How I launched a business from a bus…
I had an idea and, like a lot of people, I wondered if I could make a business out of it. So, following the same process as in my day job and the time on my commute, I launched a business from a bus.
It’s called Plight Club. The first rule is: you DO talk about it. Plight Club is a community who are taking a risk and starting conversations. We are choosing to stand up to our nerves and embrace ourselves and others. The effects are amazing. By showing the Plight Club logo it opens deeper conversations on things that are real.
However, that’s not what it started as; the initial idea was simply a play on words. I felt there was something in it. Having suffered from anxiety I’m aware of, and there is, the stigma around talking about mental health. I’m very pleased to say I now fully appreciate the power of vulnerability and want to help others discover the same feeling. I thought the link to Fight Club might just break down a barrier for some people to reach out and talk because Fight Club is an iconic film therefore subconsciously it would make Plight Club, and talking, more palatable. That, or the play on words, would break the ice. Either way, a huge step is made as soon as a person asks ‘what’s Plight Club?’
Whether it’s helping News UK create a business incubator or rebranding a beer company there are three questions to ask when investigating a new area for a business to grow into: is the idea/proposition desirable, viable and feasible? Or put another way: do people want it? Can it support a business? Is it technically/physically possible (and legal)?
The initial question to answer is usually desirability because if people don’t understand, or want to pay for, what you’re selling the business won’t get far.
To gain confidence in an idea we use the Lean approach: using experiments to answer critical questions, we obtain the evidence required to make the case that we’re comfortable to progress with the next step, whether it’s answering the next uncertainty or developing the service.
You think it’s a good idea but do others?
On 8th October 2019, I was going to the Mad World Summit so I made use of the opportunity. I printed a t-shirt and wore it as if I’d bought it from a real business. I wanted people to ask me about the shirt. That would help answer if the name caught attention. Investment: £7.
Two people asked me about the shirt unprompted and the response from the ten I prompted was “I like that! That’s a great idea.” This test gave me some confidence but the audience at Mad World Summit is interested in mental health so the experiment wasn’t clean. I needed to confirm if ‘normal’ people got it.
For the next experiment, I gave away one hundred Plight Club pin badges. Investment: £22. They were free but most people chose to display them openly on their bag or coat.
It appeared that people felt similar to me and were happy to wear the logo, and therefore be part of the community.
Are people willing to pay for and use your product?
Spurred on from Mad World Summit I decided to kill three birds with one stone. Which tbh isn’t best practice in experiments but if you’re getting an answer for your main assumption and there’s an opportunity to learn other things, why not!
In order to test if more people got the idea AND to see if they’d be willing to pay for a shirt AND wear the brand, I purchased ten t-shirts. Investment: £119. I kept two to wear myself to see if even more people understood it. The t-shirts worked as a great conversation starter at parties and the ones that ensued were real and genuine (result!). I sold the other eight t-shirts to colleagues and friends. Sales: £96.
My confidence was growing but both audiences were captive. I wanted (or needed) further evidence.
It’s key to say that in order for people to act as they normally would, and therefore get genuine evidence, whatever you’re testing needs to look as real as possible. For Plight Club to be a viable business it would require cash flow. The first experiment around that was an online shop.
Using Squarespace, back on the bus, I created the first version of Plightclub.co.uk. The ‘shop’, at this stage, was images of mocked up (not real) T-shirts with an email link to me to purchase. To test it, I spammed everyone on my phone with the link to the site. I didn’t try and sell it in the message because that would taint the test. I got 2 orders. Investment: £75.77 (domain, hosting and build platform).
Now I was comfortable enough that the idea appealed to more than just me. At this point, I’d invested my time and circa £260. I’d sold £96 worth of product, therefore, I was out of pocket £166.
The site could have carried on as it was but I knew I didn’t have time to fulfill lots of orders, space to hold stock and I didn’t want to invest in stock (yet). I’d given myself enough evidence to invest a bit more to see if this could really go somewhere. To be ready for that, down the line, I’d need a fully working shop with made-to-order products. I built one with Wix and Printful (investment £115.20). There are now a variety of different products available to suit whichever way people would prefer to support the cause. Check out the shop here.
For approximately £480 and some spare time, the business is launched. Plightclub.co.uk, although very small, is fully functioning. I’d answered feasibility and I’d got a steer I was comfortable with on desirability. There’s still the question of scale…
Is there a large enough community to make a viable business?
According to Anxiety UK, six million people are affected by depression or an anxiety disorder. I know from experience that a lot of people would like to talk about how they feel (particularly men) but don’t and I think it’s reasonable to say that most people feel a level of anxiety at times. That’s not to say everyone is the customer of Plight Club. Note: If you’re running a business and you think everyone is your customer, they’re not. Read this to find out more about that.
There’s work to be done on exactly who the target market is but, as the backend of the business was now functioning by itself, I could allow time to research and see who engages with the cause. A movement takes just one step (from a lot of people), therefore I need a bit of time to see if lots of people are willing to join the community.
To market Plight Club and build the community I created an Instagram account — @plightclubhq — on 20th November 2019 (please join us). To date, there are 25 posts, 138 followers and 477 profile visits in the last 7 days. People are engaging and two people, so far, have shared touching stories of them pushing through the feeling of vulnerability (result!).
Another idea I had came from the men’s group I’m part of. The energy that arises when we share our feelings is palpable — I want as many people as possible to feel it for themselves. I thought, why not convert any existing space into an area which encourages conversation? This will hopefully aid talking right there and then but also work as a marketing tool by directing people to the website. Part of the Plight Club proposition is ‘Talking stations’ — signposts which can be downloaded from the site and then placed on any table e.g. cafe, gallery, office, university. https://www.plightclub.co.uk/talking-stations
The first Talking Station went live in Tottenham’s N15 cafe on Broad Lane on January 7th. So far the owner says people are talking (result!). The second one went live at Birds Hill Coffee near Borough station on January 9th. 3rd, The Sawmill, Stratford. 4th Genet restaurant, Seven Sisters. The next spaces to test are universities and corporate environments; I have a meeting with the global head of HR for a large insurance company next week. Investment: £19.99.
The most recent marketing experiment is a medium article about ‘how I launched a business from a bus’. Will it help build the community, generate sales at plightclub.co.uk and/or attract interest in investment..? The result of that is TBC :)
P.S. Please use your voice and help spread the cause by talking and forwarding this on. But, specifically, if anyone happens to know or can contact Brad Pitt — or any of the cast of Fight Club — please send them this link. Brad has openly talked about depression (nice one Brad!) and imagine if he, or they, wore the logo… that would be a touch!
More I’ve written: “How facing my own anxiety helped me to better understand my job”, “3-steps to get time back (and grow your business) — part 1 of 2”, “7 things kickboxing taught me about innovation”, “Social media: A silent killer of innovation”