largest floating private membership club,” but securing a spot onboard will, of course, be by invitation only.
But it seems he won’t stop there. The company is also reportedly looking into hotels and clubs, and is due to roll out its first destination in 2018 in Hong Kong, followed by London.
“When you get the brand right and the feeling around the brand right, lots of things come to you, because there’s positive energy,” Simpson said.
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