Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
Hey, I’m Abb-d Choudhury, cofounder of Curate Labs, The Annual Digest and Driftime®. We are a creative practice focused around ethical and sustainable design, an annual publication that champions good business, transparency, entrepreneurship and startup culture, and a travel platform that advocates conscious travel through editorial and interactive experiences.
I started the business back in 2016 with my partner Sara, and we’ve been going strength to strength for nearly 4 years. Since the beginning, we’ve been entirely bootstrapped, and have funded all our ventures with the support of client work over the years. Currently, the studio is the foreground of the business, with editorial being the supportive element.
We’re currently in the process of developing our experiences side and during the year, we’re aiming to shift our focus to be a culmination of service, experience, and editorial for travel, hospitality and lifestyle brands.
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
Curate Labs stemmed from an initial publication we created called Curate Magazine. The concept behind CM was, ‘one theme, many interpretations – Challenging perspectives through conversation, expression, and curiosity’. Traditionally, I and Sara had worked in large agencies working with big international brands.
Through our roles, we hit a saturation point and fell out of love with the work. From here we decided to set up our own practice, launching from the popularity of Curate Magazine, and creating Curate Labs as a creative, experimental design practice focused on ethics and design for good.
Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.
Every project is different, and we approach it based on its value proposition and objectives. We typically have a long, in-depth onboarding process that largely deepens our knowledge of the client and understanding their goals.
We are doers by heart, and approach each project with actionable and measurable things that impact the client/partner business. Our philosophy has been to not charge for services, but for tangible results.
From an internal perspective, we launch ideas quickly and seek real feedback from users as this has been the most valuable way to move forward, progress and improve. We took this approach with Curate Magazine, where each issue was a fundamental learning curve for how we present articles for high engagement, create navigational structures, ease of UX, etc.
This process of ‘launch quick and iterate’ allows us to listen and learn more effectively. It allows us to exercise creative ideas and give us room to undergo the messy process of experimenting and failing. It also means we don’t have typical client restraints that some projects come with, letting us flex our creative ideas and ultimately use as case studies to win similar work.
We’re using the same process for our Driftime® App, initially launching the publishing platform around summer this year, with the app and experiences to follow by the end of 2020.
Describe the process of launching the business.
As designers, there’s a lot we can do upfront with less reliance on sourcing external expertise. We designed the brand, website, and built everything ourselves from the ground up. Whilst we were still working for agencies, we saved enough money to give us some runway for setting up the business, and fortunately, we were able to secure a couple of projects to start the day we left our agency roles.
From the beginning, we wanted the design to be more responsible. The work we did in agencies didn’t hold much purpose and sometimes was ethically challenging. We believe that values shouldn’t be compromised and when we started the business, we only wanted to work with brands and companies that positively impacted social, economic or environmental standards. We positioned ourselves to be an ethical design practice, that advocated sustainability and using design for good.
From there, we focused on service, high-value design output, support and simply doing good work. As a result, we were very fortunate in consistent referrals that helped sustain the business.
From a financial perspective, we did most of the groundwork meaning the cost in setting up was minimal. Our investment was mostly that of time, and one of the lessons we learned early on was ‘try not to do everything’ and bring in expertise (i.e. accounting) to help us spend our time on what we did best… design.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
We have always been focused on creative output and letting our work speak for itself. Traditionally, we always came up with ideas and created digital content to showcase our capabilities, taste, values, and beliefs. This ranged from digital publications and interactive travel guides, through to side projects and social experiments.
Over the last 3 years, we have been producing the Annual Digest which has proven a great conversation starter. The publication gives us an opportunity to advocate business doing ‘good’ and championing their stories, perspectives, lessons, and efforts to a global audience. In turn, this shows our own thought leadership and how we continually challenge what it means to be a business for good, giving the next generation real stories to learn from.
Aside from this, we continually try to do work that pushes conventional limits. With all client work, side projects and experiments, we advocate through our Instagram account, seek features on websites or magazines, and occasionally submit for awards.
Partners & Networks section of our Culture Manual
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
Currently, we’re in the process of consolidating all aspects of our business. What was traditionally 3 separate businesses (Curate Labs, Annual Digest & Driftime®), we’re in the process of turning into one business with 3 departments – service, product, and editorial.
Once foundational structures are in place, we’re hoping to hit our highest turnaround this year (50-100% increase in revenue) and allow multiple revenue streams to open up by offering new products and services. Our biggest investment will be that of resource, as we’re hoping to bootstrap all development and would consider external investment only if necessary (dependent on goals and objectives).
Curate Labs and the Annual Digest will merge into Driftime® – keeping Driftime® as the main business with the 3 departments mentioned above. We’re hoping to have this in place by summer 2020 and launch the editorial side of the platform at the same time.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
Early on we learned that bringing in the right people is key. When we first started, we tried to do too much ourselves, even certain things outside of our skillset such as accounting. We realized that it makes more sense to bring in a professional that knows what they’re doing. This may cost us a little, but saves valuable time that we can use for what we do best, design.
From a client perspective, our process has always been to bring in the right resource for each project and build our teams flexibly depending on the objectives. If a client needs a particular kind of website or a bespoke typeface designed, etc. we’d find the best people for each of those skills.
Internally, we’re now aiming to spend our time focusing on the business and keeping it on the right path, whilst bringing in resources for design, management, etc. to help with the day-to-day.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
We use multiple tools to help us do what we do. Currently, we use Figma, Notion, and web building tools such as Readymag or Webflow quite regularly. Our tool stack sometimes changes based on new software and what it is we’re trying to achieve.
Our nature is to do things quickly, test, iterate and refine. Tools like Figma and Principle help us prototype, animated and test ideas quickly and obtain valuable feedback. Other tools such as G Suite or Notion, help keep things managed and organized.
Process, Services & Onboarding section in our Culture Manual
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
Zero to One by Peter Thiel
A really good book for understanding business and the competitive landscape of your sector or industry.
Win Without Pitching Manifesto by Blair Enns
For an industry that has its services largely undervalued, this book is great for reassociating the importance (and reinstate value) of design.
Start with Why by Simon Sinek – currently reading
Let My People Go Surfing by Yvon Chouinard - currently reading
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?
Invest in people as early as you can. Bring in skillsets and resources to help with heavy lifting, so that you can free up time to focus on running your business by leading it in the right direction and seeing the bigger picture.
Like many others, we’ve fallen victim to doing too much by ourselves. A familiar African Proverb reads, “If you want to go quickly, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
Currently, we are still working on foundational structures and we’ll likely look to hire a relationships/account manager. This role would consist of working directly with clients and management overall projects, as well as maintaining the relationship over the years. This would help us focus on sales and marketing whilst still being able to provide a high standard of service.
Where can we go to learn more?
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
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