Before Covid-19 and lockdown devastated the arts and entertainment industry I was touring the globe performing fire and bubble shows for international audiences while running my own performance agency and booking other entertainers for high-profile events.
When lockdown restrictions forced me to close all three of my entertainment businesses overnight, I had to find new ways to monetise my skills, which is when I entered the world of Ed-tech and launched a new brand called Learned.Live.
Creating a startup is hard work and full of challenges - here’s what I learnt when building a new brand during lockdown.
Find what makes you different
It’s crucial for a new brand to identify what makes them unique, highlight their USP and showcase what makes them stand out from their competitors.
I had my lightbulb moment after teaching bubble and magic classes to kids online to counteract the lack of live-performances - this was during the first national lockdown in the spring. After sharing knowledge drawn from my career as a performer and entrepreneur, I was constantly told by parents “I wish I’d had a class like this when I was a kid!”.
That’s when I realised there wasn’t a UK platform offering adults the chance to learn a range of new skills and knowledge in a live and social setting. I had delivered some classes to kids through a US-based platform, but couldn’t find anything similar for adults anywhere, even in the UK. Our solution meant we could address the growing demand to learn new skills whilst enabling people to be connected with others, in real time, during lockdown. It also provided a new way for many people to earn a living - at a time when many people were losing income due to Covid-19 - by sharing their skills online. Many of our Learned.Live teachers have never taught before, but they have sought after skills and knowledge.
Understanding your brand's values is also essential. Without knowing what you stand for, you cannot communicate your purpose clearly to the marketplace. If people don't understand your values, they will find it much more difficult to buy into what you're doing and to support your growth. Your values are what make you stand out from the crowd - they should drive your team and help your customers form an emotional bond with your business. Once you have created that bond, retaining your customers is much easier.
Maximise your network
Anybody can come up with an idea, but it takes people, time and resources to turn it into a reality.
Some of the most talented people may be those who are already around you, which is why I approached friends and family who joined the team simply because they were so interested in the Learned.Live concept.
We also contacted the 2,000 performers on the books of my agency, inviting them to sign up to the platform. Many of those contacts subsequently joined the team, and one of them is now our Head of Operations. By using your personal network, you can attract trusted advisors, consultants and even investors without the need to approach recruiters or spend budget on advertising.
Spending time finding a work ethic that fits your team’s schedule and personality is equally important to getting your business off the ground. There’s never a bad time to go with the flow and bounce ideas off each other, so get creative and find new ways to brainstorm outside of the boardroom. We exchanged ideas during ad hoc meetings, late night conversations over takeaways and wine, on long walks, even out paddle boarding!
Communicate clearly and consistently
Open and transparent communication is not only vital to the members of your team, but also to consumers and to investors in your growing brand.
Working with a diverse team and funding the initial project from my personal income has driven home for me how important it is to be completely transparent, open and honest with all team members. We all have pressures outside work that we need to balance with the energy we put into our professional life, so it’s important to recognise that people work and communicate in different ways, at different times and absorb information differently. Flexible working practices are embedded into our business, to suit all of our team and all of the teachers who use our platform.
Clear communication is also crucial to sharing your brand vision. Nobody will spend money on a product or invest in something that lacks a clear vision - it’s your roadmap that sets out the journey from your starting point to your eventual goal. If you cannot articulate this internally you will be unable to communicate it externally and you will fail to gather customers or investors.
Establish strong foundations
When you’re building a new business you may not feel entirely comfortable with the name you have chosen. Don’t let this get in your way, and operate under a ‘working title’ while you get on with putting the foundations and building blocks in place. The right name will come in time and you'll know when it has.
When building your foundations, you must not ignore jobs that you may find humdrum and boring. This includes writing contracts, getting quotes and finding suppliers. You may need to find new suppliers and partners, and it’s crucial you do the research to ensure everyone involved in your business reflects the values you’ve established.
It’s never too late!
Finally, it’s important to state that it’s never too late to create a new business.
Startups have a unique energy and are strongly motivated to take advantage of all the opportunities on offer. They operate in a more agile fashion, and aren’t weighed down by legacy systems and bureaucracy. It’s this energy and drive, and fresh perspective to do things differently, that I believe is crucial in creating the new face of business in a post covid world.
Johnathan is an entertainer and the CEO of Learned.Live