Richard Lee Massey explains how his new hospitality concept APT gives chefs a revenue stream and diners a good time, we talk with Marty Bell about his projects – from online radio station Poolside FM to financial planning app Nude – and the Courier team give a sneak peek at our soon-to-launch Workshop podcast and newsletter.
MARTY BELL: I think I tweeted what are the best online communities for people running businesses or small businesses, and someone replied saying, ‘why don't you start one, I would totally join’. So, I spent a night making a landing page on a Slack channel, posted it on Twitter, invited some friends that have brands and that was really it. People who are not in business and don't do projects probably look at me and think how on earth is he churning out this many projects, but that's a perfect example. I just made a free slack account, put a logo on it, called it the Jacuzzi Club, registered a domain and linked it to the landing page, and asked everyone to invite their friends. And now there's hundreds of members.
DANNY GIACOPELLI: That's Marty Bell, founder, by my last count, of about a billion different projects and companies. From a direct-to-consumer sunglasses brand, and soon to be monetised online radio station, to an incredibly active Slack community for creators and a new financial planning app that's just about to close a £3.5m crowdfunding round. Marty joins us from all the way up in Scotland to share how he approaches each new project. Also coming up today, a new hospitality concept that gives chefs a revenue stream and diners a good time. And a sneak peek at our soon to launch new podcast and newsletter. That's all coming up right now on the Courier Weekly.
DANNY: I'm Daniel Giacopelli. And this is the new weekly podcast from Courier. First up today on the show we're with Richard Lee Massey. Richards worked in the hospitality and PR world for years, and he's just launched a brand new dining concept called APT. How it works is that guests can choose a chef from Richard's roster of superstars, who will then create a menu for up to 10 guests. Richard's kicking off the concept at Town Hall Hotel here in London, where guests can use an apartment to host the meal. He came up with the idea as a way of allowing friends to eat an incredible restaurant quality meal in a safe space, while also giving a revenue source for chefs as restaurants are still obviously getting back on their feet. Well, I thought we would catch up with Richard to find out just a bit more.
RICHARD LEE MASSEY: So, I guess lockdown kicked off the same for pretty much everybody working in restaurants. Myself, I was surrounded by chef friends living in really uncertain times, and we didn't necessarily know what was happening next week, let alone in a month or two or three months. It was incredibly uncertain. No one knew what to do, what direction to go in. Sub brands hadn't been formed, they weren't doing restaurant deliveries yet. Everyone sort of came up with very brief ideas that weren't workable. I don't know if you remember, it took about two, three, four weeks even before some restaurants came up with some fun concepts for us.
I think it was about five or six weeks into it where I had that light bulb moment. I've wanted to work on a project of my own for a while. I used to run something called The Loft Project back in 2008 with Nuno Mendes, I worked for him. It was basically this chef's platform, where we invited chefs to come over and cook up in Dalston, to be able to try the food of a chef you'd otherwise have to travel to. It was cutting edge and people loved it, it got tons of press. I look back at those times as the times I felt most inspired. I wanted to bring that back, but haven't yet had a format to be able to.
When lockdown kicked in, the whole concept of bringing a private chef in for hire or the chef at home concept felt particularly relevant because we couldn't dine out. I love cooking as much as the next person, and I love ordering food too, but I prefer to have someone cooking for me; if I could have one of my favourite chefs come over to my house or even to an apartment, say at Town Hall Hotel, I would love that. So I jumped at the chance. I reached out to all my friends, by friends I mean chefs and everyone was totally on board, totally keen. The response was incredible.
DANNY: The idea of this is that diners can hire an apartment at the Town Hall Hotel, which you have a relationship with; they can pick a chef of their choice, and then they come to the apartment and cook for you?
RICHARD: Some people think you book a room and then you book the chef. Actually, the way it's built up right now is that you choose your chef and the room is then packaged into it. If you're a couple or one-two people, not necessarily a couple, you could stay the night. If it's a group booking, because the rooms or the apartments, rather, don't sleep ten people, they're not for the night, you have until midnight. The room is kind of built into the rate. You choose your chef, your day, your menu, and then we check the availability. The whole programme is very modular and DIY.
DANNY: And the idea is that this is kind of a, no pun intended, 'moveable feast,' where you'll be able to change locations at some point. Or is this tied down to the hotel?
RICHARD: I don't want to say it's nomadic, but I'm already speaking to three different apartment hotels, as well as serviced apartment buildings. There's lots of those in Bishopsgate, around Liverpool Street and the Bank area that I know would jump at the chance of being able to invite a chef over to cook for them. So it's not exclusive to the hotel, that's just my launch base. I feel really loyal to them. I've worked with them for 10 years, and that included launching Viajante with Nuno Mendes back in the day, so it feels quite fun to be able to bring it all back there.
DANNY: Do the chef's bring a little entourage of sous chefs and helpers to carry the ingredients? Or are they just solo workers?
RICHARD: There's no one solid formula per chef. I've found that every chef works completely differently. The tasting menu types, the Michelin chefs that I've got would, more often than not, require a sous chef, but then places like Smokestak and Manteca, chefs Dave Carter and Chris Leach, they're a bit more casual. While launching this, there have been multiple hurdles, and I guess it has been evolving as I go along. I initially started looking to hire a team of my own, when I realised I wanted restaurant teams to be able to also benefit from this. So we have budgeted for each chef to bring a waiter from their own teams. If you book Dave Carter from Smokestak, you're getting the Smokestak experience in an apartment, which I think is cooler.
RICHARD: Do you think that this might, in your own small way, cannibalise a bit of the restaurant's business itself? Or do you think this is just different things for different people?
DANNY: I think it's different. It's another stream for chefs. I will be the first person to say that I love restaurants. I go to them all the time, I eat out pretty much every day. I absolutely want to support them. What I've noticed is, the restaurant model is great, and restaurants are great, but the standard template for earning for chefs is slightly dated. They work 80-hour weeks and they give their lives away, and just to make ends meet from a restaurant is so tough. I wanted to provide a platform that would give back to chefs, that wouldn't take away from the restaurant, but provide a secondary source of income for them.
DANNY: Most people assume that if you're a chef at a Michelin star restaurant, you're making big bucks, you're living the high life, but that's probably not the case?
RICHARD: Again, there's no one solid answer to that either. If you're working in a huge establishment within a big, well-known hotel, then sure, but there's lots of smaller, fine dining places that have Michelin stars and no, they're definitely not rolling in it. They are keeping their heads just above water, that's how it tends to be.
DANNY: You have tons of friends in the hospitality world. Last time I saw you, we were sitting at a table shoulder-to-shoulder with a bunch of other people stuffing our faces at a packed restaurant. Those days are long, long gone, and restaurants depend on that model to survive, right? That's where I've seen all these restaurants fail. But your friends in the hospitality world, restaurant owners, are they despondent? You have an inside kind of view of what's going on in their heads.
RICHARD: I think everyone is just really wary. APT came at just the right time because it provided that secondary source of income. As guidelines change, there's still so many hurdles for each restaurant, like social distancing measures and stuff. As I said, restaurants are struggling enough as it is between all the overheads, staffing costs and produce costs; to cut down footfall is catastrophic for them, to be honest. So I felt like this was the best solution for them.
DANNY: That was Richard Lee Massey from APT. Next up on the show, I'm joined by Marty Bell. He's the founder or co-founder of at least four, possibly more, companies and projects, including one called Nude, a financial planning app for young would-be homeowners. It's currently in the middle of a crowdfunding campaign. Marty, I have been meaning to get you on the show for ages. We've been talking for a while. Where have you been, man?
MARTY: Where have I been? I've been trying to start about 10 different companies at the same time. My head is not in a very good space for speaking much sense on podcasts, but here we are so we'll see how it goes.
DANNY: From my last count, you have four companies or projects, I don't really know which of them you'd call companies would you call projects. You've got Nude, which is obviously a company, you've got Tens which is a great sunglasses brand, Poolside FM, the online radio station and Jacuzzi Club, which is a Slack channel and community that I'm a part of. That's great for founders and creatives. So you're a busy guy.
MARTY: There’s a massive grey area between hobby projects and businesses. They seem to start out as hobbies and morph into businesses, I think that’s my playbook. Poolside FM is not a business yet, but it's transitioning there slowly. Jacuzzi Club is not a business at all, but there's some money involved. We had a brand sponsorship from Buffer recently, so I guess it's not a complete hobby. Some companies have given us money to do some cool stuff.
DANNY: I mean, you could turn Jacuzzi Club into a business easily just by flipping on a membership switch.
MARTY: For sure. I feel bad because I just want to help people, and I want people to have a good time. I don't want it to be a serious thing. I want it to be a chill hangout for founders. I feel bad when I monetise things, sometimes. I don't want to heavily monetise Poolside FM either, not directly anyway. I just like making stuff for free, which is terrible business.
DANNY: Well, it's worked for Twitter so far. So, what's the deal with Nude? You're trying to combine the functionality that people would normally get from a few different apps, while they're buying a home and raising money to buy a home and you're lumping it all into one app?
MARTY: We want to be the app that people use to buy their first home from the £5 in that moment of ‘I should really get my shit together,’ right through to giving them the mortgage and sending them a bottle of champagne the day they move in. We're nowhere near being able to service mortgages, you need a banking licence for that, and we have to go through that whole regulatory process. We're in the initial stages; we just launched a Seedrs campaign in the last week, which we'll use the investment for to launch our initial savings products, which are lifetime ISAs, which is the savings that gives you a 25% bonus from the government when you're saving for your first home.
DANNY: Right now, you're so close to beating your crowdfunding target of £3.5m. I think you're 97% filled. Did that surprise you how quickly you'd raise, or did you think this would happen?
MARTY: We had done a lot of preparing for this even before we knew it was going to be a Seedrs campaign. My co-founder, Crawford, comes from the financial world and has fantastic connections. We'd been courting a lot of those people, raising small amounts of money that were going to make up the round. People putting in £50,000, £100,000. So when we launched the Seedrs campaign, we knew where a lot of the money was coming in from, it wasn't entirely random. Then we also had the government's Future Fund match on a certain amount raised. It's not a huge surprise, but it's been responded to really well. We're really happy.
DANNY: You guys started this way before Covid-19 hit. Millennials are usually dismal with savings. Their savings accounts are probably pretty small, and the smallest they've probably ever been right now as people are furloughed. Are people, millennials in particular, even thinking about buying a house right now? Obviously, they were six months ago, but what about in the middle of a pandemic?
MARTY: Absolutely, they are. The people who are still employed are obviously being able to put away more money than ever right now, because they're not going out for dinner. Part of this app is meant as a savings account; the other part is an insights platform, which lets you know the impact of your spending on the time it will take you to buy a home.
We have an interactive feature, where you say the kind of house you want, the area you want to live in, how many bedrooms etc; we use data from recent sale prices in that area or postcode to roughly estimate all the costs involved. You tell us how much you can save per month, and how much you already have saved, and we'll provide the window of time on how long it's going to take you to save based on those factors. Then, it's all about taking that time down. We highlight information that's going to help do that. What Covid has done is show people how much more they can save when they don't do certain things. We don't want to be a brand that's just telling people not to do stuff all the time.
DANNY: It's easy to save if you don't have to eat or pay for rent.
MARTY: We don't want to be this judgmental organisation that are saying don't do anything and you'll be able to save for your first home. We just want to highlight information so you can clearly see the obstacles in the way of saving up for a deposit a bit more quickly, while also finding new opportunities to save faster. The lifetime ISA alone saves so much time saving into that. Santander did a study in the last year or so with 5,000 people who were either saving for, or in the mindset of, starting saving for their first home, and only 17% of them knew about the lifetime ISA. That’s just saying no to free money.
DANNY: I've been doing some research into rental prices in the US. In the most expensive markets, rent is decreasing. It's dropping, because people are moving to satellite cities where the rent is cheaper, and the lifestyle is better. I wonder if you think people might actually not need to save as much money as they once did, because they’re migrating to places in the countryside, or that aren’t as expensive? Or is that just a pipe dream? Do you think people will just stick it out in east London and Williamsburg and not go anywhere?
MARTY: I think that's really hard to answer. I would say a lot of people are fantasising about it right now. We're based in Glasgow, and I moved back up to the Highlands of Scotland at the start of lockdown. I'm loving being back in the countryside, and am definitely thinking about moving back here permanently.
DANNY: There was a stat where 28% of people said if their office went fully remote, they would consider moving to a different city or state. That was in the US. That's almost a third of people saying they would like to move somewhere else if they're allowed to work remotely. It's pretty extraordinary.
MARTY: I think this has been a great opportunity for companies to reconsider if they can actually work remotely where people may have hesitated at first. That's kind of where we started with Nude, but now we’re encouraging it.
DANNY: What are the big hurdles for saving for a deposit to buy a home? Most people see it as just this insurmountable thing. Some people just go to the bank of mum and dad, and get their money that way. But to save for a house, that's a lot of money you need to put away?
MARTY: It depends where it is in the world, how much you're earning. I think in London, the amount of money you have to save is an overwhelming sum. A lot of people think that there's no way they will ever be able to do that, so it won't even be on their radar.
DANNY: To put away many, many, many tens of thousands of pounds takes some serious planning.
MARTY: Probably the biggest hurdle is just getting into the mindset of thinking that you can even do it, or that it's an achievable goal. A big part of what we're doing is just having a savings plan. A plan makes people so much more likely to achieve their goal. There's a lot of behavioural psychology in this. If you want to go for a run, leaving your shoes out the night before and your running kit makes you more likely to do it. Setting a goal and having a savings plan to buy your first home, knowing how much money you're putting away each month, knowing the lifetime ISA bonus you're going to get if you commit to putting £333 a month into it; having that initial savings plan is a big step towards making it happen.
DANNY: Let's talk about Tens, your sunglasses brand. You launched a few years ago, but you’ve now transitioned out of a full-time role there to focus on more of Nude and other things.
MARTY: We started Tens maybe six years ago as a direct-to-consumer company. I feel like I've done all that I can do in terms of building the online presence of the brand and the creative direction, and was excited about a new challenge. I'm still a shareholder, and still help on the creative direction side of things, but we brought on a new CEO who comes from a background at Oakley. The amount our product quality has improved since he came on board and fixed our supply chain is incredible. It's exciting to watch from afar how much it's developing and transitioning from a direct-to-consumer company to a full-on wholesale model, which was disrupted by about a year because of Covid hitting, but trying to get back on track now.
Interestingly, we thought that online sales would take a huge dip with people not being out and about as much and not going on holiday, but we've had one of our best summers ever, which is strange and cool.
DANNY: Yeah, that is odd.
MARTY: Funnily enough, we have a huge customer base in Italy.
DANNY: Well, I mean, it's a sunny place. Speaking of sunny, what about Poolside FM? That's your summer internet radio station. You have a million annual listening sessions. It's a really fun design. You hinted that you were trying to turn it into a business, what's that about?
MARTY: I've partnered with some guys over in New York to launch a product out of Poolside FM that's a lot more significant than just merch. I've always thought there must be a perfect product to launch out of a hyper engaged community like Poolside FM, and we have found it and it is being launched next year. I think we'll start teasing it out towards the end of this year, but that's all I'm gonna say on it. I'm so excited to launch a brand out of the Poolside world, because I think it's the funnest thing to work on of all time. It's the best place to hang out on the internet. If you're ever in a bad mood, go to Poolside FM.
DANNY: And Jacuzzi Club, finally. For those who don't know, this is a Slack channel in the creative community, where people can shoot the shit, ask people for help, post cool links that they've seen. It's a really active, cool community. Was that just a project you did on a weekend just for fun, and it grew? Or was it intentional?
MARTY: Well, I was struggling with a few business-related things, and I knew that a bunch of my friends were having the same problems. I used to have a Facebook group with maybe 10 people in it, who ran businesses in Scotland, and we just asked stupid questions, because we were all friends, about things like VAT. It was a judgement-free zone to laugh about how little we knew about complex things to do with business.
Then, I think I tweeted what are the best online communities for people running businesses or small businesses, and someone replied saying, ‘why don't you start one, I would totally join’. So, I spent a night making a landing page on a Slack channel, posted it on Twitter, invited some friends that have brands and that was really it. People who are not in business and don't do projects probably look at me and think how on earth is he churning out this many projects, but that's a perfect example. I just made a free slack account, put a logo on it, called it the Jacuzzi Club, registered a domain and linked it to the landing page, and asked everyone to invite their friends. And now there's hundreds of members.
DANNY: That's the brilliance of these closed communities. They're just as powerful as the people that you admit into it, I suppose. You probably have to be careful about not growing too fast.
MARTY: We’ve had something like 2,000 applicants, and there's only 300 people in there. I feel bad, because I want to help people out. I want to support the people who are in the position I was in a couple of years ago, struggling along with a small business, but the community will only be good and helpful if people are of a certain calibre and have the expertise to provide. So it's a difficult position to be in.
DANNY: It's also about having a certain number as well. You could keep growing, but then it becomes another version of Facebook or LinkedIn; if you keep it too small, you're also limiting the amount of expertise that you have on hand. It's a weird trade off.
MARTY: It's a nice size right now because you can keep in touch with everything that's happening in there, and you vaguely know who everyone is. We're not trying to promote it too much.
DANNY: Do you think a couple hundred people is the ideal size?
MARTY: I think we could maybe add another hundred people on it.
DANNY: What's next for Nude?
MARTY: Next for Nude is getting this money in the bank, and going and building our savings platform. The app isn't launched yet. We only have a closed early version with 1,000 people in it to check the brand resonates, and everyone gets the concept. We're continuing to test with those people, they're like our VIP community. Our proper launch will be towards the end of this year. I'm not entirely sure on the timeline for our savings accounts, but that's the big goal right now: continue to test and optimise the app, to make sure it's extremely helpful for people, and to launch our lifetime ISA savings accounts, which we're super excited about.
DANNY: Marty Bell there from Nude. Marty's keen for me to point out that capital is of course at risk when you invest in an equity crowdfunding campaign like the one Nude is currently doing.
Finally on the show today, we've got some exciting in-house news in the world of Courier. We're soon going to be adding another podcast and email newsletter, in addition to the Courier Weekly, to our roster. The podcast and the email both drop next Wednesday, and they're going to fall into Courier's Workshop brand. That's the bit of Courier that really digs into the nitty gritty of how to actually run a business and the things you need to know.
Joining me right now to explain a bit more are the Courier team that work on Workshop, Duncan Griffiths Nakanishi and Amirah Jiwa. First of all, could you just give a bit of a background or why exactly we're doing this?
DUNCAN GRIFFITHS NAKANISHI: Our thinking behind this was to offer a resource for people who want to better run and grow their business. Every two weeks we come in with some very practical and actionable advice on a business concept that they might know something about, they might know nothing about, and explain how it's relevant to them, what they can do with that information and the next steps they can take.
DANNY: Amirah, what exactly can listeners and readers look out for next Wednesday in their inbox?
AMIRAH JIWA: A newsletter will hit their inbox and then a podcast will be available for listening. The two will both cover the same business topic. For next week's edition, we're going to be focusing on debt financing as an alternative to equity financing. If that sounds tricky, or complicated, the whole point of both the podcast and the newsletter will be to make it really accessible, and break it down. Any aspiring or existing business owners can figure out how this could be relevant to them, and we will also point them towards some other resources so that they can put things into action and really get the ball rolling if they're inspired by what we share.
DUNCAN: They are very much two halves to a whole. If you listen to the podcast and then you read the newsletter, you're getting a very comprehensive perspective on a topic. They're meant to be taken in together.
DANNY: The idea is generally that whoever you are, whether you have a vegan meats brand or a car company, you can apply the learnings of these podcasts and emails to your business, right?
AMIRAH: Yeah, absolutely. We're looking at foundational business topics that are relevant to any industry, and across any sector. The newsletter focuses on some tools and resources, and breaks down key concepts. On the podcast, each episode we'll speak with a couple of different founders, to hear how this information can be universally applied.
DANNY: That's it for this week's edition of the Courier Weekly podcast. As ever, any questions or comments, just shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. I'm Daniel Giacopelli. Courier Weekly is back again next week.