20 April 2018 Courier Weekly

The Hard Yard’s social proposition wasn’t enough to entice investors

PLUS: Healthy corner shops – Milan design week – Gig economy – US logistics

The Hard Yard enters its final week of business.

Fitness brand The Hard Yard announced last week that it will cease trading on 30 April.

Founder Frankie Bennett says the decision came as the company struggled to raise funding. ‘It got to a stage where we were looking at running it without paying ourselves,’ Bennett told Courier. ‘We couldn’t go on without a serious cash injection.’

The Hard Yard, which launched with a programme of bodyweight fitness classes run by ex-prisoners in 2017, had a total of four employees but was not yet turning a profit.

Bennett says the commitment to training up ex-prisoners as fitness instructors may have caused confusion among investors, who were unsure if the venture was a charity or a for-profit organisation (it was the latter).

It raises broader questions about how companies with a social mission should present themselves to investors. One solution could be to turn to investors already switched on to the idea that it’s possible to make money while having a positive social impact.

Business incubator Zinc, co-founded by Local Globe partner Saul Klein, runs six month programmes to bring founders together to launch mission-led businesses. Mustard Seed and Bethnal Green Ventures also prioritise investment in purpose-driven businesses.

Corner shops: the healthy option.

A new US retail brand, The Goods Yard, launched on Wednesday. It aims to provide a ‘healthy’ alternative to the convenience store.

Based in Silver Lake – a trendy Los Angeles neighbourhood – the Goods Yard stocks vegan condoms, Finnish liquorice and Paleo-friendly pork scratchings. If all goes well, founder Rachel Krupa is hoping to take the concept nationwide next year (unperturbed by previous backlash aimed at startups trying to modernise the cornershop concept.)

Dining out during Milan design week.

Negroni-inspired lighting and interstellar furniture: Milan’s design week kicked off on 17 April and runs through the weekend.

It’s the largest furniture fair in the world, and a favourite for designers to debut new products or install ostentatious displays.

This year, a tongue-in-cheek American diner has been set up where visitors can refuel between exhibitions. The project – a collaboration between Rockwell Group architects, Surface Magazine and design agency 2×4 – is serving up burgers and spritz for lunch and dinner for the rest of the week.

Zosia Swidlicka, Marketing Manager for LED lightbulb company Tala, is at the fair now, and told Courier the installation is ‘big, bold and brash’ (in other words, unapologetically all-American). She rated the decor and cocktails – ‘but maybe give the food a miss’.

Global solutions to the gig economy.

This week, a blog post by Apolitical, a platform to connect civil servants and policy makers across the world, pondered New Zealand’s proposal to solve the problems of the gig economy. In many countries, there’s a debate over whether or not the ‘workers’ in this space are actually ‘employees’ of the likes of Uber, Lyft or Deliveroo, and should therefore receive the benefits that come with that status.

New Zealand has created a new category of worker. Rather than being a ‘contractor’ or ‘freelancer’ as you would be in the UK, an Uber driver might find themselves categorised as a ‘dependent contractor’. The idea is this new designation will reflect the level of control the ride-hailing companies exert over the routes drivers take and how much they charge.

In the UK, courts have said that Uber must treat drivers as workers – providing holiday pay and minimum wage – setting a precedent for other such gig-work-dependent companies.

In the US, however, things appear to be going in the opposite direction. A court in Philadelphia ruled this week that limousine drivers for Uber are independent contractors, not employees.

The bulky appeal of ‘last mile’ in the US.

The conversation around last-mile delivery – getting products to a customer’s front door as quickly as possible – has been dominated by small firms such as Quiqup (UK) or Doorman (US) which often rely on cycle couriers or moped drivers to drop off packages.

In the US, however, it appears heavyweight trucking companies are threatening to take over the space, partnering with nimble e-commerce brands to provide logistics services. The truckers are tapping into increased demand for swift delivery of bulky items, brought on by the arrival of direct-to-consumer furniture companies.

One firm – XPO Logistics, the largest last-mile delivery company in the US – announced in February that it would bring its service to Europe. It currently partners with Amazon and online homeware store Overstock to provide logistics. This week, the company also announced voice-activated tracking via Amazon’s Alexa device, so customers can simply ask Alexa where their parcel is.