Welcome to the third and final blog in our series with Bulb, the green energy company, bringing you interviews focused on areas like marketing and sustainability from experts at Bulb.
Today, we’re exploring how to maintain creativity and reach company goals while adapting to change, hosted by Lis Blair, Chief Growth and Marketing Officer – in conversation with:
We hope you've enjoyed this series, and if you'd like to take part in our next one, reach out to us at email@example.com
Hi, I'm Lis Blair, Chief Growth and Marketing Officer at Bulb. I oversee Bulb’s growth and marketing teams, helping to attract new members and scale the brand both in the UK and globally to help more people around the world lower their bills and carbon emissions.
Bulb’s the fastest-growing company in Europe, providing 100% renewable electricity to homes across the UK, France, Spain and Texas and 100% carbon neutral gas in the UK and Texas. Bulb was founded in the UK in 2015 and we’re a Living Wage Employer and a certified B Corp, working to demonstrate how business can be a force for good. We’ve been working with Ada’s List and recently sponsored their Annual Conference.
Today, I’m talking to Servane, Laura and Gaynor to understand how they’ve maintained their creativity and met their business goals whilst adapting to change and new ways of working (and living!). I’m speaking with them to learn how they’ve all stayed on track and kept their teams motivated in this unusual year while everything else has kept changing around us.
But before we get into all of that - Servane, Laura and Gaynor, would you like to introduce yourselves and tell us a bit about what you do?
I am passionate about the social economy. For the past twenty years, I have helped social leaders and investors align their imagination and resources to create services and experiences that transform people's lives. Through Ogunte CIC, a UK founding Bcorp, I have delivered growth-readiness, foresight, and leadership programmes for ca. 9000 women in Social Enterprises, impact investors and NGOs globally. Originally from France, I have lived and worked in the Netherlands and Brazil, and my work with Women in Social Enterprises took me all over the world where I learned about their diverse lived experiences, their amazing generosity and social impact.
I’m Laura Daniel, Co-Founder of We Grow Startups: a marketing agency for fast growing brands. Our mantra is “Happy Team, Happy Clients” and I have the pleasure of leading a team of 8 talented marketers in delighting our clients every day. My background is in CRM and customer data science from big agencies (Dentsu Aegis, Wunderman Thompson and dunnhumby.) I’m also a yoga teacher and fiercely advocate for cultivating a positive work-life balance in life and business.
My name is Gaynor O’Flynn, I started my career as a TV Producer / Director in arts and music and I have always been an early adopter of tech and have used emerging technologies in my creative practice since the 90’s.
My company is Beinghuman Ltd. We have created work for clients including BBC, C4, ITV, NESTA, British Council and Sony. Working with amazing creatives including Bjork, Pj Harvey, Richard Long, Anton Corbijn and The Dalai Lama. From my East London base, I have worked across the globe from Benin to Delhi, Istanbul to Mexico City, Barcelona to NY.
To sum up my career, you could say I write, perform, create and direct authentic, wise, brave work that speaks to cool, intelligent humans who care about people, the planet and exploring ancient wisdom in the modern world.
Lis: Over the past year, we’ve all had to adapt in many ways. At Bulb, we’ve remained focused on growing our brand as well as providing great service and building new products. How's the past year been for you, and how has the pandemic affected your business?
Just before lockdown happened in March 2020, I came back from a study meeting with the British Council and partners from various parts of the MENA region to see how we could amplify connections and exchanges of resources between countries in a genuine mutual way whilst taking into account the volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity of the world around us. (The lockdown hadn’t started yet in the UK…).
This connectedness theme remained at the core of what I did throughout the whole year, as I kept bringing people together at the intersection of enterprise, social finance and futures-thinking, to help them create a positive social impact. That has been my growth focus: removing barriers to learning, amplifying personal resilience, provoking people around their own biases and stereotypes, all of this whilst making hard decisions to keep afloat and sane. For some of the people I have helped, it was about making sense of a possible business closure, pausing and re-imagining the future.
For me, it has made me think about breaking the mould of my business. A few months ago, I started growing a capacity-building platform that helps changemakers to focus and deliver on their purpose, in practical terms. 2020 became a perfect permission to adapt. I like the idea of acceptance, fluidity, and the learning that the word “adapt” refers to.
For some of us who are working in the social economy, growing services to reduce inequalities or climate issues, we know it is pointless to stay stuck in the old ways of doing things. They are not fit for purpose, and often too painful. We are working hard for transformation.
Although the pandemic has brought a lot of uncertainty, it has also increased e-commerce adoption by an astounding rate with UK online sales up 74% YoY in Jan 2021*. This has been amazing for the growth of our business as we help direct to consumer (D2C) brands acquire new customers through digital channels (Facebook, Instagram, Google etc.) As a result, we’ve doubled from a team of 5 to a team of 10 since Covid began.
One of the biggest challenges for many businesses was the move to working 100% remotely. We were somewhat prepared (and already fans of video calls!) as pre-covid, we worked 2 days a week at home, 3 days in the office. That said, we all miss the social and collaborative side of physically working together and have had to adapt to maintain and forge new strong relationships in a purely digital environment. Striking the right balance between too many calls and not enough calls to keep the team connected has been an evolution but we’ve settled on Monday, Wednesday and Friday team calls with a monthly quiz. We’re also restarting team yoga, which I teach, which seems to be going down well!
The last year has been an opportunity to relax, pause, explore and feed both my personal and the company’s creative vision. Without this enforced pause I don’t think we would be where we are right now as we were forced to get off our production ‘wheel’, look at our habits and what was working and what was not working for us.
Lockdown has personally given me the time and space to really connect with my reason for doing the work I do. I believe in the power of the arts, creativity and story to change minds, hearts, thoughts, feelings and how we are in the world. In many ways it has been strange but quite beautiful!
Lis: Can you tell us a bit more about the strategies you've used to stay true to your company's mission while adapting to change? For example, my team and I have found it helpful to set really short-term priorities (so, for the week ahead) as well as longer-term goals.
My mid-term goal is to develop a punk angel and philanthropic investment circle to be able to boost bold, futures-focused, inclusive badass women-led ventures. The courses I deliver about focus help not just my audience of changemakers, but also my commitments. I can see where people struggle, what distracts them and what brings them back on track. I also learn about the ecosystems they are working in and that spices up my views of the world.
I have always rolled my eyes at the idea of setting a 5 years goal. However, if you talk to me about the next 12 days AND the next 12 years, I get excited. As someone said, “The future is not something you step into, it is something you build”.
Therefore, I need to inject some wild imagination and future scenarios in my day-to-day practice, to understand the big picture. This approach can be sobering because you can tell where the world is about to crash. At the same time, I get a lot of energy from this exercise, because I can rally troops about and start developing attitudes, beliefs, networks, to bend the future. Together, we create something far more attractive, knowing it won’t be a linear trip.
All my capacity building sessions include a wild What if to warm people up. I also love to mix groups of people, talents and life perspectives.
For example, if I put people in a room that would have never met in other circumstances and have different life experiences, it can have an impact on a 10-year investment decision.
I am lucky to work with extremely hard working people who often put the needs of clients above their own. Covid has really brought this into sharp focus as we don’t have the usual hobbies or distractions that keep our life balanced and draw us away from the desk at the end of the day. A positive work-life balance and ‘Happy Team, Happy Clients’ is something we’re brought renewed focus to over the last year and we’ve been working hard to support our team through regular 121s and mental wellbeing initiatives.
Most recently, we’ve learnt about how to cultivate resilience with the amazing Emerald from Positive Lives, learnt about the mental health spectrum and how tarot can help you tap into your intuition with Victoria Smith-Murphy and reconnected with the breath and gentle movement through yoga.
These activities and more help my team and I to find balance and do brilliant work which in turn delights our clients. In our most recent client survey (March 2021), our clients scored us 9.2/10 for ‘Would you recommend working with We Grow Startups to your network?’ so it seems our hard work and commitment to wellbeing is paying off!
We are restoring a 6,000 sq ft warehouse, our new East London base, so that has kept us focused!
But we have used lockdown as a time for visioning, storyboarding, writing and R & D on new projects. A time to explore new global connections, new skills, new technologies and to integrate our existing skills and knowledge in new ways. This has led to an amazing new immersive, interactive work called ‘The M Word’, created for theatre, film and as a collective, digital art experience.
It has also led to exciting new partnerships. We are working with CCIXR who just produced The Dream, an immersive work with the RSC, Birmingham City University who are working on immersive productions with The Birmingham Ballet and Brunel University who have offered us their interactive, immersive dome.
Lis: How have you been continuing to build brand awareness throughout the pandemic? Have you discovered any new tactics or ways to do this?
I have been going back to my core values and reflecting on how I should let them come out more freely.
The key exercise is to
1) Remember your values and drivers, and why you have created this business in the first place.
2) Keep in mind the people you want to serve, and why they are coming to you and not others.
A lot of businesses do provide the same stuff: commodities, business services, games, tech devices, you name it… But what is often different is the approach or philosophy of some; the plain language they use, or the care they show, not only for their customers, but also for their staff, and future stakeholders.
This year has probably offered us a reminder to keep things simple and valuable.
A few weeks ago, I was sharing some marketing copy with a co-mentor – I have someone I sit down with every week to exchange questions, rants, laughter and insights. She said to me: “technically you describe what’s in the tin, but honestly you are nowhere to be found in there. It is boring. Bring yourself back in. Where is your fire, your energy, where is your kindness and your punk-ness in this copy? Where are you?”
To build brand awareness, strip the fluff away, put your soul in there, and if you have a team, an extension of your current collective culture. Don’t hide it away. Show the goods. People will be attracted by your products if the latter genuinely show you care.
Our business growth has always been driven by word of mouth and this hasn’t changed during the pandemic. Perhaps now more than ever, brands are looking for a trusted recommendation when it comes to embarking on finding business support. As we’ve grown, our network of clients, freelance partners and trusted advisors has also expanded and this continues to fuel our growth.
The ‘The M Word’ is a story about a disillusioned, Gen X woman who decides to use her new found post-menopausal, superpower, her invisibility, to visit her more successful, female friends. It deals in a funny, brave and unique way with the issues women face in our society, from unconscious bias through ageism to outright misogyny. As part of the work, we are building an app and asking women to video themselves performing a simple chant. These digital performances will create a choral work for the end of the show and will also be a stand-alone digital art work that will live in both the digital and physical space. In this way we can create meaningful, digital engagement that unites women and raises awareness of the importance of being seen and heard, no matter what life stage!
I have campaigned for almost 20 years about ethics around the digital space with regards to creators and artists rights and we also have a not for profit The Beinghuman Collective CiC. I have spoken to millions via Sky, BBC, ITV and at events including SxSW, Digital Shoreditch and Mexico Design week. The law really needs to catch up with AI, Big Data, ownership and monetisation in the digital space so I am, traditionally, a reluctant user of social media! We have always driven our people, our tribe to our mailing list but I have to admit I am completely in love with Clubhouse, the immediacy, spontaneity and performativity of the platform, the conversations and the lack of a digital record really suits me, my way of being and our brand.
The connections I have made there are incredible! So, we have started two weekly events ‘Beinghuman’. Every week I interview a GenX+ women from arts, film, theatre, ethics and tech. Also, we do a completely informal weekly, ‘Beinghuman’ a drop-in room, a chance to connect, talk, share, laugh and learn with other women working across disciplines across the globe. So I would love to hear from interesting women in this space who want to be interviewed or to come and hang out with us, Friday @ 17.00 GMT @gaynoroflynn on clubhouse.
Lis: While it's been a difficult year globally, to say the least, the changes we've seen have also opened up new opportunities. At Bulb, some of our learnings from working remotely will stick with us when we return to the office. What are some of the learnings you'll take with you once this is all over?
I have discovered that people struggle with “physical” distancing. That they’ve compensated by reducing “social” distance through binge zooming and now they are paying the mental health price.
I have also been reminded that empathy, the power of imagination, diverse communities, and simplicity always win.
And I am very uncomfortable with the idea to go back to how things were before. I don’t want to “build back better”, I want us to create places, products and services that tell people they matter, unconditionally.
Flexibility, focus and how to make best use of the time you have in person in the office.
Flexibility - Before Covid, we were already 40/60 remote/in the office but on fixed days. Going forward, I think we’ll give ourselves more flexibility to work from home or the office when it’s most convenient and to change this on a weekly basis. We trust our team to make the right decision for themselves and their clients and I’m pro-empowering people to make conscious choices on creating their best lifestyle for themselves.
Focus - The traditional 9-5, 5 days a week, I believe, encourages presenteeism and as a result productivity and wellbeing suffers. I’m pro having a shorter working week, 4 days/32 hrs where you are focused on work when you’re there and focused on the rest of your life when you’re not! We’re planning to trial 4 day working weeks later this year and hope to implement it as a permanent fixture. Watch this space!
Time in the office - When we go back to the office, I’m planning to structure my diary so that team meetings, 121s, project collaboration etc. all take place on ‘in the office’ days and to use my time working from home for focused, independent work and calls. I’m excited to really lean into connection with my team and clients and be present when I’m with them in a way which you can’t be remotely.
The Cultural Industry is a sector that is built on a remote, freelance, project-based work. So, at Beinghuman, we adapted to remote working with ease. But lockdown has definitely made us a lot more disciplined with our workflow, process and documentation but experimentation, energy and process are harder to recreate and feel when we are only connecting digitally. So, lockdown has also made us understand and treasure the importance of making, creating and producing work together in a shared space.
So, though we are in the middle of renovations, we are really excited about our new space, it is a beautiful, brick warehouse in East London. This is an existing new phase for our company and is due to open in 2022. We will bring our unique skills and knowledge across film, TV, art and drama to create a rehearsal, collaboration & virtual production space for our company and our partners at a very exciting time for virtual, digital production in film, TV, theatre and the arts.
Lis: And with those learnings in mind, what advice would you give to people launching their own company?
I think you need to think with the end in mind and ask yourself a few questions from the outset.
Before you launch, explore the following with a peer, a mentor or a coach:
Find your personal DNA: who you love to serve, why, how you do that systematically, and the magic you generate. These qualities will always be transferable to your new projects
Be clear about your purpose, your guiding star. This will help you get up again after bad setbacks.
Keep the big picture in mind: think about systems rather than silos. What if your success means that you crush a whole group of people or damage the biodiversity? Understand the ripple effects and the conditions of your potential growth. This awareness will enable you to build a product from the outset, which is inclusive and doesn’t harm. It will also inform how you shape your governance.
Learn to stay focused: you can start a few businesses in your life. But time is non-renewable. Don’t waste it.
Carve out space to reflect and imagine. Dreaming is not a vacuous activity; it is a productive place. You need to make friends with it.
Reach out to people who are at the fringes of your network, doing different stuff. They will give you invaluable perspectives, seeds of innovation.
Finally, embrace the wins as you go. Evaluate, learn and celebrate your achievements from the start with others. Joy is life.
Surround yourself with passionate, intelligent people. Whether they are your employees, trusted advisors or acquaintances, these people will motivate you, educate you and empower you to succeed.
Know who your cheerleaders are! The going will get tough at some point and you need people you can turn to when you have a crisis of confidence or wonder why you left that well paid job who will remind you how wonderful, strong and inspiring you are!
Work-life balance is everything and you don’t need to give up on your personal life when you start a business. You are a role model to your employees and those around you. Know that you will be more productive when you are well rested. Believe you will feel more creative when you get back from a walk in the sunshine. We can all define the style of work we want to promote, but we have to challenge ourselves to think and be proactive around what works for us and how we motivate and empower our employees to do the same.
My advice to anyone doing anything is follow your heart, trust your gut and then focus, work smart and remember to enjoy the journey! I have worked for 25+ years across the cultural industry sector, to survive and thrive in any business you need to love what you are doing and keep learning, growing and evolving. You also need to find or build the right team that can share your vision and goals and you like spending time with!
Knowing who you are and why you are doing what you do, makes you wise yet fearless. I really believe being and doing you, your uniqueness helps you to find, connect and inspire your tribe. Then, together, you and that tribe can make an authentic contribution that profits all.
Thanks again to Bulb for collaborating with us on this series and helping us shine a light on some of our wonderful Ada's List members. You can find out more about what Bulb are doing here.
We hope you've enjoyed this series, and if you'd like to take part in our next one, reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org