The story behind the platform helping to revive your local community.
Last week’s debrief
“They called it a ‘godsend’? Wow.”
Emma and Duncan were grinning at hearing my debrief from a call with a prospective client — a community centre in the South East. I had demonstrated our community events tool, designed to increase participation and donations, by virtue of its inclusive simplicity. The centre manager’s eyes had lit up.
Having incorporated during lockdown, we have been riding an exaggerated emotional startup roller-coaster for a while. And in the past few weeks, we have started getting stronger and clearer signals that we are on the right track; customers desperately want our product.
And 9 months ago, we hadn’t even met.
In the beginning…
We all started at Zinc VC, a mission-led startup incubator, in October 2019 and came together as a team 3 months later in January 2020. Emma, an award-winning speaker and designer, had left her job as a creative director to build a business that bridged the digital divide to improve accessibility and inclusion. Duncan, an ex-CTO and strategy consultant, had been inspired by his experience running his own startup to build something much more ambitious. As a systems engineer and ex-head of innovation, I (Mel) was hungry to use my third sector experience co-founding a social ventures team to build an impactful product that created real systems change.
We bonded over shared values — openness, ambition, innovation, and collaboration — and shared past experience of loneliness and exclusion. We were struck by research pointing at how social inclusion underpins so much of our health and wellbeing in later life. And we discovered shared anger — at the blinkered solutions and patronising PR stunts that tech giants proclaim will tackle loneliness. Facebook can’t persuade an isolated person to leave their house, and giving care home residents an Alexa to talk to does not fix loneliness.
The real success stories we came across had a combination of key ingredients — like the isolated lady who was persuaded by a neighbour to attend a taster event for a local care home, and with support from the activities coordinator there, went from never leaving her house to founding the chess club and leading the choir on a tour of Birmingham. It’s the neighbourly invitation, the well-hosted introduction, and the social structure of a regular group activity around a shared interest that makes a real difference.
And so we united in our belief that tech isn’t the solution to disconnection — humans are. Which is why we’re passionate about building tech that enables us to be more human, not less — tech that frees people up to do more of what they do best: connect with each other.
Our quest for understanding
We set out to support the social structures that can and do play this connecting role well — clubs and social groups — and their inspirational leaders. How could we enable them to reach more people and scale their activities? What challenges do they face? If tackled, could we multiply their impact?
We have talked to, and co-created, with many different types of community and group leader across England and Wales. We’ve run 2 pilots and are currently on our third. We’ve helped 10 communities serve 1,200 unique attendees digitally during lockdown. And we’ve failed many times — our version numbers hit double digits a while ago.
But thanks to our local trusteeship experience, a good working knowledge of charitable fundraising and committees, and even some countryside upbringing, we have managed to forge some incredibly strong, empathetic and collaborative relationships with our clients.
Our iterative, customer-centric process has earned us a thorough understanding of both community leaders’ needs and frustrations, and those of the people they serve — their members.
Here are 3 of the many things we have learned…
“Our CEO has spent the past 4 weeks working night and day applying for grant funding to keep us afloat.”
“If I can’t pay the performers, we’re going to need to stop running — I’m already out of pocket.”
“I’m worried financially, because there’s nothing coming in. Part of me doesn’t want to charge, but I’m scared to say to my team that I can’t pay you. I don’t need a lot, but I need to survive.”
The biggest pain that keeps community group leaders awake at night? Paying the bills.
Grant funding takes so much time, skill, and luck to secure. The desire to adapt, to supplement already fragile sources of income, is there. But with some leaders receiving 660 messages from members a day, there isn’t the time or the energy to do anything about it.
The community leaders with substantial running costs — rent, utilities, staff — rely predominantly on event-based revenue and were already struggling before the pandemic. Whilst they typically have substantial reach, they’ve been hit the hardest by COVID.
“I think I would have lost my group without your help.”
We are focused on developing a product to increase income for this incredibly under-served category of customer: rural community spaces, such as community centres, village halls and churches.
“I just feel really awkward asking people for money — when is the right time to ask, am I pricing things reasonably, will there be backlash?”
“I couldn’t believe it. When I raised my price of a walk from 50p to £1 to help me cover my costs, some of my group members called it a money-making scam!”
“We don’t want to charge for events and create a ‘them and us’ situation. Some of our members just can’t afford it.”
Pricing events is a serious challenge for leaders. Members are particularly price sensitive, charging feels awkward and, whilst many leaders would rather offer events for free to help those really in need, they rely on the revenue to stay afloat.
“One lady donates £15–20 each time she comes! She tells me the events are worth it. They were all she had to look forward to during lockdown.”
“Some people are very generous. One man donates £100 a month — he only comes to one class!”
We’re offering leaders a new pricing model that keeps events accessible, the money coming in and the awkwardness as far away as possible. Activities are made financially inclusive with a pay-what-you-want ticketing option; you can attend for free, or opt to support the club with regular patronage.
3. Wait, I need to use what now?
“I hate Meetup. They’ve removed all the features I liked. I’m trying to get my members off that and onto my website now.”
“So I list the activity on Eventbrite and my website, taught my members to use Zoom, paste in a link to Buy Me A Coffee, post on Facebook, answer their text message queries and send them email newsletters. I really hope I don’t have to bring on yet another thing next month.”
“I paid £15,000 and waited 3 months for someone to build me a website that did what I wanted for my community. The result was disappointing, and there’s always something more that I want from it.”
There are so many tools out there, but none are designed specifically with community group leaders — and their members — in mind. Most SaaS offerings either require significant technical skills to use and integrate, or have complex features and high prices designed for corporates. Instead, community leaders are forced to learn, combine and commit financially to multiple tools to get the functionality they need. The result is hard to manage and can be off-putting for members: a mishmash of non-intuitive interfaces and complicated user journeys. Members lose their join links and login details, forget to donate and ultimately disengage.
“Oh wow, it’s really simple, intuitive, easy to understand, seems really accessible.”
“Everything is in once place — our members would love this”
“Just having that button, it makes it really easy — no matter what video platform the class tutor wants to use behind the scenes”
We’ve learned that to serve these customers, we need to create a crazy-simple user journey, make use of the tools they already know and use, and bring everything together in one place. That’s why our our interface embeds directly into existing email newsletters and aggregates the essential functionality offered by third party software. A one-click RSVP button makes community group events easy to access for even the least digitally-savvy members.
A vision to revitalise the entire local ecosystem
Along our journey, it became clear that we are addressing an important problem at the heart of a much larger one. Our customers are subject to the broken economics of the wider local ecosystem. Money is leaking out to the big brands, leaving highly-valued local businesses, projects and clubs to suffer similar financial challenges. Social media and big business are killing our local communities — and now is the time to address it.
Which is why our long term vision is to provide the necessary socio-economic infrastructure to revitalise our local communities. The More Human hub will drive a systems change by reconnecting people with their local clubs, businesses, venues and projects. In so doing, we will tap into latent demand and a willingness to give back, pumping money and energy back into the local economy, and helping to sustainably drive social activity and improve quality of life.
Storming and norming through a pandemic
We are proud to achieved what we have as a fledgling team during a global pandemic. It’s not been easy launching a startup during lockdown — overdosing on video calls, trying to reach out when everyone was hunkering down. We’ve had challenging days and weeks — rejection, disagreements, loneliness, frustration, changes of direction…. and yet…
As a team, we have thrived. Our complementary skills and mindsets have shone through and we’ve been there for each other through the ebbs and flows. Since the beginning, we have worked just as hard on the team as in a team; raising issues and concerns with candour, accepting feedback and challenge with humility, building systems and processes so we can work ever more efficiently together, and towards a designed company culture.
Our next chapter has started and it’s exciting — we’re in the midst of our third pilot, we’re fundraising, and our clients are calling us a godsend — yay!
With our resilience, understanding, and momentum, we have an amazing opportunity to shape and accelerate the future of local living, to revive local economies and communities, and to increase genuine connection.
If you’d like to journey with us, we’d love to hear from you. Contact us at www.more-human.co.uk