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Nick Donnelly was just scaling up his WorkClub business when the coronavirus pandemic struck. In just days he had set up Give Locally to help the local venues WorkClub works with and others to survive the financial fall-out.
Nick Donnelly and his team were just scaling up their WorkClub business when the COVID-19 pandemic struck. The premise of the business is to give people who work remotely the option of working from settings other than their homes, for instance, local pubs or restaurants.
Clearly, with venues closed due to the lockdown, COVID-19 has had a massive impact. So the business had a rethink. Rather than just go into furlough mode, they wanted to do something positive.
So they decided to help the businesses they worked with in the hospitality sector and devise a way of keeping income coming in during the lockdown. Givelocally was born.
A free-to-use online marketplace, it aims to connect local businesses with people who are working from home. The app connects people with their favourite local venues and enables them to buy a gift card or voucher now to use at a later stage.
The idea is that, by doing so, they are not only providing cash to the venues while they are closed, but they will also be able to enjoy those purchases when it is safe to do so and earn discounts. They are looking to incentivise this by offering an extra 25% for every £100 they spend at the till.
Nick [pictured] and his wife only co-founded WorkClub recently, but the idea for the business dates back to when Nick was 10 and he used to shadow his dad who ran his own business which made use of underutilised space. Nick caught the entrepreneurial bug and in college in the US he launched his first app which was very successful. In 2017 he was running his own marketing agency, working with hotels and restaurants. He saw that they often had quiet periods. At the end of the year, he worked with a struggling coffee shop in Minnesota, where his wife is from, and helped to turn it into a work-friendly environment, significantly increasing footfall.
Soon after, Nick dropped the marketing agency and he and his wife focused full time on WorkClub. He bought an old app which he tweaked in 2018. The premise of the business is that the remote workforce is growing and that not all remote workers want to work from home, something that the lockdown experience is likely to cement. “They want a quality space with free coffee. That makes working better and makes people more productive. They also want something very local which is there when you need it,” says Nick.
The benefits include cutting down on commuting and associated costs, spending more time with the family and avoiding the distractions of working from home. Using existing venues cuts down on leasing issues and boosts local businesses and the high street.
The membership business took on a technology expert to rebuild the platform last year and the WorkClub app launched around four months ago after securing £120,000 of funding. It had negotiated Brexit uncertainty and the birth of Chris’ daughter at the end of the year. His wife was calling investors as she was in labour and was back to work just hours after giving birth. It had built a team and got lot of clients and scores of venues on board. The demand was clear and then came the coronavirus lockdown. Ninety-five per cent of the venues are in lockdown so the business took the decision to refund memberships.
Givelocally.co was built and launched in just nine days and is onboarding venues across the country. In the long term this will build a pipeline for WorkClub. Nick also says that he anticipates the return to normality will be gradual after the lockdown and that there will be a bigger appetite for remote working, but not necessarily for working from home. “It’s a win win,” says Nick. He has had to lay off the freelancers who worked for WorkClub, but has managed to retain his six-person team. The focus is on building the business infrastructure and relationships over the next months.
Nick anticipates that another long-term effect of the coronavirus pandemic is a greater sense of community. “I think community spirit will be enhanced by the pandemic,” he says. “Local hubs will become crucial. High streets were already struggling before this. Lots of businesses will close. We want to encourage people to invest in their local community.”