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Friday 12th June

It's been a busy week! You'll notice a fresh look and feel to this edition of Courier Weekly. And speaking of fresh, we have a new magazine out focusing on what reopening looks like for small businesses around the world and great leadership in times of crisis. Make sure you grab a copy. Elsewhere, on this week's podcast we speak to founders in Atlanta, Brooklyn and London about whether the surge of interest in black-owned businesses because of Black Lives Matter is a blip or will have lasting impact (we very much hope the latter). Tune in here. We hope you enjoy.

In recent years, the wellness industry has been called out again and again for only striving to appeal to affluent and thin white women. And it has been deserving of that criticism. But since George Floyd’s death and following #BlackOutTuesday and the ongoing protests in the US and across the globe, we’ve noticed a huge pick up in wellness brands attempting to tackle the industry’s diversity problem head on.

You might have seen The Nue Co posting not only about Black Lives Matter but making pledges that look to have a big impact beyond just the next few weeks. Asystem has been putting its money where its mouth is, too. Throughout the month, the LA-based brand is donating 100% of profits to Black Lives Matter. It's also started a content initiative to spotlight black-owned businesses (its first series focuses on nutritionists).

‘Traditionally the wellness industry’s image was greatly lacking in diversity,’ says Oliver Walsh, who co-founded the business in 2017. He says Asystem initially wanted to change perceptions of wellness and ‘antiquated notions of masculinity’ for men, but this mindset paved the way for greater diversity as a whole, with greater representation in its campaigns and across its feed. ‘We’re actively working on unlearning, educating and action to better support the BIPOC community,’ says Oliver. ‘Every business has a responsibility to use its platform to create positive change.’

Elsewhere, black squares that have seemed more like ways for brands to appear inclusive, rather than actually addressing the problem of ‘performative wokeness’, have attracted hundreds of negative comments. ‘Wellness is generally whitewashed,’ says Chinazo Ufodiama, co-founder of the Unpretty beauty podcast, which puts black people and people of colour more widely at the core of its conversations. ‘When I think of the word wellness, I think of skinny, blonde yoga girls’, says Basma Khalifa, the other co-founder.

It’s worth noting that, comparatively, there aren’t as many black-owned wellness brands. And those like Golde, a New York-based superfood label, and Naaya, a Brooklyn-based yoga studio – opted not to engage with #BlackOutTuesday. On which note…

How a brand communicates what it stands for is something founders are putting a lot of time and effort into right now. For London-based marketing expert Charlotte Williams (featured on today's edition of our podcast), it goes a lot deeper than just posting on social media. 'It's tricky because we have a call-out culture – if you're not posting something on social, people ask why. But businesses need to understand that the job is done behind the scenes. Look around your office – the reason why you may not have done the best job at creating inclusive content is because your team isn't inclusive. So focus on ways you can recruit a diverse workforce or actively support people within the black community. If you can't donate money, can you donate time? Can you offer mentorship schemes? Can you host brands who need help on your platform and share them with your audience? There are so many things you can do beyond just posting on Instagram.'

As a direct result of Covid-19, the options for free online fitness classes seem almost endless – a problem if you make your living from it. Alex Phillips, who runs Alps Movement studio in Zurich, showed us some of the ways fitness instructors can adapt their offering to stand out. For example, she cut her classes from one hour to 30 minutes to make them more digestible (with pricing aligned with her previous hourly rates), introduced a new online membership to simulate regular studio membership and she's holding more group classes, with capacity set at 18 so sufficient attention is given to each student. 

‘Everything has made me refocus on the type of teaching I do, and why I do it,’ says Alex. The key challenge has been building awareness around the problem facing fitness instructors and studios – and why influencer-led classes on IGTV don’t necessarily benefit an individual’s practice. Finding Instagram ineffective, Alex has instead focused on outlining the reality as directly to her customers as possible: before or after classes and in her newsletters.

‘The issue is that the product is a person – it’s a difficult balance,’ she says. Alex is now establishing a grassroots support network for others in the same situation, hosting brainstorm sessions with independent teachers and studio owners in LA, London and the south of France to discuss how they’re coping and communicating the problem. ‘Independents don’t really have a network or place to connect – I’ve even thought about starting a magazine!’ (A great idea, though of course we’d say that...) 

Another industry that’s having to completely rethink how it operates because of Covid-19 is travel (check out this excellent deep dive in the form of 100 questions from Skift). One way businesses in the sector are trying to lure back customers is by taking advantage of those looking for adventures closer to home. When the London-based travel company Pluto was founded in 2018, it planned several new travel apps, starting with mobile-based travel insurance for young adult consumers. ‘Covid brought this down to pretty much zero,’ says co-founder Harry Williams, and the company had to take some pretty drastic steps. Following a survey Pluto carried out asking hundreds of people about their future travel plans, 30% of respondents said they want to travel more, not less, in the near future.

A £690,000 investment last October meant Pluto had a safety net, and a chance to remodel a second app already in the works. Pinboard, released later this month, is a free platform for groups of friends to plan their trips on (rather than using, say, a scrappy WhatsApp thread). Though initially designed for major foreign cities, Pluto shifted the app to a domestic market: if people want to travel more, and restrictions are in place, then concentrating on home turf will provide a wider audience. The move has paid off: around 3,000 customers have signed up for early access. ‘Moving forwards,’ adds Harry, ‘everything will be about travelling in a more sustainable way. But while domestic travel will be bigger, it is to some extent just a placeholder.’

Some travel businesses have pivoted away from the idea of travelling altogether. Split, in Singapore, used to partner with travel agencies to help consumers spread the cost of their holiday (young travellers, for example, make up a large chunk of the market but often don’t have the cash to pay all at once). Since early May, the team decided to apply the same thinking but shift its algorithm towards e-commerce. Since retail is struggling and buyers are cash-cautious, if Split can, well, split the difference, then neither party needs to miss out.

One thing most founders of travel companies seem to agree on at such an uncertain time is the importance of getting your marketing right and restoring a sense of control to consumers. Saniya Shah is looking to take advantage of this. Pilot, her New York-based startup, uses machine-learning to predict possible travel disruption and help users choose more optimal routes. The company has just finished tweaking its AI to design a free Covid analyser providing travellers with coronavirus reports, and prospects of outbreak, at their destination of choice. ‘We will travel but how we travel is another matter,’ says Saniya, adding that there’s no point sugar-coating the challenges ahead. The world is still spinning, just more slowly.

Like so many other companies, some of us at Courier HQ have seen our roles pivot a bit since the pandemic took hold, which led us to thinking about imposter syndrome, an all-too-common problem. We reached out to Dr Valerie Young, a leading expert in the field, to find out how to approach the issue. In her own words:

Consider the source. ‘Understand the social and situational factors behind your feelings. For example, are you the first professional in your family? Do you work alone or in a creative, academic, medical or STEM field? Are you one of a few women, racial minorities, youngest/oldest, or disabled persons in your company or role?’

Normalise it. ‘Around 70% of people have experienced imposter syndrome, so why wouldn’t you?’

Reframe your thoughts. ‘Become more consciously aware of the conversation going on in your head and then actively reframe it, like “non-imposters” do. Instead of thinking, “I have no idea what I’m doing,” try and think, “I’ve never done this before but I’m smart enough to figure it out”.’

Persevere. ‘Change your goal from curing impostor syndrome the second it arises to talking yourself down from these thoughts more quickly, in the knowledge that your impostor feelings will fade over time.’
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