Have you ever wanted to start a business? Its one of my personal dreams for the future, and whether its a patisserie or a media empire I can probably see myself going a similar way as Charlie Beall, who tried out a few different careers before launching online boutique directory the Darling Collective, where users can find quirky, high quality local businesses and services. After growing up in South Africa, Charlie moved to the UK in his teens and studied at Cambridge, after which he became involved in the arts rather than business. He worked as a musician and actor before mixing creativity with entrepreneurship to make what he describes as “a place for unique activities delivered by amazing, uncompromising people”. His background, which includes time working for a talent agency before retraining in marketing in the media and publishing sectors, means that Charlie brings an interesting skill set to his new business, which combines a fair trade approach and unique services. But how does Charlie’s business actually work? I found out from the man himself.
Can boutique chic convert Generation Pile Em High?
– How did the idea come about for the site?
While I’ve always been interested in digital technology, I spent most of the time after leaving university doing one small-scale artistic project or another. I was an actor and played in a couple of bands. I organised club nights, DJ’d, worked on music videos and hung out with a lot of creative people.
A number of my friends were really skilled in areas such as photography, acting, jewellery making and wanted to use these skills to make a bit of extra money or to start a business. It struck me that they didn’t have a platform where they could market themselves… certainly not one that curated only the best.
Yes, there’s editorial and press, yes there are classifieds or listings sites, yes there are daily deal sites but we try to do something different – somewhere our users could come because its a trusted source of great things to do.
So that’s what we’re doing. We’re not there yet but we are creating a community of businesses (often individuals with a skill) that support one another under an umbrella of quality, loyalty and uniqueness. That takes time to build but it’s time worth investing.
– What is your personal favourite of the services up for offer on the site?
That’s like asking a parent which is their favourite child – even if I have one I couldn’t possibly tell you which one it is 😉
Xanthe Milton (Cookie Girl) runs baking and cake decorating classes which can be booked via Charlie's site
– What has been the most fun to test out?
Quite simple… the Chocolate Ecstasy Tour of Mayfair was pure indulgence. We were really lucky that there was some walking in between each venue, just to work up enough of an appetite to keep going. Here’s our review: http://blog.darlingcollective.com/?p=146
– Your motto is “nothing corporate, nothing standard”…how does this fit in with your own ideology as an entrepreneur, and what is your background business-wise?
‘Nothing corporate, nothing standard’ is as much my own personal ethos as it is the motto of the site and the types of things we list. I’m increasingly meeting other people who share this view – there is growing dissatisfaction about the one-size-fits-all high street shops that we have to shop in, the mass produced food we have available to us and the poor service we receive from people who have no vested interest in the job they’re doing. When people work on a small scale, for themselves or for a business where their personal input makes a difference, customers are treated better and usually they deliver a great experience or product.
Granted, industrialisation has commodified what were once luxuries, delivering economies of scale that allow more people access to things like televisions and washing machines at cheaper prices and I think that generally this is a good thing. However, the flip side is that more people now work in soulless call-centres or scanning barcodes rather than doing something that’s connected with what they’re producing or offering. The result is disenchantment, bad service, poor product quality and ultimately a bad customer experience.
I’m not advocating a return to pre-industrial times, just a bit more balance… I think we have been guilty of throwing the baby out with the bathwater, in that by increasing the efficiencies and processes that go into making and doing things, we’ve lost some of the personal touch that brings meaning to our lives.
That’s why I built the site- as a conduit for these types of people to thrive. You may not necessarily pay more for the artisanal services we list, but you will always receive a personal service of the kind that some people idealise in reminiscences of days when people knew their local butcher or tailor.
The Darling Collective allows you to shop with a clean conscience, knowing that what you’re getting is of a really high standard, but also supports a local small business by giving them the price they deserve for their service.
As far as my business background is concerned, I’ve always gravitated towards smaller organisations run by passionate people. I try to surround myself with dynamic, energetic, positive people. I’ve never been at home in the corporate environment. I am fascinated by people who have an idea and then make it happen.
– Finally, what’s next for the Darling Collective in 2012?
We have four goals for 2012…
1. Expand the categories: we don’t have enough bee-keepers or gin tasters on the site yet!
3. Go national: we decided to test the idea in London first but my goal in 2012 is to expand to other areas in the UK.
4. Keep doing what we’re doing: we’re proud of the start we’ve made and my message to all of the Darling Collective team and our partners is to stick to our guns, despite tough economic times. The good will out.
*Business success or gone bust in 2011? I’d like to hear from more entrepreneurs in 2012 – mail me, hannah [at] hannahjdavies.com
Discrimination isn’t right, but the future isn’t necessarily orange…
French dating site Adopte Un Mec (Adopt A Guy), has just hosted a rather unusual promotion. It’s quite an odd site to begin with; women are invited to add potential dates to an imaginary basket, all of whom are ranked by tongue-in-cheek categories like “ease of use”. Rather than feeling like an exercise in female liberation, however, it smacks of gimmickry. As a result, unlike sites like eHarmony, which boasts of being able to match up couples so well that they often end up getting married, or even Tastebuds, which relies on the slightly more tenuous methodology of musical compatibility, Adopte Un Mec’s flippant layout is the Tesco.com of dating sites. Matchsticks.com, if you like. It’s so subversively stupid it’s gotta be a postfeminist joke, right?
I digress – the tagline for the site’s unusual promotion read “série spéciale carottes, cultivez-les avec soin” (carrot special, cultivate them with care), and encouraged women to contact redheaded guys “pour voir la vie en orange”. An obvious joke, the website banner boasted a picture of a Napoleon Dynamite lookalike and was an adept marketing ploy shared with the site’s 100,000 or so Facebook fans.
It was a campaign that aimed to laugh with redheads rather than at them, but it left me feeling uneasy nonetheless. As a lapsed redhead (years of intervention to have titian tresses = less pre-Rafaelite, more post-apocolyptic), I’ve never understood the random abuse and ridicule associated with red hair. South Park’s “soulless” jibes circa 2005 are about as funny as eugenics, e.g not at all…
One thing I understand even less than unprovoked jibes, however, is overcompensating for this form of ignorance. X Factor’s ex-ginger Kitty Brucknell whining to the tabloids about being forced to dye her hair blonde was an insincere waste of column inches. Likewise, articles championing Lily Cole/Prince Harry/Christina Hendricks/Florence Welch (delete as appropriate) can seem saccharine when they reference hair colour in their opening paragraphs, and only two of those are real redheads anyway. People aren’t talented/pretty/interesting etc. because of their hair colour, but it feels as though the message is that they’ve succeeded in spite of it. Unnecessary pity only seems to undermine the egalitarian world (jk) we supposedly live in.
A note to Adopte Un Mec, then: 1. your concept might be inventive but subjecting redheads to positive discrimination is patronising and certainly not de rigeur. Imagine if the US brought back affirmative action towards African Americans – a slightly more drastic example here but a worrying regressive comparsion nonetheless. We should be judging people on their merits, not giving them a virtual leg-up they probably don’t want… or need. 2. A joke is supposed to be funny. Nul points.
Lily Cole - supermodel, first from Cambridge: we shouldn't laugh at you Lily, nor give you special treatment
Three years of hannahjdavies.com and counting. Major thanks to everyone I’ve worked with this year, and to you for reading. Have a brilliant new year.
P.s. I’m in Word magazine out on Jan 12th reviewing a fresh look at Bob Dylan, wahey!