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Courier produces useful, inspiring content for modern entrepreneurs. Our Friday newsletter features stories on working better and living smarter.
Friday 28th August

This week: the fashion brand that holds no stock, a fruit delivery service doing things differently, why you should get influencers to invest in your company, how to launch a tattoo shop during lockdown, and the delicate art of being indispensable at work. Plus, applications close for our Fresh Fund today, so make sure to check it out and apply!

Musician Frank Carter was six weeks away from completing building works on a new tattoo parlour in east London when lockdown happened. With construction of Rose of Mercy grinding to a halt and tattooing – a process requiring people to be physically close – out of the question, Frank and his team had to innovate to keep excitement and demand high.

Building an online community was the first step. Blanaid Kenny took care of Rose of Mercy’s social media and influencer marketing strategy, which continued to keep followers engaged and entertained. The team launched Ink Roulette, a live-streamed art show where Frank’s work could be showcased and sold. ‘Not only did it help contribute financially and fill a void that was lost from tattooing,’ Frank says, ‘but it also gave me a direct line to my fans in a way that I had previously never explored.’

Anxiety about social distancing still looms heavy over tattoo parlours and cosmetics businesses. Adhering to social distancing guidelines, Rose of Mercy is also designed to be a creative space, with purpose-built desks for painting throughout the studio and an ambition to become a hub for discussion: ‘We are working with creatives across all subcultures to bring talks and workshops to our clients and team,’ says Frank.

Despite the concerns, Rose of Mercy has seen ample demand since restrictions were lifted, making the case for the vitality of bricks-and-mortar businesses. ‘Tattoo shops are one of the few commercial spaces that are saving the high street,’ Frank says, nodding to a crisis facing small businesses in the UK. ‘It’s not a product that can be bought online and delivered to your door.’

Adaptability in the workplace has become pretty significant – because whatever you thought 2020 was going to look like, you were probably wrong. Yet letting go of old ways of working and learning new skills is easier said than done. Here's what Bruce Tulgan, author of the timely new book The Art of Being Indispensable at Work, recommends: 

  • Show up intending to serve. If your speciality isn't in demand anymore, don't just complain; instead, take the time and energy to get really good at whatever it is you are now being asked to do. Make it your speciality and be adaptable. Value is in the eye of the beholder. 

  • You can't make everyone happy. With backs to the wall throughout the pandemic, people are being asked to do anything and everything. Sure, you have to be more adaptable, but that doesn't mean saying 'yes' to everything or you'll quickly become overcommitted and start letting people down when you fail to deliver everything on time. So, think about the opportunity cost of saying ‘yes’ or saying ‘no’. Think about the quality of the opportunity – every good 'no' frees up time for a better 'yes'. 

  • Get better at reporting to your boss. It's important you both know where each other is coming from. Tell them what you are doing and be very granular. The more closely aligned you are with your boss, the more support and resources you will be given to get the work done. You'll also be more likely to be appropriately rewarded and recognised for your efforts. And when it comes to your boss, ignore the previous tip – never say ‘no’!

Gabi Lewis was once the co-founder of Exo, a company that made protein bars out of crickets. He’s since sold that company and swapped crickets for cereal as co-founder of Magic Spoon, a grain-free, low-carb, high-protein direct-to-consumer cereal brand. Today on the podcast, we talk with Gabi about efficient marketing tactics. Here are some of them:

Social advertising. 'Five years ago, you could almost have any idea and run some Facebook ads – because clicks were so cheap you could get your first million dollars in sales or whatever it might be. It's much harder now in general. With Covid it got easier again, but now going into Q4 with the election and with Black Friday, it’s going to get harder. It's just supply and demand.'

Podcast portfolio. 'We'll sponsor some really big podcasts for awareness – Joe Rogan, Pod Save America, Tim Ferriss. Our focus is still return on ad spend, so it's not a pure brand or awareness play, but the efficiency is a little worse than the smaller ones. Some of the podcasts we sponsor are really, really small – maybe we're their first sponsor. And those are a lot more efficient in terms of return on ad spend. You've obviously got to do a lot of them to get the same reach.'

What’s worked for others? 'There are tools online where you can literally see what brands have repeat-purchased their media buys on podcasts. Has every brand just done it once and never again? In which case, it's probably a little bit overpriced and probably not a good return on ad spend. Or are brands doing it once as a test and then renewing every month for a year?'

Influencers as investors. 'The first million dollars in financing we raised, half of it was from influencers. We brought onboard people with 100K to maybe 500K followers in the health-and-wellness world and they invested various amounts. We give them revenue share on what they promote as well. So, there's a double incentive – if they post about us and sell $50,000 worth of cereal, they'll get a nice chunk of that, but they also own a piece of the company, so they're going to see it again in the future if we sell the business.'

When Peigh Asante bit into a custard apple for the first time late last year, he thought, ‘Oh my God, what is this creamy-textured goodness?’ Just a few weeks later, Trap Fruits London was born. But the fruit box delivery company is about much more than fine-tasting fruit.

‘Trap Fruits London is a culture, not a phase,’ says Peigh, a 35-year-old creative who has worked on major advertising campaigns as well as other ventures such as Swim Dem Crew. ‘People will buy into our purpose as much as they will the fruit. The goal is to serve the community quality fruit and educate them on the fruit that we’re sourcing. Because supermarket fruit isn’t fresh – often it’s been in transit for weeks, if not months.’

What’s more, he continues, there aren’t many Black-owned fruit businesses in London. ‘It’s important that we’re visible so other Black people are motivated and encouraged by what we’re doing. You can’t be what you can’t see. Also, so many fruits are imported yet people from those same backgrounds aren’t benefiting from the sales.’

From the pros and cons of starting a fresh fruit box delivery brand in the middle of a pandemic to why it’s important for more black-owned businesses to work in this space, check out the full conversation here.

William Hauvette and Rodolphe Gardies are menswear veterans. The pair founded a men’s knitwear brand that followed the classic fashion model of buying stock to sell on to customers, with retailers cutting a margin somewhere in between. Eventually, they had created a product that even they couldn't afford.

So, back to the drawing board they went, enlisting a group of their friends to participate in a feedback session. 'We realised that we weren’t answering their basic needs,' Rodolphe says. 'Their jumpers were shrinking, pilling and itching, issues that hadn’t even crossed our minds.' The team had a monumental task ahead of them: to create what Rodolphe calls 'the perfect jumper'.

Their friends had given them a price that they'd be willing to pay for that jumper, a number that became the benchmark and the budget for developing the product. This experiment gave rise to a new brand – Asphalte was launched in October 2016. The premise is simple: one timeless product is prototyped and launched every few weeks, with customers only being able to adjust for colour and size. The company itself holds no stock; working on a pre-order basis, it has materials delivered only when an order is placed.

Having sold 2,500 units of its first product, Asphalte has since grown to a community of 60,000 subscribers in France alone, due to the fact that the model eliminates the need to make difficult consumption choices, says Rodolphe. Consumers are also drawn in by the franc-parler, or genuine nature, of the brand, according to Peter Macdonald, who's joined the company in time for their UK launch on 1 September. 'There are a very sophisticated number of emails that go out to customers, giving them every piece of information about the product,' he says. 'The brand does not take from customers, but rather acts on their behalf.'

1. Your weekly reminder to support small businesses.

2. A deep-dive on the rise of stock trading app Robinhood.

3. How to build an impact-first organisation.

4. A 'unified symbol for Black commerce worldwide'.

5. Startups tap 'pandemic-weary college students'.

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