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Courier produces useful, inspiring content for modern entrepreneurs. Our Friday newsletter features stories on working better and living smarter.
Friday 4 September

In today's edition, we list some great tools, spaces and services for freelancers – from a co-working space for self-employed makeup artists in London to a skills-based marketplace app in Lebanon. Plus: how to build company culture from a distance and, if you're so inclined, some smart ways to transition back to the office. Enjoy.

Lick Home launched with what seemed like the worst possible timing – on the day the UK went into lockdown. 'We were in complete panic,’ co-founder Lucas London tells us. 'I emailed all shareholders saying, “Don't worry, we don't plan to spend a penny on marketing.”' But the situation quickly changed as remote workers eyed their shabby new ‘office’ environments. ‘We saw people bored at home wanting to decorate. You don’t build a business off of that, but it gave us a good start. Most importantly, we saw online adoption go from what was about 4% to 100% because people couldn't go into stores.'

Lockdown has accelerated trends that have been bubbling in tons of industries for a while now. The global paint-and-wallpaper market is really big – about $93bn – and the home decor sector may be worth $200bn in Europe alone. Yet, until recently, e-commerce penetration was still low. 'You have this huge demographic that's online, engaged, young, growing, is into decorating, interior design and colour,’ says Lucas. 'Yet those customers tend to put their phones in their pockets and go into a hardware store on the weekend to buy the product.’

In the US, well-branded, digitally focused, direct-to-consumer paint brands are nothing new, with the likes of Backdrop and Clare launching in recent years. Yet Lucas and his co-founder Sam, who worked together at task-based marketplace Airtasker, saw an opportunity to go beyond paint and look at home decor more broadly. 'The big problem with [being a DTC paint brand] is creating a business where the customer doesn't differentiate you from your competitors and you're all acquiring customers online digitally… If we had gone into our funding round' – Lick recently raised £3m – 'and tried to raise as a DTC paint brand, I don't think we would have had a huge amount of success,’ he says.

Tune into this week’s podcast to hear more.

Six months into remote working, one thing’s for certain: Covid hasn't put a complete stop to people starting new jobs, progressing in existing jobs, or making lateral career moves. Building and maintaining company culture have never been more vital, especially since culture is a key driver of employee performance.

Greg Lemaitre and Barbara Dewast are the co-founders of Dare Be, a corporate culture consultancy specialising in employee engagement and cultural transformation. ‘Culture encompasses behaviours, ways of thinking, speaking, collaborating and delivering,’ says Greg. Here are his top tips for creating effective company cultures from afar:

  • Be proactive and have clear intentions: ‘When you join a company as a new employee and are working remotely, there is no benchmark of success,’ Greg explains. ‘Leaders need to continually share their aims.’

  • Build belonging and psychological safety: ‘People are not feeling like they belong to teams as much. You almost need to force people to have personal time with each other, talk about mistakes and be vulnerable.’

  • Be transparent about your challenges: ‘Engaging the team in decision-making and problem-solving engenders trust, which helps them to feel like they have a stake in the journey. Co-create and execute action plans with the people on the front line of your business.’ 

  • Show you care: ‘Remote working might have taken away commute time, but that commute time is now just spent working. People are juggling home life as well. Everyone has differing personal circumstances in the pandemic, so just give them a call to check in.’

Freelancers felt the impact of the pandemic deeply; with cancelled events and companies' freelance budgets quickly drying up, the financial precarity of self-employment came to the forefront. And as Covid continues to play out, many more people will become self-employed, either through choice or necessity. Here are some ways businesses are looking out for freelancers.

Providing healthcare access. Fiverr, the Israel-based global freelance platform, has partnered with telehealth company Ro to offer its freelance community free virtual testing, evaluation and advice. We talk more about the rise of remote healthcare in our next print issue, out in three weeks.

Exchanging skills for space. Gerald Vanderpuye is the co-founder of Impact Brixton, a co-working space in London's Brixton Village. Gerald sees self-employment rising in the near future: ‘It’s easier to start something than to get a job right now,’ he says. He also highlights that self-employment is often financially inaccessible: ‘We have a programme that allows new freelancers to use their skills to build Impact Brixton in exchange for free use of the space.’

Space on loan. What about freelancers whose work isn’t desk-based? With Occupyd, business owners with access to kitchens, fitness suites and therapy rooms can rent such spaces out to freelancers for additional income. Ethical east-London hair salon Stunt Dolly has also opened a dedicated co-working space for self-employed hair and makeup artists, which can be paid for on a daily or monthly basis.

Connection in a crisis. Ashghali is a Lebanese app for freelancers offering myriad services from marketing strategy to elderly care. It has waived membership fees in light of both the pandemic and the explosion at the Port of Beirut on 4 August, ensuring that freelancers can be quickly connected to places where their skills are required.

Brick-and-mortar stores are dead, they say. People are shopping online more than ever before, they say. And, sure enough, there’s some truth in both statements. But rather than sitting back and reflecting on when retail was easy, Freitag is gearing up for battle with something unexpected: a superior, offline customer experience.

The Swiss brand, which makes bags and accessories from recycled truck tarp and compostable textiles, is opening a new store in (of all places) a former burger joint in the run-down harbour district of Tapdong – on the subtropical island of Jeju, in South Korea.

'The global situation forced us to put some extra efforts into smart digital shopping experiences,' says Oliver Brunschwiler, Freitag’s company lead. ‘On the other hand, we'll continue to invest in brick and mortar because we still consider real-world shopping as experimental ground for our brand and retail future.’

So, why Jeju Island? ‘From a mere business perspective, after two openings in Seoul, you’d think we would have gone for Busan, the country's second biggest city. However, the idea of reshaping a neighbourhood on Jeju's unique harbour area was just too fascinating to ignore.’

And, finally, transitioning back to office life after WFH can be a challenge. Your company and working environment will have changed, and so might your work-life priorities. We asked wellbeing coach and ‘sabbatical specialist’ Lyndall Farley about how to tackle anxieties about returning to the workplace.

1. Acknowledge the changes
‘The first step is realising that you don't need to return to exactly the way it was before and that you can redesign the way that you want to work. Don’t disregard what has happened; instead use that as a learning tool.’

2. Identify the worries
‘Take some time to acknowledge what exactly is causing your anxiety about going back into the office. Am I concerned about my physical health? Is it the social interactions of office life? Or do I feel like I'm giving up my sense of freedom by going back into the office? Once you know the root cause, you can come up with a plan.’

3. Ask for what you need
‘Whatever you’re worried about, now is the time to talk about it. Companies are rethinking the way they work and everything is back on the table. Your boss is in exactly the same situation as you. Start to have these dialogues and don’t assume that they're not a possibility.’

4. Settle on a hybrid
‘Everyone I've spoken to has said there are things from remote working that they want to keep doing. We've all learned from this experience as to what makes us productive, what makes us happy and what works for us in terms of interaction, so design a version that works for you and your company that incorporates the positive elements of remote working.’

1. Forget IPOs and acquisitions – there's another way to 'exit' your company.

2. Impact investments – bets that promote a social good – have 'significantly outperformed' traditional investments during the pandemic.

3. Companies are offering more employee perks – from pet paternity to mental health hours.

4. Is Watch House Roastery the future of London’s coffee scene?

5. And a longread for the weekend: 'The eco-yogi slumlords of Brooklyn.'


Huckletree’s virtual startup school for entrepreneurs opens 21 September 

Sitting on a business idea? Huckletree, the home of entrepreneurs in the UK and Ireland, has just launched a virtual startup academy for new or aspiring founders. Across 40 hours and six evening modules, the course will teach you everything you need to get your business idea off the ground in a bear market, including building your financial model, finding market-product fit, growing your customer base and how to pitch for investment.

The Renegade Academy runs from 21 to 30 September 2020 – so there are just two weeks to go! Book your space now and save 25% (making course fees just £180) with code RAEARLYBIRD20 at checkout.

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