If you’re thinking about launching a start-up, listen up. These guys have turned their fascination with start-up culture into their very own business venture.
Jeff Taylor and Soheb Panja are the founders of the quarterly publication Courier, reporting on business in a way that speaks to our generation’s attitude towards work and life.
We caught up with Jeff and Soheb about learning from mistakes, following your passions and what it really takes to launch a successful start-up.
1. Tell us a bit about Courier. Where did the idea come from?
JEFF: We’re a two and a bit year old company. The two of us started out fascinated by how technology, a climate of job insecurity post-2008 and a bunch of new cultural heroes have shifted the aspirations of a lot of people around work and life.
SOHEB: We’ve developed it a bit since the beginning. We’re still independent and the plan now is to be a media brand at the heart of start-up culture and modern business; to do for emerging business what the Financial Times does for corporates and financial markets. We’re a start-up about start-ups, you could say.
2. What were your steps? How did you tell the world about yourself? What worked, what didn’t?
JEFF: We got a product out fast. We took some inspiration from the values of software start-up. The first issue we produced was on a nothing budget and was rusty, flawed and had things we didn’t like. But we used it as a reference to quickly make big improvements, tested some assumptions, made some tweaks and moved on.
It’s the same story on distribution and our production process. We only distributed 3,000 copies of our first issue around east London. A bit over a year on we distributed over 35,000 copies per issue all over London. We’ve built our own distribution network to over 250 stockists made up of independent stores, shared workspaces, small chains as well as airports and some hotels.
We’ve relied on the product to tell the world. We’ve not actively promoted it but have spent time working with stockists which has been a great investment for us.
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3. How did you first get started in your career, and why did you want to focus on startups?
SOHEB: Jeff’s background is branding and consumer marketing, mine is trade journalism.
Jeff and I have for a long time geeked out talking about businesses, especially new ones. It was difficult not to be energised by some of the talented people we were coming across who were starting crazy stuff.
4. Courier is very different from other Tech City-focused magazines. Are there any ground rules you stick to when telling stories?
SOHEB: For a start, we’re not a tech-focused title. We’re certainly not against it, but the last thing the world needs is an another excitable cheerleader for software companies.
We certainly have a few areas of emphasis in our editorial approach, though. The thing we tend to come back to is the sincere belief that people aren’t stupid and want stories that tell them something fresh and meaningful. But it’s our job to make all of our material digestible and interesting to a broad audience. It’s hard, but we’re constantly trying to get this balance of style and substance right.
5. What are the most exciting sectors for start-ups right now?
SOHEB: It’s difficult to look beyond food and beverage as a space full of energy in London right now. It shouldn’t be a surprise any more, but it’s still mind-blowing to see one and two-man operations executing superbly with great products, and jostling with established brands from the big FMCG [mass-produced goods] groups. There’s also some very exciting stuff happening in retail, fashion and finance.
Software-based start-up is everywhere, but it’s usually an enabler to something else rather than a sector in itself.
The various companies creating on-demand businesses are worth tracking. Uber has inspired others to look at how we can order things from our phones very fast, and it’s led to some real innovation in logistics, back office stuff and how we generally store and deliver things.
6. What are some common rookie mistakes those thinking about starting their own company should avoid?
JEFF: Things invariably unravel when people start businesses they’re not personally into or truly believe in. It’s a cliché but starting a venture will keep you awake at night. I can’t imagine how much harder this would be if we didn’t believe in it and love doing it.
7. What are your top tips for newbies?
SOHEB: Don’t listen to all the catchy business wisdom out there. Everyone is just making it up as they go along.
8. What’s next for you and Courier?
JEFF: So much! The two of us are unfashionably cautious so we’ve spent time ensuring we’re profitable and getting the product in a state we’re happy with before growing. We’re now getting ready to double our frequency next year, expand our reach across London (and beyond), launch something digital. We have a couple of other little secret projects we can’t wait to get off the ground and generally put our foot to the pedal.