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Friday 16 October

This week, we dig into the big opportunities for when the events industry bounces back. Plus, how a running club has kept going strong, crowdfunding lessons and tips to take on board, and the difficulties of collaborating at a distance.

Since we’ve all been spending so much more time at home, what we do in our downtime has increasingly been under the spotlight. According to Alice Katter, a brand strategist and founder of the Out of Office network, ‘We struggle to embrace downtime and because of that avoid creating space for new ideas.’ Not only for mental wellbeing but for professional growth, too. 

‘We tend to look down on activities that don’t have a measurable output,' she continues. ‘Everything that is not productive is classed as time-wasting. And as soon as we have any potential downtime, we tend to fill it on our phones.’

She advises getting out of mundane routines that we impose on ourselves to create what she calls ‘moments of serendipity’; in turn, this will ‘help us to process information better’. Individuals and teams can radically embed downtime into their workdays by ‘letting their minds wander’. 

‘It’s a sort of incubation period,’ says Alice, who is also a big proponent of having regular creative activities that are deliberately ‘unproductive’ alongside work. ‘Whether it is doodling, painting, hiking, playing an instrument or cooking, creative activities let you get into a state of flow, where you’re so absorbed in what you’re doing that you lose perception of time.’

It’s easy to assume that downtime is abundant when we are working from home on flexible schedules. But individuals and teams still need to pay active attention to downtime. ‘Companies need to carve out space for downtime and celebrate it rather than tolerating it,’ says Alice. ‘People also need to be empowered to redesign downtime on their own terms.’

Charlie Dark started Run Dem Crew, or RDC, in 2007 as an alternative to traditional running clubs that don’t always foster an inclusive environment. Although RDC is a membership-based club, it is open to all abilities. ‘Because it’s really not about the running,’ Charlie explains. ‘Community has become a marketing buzzword for people who have often never been part of a community, which is why I strive to build movements instead.’ 

But, during a pandemic, it takes agile thinking to keep even successful movements ticking along. Here’s how Charlie has managed to do it: 

  • ‘A small run for Run Dem is around 60 people, but no neighbourhood needs to see that number of people tearing through it at speed right now. The pandemic has allowed us to focus on the areas of being an athlete that often get neglected, such as mental resistance.’

  • ‘The hour before and after a crew run has always been important within RDC. We’ve continued the weekly housekeeping sessions that have preceded every run by moving them onto Zoom. We may not be running together, but we are still regularly checking in with each other and keeping spirits high.’

  • ‘Communities of colour will do what they’ve always done when doors are closed: they’ll start their own movement and empower themselves. That is one of the reasons I retrained as a yoga teacher – to take yoga to the people I rarely see on the mat, the people who need it most.’

Of all the sectors that have been hit hardest by the pandemic, the events industry might be number one. According to a new survey, 61% of event-focused business owners in the UK say they’re likely to go bankrupt by early next year without more government support – a loss of 413,000 jobs. They also report an average loss in revenue of £83,000 since March.

On this week’s podcast, we caught up with Digby Vollrath, co-founder of the company that carried out the survey, Feast It, which connects event planners with thousands of suppliers and street-food vendors. Digby says event companies are in a huge amount of trouble, and support is needed to make sure jobs are protected until things go back to relative normalcy. But, despite the challenges, he's bullish on the long-term future of the industry, pointing out that the street-food industry in the UK was ‘born out of the recession’ and a similar resurgence will happen here.

It’s not just wishful thinking – Feast It raised nearly £2m across two rounds before but also during the pandemic when, he says, their revenue was down 98%. 'And we managed to close the round at no worse terms than we'd done previously,’ he says. ‘We were doing scenario modelling every two weeks from about mid February and keeping our investors up to date. The idea being: here’s our best case, here's our middle case and here's our worst case – the worst always being zero revenue for the rest of the year.’ Digby says he and his co-founder were very honest in every conversation, laying out what might happen, and what they’d do to survive.

When events do re-emerge, they’ll come back in a big way, he says – meaning tons of new opportunities to fill gaps. ‘There will be a huge amount that can be done for businesses in the insurance space, and the same with accounting. Those are big spaces,’ he says. ‘There's also going to be an explosion in demand and a smaller number of businesses that can fulfil that demand. You’ll have a huge number of people who haven’t been in work for anywhere from six to 18 months, so suddenly you're going to need to fill those shifts again and retrain staff.'

Courier Weekly regulars will know that the great WFH experiment has thrown up lots of challenges over the past few months. For the vast majority of office workers, the transition hasn’t been too painful. For design teams – who still use hands-on, collaborative methods to build product prototypes – it’s been a whole new struggle. 

Over the past few months, more designers have been turning to tools such as Gravity Sketch, a 3D design and modeling platform, to get them over the hump. Individuals and teams can use Gravity Sketch to digitally build out products, work together in real time, and even just brush up on their product design skills. But, for Gravity Sketch, a small business itself, revenue was slowly drying up. 

‘In our larger accounts, production lines had come to a total stop – everything was suddenly on hold,’ explains co-founder Seyi Sosanya. ‘We knew we’d have to quickly reframe how we took the product to market.’ Seyi and co-founder Daniela Paredes Fuentes completely pivoted the company: after letting 20% of their workforce go, they decided to focus only on selling to small businesses and design studios. 

This, however, required a new communication and selling strategy. ‘We upped our YouTube game and online presence to prioritise educational content. We also had to embed empathy into our communication. As another small business, we could appreciate the boat they were in.’

Human connection became much more key to the selling process – for example, where Gravity Sketch can’t meet a customer’s needs, the team recommends competitors’ tools as well. But they’re not ignoring big business just yet. ‘The design teams in some of our larger accounts operate like startups as well. We just need to become their go-to, bread-and-butter tool.’

In September, self-cleaning water bottle brand LARQ successfully completed a Kickstarter fundraising campaign, collecting nearly £1.3m in one month. ‘If you want to be a consumer product, you really need to know your consumers well,’ says founder Justin Wang, ‘and for us, Kickstarter was an important extension of that journey.’

Justin included a deliberate effort to gather consumer feedback at every stage of the campaign. ‘The difference between crowdfunding and traditional [online retail] is that your first customers are always passionate. They want you to be successful.’ He outlines his top tips for putting together a compelling crowdfunding campaign.

  • It takes time: ‘Research who is going to be interested in cultivating your brand with you. Even as a small, bootstrapped company, you can organically find people on social media to test with. I’d say you need 30 days to do that preliminary research before launching the campaign.’

  • Get them involved: ‘Use your crowdfunding audience as a focus group. You can divide them up between those who have expressed an interest and those who have actually put their credit cards down, and test things like features, colours and customer journeys.’

  • Provide updates: ‘Newsletters and social media are easy ways to tell your story: while newsletters are about you talking directly to your customers, social media can be a more two-way dialogue. You also need to stay transparent when things don’t go to plan.’

  • Keep them excited: ‘Involve your backers in making final decisions on the product, but also give them sneak previews and exclusive content that is not available to the public. Keep your core group of early supporters engaged.’

1. How to make video calls (almost) as good as face to face.

2. Why the furniture resale market is booming.

3. A new report from Dazed on the future of youth culture.

4. Fragrance brands have (finally) embraced digital.

5. A new look at the brand making meatless chicken nuggets.

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