Count Erik Wachtmeister says he came up with the idea of an online social network for the elite when hunting boar on the Bismarck family’s Friedrichsruh estate in the northern German state of Schleswig-Holstein. “They have fantastic boar hunts every year,” he says, “there are suddenly 50 animals coming at you and it’s a real excitement, but then you can have three hours where nothing happens and you can have some good ideas.”

It’s a romantic creation story, like Wagner’s vision at La Spezia but with less profound consequences, and probably just as apocryphal. But either way, it is typical of Wachtmeister, 57, that he should tell the world about it.

Within five minutes of meeting him in the living room of his suite at the Connaught, I had been told about his successful banking career with Lehman Brothers and elsewhere, about a company he set up raising private money for publicly listed companies (“It was amazing, I could talk to you for hours about that”), that he has always had “very strong people skills”, that he was born into a noble family, that he has met five US presidents and that his father was “maybe one of the most successful international diplomats of all time” who was so close to George Bush Senior that they played tennis together twice a week.

Tall and grey, with narrow horizontal lines shooting up both cheeks, Wachtmeister looks like a more relaxed incarnation of Max Mosley. He speaks English with a soft American inflection, acquired while living at the Swedish embassy in Washington from the age of 19, and his undergraduate years at Georgetown. Since then, he has been a proud member of the international jet set, “running into the same people who all know each other, whether it’s in Punta del Este, Uruguay for New Year, the US Open in September, Paris Fashion Week in March, the Grand Prix in Monaco in May, maybe midsummer in Sweden…” — you get the idea. Hence the vision of Friedrichsruh — a social networking site that allows that global coterie to plan their lives together online.

To get to the point where you think such a site is necessary, it helps to have Wachtmeister’s particular take on friendship. He says that when he was single (he made Louise Austern, now 34, his Countess eight years ago), he “was kind of combining networking socially with networking professionally, in kind of an optimal way”.

Optimal apparently means not with your friends. “I don’t know if you know about the weak link hypothesis,” he asks me across the coffee table. It sounds like it could be something to do with the master race, so I say that I don’t. He says weak links are people you don’t know very well. “Because people are always focusing on their strong links, they may be very secure and happy because they’re with their mates, but if you are focusing on your weak links, you have much more reach, influence and information,” he says, adding that “I’ve been very good at organising my weak links.”

Do you have real friends, I quite reasonably interject. “Of course,” he says, chuckling gleefully like Moriarty, “of course!”

It was “the idea of creating a platform for all the weak links” that led him to his elite online networks. His first was a website called A Small World, founded in March 2004. Dubbed “MySpace for millionaires”, it operated an invitation-only sign-up policy to keep the membership rarefied. It reportedly counted Naomi Campbell, Prince Pavlos of Greece, Lady Victoria Hervey, Tim Jefferies, Freddie Windsor and Will Astor among its members  but quickly became a repository for the orange tans and mindless boasting of the self-fashioning Eurotrash. “Beloved of gay Swiss bankers,” was how one of my friends described it. When the Russian spy Anna Chapman was exposed a few years ago, the site gave me one of my first good stories as a journalist, after a colleague and I found her profile on there linked to a series of embarrassed former drinking partners in the world of business.

Wachtmeister launched A Small World at the same time as Facebook went online. After membership had risen to hundreds of thousands, he left the project five years later, in 2009, following disagreements with investor and movie producer Harvey Weinstein, whom he blames for neglecting the site itself in favour of selling advertising. He says allowing the high-profile Weinstein to come on board was “a big mistake”.

The latest Wachtmeister intervention in the world of social media is the inelegantly named Best of All Worlds, which launched yesterday and has already built up 25,000 members on its pre-released iPhone app, including billionaires and members of royal houses, I am assured. He says it is a step ahead of A Small World, not to mention Facebook and LinkedIn. “I mean what has Facebook done really? It’s all about self expression and showing off.”

Best of All Worlds is active, he says, allowing invited users to say “I want to play polo” [his example] when they hop into a city, and get the right sort of companion. also offers hotel, restaurant and shop listings, rated and reviewed by other “sophisticated” users. “It comes back to the trusted few rather than the wisdom of crowds,” he says, returning to his favourite catchphrase.

He hopes its wealthy membership will appeal to advertisers, and that additional revenues will flow from exclusive event tie-ups and “lead generation” — the kickbacks a site can earn when its users sign up to a credit card or book a hotel room after clicking on an ad. But who exactly are these “best” people (he looks blank when I ask whether Voltaire’s Pangloss had a hand in the naming process) Wachtmeister is targeting?

“It doesn’t  necessarily mean high net worth, it can include opinion leaders, thought leaders, first movers, people who have maybe A personalities, people who are very well networked, people who are very well educated, and people who are leaders in their fields,” he says. But he also wants them all to have “a high degree of sophistication and taste”. Those exhibiting bad taste will be removed from the site. “It’s funny, we recently had a discussion about whether we should allow people to publish their titles if they bought their titles on eBay,” he adds, to show one of bad taste’s most wicked manifestations.

Soon the site will feature “worlds” which users can be invited to join, including ones for business, polo, hunting and philanthropy. “We’re considering having some secret worlds: one of them might be a noble world, for anyone with a bona fide, proven aristocratic background,” he reveals, inadvisedly. “But those worlds will probably be secret because we will be subject to ridicule, maybe.”

Maybe, I say. And maybe his boar hunts and noble worlds and polo meet-ups won’t ever appeal to the two million users he wants to have by this time next year. Or maybe — as no one has ever lost money underestimating the taste of the Cristal jet-set — this business-savvy, networking-crazy, nobility-obsessed Swedish count is on to something.

Source: Standart

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