By Hugo Tilmouth, ChargedUp.
What do you do when your business revenue dries up overnight? You can give up or you can reinvent yourself whilst contributing to the fight against Covid-19.
ChargedUp is Europe’s largest phone charging network. In early March, we watched with dismay as the venues hosting ChargedUp stations closed their doors to the public and our core business revenue started to disappear.
Let me share how we’ve tackled the current crisis and what other entrepreneurs with startups may find useful learnings from the story.
Faced with a potential tsunami for the company, my first thoughts were for my team; their health and wellbeing and their livelihoods. Within 24 hours the Shoreditch based team had transitioned to remote working, with a framework in place to facilitate successful and fun remote working. We formalised the working day, tapped into fantastic and free resources, and optimised our virtual meeting tools. I also scheduled lunchtime hangouts, Friday evening beers, and other social events to help the team to help and support each other through the crisis. Then we spent several days reworking our finances to optimise our expenditure during this period.
The Choice – hibernation or reinvention
We were faced with a stark choice, either go into hibernation and carefully manage our outgoings until the end of the lockdown, or look for other opportunities to keep us busy and enable us to contribute to the battle against covid. The stakes are high, ChargedUp has 30 employees who have families to support and we were facing a potentially damaging situation.
Never one to sit around and wait for something to happen, we quickly started the process of determining how we could do something worthwhile to fight covid-19.
A process led workshop
One of our core values is that we encourage off the wall ideas, as you never know where the next great idea will come from. I scheduled a virtual workshop with my team leads, with two days to prepare.
It is difficult to simply conjure up new ideas, particularly when under pressure, so I decided to adopt a process led approach to blue skying.
- Preparation phase: Participants must not come to the table cold; they must have done their pre-work and research. Our starting point was to find some reference material online that could spark ideas. We found lots of sites providing advice on covid proof business ideas. We also found an excellent website from St. Catherine’s College Cambridge, which highlighted advice and guidance for managing Covid-19. https://covid-19.biorisc.com This pre-work and research provided a basis for the workshop.
- Business model canvas phase: We then prepared a business model canvas; this enables you to highlight the key skills and assets that your business possesses. This captures your businesses key capabilities; your contacts, your core skills, etc. We prepared this on a single A3 sheet. You will find resources and templates online to help you to do your own business model canvas.
- The dreaming phase: Allow the team to dream and share a wild wish. We came up with lots, most of which I cannot share!
- Discussion & analysis phase: Write them down and discuss, refine and analyse the potential of each wild wish. We emerged after a day-long workshop with four ideas that we felt had legs and could conceivably work. We then set up virtual teams to investigate the concepts further. Each team had representation from technology, marketing and operations. We time boxed the research phase, and gave the teams just 24 hours to analyse, refine and prepare their business case for each of the four ideas.
- Refinement phase: We reviewed and refined down to two concepts that we felt could work. We then tested the concept with some of our partners to see whether they would be interested in our proposed offering.
Remember that this process took just three days. Each phase was time boxed to prevent the process becoming overly long and to ensure we acted swiftly.
The idea that emerged
Whilst doing our business model canvas, we noted down an existing asset; we had 100+ large charging station structures sitting in a warehouse in London, waiting to be dispatched to airports, shopping malls and other high footfall venues. The large stations allow us to fit a number of smaller stations and one of the blue-sky ideas was to refit them to hold hand sanitizer dispensers. This concept emerged as the favourite and having spoken with a number of our partners we felt there was a solid basis for us to proceed.
From concept to reality in a week
There were many challenges to overcome, mainly that the team knew very little about hand sanitizers, the market, and the industry. We are lucky that one of our team has a Masters in Chemistry, and we were able to connect with an existing supplier of hand sanitizer gel, who acted as consultant for us. Within a week we had a working hand sanitizer dispenser and orders from lots of companies. Have a look at this short video that explains the design process
The Sales team started going through their black books and calling people. Within two day we had secured a deal for 90 stations with a hospital supplier to the NHS. It has gone from there, and we are continuing to dispatch, produce ‘stations’ and design more stations. We have sold over 400 units and have interest from businesses all over Europe.
Where do we go from here?
We at ChargedUp are proud to be doing our bit for the covid-19 battle. So many people are risking their lives at the front line. Having established a business to enable ChargedUp to do its bit for the covid battle, we are looking at whether it is a short term pivot to help us through covid or indeed whether there is a longer term opportunity for our business.
As entrepreneurs it is important to “Never give up” and to foster an agile culture from the early days of your startup. Always look for the upside, our people are our most important asset.
All things are possible, it is a case of allowing your people to think creatively and see solutions where other business people see obstacles. A process led approach to blue skying can produce excellent ideas. Who know what additional businesses you may create as a result…
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Hugo Tilmouth is CEO of ChargedUp, Europe’s largest phone charging network. Building on the British philosophy to promote sustainable innovations, ChargedUp gives customers power on-demand through its network of portable power banks. It also provides venues with a unique marketing tool that drives footfall and increases dwell time. 50 people work for the young company, which has expanded its charging network to over 3000 stations across the UK, Netherlands and Germany since 2017. The ChargedUp app now has around 210,000 users.