Survive & Diversify
What a mad year it has been eh!? From starting off with hope of it being our biggest year yet, to closing the studio for months, then diversifying and changing course and fighting to survive, to starting to thrive again. Wowee!
Despite the uncertainty and the anxiety all business owners faced during this time with the pandemic, we managed to survive as a company, creating new products (it was scary to launch them into the unknown) and new experiences that we feel very fortunate to have been able to do. With creative thinking, hard work, customer focus and persistence, along with a bit of luck, we’re getting through and firmly believe that with that mix, everything is possible.
My fiancé and business partner Diana and I are fortunate enough to live in our own home that has enough space for us to work comfortably. Many out there haven't had that luxury and may have kids to take care of out of school or have had family members or friends falling ill with the virus. We have been incredibly fortunate this year and are loath to complain about things below as a result and wanted to make the most of it. If it comes across as positive, please don't take offence, this is a blog to celebrate the highlights and pivotal experiences we have had as a business in 2020 and in spite of the pandemic, and I hope that it inspires you too. We are focusing on the bright side where we can as there’s so much negativity flying around - understandably, as it has been really hard for so many and continues to be.
New Year, Fresh Start
The year started off well, as demand for M.Y.O's creative classes soared in Jan, Feb and March 2020. We also trialled a Creative Lates concept which was supported by the brill digital educators Growth Tribe - bringing creativity to networking in the studio with lots of lovely people. Creative networking.
We ran a series of creative sessions locally with Better Bankside and had one of our proudest moments to date, being a partner on and having a huge room at the Life Lessons festival 2020 in the Barbican Centre, bringing a fun and relaxing creative outlet to 100s of guests over the course of the weekend event, surrounded by other phenomenal partners like the Sunday Times, Waterstone’s and Penguin. It felt a little out of our league, but turned out to be a fantastic experience.
A team from Marks & Spencer came to use the studio to go wild for a creative team building day and we headed to Canary Wharf to run abstract painting sessions at Miss Jones PA's Wellness Summit. We also hosted a couple of our 'hustle days', to support creative entrepreneurs in the studio and share learnings and ideas with each other. It can be lonely working as an independent creative and so where possible we try and get everyone together and vibe off each other.
Whallop! Creativity in Isolation
It was going to be our best year ever - then March 16th - WHALLOP! Zero sales, cancellations and refunds. As it turned out, it would be July until we hosted another class. I’d actually been due to take that week off for holidays as I was pretty tired, there had been tonnes going on since Christmas and needed a little recharge.
#Createsolation was started on M.Y.O's instagram, where Diana (Diana was put on furlough in her job also) tried something creative each day and shared it with helpful how-to tips to inspire people at home to get creative and stay away from the news. We loaded up a few boxes of arts and crafts supplies from the studio. Wire art, origami, string art, lino printing, paper flowers, calligraphy, brush lettering and tonnes more. Had a little play with stop-motion too.
We reached 5,000 followers on Instagram too. Regular zoom calls were had with parents, family and close friends. Online quizzes anyone? Remember House Party? Joe Wicks kept the nation exercising and a trip to the local Morrison’s felt like going on holiday. Mid March to June went by in a flurry, as the nation adjusted to the new normal. This was going to be the case on and off until June / July 2021 we predicted, so had to plan and adjust accordingly - rolling lockdowns were inevitable until a vaccine was properly rolled out. The Government and local support had been really helpful to us. We know there are many who have fallen through the cracks of support - try to hang in there, it'll get better.
Large companies, who we generate most of our revenue from, tightened the purse strings for a while as they figured out what was happening - remote working, mental health support, childcare, holding onto clients etc. Virtual creative classes weren't an option for them really, yet. Doing lots of public online classes didn't seem to make much sense either, as there were so many great free things to do out there, as large institutions opened up their resources - virtual museums, virtual theatre shows with the National, which we availed of too! No time with all the quizzes and House Parties anyway! Thursday evenings were kept free to smash pots and pans in support of the incredible NHS workers, bringing local communities together.
Black Lives Matter
Not long after the first lockdown, the Black Lives Matter movement started to get real momentum owing to the death of George Floyd in the US. It was an opportunity for me to learn more about Diana’s childhood and experience, as a person of colour, history with racism and to learn about the impact it has had on her life, along with the emotional chain she has been carrying throughout her life with it. Books were read, podcasts were listened to, art was created, resources were shared, marches were attended safely and we featured black artists for a number of months in support. The lessons I learned will stay with the business and I forever. Black. Lives. Matter.
The Birth of Creative Jungle Company
Before Diana was made redundant from her full-time job at Monica Vinader in late summer, she worked with a talented creative intern called Melissa Frateantonio to bring the Creative Jungle Company brand to life and got going with growing that side of the business. Most of the illustrations in the next couple of pictures are from her.
Later in the summer, we dabbled with some online classes that were fun. As Creative Jungle developed, it would have a selection of creative kits, a podcast (ending up with 10+ episodes) speaking to inspirational entrepreneurs who do things creatively and lots of thoughts on creative thinking. It’s a brand that's all about bringing creativity to life and business! We firmly believe thinking more creatively is a super power that everyone has (it’s helped us massively turn things around), so it's important to share how to do it - especially for 2021 and beyond.
On the podcast we chatted to 10 lovely and talented people - Sani (inxsanixty), THE Monica Vinader (Monica Vinader), Tamzin Merchant (Actress from Salem, the Tudors and author of The Hatmaker's), Emily (Doodlemoo), Dan Heath (Daniel Heath studio), Joanna Cruickshanks (the Breathery), Abby Hobbs (illustrator and all round great person), Alex Chisnall (podcast guru / Podpreneur), Aonghus Shortt (founder of hardware startup Foodmarble), Josh Renouf (founder of hardware startup the Bariseur) and shared the story of setting up M.Y.O. To check out the podcast, go here. It was incredibly inspiring to hear how they have creatively gone about their lives and businesses.
Big Hair Parade and Sharing Our Story
We shared stories with Enterprise Nation, My Small Business Life and featured on Sir Richard Branson's Virgin Red app (for the creative kits we had just developed!) and featured in content by the amazingly supportive Virgin StartUp team. Diana also became a Council member of ICAS (The Institute of Chartered Accountants of Scotland), where she has spoken about our journey through Covid-19 and is there to offer advice and support to its members.
Working with the talented illustrator Abby Hobbs, she also wrote a fantastic illustrated children's picture book called Big Hair Parade celebrating afro hair. It's ace and is making children with all types of hairstyles happy around the world! It was a passion project for Diana and she came up with the idea over Christmas 2019. Carving out a Friday each week with Abby since the start of February to get it done. Well done DD!
From Business Partner To Fiancé!
Changes Are Coming
In late summer, we decided that I should get a full-time job elsewhere, as I was a little burned out from 3.5 years in the business and it was too risky having Diana and I being in the business together (as a household) with the ongoing pandemic / recession. So, I started a role with City, University of London and The Business School (formerly Cass) to help launch a project I am very passionate about - a co-working space for social impact entrepreneurs and change makers in Islington called Better Space - it will open in May 2021. Diana jumped into my position as CEO, brought her own twist to it and has been doing a brilliant job.
I will continue to work in Better Space part-time up to March / April 2021 to get the space launched and get back to supporting M.Y.O / Creative Jungle from February (which I am excited and really re-energised for - as we feel 2021 is going to be a time for real growth). Lock downs will ease and demand for in-person creative classes, creative kits, online classes and crafty how-to content will grow.
We also consciously surrounded ourselves with the people who had the energy to bring the business forward in this new stage - probably M.Y.O 4.0 by now! We’re very grateful for everyone that has worked with us and been a part of the journey over the years, you’ve been brilliant. There is really good energy and diversity in the core and extended team now, which excites us! I salute you Kirsty, Abby, Maika, Edlyl, Eloisa and of course Diana - thanks so much for everything and for keeping this creative dream of ours alive. Female creative power at its finest! We’ve also started getting some support from Melissa and her great team of virtual PAs at Spare My Time and it's been lovely getting to know Emily (Doodlemoo) and Dan (Daniel Heath Studio) from the podcasts.
Special shout out to our general manager Kirsty for keeping the ship steady throughout the year in spite of everything. We were so happy to make her a part-owner of the business over the summer too, as a reward for her great work. She rocks! Her husband Tom has been great too.
Doing Good Along The Way
It’s important to give back as you go and we can always do more, so between lockdowns we ran free creative workshops for Age UK, a cause we really care about, had subsidised sessions for the Prince's Trust (pre-Covid), ran fundraising sessions for Breast Cancer Now, took part in Ovarian Cancer Action's Rose Garden campaign and donated to causes like Hospitality Action - all causes greatly impacted by the pandemic. We will do more in the year ahead. We've also been happy to host free virtual classes with Imperial College - blending creativity and science, talking about the moon, plants and soon - hearts! We do get paid for the Imperial ones, mind.
It’s also been great to be a volunteer mentor with Virgin StartUp and Mentor Black Business, to help some startups navigate their own challenges. So many friends are coming up with startup ideas I enjoy giving feedback on too - it makes me even more excited for the possibilities and changes that will come in late 2021!
Finishing the Year with a Virtual Blast
Over Christmas 2020 we hosted 100s of guests for online Christmas creative parties, mostly supplying Creative Jungle creative kits and hosting live virtual creative classes alongside them. Working with teams from Google, Mastercard, Deepmind, Stitchfix and LinkedIn early on this new journey was a really good endorsement of what we were doing, too - we’ve been dumbfounded.
But, we know that doing something creative is a really fun thing to do online for team building and to let off some steam, but also to get all parts of your brain fired up and to build confidence. In the background to this, the branded content side of the business (we make crafty how-to videos too) has really grown over the year thanks to Kirsty and we now regularly work with a HUGE magical brand (whom we can’t reveal). The videos we've helped them make have been seen by millions of their followers and fans, with 1,000s of positive comments.
At the start of 2020, it really felt like it was the year to grow and things were put in place for that to happen, but it was more about diversifying and surviving! We've adapted and built a great team and are prepared to take 2021 on at full steam. Let's see how it goes!
Thank you and feeling blessed
Massive thanks to the 1,000s and 1,000s of guests who come to the studio each year, support us online and tell the world about us. You're amazing!
And big thanks to all our family (especially my cocooning Mam), friends, the M.Y.O / Creative Jungle team and followers and places like Virgin StartUp (and my mentor Sundeep), Pop up Painting and Enterprise Nation, for all the continued positive vibes and support throughout the year - Diana and I couldn't do any of this without you.
The world needs more creativity and we're here to help you explore yours and see its power! We'll always give you creative things to do in London, but also can bring some creativity globally now too!
We feel incredibly fortunate and are determined to ensure 2021 is better for us and the world. With this blog I want to bring hope to anyone that is struggling - things can and will get better. With every catastrophe, there is the opportunity to re-assess, learn, grow, be creative and hopefully thrive.
I’ll also share some daily habits I have implemented, over the coming weeks, in case useful, so keep an eye out for those if you are feeling frazzled, at a loss or need some support. You can do it.
To see previous annual updates from our creative studio for adults, check out below!
How you can get creative with us
Stay safe, hope to see you in the studio soon and feel free to see what you can do with us below.