I met John-Michael randomly two years ago. Me and my then girlfriend (now wife) squeezed into one of the few remaining seats of a packed and newly opened Brewdog Bar on Bethnal Green Road. We found ourselves opposite John-Michael and a friend who broke the slightly awkward situation of sharing a booth with total strangers by offering me a taste of his ridiculously high ABV brew. Always a winning start with me. Conversation flowed quickly to John-Michael’s recently launched business ‘Twenty Something London‘, his love for independent business and his plans for the future. After a vibrant and successful two years TSL are taking another big step with a crowdfunding campaign through Crowdcube– so we thought it was about time we had a catch up and found out more about the past, present and future.
For those who don’t know TSL – tell us what you are about?
Whether you’ve been a Londoner for life or are just visiting, you won’t remember the city for a Pret-a-Manger coffee you had on Oxford Street. We believe you’ll remember the wine and tapas from a tiny Spanish bar you almost walked right past or a burger from a street food stall; live music played in a living room or supper club on a tube line. This is what TSL is about – showcasing the independent businesses that bring the true personality of London to life. Our vision is to bring the best independent businesses – everything from bars and restaurants to vintage clothing stores and barber shops – to the fingertips of tourists and locals in every major city in the world, where and when they need them.
How has TSL grown over the past three years?
Just over two years ago we launched our MVP on a self-funded budget of £5,000 and have since grown to a following of 9,000 subscribers, 50,000 monthly visits and 23,000 fans across Facebook and Twitter. We’ve established ourselves as strong proponents of the independent movement in London, and have been invited on two occasions to 10 Downing Street to consult on independent business development. We generated £53,000 in revenue last year and will make double that this year, from a combination of advertising income and ticket sales from TSL events. We are stoked to have been one of a handful of startups invited to attend Web Summit in Dublin in November, where we’ll be bumping shoulders with the biggest names in the tech and online industries.
What is so great about independent businesses?
Independent businesses are, in our opinion, what makes a city ownable by individuals. We aren’t haters of big chains but we believe that people travel to cities like London, Paris, Cape Town and Caracas to experience what they can’t anywhere else – in discovering a unique spot or experiencing something truly authentic, they take ownership of their slice of the city. Similarly for locals, it’s the small bakery on the corner or the grocer you know by name that makes your corner of London special. We want to encourage local consumption, revive social and community connections and empower small business owners by putting these little gems back on the map.
In what different ways do you support independents?
Independent business owners are becoming more savvy – they know that location, branding and marketing are the tools they need to go up against big chains, but what’s missing is the platform for them to market themselves within limited budgets and time constraints. That’s where we come in – with our native advertising model, we give business owners an affordable way to target an influential audience online. We also organise our own events that allow these businesses to showcase themselves. For example, in March of this year we brought the 5 best burgers in London, three of which were made by street food vendors, to a warehouse in Hackney where 700 people could put our judging to the test.
Your expanding and raising funds through Crowdcube – tell us more? What can we look forward to?
We saw that there was a demand for what we were doing so once we developed our plans for the future we set out to fundraise to make it happen. We got some awesome private investors on board then thought of crowdfunding so we can have some of our fans and independent businesses get in on it as well. Crowdcube are the best around and we’re happy we went with them. They’ve have some great campaigns on there recently and a couple of our friends, Grub Club and Beara Beara, are raising on there now as well.
The funds we’re raising on Crowdcube – £160,000 – will see us through the launch of our redesigned desktop site and brand new app in London in March/April of 2015 with the aim of bringing a total social experience to the platform. Once we have proof of concept of this in London, we’ll fundraise further and expand internationally. There’s lots to look forward to.
Interview by Morgan Hamilton-Griffin