Helen Saul, European Brand Manager at lastminute.com began the Mad Influence podcast to shine a light on experts from the marketing industry who contribute to social change.
“Marketers can have a bad rep. Let’s be honest- we’re one of the least trusted professions in the world, ranking alongside politicians and journalists. But what about those who use their marketing to spread positivity or inspire social change?”
Welcoming the co-founders of Electric House, Lee & Adam, onto a podcast episode, the duo explained how they grew a business from two men in a tiny office to a team of over a hundred in the heart of Birmingham. Most recently, passionate Brummies Lee & Adam have been using the 0121 podcast as a platform to champion and celebrate local legends, and ask the difficult questions about what we can be doing to support our city and its creators.
Lee understands the suspicion surrounding best friends that run a business together:
“The reason people say, ‘don’t start a business with your friend’ is because they think you’ll fall out over money. But I think times have changed and businesses are started and created for different purposes other than making loads of dough.”
Read on for Lee and Adam’s tips and tricks from the Mad Influence podcast episode about how to grow a successful business with your best friend, by inspiring social change.
Initially, the publishing group now known as Electric House began as an idea between drunken friends in a back garden. Lee explains:
“We came up with the idea for a recruitment app, that would sit in between the contractor and the subcontractor and try to remove recruitment from the industry. But we had no money, we were absolutely broke.”
However, Lee and Adam managed to turn the negative into a positive.
“Ad came up with the idea of creating a Facebook page so that if we had 100 000 tradespeople in the UK following the page that we could launch the app to the following year, we would be rich. After three months, we had 250 000 people following the page. We quickly realised we were onto something that we hadn’t thought of before.”
Upon seeing the success of the On The Tools Facebook page, it turned out that the recruitment app no longer seemed necessary.
“We said it was the best thing we never did because it never launched. We got it back after the first year and it didn’t work- we’d basically been ripped off. But, because we were running the community, we started to see other opportunities; the community was asking for merch. We asked the page for slogans, picked the ones with the most likes, made some rubbish designs, set up a Shopify store, and sold £15 000 worth of sales in that first month.”
In order to run a successful business that inspires social change, it’s important to reflect on your criticisms, even though it may be difficult at first. Lee recalls:
“I went to an event of about 300 people to tell the story of On The Tools… My usual Q & A involved questions about the business. But this time, I really took a beating on issues of gender equality and diversity- even in the videos we’d shown that day. I thought, half of the stuff that’s being asked of me now, I don’t really know how to answer.”
While Lee’s initial reaction was to become defensive and believe that these issues weren’t his responsibility, after a chat with Adam, he quickly realised that these issues were genuine and needed to be addressed.
“The tough conversations are key when you’re running a business with anyone. If you can get past those quickly… We can get on with it.”
As On The Tools began to grow, the duo quickly realised that they had built a valuable community without even realising it. Lee explains:
“We realised that the publishing industry across social media was starting to appear, and we’d got an industry… If LadBible and VT are working with brands, why can’t we? We tested it, didn’t do a very good job of it, and got better at it.
Then, we realised we were at a sticking point, because we had begun to acquire other communities, but were still called On The Tools. That’s when we came up with the parent house: the publishing group. Electric House was born in October 2019, and we never launched the recruitment app for On The Tools.”
Lee insists that since “plans are visions for what might happen, and none of us can predict the future”, you shouldn’t be too disappointed if your plans don’t work out. In fact, a failed plan is usually a signifier that your business is gaining traction in a certain direction:
“If something is gathering traction and it can be beneficial for the people and the business, and it fits the general direction of travel, lean into it.
If it doesn’t work, bin it. Don’t worry about it. When me and Ad were working in the merch store, we ended up shutting it down… We weren’t trying to be the biggest workwear brand, we were trying to be the biggest media brand. It was the best decision we made- we haven’t looked back.”
Bringing Electric House into the future of social media publishing means looking back to your criticisms, and learning from them. Adam explains that his passion for inspiring social change was born from that challenging On The Tools Q & A:
“Being completely honest, we didn’t start On The Tools to change the industry and make it better for mental health or innovation or technology, but along the journey it’s become a lot more to me, now. We created 6 content pillars that fit into the community- wellbeing is one of them. In construction, you’re three times more likely to commit suicide than in any other industry. It’s quite an archaic industry and it’s not a coincidence.”
The duo began their quest for addressing wellbeing by going through the On The Tools community comments, and find out what people were saying about the causes of their mental health issues.
“I’m six years out of the trade, and I’m out of touch. We need to talk to the communities and listen to what they have to say, and serve it back to the community in a way that’s relevant.
We set up a live Facebook show and podcast during the first lockdown, because the government didn’t talk about the construction industry, and they got left behind. We set up Talking Trades, hosted by tradespeople with tradespeople guests. It’s been our best series of content. People are so used to seeing our funny sketches and our comedy, that it sounds boring, but it’s been a massive hit.”
It’s not always easy to run a business. Although some might say that running a business alongside your best friend can make it even more difficult, Lee & Adam serve as shining examples of how to run a business with your best friend successfully, by inspiring social change.
Adam adds that knowing each other as friends before they were co-founders was the key to becoming self-aware business owners:
“I think a lot of people fall out sometimes because they both like to be the boss. But from day one, we both knew that Lee was going to be the boss. I’ve had failed businesses in the past, and I know I’m good at ideas and supporting the number one. We’ve been fine ever since.”
Not only this, but Lee and Adam’s friendship has enabled them to be honest with each other as business owners. Adam explains:
“Because we’ve known each other so long, we know all the good things and all the terrible things. There’s nothing that could happen where we’d be like, ‘I don’t really want to say anything about that subject…’ Knowing each other and being able to have these honest conversations has really helped.”
And when Electric House celebrates an achievement, it’s shared among best friends; this is Lee’s favourite part of running the business alongside Adam:
“The other bit for me is that we get to share. What we’re doing is amazing and I feel fortunate enough to be doing it at all, let alone with my best mate.”
Read our previous article here