Beerbods, Patchwork and Brixton Pound talk people power

When the word ‘community’ was co-opted by business and brands in the late 2000s it's rapid and widespread use rendered it an almost meaningless term. To many ill-informed marketing departments it meant setting up brand fan pages on Facebook (does a detergent really need a community?), to others it meant simply tweaking language in communications: using 'community' rather than 'customers' for example. 

We thought we’d revisit the theme for Challenger Project Live in 2016 but take a more substantive look at how genuine communities are being both served by, and benefitting emerging challenger brands today. As Bermondsey Street basked in 25 degree sunshine outside, we heard from three founders that have harnessed collective action to reach their respective goals.

Matt Lane, founder of BeerBods talked about the power of ritual for a community and explained how their Thursday 9pm #BeerBods tastings and the public discussions that followed on Twitter effectively provide much of their marketing.

We have an inherently social business model, every Thursday night is an advert for BeerBods just by us doing what we do.
— Matt Lane

Although BeerBods were the world's first online beer subscription club, the arrival of new players such as DeskBeers and HonestBrew have created an increasingly competitive market. Asked how BeerBods can stay ahead of the competition during the audience Q&A, Matt responded, “Our voice may have been diluted, but through our idea of collaborative consumption and us having a slot that’s uniquely ours, it makes sure that when we want to talk about beer we’ve got a time to do it”. 

Matt spoke about their investment in producing video content as a way to keep providing value to their growing audience. “Video is a huge investment of both time and money" said Matt, "and although I couldn’t be more different to Gary Vaynerchuck,  what he’s done with wine and Wine Library TV has been really inspiring to us."

Olivia Knight, founder at Patchwork spoke about how she crowd-sourced her initial funding across 25 investors as a way to avoid giving any one individual too much equity and control over her fledgling business before they had even launched. Although Olivia also stressed the importance of not accepting investment from just anyone. “If you’re going to get money from a crowd you don’t just want mass", Olivia said, "You need to make sure they're the right kind of people”.

As a way to filter out those investors who might not share her approach to business, Olivia fixed posters with some of her principles written on to the walls of the venue where she held her initial investor pitch. The filter proved effective and whittled the prospective investors down to 25, who not only brought her the £250,000 investment required, but were also like-minded allies and supporters who would help offer advice, skills and connections along the journey. 

It’s not profit at all cost, it’s profit by building a business that has principles that I can live by.
— Olivia Knight

Last up was, Tom Shakhil the General Manager of Brixton Pound, the local currency set up to stop money leaking out of Brixton but also at a broader level to encourage people to think about the current economic system and the negative impact it can have on local communities. “90 pence of every pound spent in a chain store leaves the local area” Tom said, "Chains are akin to mining machines, sucking the wealth out of an area".

Brixton Pound was created around this idea that real wealth is not about how much we have but how much we give.
— Tom Shakil

Adorned with local heroes such as David Bowie as well as public art, the notes celebrate and connect people to Brixton and have become desirable collectables internationally, often fetching four times their monetary worth on eBay. “Everyone has had that experience where they’ve been to a crap community website and thought 'Ah bless, how sweet'" Tom said. "But what we’ve tried to do is punch above our weight and create something that has real appeal to it”. These notes were then shared around the audience for closer inspection - Tom did get them all back. 

Tom explained that local businesses in Brixton became willing to adopt the currency once they connected with the extrinsic values and bigger purpose of the project. “It was really about us just talking to small business owners" said Tom, and then leveraging those businesses that were already signed up.”

A big thanks to Matt, Olivia, and and Tom for sharing their stories and thanks to Karma Cola and Brixton Brewery for providing the refreshments.

Challenger Project Live is a quarterly event hosted by eatbigfish at their London office. The next event will be on Thursday 8th September 2016. Places are limited and sell out quickly so make sure you're on the mailing list to be the first to hear about tickets.

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