04 Feb 2015

Being mindful with your customers

By Jessica

Startup founder Laura Willoughby learnt some invaluable lessons by speaking with users early on. She shares some of these insights in this guest blog. Laura is CEO of Club Soda, one of the ten startups on the BGV W15 accelerator programme.

There is something incredible about spending four weeks practicing mindfulness with your customers.

It’s early February and it has already been a very busy year for Club Soda. Whilst we always knew this would be the right time for us to launch and test our proposition, the addition of events came later in our thinking.

Prompted by Nominet to try out our concept in the real world, we started informal social events in July, and these have gone well. You find out a lot about what people want over a lime and soda in a pub. It spurred us on, and our growing Meetup group provided the test bed for our prototype that we launched in November.

Our aim has always been to be more than an app. Behaviour change requires people to engage in a range of techniques to support them, and there is only so far you can go with the social support online. Plus we are a members club and we want to create a brand that is as present in everyday life as alcohol itself. An app always fell short of the mark in our view.

But it was not until we started to talk to our early expert enthusiasts that we realised that we could connect people with a whole host of real world events to support them in their journey. More than just the socials. Discounts for workshops run by our experts and co-designed events could be a part of our unique offer too. Andy Hix, Andy Jaeger and Sam Waterhouse have been generous in taking the plunge and testing these waters with us. We decided to organise three types of events in January: a nutrition supper club (“What do I put in my mouth instead?”), two Sunday morning mindfulness walks (“OMG it’s Sunday morning and I don’t have a hangover”) and a four-week mindfulness course.

We learnt a lot from these events, and they have given us an amazing amount of insight into what our members want. It also confirmed for us that our concept of a Club is the right one. It helps normalise something that has a stigma attached. If you suggest you are changing your drinking people often think you have a problem. The reality is far more complex than that.

I like meeting and knowing our members. They are more that streams of data. Charlotte, Malcolm, Leila, Hannah – these are the people we are building Club Soda for. And they want ‘all the four walls’ of the behaviour change Club house we are building. There is value in curating content, events, tools and expertise.

So what have I learnt?

  • Our mindfulness course attendees have all used different parts of our service, and the course is one of the behaviour change tools they have chosen to use, but not the only one.
  • Coming together week after week has confirmed to us that people like to join together with familiar faces and report back their successes. Even if success means different things to different people.
  • We gain strength from other people’s stories, and this is being replicated in our online community too.
  • People often pay for things and don’t turn up; this is not a failing on my part, it is a choice they made. I must always get people to pay upfront!

But the biggest learning has been in the silence. With a party you measure success by how people outwardly show they are enjoying themselves. In mindfulness we spend most of the time being quiet, and through the discussion afterwards I learnt how harsh our inner critic is. We can’t even sit quietly without feeling we are doing it wrong. The weight of not doing the things we think we should be doing is heavy and slows progress.

So what did this teach me? The Club Soda approach of giving people choices about what tools they want to use to support themselves is the right one. And doing that within the support of a club allows us to be kind, and to reassure our members that they should not feel guilty if things don’t go to plan. In fact this is the time when they need to be kinder to themselves, cut themselves some slack. And because we are a Club we can offer them tools to do that too.

Photo credit: Steven Shorrock licensed under CC BY 2.0