Forgotten your password?
Business and Finance

Startup insight: Olivia Knight

Olivia Knight
First up in our Libertine insight series, we ask entrepreneur and founder of Patchwork Present Olivia Knight three questions about her industry

Which emerging businesses have you got your eye on?

It’s not exactly an emerging business but in the last year I’ve had my eye on Moo. They started out as a really nice business card company – and they still are – but they’ve quickly evolved into a one-stop print shop for an entire generation of creatives.

Richard Moross launched the business in a digital age with print media generally in decline and at a time when people make business contacts on Twitter instead of swapping little bits of cardboard. And yet Moo have made having a business card not only relevant again but have turned them into a crucial piece of creative communication. And then there’s the postcards, flyers, stickers etc.

What I love is that Moo has managed to grow into a hugely successful business and at the same time has retained its creative credentials, founding principles about personal expression and its loyal fans  – of which I am one.

What’s your biggest challenge or unsolved question?

Our biggest question as a company is “what about the stuff money can’t buy?” In the 18 months since we launched Patchwork Present we’ve seen friends and families collectively fund all sorts of much-wanted gifts from handbags to honeymoons, playhouses to piano lessons, washing machines to vegetable gardens. Our principle till now has been, if it exists and it’s legal then you can fund it. And we’ve been amazed at the things money can buy.

Maybe not love. But one new mum said her friends used Patchwork to “save her sanity” by chipping in to pay for a sleep specialist who came to support her in the weeks after her second baby was born.

The idea behind Patchwork is that people can contribute whatever they can afford from £1 to £500 towards a single gift. We exist to help people give presents that are really wanted and needed and at the same time keep unwanted gifts out of landfill. And we’re doing good. But it’s all about money. Until the revolution comes this is probably ok. Actually it’s a good thing for us as our business model depends on the 3% commission we take on contributions.

But we’ve now noticed that a small but significant number of people are making patchworks that don’t request cash contributions at all. In the last six months we’ve had an increasing number of engaged couples creating patchworks to ask wedding guests to help make the party happen by choosing to bake a cake, make some bunting, bring some booze or promise to DJ.

Creating an alternative cash-free economy is certainly not what we set out to do and on the one hand could be seen as potentially damaging to our business. But it really resonates with me and goes back to the traditional principles of patchwork that originally inspired our company and our name: the pooling of personal skills and resources to create something unique, valuable and truly collective. It’s how we did things in the past. And the fact that our users, who are always ahead of the game, are starting to use our site in this way, makes me think it might just be the future. All feedback, ideas and business-model adjustments welcome!

Which industries or sectors should your field be looking to and why?

I know I run a tech company but I’m not really interested in business per se or technology as an abstract. I’m most interested in learning from people – past and present – who are sharing ideas and experiences, creating alternative economies and building sustainable communities in the real world. I’m interested in what makes us human, understanding how we have lived for the last 200,000 years. And I’m interested in working out how we can avoid fucking everything up in the next 20.

Right now I’m reading Greenham Women Everywhere by Alice Cook and Gwyn Kirk. It’s a real inspiration from a political, personal and cultural point of view and it’s incredible to see just how the women organised and ran the peace camp. Their founding principles of personal responsibility and collective action were simple but hugely powerful and effective and the sharing of ideas, skills and resources was obviously key.

Reading today, it’s incredible to think that the years of constant occupation, the 30,000 women holding hands around the fence, the global direct action against nuclear weapons inspired by Greenham Common women, was all achieved without the internet, mobile phones, Twitter or Facebook.

So I guess it’s stories like these that inspire me – examples of ordinary people coming together to share their dreams, imagine a different future and then set about building it. Together.

Olivia knight is a member of the Libertine100; read her profile; @projectpatchwrk. Photography credit: Alex Harvey-Jones

Creating an alternative cash-free economy is certainly not what we set out to do...But it goes back to the traditional principles that inspired our company