Lockdown start-ups: Unplugged digital detox and Seep’s eco essentials
As we celebrate our 10-year anniversary, we wanted to create some content to share with you the kind of insight we gather and ponder at 9others. We hope it’ll be useful for entrepreneurs, investors, and anyone else with an interest in the challenges of modern business.
9others is all about gathering and sharing insight. It’s something we’ve found to be crucial for entrepreneurs in the early stages of their business journey, as they face challenges such as scaling, recruitment and raising finance. Here we put the spotlight on two start-ups, Unplugged and Seep, both launched during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Detox for a work-from-home culture
Unplugged is a “digital detox” venture, offering 3-night stays in off-grid cabins where people can lock away their phones and (actually, properly) recharge. It was set up by Hector Hughes and Ben Elliott during lockdown.
Hector attended three 9others events: an online meal, a walk-and-breakfast in Radlett, and a dinner in London in July 2021. At the dinner he was able to ask other entrepreneurs about the challenges of scaling, with questions like “what might break when we scale from four to 20 cabins?” and “what have I not thought about?”
Unplugged now has eight cabins – all named after guests’ dogs – including Koya, near Saffron Walden in Essex, and Gruff, near Thakeham in West Sussex. All locations are within an hour or so of London, and the concept has proved popular with professionals longing to escape the email and Zoom treadmill. Visitors can lock away their mobiles, unwind with a book, cook over the fire-pit and walk across rolling countryside to pubs or vineyards. The success of Unplugged is proof that even in the darkest times, like our lockdown and economic downturn, entrepreneurs can innovate to serve changing behaviours in society.
Hector and Ben received an initial £15k loan from Virgin StartUp. 9others co-founder Matthew then invested, and connected Hector with Richard Koch, investor and author of business bestseller The 80/20 Principle. (Based on the idea that 80% of results flow from 20% of causes, and that we can achieve more with less effort, time and resources by concentrating on the 20%.) Koch subsequently invested in Unplugged in Spring 2021, part of a pre-seed round.
Cleaning with a clear conscience
Seep makes eco-friendly cleaning products, such as natural cellulose sponges, biodegradable bin liners and all-purpose cloths made from loofah. All products are 100% plastic-free and compostable. The name is an acronym for Sustainable Everyday Essential Products, an idea born of frustration when founder Laura and her husband were unable to find eco-conscious essentials at their usual retailers.
Laura had a background in the consumer and retail industry (Selfridges, Kingfisher), as an advisor (Deloitte, Booz) and angel investor backing female-led tech businesses. She came along to a 9others dinner in June 2021, after meeting Matthew as a co-investor in another start-up.
At the event, Laura tabled a challenge to gather insight on seeking investment for Seep. Essentially, should she bring investors onboard, and what might the upsides and downsides be? (Building stock more effectively and efficiently vs. having to manage and be accountable to investors.) A few months later she decided to go ahead with raising Seep’s first round, in which Matthew invested.
The types of companies we often see at 9others – innovative, purpose-driven, eco-conscious – are becoming increasingly attractive to angel investors. Over the past five or six years, as more people acknowledge that doing good and doing business can sit together nicely, we’ve seen the increasing popularity of B-Corporations among investor circles. There are currently 4,167 B-Corp businesses, in 153 industries across 77 countries worldwide.
Seep is a certified B-Corp, so it must balance profit with purpose. It’s legally required to consider the impact of its decisions on workers, customers, suppliers, community and the environment. It’s also direct-to-consumer. Until a few years ago, the ambition for a FMCG start-up might’ve been to get picked up by a big high-street retailer. Today, entrepreneurs are trending toward selling direct to customers, nurturing brand loyalty through one-to-one relationships and word of mouth.
Take a look at Seep’s household product range at www.theseepcompany.com
Choose your digital detox cabin at www.unplugged.rest
We hold monthly 9others dinners at venues across London. See our list of upcoming events by signing up to our newsletter here.
Article by Sam Edwards, a freelance copywriter based in London.