On the up · 21 November 2016

Reluctantly Brave: The London Fields startup incubator promoting social good

The Reluctantly Brave co-founders at their East London base
The Reluctantly Brave co-founders at their East London base

Here, Business Advice meets Adam Papaphilippopoulos, co-founder of startup incubator Reluctantly Brave, to talk about breaking industry norms and the inspiring business philanthropy of Victorian Britain.

(1)     Who are you and what’s your business?

We are Reluctantly Brave – I’m one of four executive partners and my role is to oversee operations.

We incubate business ideas right from imagination to execution. To achieve that we’re part thinktank, part consultancy, part creative studio.

(2)     How long have you been around for?

You’re going to start noticing a theme of strange answers to straight questions – four years, and one year.

We were established in 2012, initially working on Reluctantly Brave as a side project and gradually moving partners into full time roles. For the last year we’ve had all the partners in the business full time.

(3)     How do you make money?

We charge our clients fees.

(4)     What makes you different and why should people take notice?

Two things really. First, we work end-to-end on business challenges in a way hardly any agencies or consultancies do – right from when clients have the idea that they want a new product, brand, or working practice.

We will work with them to nurture that inkling, strategise how to make it real and then actually make it real with them too.

Secondly, we do that with a diverse, multi-disciplinary group of people in an incredibly lean way.

Our team could include anyone from a Nobel Prize winner to a local, Hackney school kid on any given project. This inclusion gets better results for clients than conventional agencies can achieve by harnessing the creative power of diverse viewpoints.

It also enriches the experiences of people who would otherwise never have access to this type of work, or the kinds of businesses we work with.

Oh, and we do that with a full-time team of ten. So we have none of the wasteful, imagination-killing clunkiness of the big agencies and consultancies.

(5)     What was key in terms of getting started?

Explaining to potential clients why they should choose us over the conventional marketing agency, advertising agency, brand agency or strategy consultancy they would normally hire.

There’s a tendency for people to think in boxes in terms of the type of business they’d hire, even when the needs of their own business span many boxes. That took some getting used to.

(6)     What’s your biggest achievement to date?

Keeping it all ours.  We have multiple household-name clients, a cool office in Hackney and a great team, all without debt or external investment. And we just opened in an office in Detroit.

(7)     What setbacks have you had along the way?

Uptake of our offering goes in peaks and troughs. That’s probably pretty normal for most young businesses, especially service providers whose services are designed to be bespoke, but that doesn’t stop a trough feeling like a setback.

(8)     In five years’ time, I will be…

Managing operations across all the world’s time zones. Lean global coverage means strategic location in the coolest places that give you access to clients anywhere.

(9)     What one tip would you give to others starting out?

Be brutally honest with yourself to define your offering with complete clarity and test it with people. It’s crucial to get out of your own bubble and hence out of your own way.

(10) Who are your business heroes and why?

We’re all really into a number of Victorian business philanthropists. People like Cadbury, who built social good into how they ran a successful business. The idea’s not new, but most companies still don’t manage. It’s central to our business.

We’re also directly influenced by Herbert Read and the Design Research Unit. They set up as an interdisciplinary consultancy and produced some of the best design work in post-war Britain by combining poets, architects, engineers and many others on projects. We see ourselves as their post-Brexit descendants.

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Fred Heritage was previously deputy editor at Business Advice. He has a BA in politics and international relations from the University of Kent and an MA in international conflict from Kings College London.