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Chew the Fat: getting to the meat of the matter

Startups are exciting—the mentality, the can-do attitude, and the astuteness that is necessary to take a company from just an idea to a full-fledged operation.  They are fighting for survival.  Young companies, fresh with innovative and ingenious ideas, are building scalable products and are driven by new technologies, creating more disruption than ever before.  We live in a crowded marketplace where it’s easy for offers to get lost in the shuffle. You might be wondering what some of these astute entrepreneur’s secrets to success are…

Enter Chew the Fat. For those of you unaware, ‘Chew the Fat’ – an event produced by 3 Beards – is a series of conversations with high profile entrepreneurs, founders, and venture capitalists.  Their aim is to promote, stimulate and inspire those both on the inside and outside of the startup community.  Chew the Fat’s lofty promise of delivering intriguing talks hit the mark.  The event takes place sporadically because they are always on the lookout for interesting speakers to add to their meaty [my attempt at a pun!] lineup of experts with unique backgrounds.  Previous speakers include author and blogger Cory Doctorow, entrepreneur Eric Ries recognized for the lean startup movement, and marketing specialist and Silicon Valley venture capitalist Guy Kawasaki.

Most recently, entrepreneur and affordable design trendsetter Chloe Macintosh spoke about her interesting career path which has taken her from Associate Partner at Foster + Partners, to co-founding Made [dot com] — one of the fastest growing tech companies in Europe — to Creative Consultant at Soho House Group.  The concept of Made is simple: commission designs which are then marketed on their website, then the product is only made when an order is placed and is then shipped directly from the factory to the customer. This provides an avenue for designers to reach the market directly, as there is no middle man.

Chloe’s talk didn’t focus on the details of founding Made but on her approach to developing a business proposition in a market with a craving for well-designed furniture; products that are delivered quickly, affordably, and are of high quality.  Her ability to maintain this trifecta has made her various ventures successful: newness and speed are two important elements for e-commerce.

She transitioned to retail e-commerce in the home furniture and fittings market after having trained as an architect and spending ten years as an Associate Partner at Foster + Partners.  Chloe described herself as the creatively inclined of the three Made founders; taking the lead on the styling of the early campaigns that made up their initial marketing efforts.  “We had a nice balance between knowledge and ignorance.” Chloe’s way of approaching her ventures was refreshing; her position of being relatively unfamiliar with the furniture business gave her an unexpected leg up.  Being new and working from the perspective of an outsider gave her a fresh outlook from which it was easier to question industry norms, and to challenge barriers people previously thought of as insurmountable.

Most people identify Made by its adverts on the tube and outdoor campaigns, but the company originally gained traction from social media.  It found success by interacting with consumers via Facebook, reaching out for feedback on designs and products.  Social media was also useful for sculpting the brand; it allowed them to learn about the public’s perceptions and to pull insights and build Made in an agile way.

I could go on about the information I absorbed from Chloe’s Chew the Fat session, so much to say it was a brilliant event.  What I’ve further gleaned from the topic of startups is the distinction between innovation and disruption.  People seem to use these terms interchangeably when discussing the latest and wildly successful startup that is turning an industry on its head.

Traditional industries can be static and boring, stuck with the same old offerings and whitewash ways of conducting business.  New companies are popping up and are offering alternatives to the conventional. Startups seem to easily lay claim to ‘disrupting’ industries with their technological breakthroughs, making it sound rather commonplace.  Complete disruption of an industry causes a shock, a jolt to a crowded and tired marketplace, whereas innovative offers make a current offer better, cheaper or faster. Made may not be classified as a disruptor, but it’s certainly satisfying the appetites of both designers and consumers, offering an innovative service.

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