1 March 2019 Courier Weekly

Building your best life

PLUS: Crisis management – Culture – Name changes – Glossier Play

What founders do next

For a lucky few, exiting a business can generate more than enough wealth to pursue a long-held passion project without worrying about paying the bills.

This week, Buffer’s co-founder Leo Widrich talked about how he went to live in a woodland monastery. Now he makes his money through emotional resilience coaching. Meanwhile, Michael and Xochi Birch, founders of social network Bebo have used their $500m (£377m) windfall to build what sounds like a resort town in the county of Devon, with a pub, restaurant and hotel.

But such pipe dreams don’t require anywhere near this level of wealth to fulfil. Running a rural pub – like the Birches – requires hundreds of thousands, not hundreds of millions.

As attitudes towards making money shift, with less focus on making as much as possible and more on building an enjoyable life, founders should take time to sense-check their goals – and not pursue growth for growth’s sake.

Dealing with bad days

This week in London, the Casual Dining Show gave us a great opportunity to find stories for our upcoming food issue (stay tuned!), and hear seasoned restaurant operators talk about their most stressful days at work. Some highlights:

  • Tim Foster, founder of Yummy Pub Co, which operates six pubs across the UK, discussed the time ‘we had 10 fire engines and 72 firemen tackling a fire at our central London site.’ He said training staff to handle unpredictable situations calmly and professionally is essential. ‘When stuff’s running great it’s easy to operate this business. When you’re up against the wall you need the training and the tools to do it – it’s about the people you surround yourself with.’
  • Jo Fleet was managing director at Wahaca when it was hit by norovirus and had to close 11 restaurants across the UK. ‘It lasted four or five days, but felt like a couple of weeks,’ she said. Her crisis management advice is to take copious notes outlining why a decision has been made. ‘It can often become fuzzy when you’re in the middle of a disaster.’
  • Brian Whiting, owner of pub group Whiting & Hammond, talked about the pain of settling a £500,000 insurance claim. ‘Make sure all your paperwork is in order. Always,’ he said. ‘The first thing insurance companies want to check is that you’ve got your gas certificate, electric certificate and that everything’s up to date – because they want to wiggle out of everything.’

Building a resilient company culture

Shamil Thakrar, co-founder of Indian restaurant chain Dishoom, was also at the conference and talked about how creating a solid company culture is about something more profound than just getting some decent perks in place.

‘A few years ago we got some hate mail,’ he told the audience. ‘Some guy, a Hindu fundamentalist, wrote us a nasty email saying: “You’re a Hindu [but] I saw pictures of Muslim children fasting on your website. May your mothers and sisters dance in front of Muslims naked!” That same year, I saw a [picture] from our [company] Eid festival. There were three hands – one belonging to a girl called Gita, a Hindu name, one belonging to a girl called Ayesha, which is a Muslim name, and one belonging to a girl called Sarah. They had mehndi [body art] on them. It was the opposite of that hate mail. It was people celebrating each other’s differences. We embed that deeply into our culture.’

What’s in a name?

This week we caught up with Emily Brooke, founder of Beryl, the company behind the green laser lights that appear on official bike-sharing schemes in London, New York and beyond.

The company is currently in the process of pivoting towards bike sharing (more on that in the next issue of Courier), and Brooke told us how rebranding from Blaze – its original name – to Beryl has been part of that journey.

‘We were a consumer bike light company and now we’re thinking much more about bike-sharing, so we wanted to refresh and redesign anyway,’ Brooke says. ‘Timing it with manufacturing – our logo is printed on every single thing we make – was tricky.’

A patent dispute made it more pressing to choose a new name, but finding something that ticked all of the boxes – one syllable, unintimidating, beginning with B, referencing the green of the company’s bike lights and, of course, not infringing on anyone else’s copyright – was an exhausting task. After around a year, the company settled on Beryl, which refers to women’s cycling legend Beryl Burton and also beryllium, the mineral that emeralds contain.

Glossier’s mysterious brand extension

What is Glossier making? Last week, the direct-to-consumer beauty brand teased a mysterious brand extension on social media called Glossier Play.

Looking at patent records, it appears it could be a wider lifestyle brand – with hair, dental and laundry products covered by the filing.

Brand extensions have always been tempting – with the current crop including everything from WeWork’s gym brand Rise to WeTransfer’s content arm – but they’re notoriously tricky to get right, and many fail for a number of reasons.

While the odds are against it, shampoos and toothpaste feel close enough to Glossier’s original range of beauty and skincare products that it could work.

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