So, what's the first year of a business like?
Here's our story with M.Y.O
First, the Back Story
Hello hello. I'm M.Y.O co-founder Sam. Here's my attempt to share the story of M.Y.O....
So, I'd always wanted to set up a business, seemed like a worthwhile thing to do. My Dad and my brother had both set up techy businesses - but I wasn't quite sure what mine would do and spent 10 years messing around with different ideas, doing different jobs and getting nowhere!
Until I found 'the startup idea' I decided to work in lots of different jobs, so trained as a Chartered Accountant in KPMG / Smith & Williamson working with companies going bust (depressing!), then volunteered for a social enterprise called Camara Education (empowering!), which provides digital literacy opportunities to children across Africa, for 6 months to give back a little after feeling like I didn't really add any value back to society doing insolvency. After 6 months of volunteering full-time, I moved to London to set up Camara's UK operation for 9 months on my own in 2013. Was a bit scary, lots of fun and learned a tonne setting something up from scratch pretty much! I then moved home to Dublin for a few months as my Dad was ill and shortly after passed away, so I stayed at home for a while with my Mam. I'd met Diana (my now girlfriend and M.Y.O co-founder) shortly before I moved back to Dublin and we kept in touch - phew! I moved back to London in early 2015 and joined the Virgin Group's not-for-profit entrepreneurial arm (Virgin StartUp) where I ended up leading partnerships, advising startups and was part of the investment team there. They help startups across the UK with advice, funding and mentoring. Learned tonnes and was great to be around the excitement of aspiring entrepreneurs and the culture of the Virgin Group. If you're looking for some funding and startup advice, check them out.
Being honest, I had never really been creative, I always felt it was something I couldn't do and would be rubbish at. I'll excuse myself by saying I expressed by creative side in sport as that was my main hobby (an Irish sport called Hurling). I write a little further on how I started doing it through arts and crafts.
On this meandering 10 year journey I met the amazing Diana Muendo, M.Y.O's other co-founder, my best mate and my girlfriend. Feel very lucky. She was always searching for her dream job and always kind of felt she wasn't fully expressing herself. She has a creative brain, loves meeting new people, making people happy, and just felt working with spreadsheets wasn't for her (she was also a Chartered Accountant) - when you meet her you'll see why! There must be more to work? She studied Economics and Management in Oxford University, did her accounting exams whilst working in Corporate Finance in EY, worked for a confectionary startup doing everything from sales to packing boxes and then worked in a FTSE100 FMCG business in Commercial Finance (Diageo - they own Guinness, Smirnoff, Gordons, Pimms, her beloved Baileys! and others).
Around two years later, we started doing more creative things as eating out and going to bars had started to get a bit...boring (well for me anyway!). We dabbled with colouring books and attended various creative workshops such as painting, pottery, arm knitting. However we found it hard to do at home without getting distracted and didn't really find a creative base where we could hang out regularly and dabble in different crafts. Around this time I had started saving up, meeting lots of different people, got fitter... I knew there was a start up idea brewing.
September - December 2016
I'd lost patience with myself and starting up a business, so decided that the time was now - I needed to go full-time on figuring out the startup idea I wanted to pursue (a little blog on the thinking behind this is here). This put a little pressure on myself, but I had to do it! I wouldn't recommend this if you haven't at least 6 months of savings; thankfully I had a bit and did some freelance work a day or 2 a week with my old job.
I gave myself until December (3 months) to look through the list of 10 startup ideas I had at the time (from blockchain to an afro hair & beauty platform! Not M.Y.O), read up on areas of interest, make some new connections and finally ensure I had 1 or 2 solid ideas to pursue properly by end of the year - so I could give them a shot over 2017. I'd worked for 10 years picking up different skills and I felt now was the time to apply them to see what happened! Sink or swim.
Over the months I met some great, inspiring people and slowly whittled my list of startup ideas to zero! Then a couple more popped out. Phew. As Diana and I had been doing more creative things (a lot of adult colouring books) we started thinking about an idea called 'Yourplace'. Somewhere grown ups could go, make things, read books, play games, do some yoga / meditation, meet new people. Almost like a members club, but full of fun, colourful and creative things to do! An alternative to just always hanging out in a pub or restaurant and regularly waking up with zero cash, a hangover and nothing else to show for it.
We did some research on it and started chipping away at what it could look like, doing floor plans, research, costings. At the same time I met one of the co-founders of what was to become the Rattle, a 'co-creation' type space for music makers and music businesses to collaborate and work together. That piqued my interest too. Both were non-tech, physical spaces and places that helped people in the creative industries - I loved the idea of both of them! Right, now to take a break for Christmas and hit the ground running with both ideas in early 2017. Give it a good shot!
January - April 2017
Diana and I had been chatting tonnes about 'Yourplace' a lot over Christmas and were still very excited by it. We ran surveys with friends to see what they thought, what would be useful and what they might pay for it (if anything!). We kept getting drawn to the creative part of the idea and how fun that would be to do, at least as a start. Maybe the whole 'Yourplace' idea was a little too abstract and starting off with some creative workshops was the best thing to do - memberships and non-creative activities could come later. Break down the idea into bits. So, we started working on that and trying to find a space to get up and running.
BOOM. We met an amazing lady called Sara Leigh and her mum Azize who ran a creative space in Borough, mainly for children. Find out more about Sara here. We sat in on a couple of sessions and I'll never forget the first one and how I felt after. We spent about 3 hours painting a ceramic tile and I felt like all the anxiety and stresses in my life had faded for a few hours when we left - it felt amazing! Seriously. My brain felt clear, my shoulders light. I'd never felt like that before. That feeling is magical and we thought everyone should experience this! After a couple more sessions we told Sara what we were trying to do and she allowed us to use her studio an evening a week to test the idea. We invited friends down for the first creative class in April 2017 a couple of weeks later (we both still remember it vividly, with our first paying guests being the lovely Andy Fishburn and Caz Todd - thanks guys!). You get better feedback if it isn't free. The session was carnage, haha! We did a t-shirts and tiles class, an M.Y.O group booking classic now. It was a lot of fun and really lovely to see the happy faces around the room and feelings of pride on people's faces for learning something new, being creative and making things.
You can never get enough of making people happy. The Rattle idea was also trucking along nicely and a space was secured for that to launch later in 2017 (through one of the other co-founders Chris). At the time, the prospect of doing what was to become M.Y.O with Diana, my best friend and girlfriend, was too good, so I went all in on bringing a creative outlet to the world! Diana was still working full-time in Diageo and was a Grade A trooper, doing classes and admin with me in the evening, straight after a busy day at work. She is one driven lady! We also seem to work well, as she is the more creative of the two of us and really likes designing workshops, hosting classes and doing the marketing, while I'm more of the nuts and bolts operations and customer service person. A good combo for setting something up.
So, by the end of April we'd found a location, decided on the name (M.Y.O - for 'Make Your Own', pretty simple. For a while it was going to be Dirty Hands....), put some savings into it, had our first guests, built a website, had a bit of a plan and had started some social media marketing. So many friends came to classes and were really positive about the idea and they spread the word which was brilliant - thank you all!
May - July 2017
This was the period of firsts. First big company (Diageo - connectionzz), hen party, birthday. New classes were added to the roster, we figured out how to run things better and continuously sought feedback, trying to get better day by day and week by week.
If things weren't going well by the end of July and we weren't enjoying it, we'd call it quits we decided.
August - September 2017
We took a break from hosting classes, went on a little holiday and reflected a little on what had happened. Did guests enjoy the product (creative workshops)? Yes, at least judging by the smiles and feedback. Did we enjoy doing it? Yes. Did we see a future in the business? Yes. Did we want to put the rest of our savings into this and bootstrap? Yes. Ok - let's ramp it up a little longer so and ensure we get better day by day and week by week. Diana quit her full-time job (she was a little scared and took a HUGE leap of faith) and I quit my freelance job at this point also.
October - December 2017
We launched OFFICIALLY as a full time business in September 2017, and went from 1 or 2 classes every fortnight or so to hosting creative classes 6 nights a week and 2 mornings a week - it was pretty hectic as we had to try and convince people to come during the day and do all the businessy stuff - then host at night time! We did new classes, listed tickets on lots of great platforms like Funzing, Obby and Creoate (check them all out) and had an incredibly fun Christmas period. We also hosted companies like Moet Chandon, Lucky Generals, Diageo again (thanks guys!), Breather & Miss Jones PA members, Oxford Brain Research Lab and lots of other companies. 100s came to make Christmas wreaths too, a class that Diana devised one cold night and loves doing!
We also won one a little startup of the month award with Linkilaw and got interviewed from our kitchen (we were praying the neighbours didn't turn their washing machine on) for a startup podcast (Screw it, just do it - Episode 21)! We also launched gift vouchers and got listed as one of the best creative Christmas classes in London by the Evening Standard! These few months were crazy, as it was just really Diana and I doing all the business stuff and almost all the workshops (Diana leading) at night and some mornings, but we felt we made a lot of progress, got a better sense of what worked and what didn't, how we worked together, along with how to run a really fun and relaxing workshop where people learn to make things they are proud of, which is the whole point of this. We want people to explore their creative sides in different ways.
Again, at the start of October we said we'd reflect at the end of the year and see if we wanted to continue....
January - March 2018
We rested a little, read and reflected. Let's keep going! We always knew we would, but important to sit down and chat everything through and re-align the vision.
We also decided to:
- be more pro-active on things has had been very reactive to what came in at the end of 2017
- list on more experience platforms
- share a bit more about the journey
- start the search for a 2nd studio which we could call our own (we were sharing the Borough studio with Sara) over the next few months
- do more marketing and talk about benefits of being creative, like here
- speak at events where we could share the M.Y.O story
- continue to try and get better day by day, week by week
At this point we'd hosted nearly 1,000 guests and the reviews continued to be very positive from guests. Phew! Random ones like the below are what kept us going...
“Sam & Diana helped us have a really lovely relaxing evening while painting ceramics. I felt like we were hanging out with some good friends for the evening with a glass of wine, nibbles, great music & conversation, while doing something we enjoyed. The contact leading up to & after has been fantastic. I will be booking another painting night for sure with them and letting friends know about the place. I recommend this to all!”
We'd also had our busiest month so far in February, with over 300 guests coming in 20 days to get creative with little old us. It was mad! Beefeater Gin invited us to do workshops at their World Cocktail Championships, a PE fund called LivingBridge came, London & Partners came, we went to the Premier Inn to re-imagine their company motto on ceramic tiles, we hosted a craftivism evening and tonnes more happened. This was getting super serious. Hosting so many talented guests (everyone is creative!), working with great partners like Funzing, Obby and Creoate, meeting new teachers and learning loads. It was a whirlwind of colour, creativity and excitement!
April - June 2018
OK, we can't do everything ourselves here (!), so we set out to build an A star team around us to help with classes and also ensure we got the 2nd studio we were after.
- We found the site we were after in the amazing Peckham Levels - a car park that's been converted into artist studios, bars, restaurants and creative spaces. One of Diana's friends (Liv - who runs Food4Thought alongside her day job) mentioned it to her so we checked it out. Turns out there was a brilliant Dubliner called Aoife Byrne working there who helped us secure the lease which was competitive to get!
- We started fitting out said site - it was a completely empty room, with no electricity or anything at all. Studio Hyte, a young local design studio comprised of Ben, Arjun and Jordan, came in to help on that. Of course, it took longer and cost a bit more than expected like most projects, but we made it and learned LOADS! The story of the fit out can be seen here (coming soon). Lots of late nights painting and building. The studio there can fit up to 50 people! Studio Hyte did a superb job for the limited budget we had - thank you guys! The whole M.Y.O team (see below) chipped in with painting chairs, walls, decorating too.
- To help fund all the above, we got a Start Up Loan through Virgin StartUp.
- The other studio was ticking along nicely, but we were definitely side tracked a little over this period, so decided to get help on board with classes, so we could spend a little more time spreading the M.Y.O word. After posting a job ad on Arts Jobs to get some workshop hosts, we got over 100 applications - what the hell? We interviewed a bunch of great people, trained them up and brought in 5 to help part-time with some of the classes. We're super happy with Charley, Martha, Georgie, Eve and Ros. They all really believe in what we're trying to do, are very talented and have been fantastic! Amy and Polly had also been doing lino printing and calligraphy / illustration workshops throughout this time and a little earlier in the year too.
- We were also featured on Business Insider!!
July - September 2018
Pretty much a year that Diana and I are full-time on this now. I have no idea where the year has gone, but it feels like a lot has happened, but that we're also only starting!
- The Peckham Levels studio launched in mid July and has been growing nicely since. We've been running between the 2 studios a lot. The launch party was tonnes of fun! The team in Peckham Levels and the M.Y.O crew have been great and it's very inspiring to be surrounded by creatives there.
- A year properly in, it really feels like we're just getting started and we're really excited for the rest of the year - CHRISTMAS.
- We'll also be launching creative membership soon - possibly the world's first creative gym membership in London's only art gym! Along with having longer sessions for some classes.
- We've now also fully taken over the other studio in Borough, so will have 2 creative studios to work from, 7 days a week in London and still do a lot of off-sites.
- We still love providing the place for people to be creative and now do over 12 different classes - calligraphy, lino printing, tassel earrings, illustration, watercolour flower painting, painted ceramics, pottery, decoupage, t-shirt / tote bag design, coaster weaving, life drawing, notebook making, chalkboard lettering, embroidery, Christmas wreaths / jumpers / decorations and more!
- We've also welcomed Jamie, Marissa, Max and Alex to the M.Y.O team. Hi hi. Thanks to everyone for the kind words, for letting us host you while you get creative and for supporting us along the way.
- Time Out, Lonely Planet, Virgin.com, The Handbook, The Business of Everything talked about us.
- Virgin Experience Days, Celebs go Dating (what the hell??), American Express / Tastemade and Tamzin Merchant (Salem, The Tudors) came to film various things (ads, episodes, promos) in our studios.
- We've worked with some brill partners like Pop Up Painting (special thanks to Gareth - he is a superstar), Hotel Elephant (thanks Emily), Feedr (Pleasure Julia), Bloom & Wild.
- Have hosted 1,000s of interesting, inspiring and creative guests.
What's next? More of the below please! We're just getting started.
So, in terms of learnings from this journey so far. It's clear...
- Everyone is creative, they just need an outlet
- Focus on the whole experience and bring in team members who equally care about what you are trying to do and the vision
- You don't need to know everything - as we definitely don't!
- Persistence and patience - it pays off in the long run
- Simplify things - break down your vision and add to it when it feels right
- Grow day by day, week by week - for the future
- Momentum breeds momentum - shout from the rooftops good things that happen
- Existing customers (guests). Never forget them. Who they are and why they come. Give them the best experience you can with your resources
- Have fun and reflect on the journey - breeds sanity and confidence! Is really nice just writing all this down and seeing what has happened in 12 months - am a little emotional actually!
- Share the story so others may learn from it - learn by doing, but protect the downside where you can
Thanks for reading and hope you have a colourful week, check out the day to day on my stories on Instagram @samuellehane and @MYOLondon.
Sam (with edits from Diana ;) )