Lauren Currie is the founder of UPFRONT, an organization that aims to put women in the spotlight and boost their confidence, visibility, and power. What was just an avenue for people to be on a stage in front of an audience turned into a global community of women from all walks of life, and that’s what UPFRONT.
Initially starting out as a product design engineering student, Lauren learned about service design which is what is now considered as design thinking or customer experience design. Shortly after finishing her education, she co-founded Snook, Scotland’s first service design for social change agency. With their focus on the public sector, they were able to implement and optimize service design for sectors like the government, health, and education.
After designing one of the world's first MA programs in Digital Experience Design at HyperIsland, she then went on to work for Good Lab, a think tank for social innovation. After her time in Good Lab, she built NOBL, which was focused on organizational change, culture design, and the like. All this time, Lauren had also been building UPFRONT, which has now become her full-time job.
Now, what made her want to create UPFRONT? She says it was borne from the lack of diversity of conference speakers, majority of whom are white middle class men. After learning just how many people were actually interested in being on stage but were also too afraid to do it, she realized she could help give these people the chance to do so. She did exactly this and was met with astounding results.
As much as Lauren would like UPFRONT to cater to both men and women, their main and sole focus for now is women. She shares the three truths they base their work upon, and she also shares what men can do to help uplift the women in their homes, workplaces, communities, governments, and more. Speaking of government, if Lauren were Prime Minister, education and policy & laws would be the two main areas where she would begin making a change in.
Getting down to the thick of things, Lauren talks more about UPFRONT and the global community they’ve built called Bonds that is a perfect offering not just for individuals but for companies as well. She’s currently working on a Bond for neurodivergent women and hopes to create Bonds for BIPOC women, women with long-term conditions, and more.
In ten years, Lauren hopes that UPFRONT will become a household name and just like what Brené Brown has done for vulnerability, Lauren hopes to do the same for building up women’s confidence.
Maiko Schaffrath 00:07
You are listening to Impact Hustlers and I am your host, Maiko Schaffrath. I have made it my mission to inspire the next generation of entrepreneurs to solve some of the world's biggest social and environmental problems. And for this reason, I am speaking to some of the best entrepreneurs out there who are solving problems such as food waste, climate change, poverty, and homelessness. My goal is that Impact Hustlers will inspire you, either by starting an impact business yourself, by joining the team of one, or by taking a small step, whatever that may be, towards being part of the solution to the world's biggest problem. Thanks very much, Lauren, for joining me on Impact Hustlers today. It's a real honor to talk to you. We're both involved in the backed community as venture scouts, but I think this is the first proper opportunity for us to have a real chat about the work you do. I'm really curious to learn more today and share it with everyone. You actually started- so, welcome, first of all.
Lauren Currie 01:23
Thank you. Thank you. It's super good to be here. Thank you for inviting me.
Maiko Schaffrath 01:28
Thanks for joining. So, you started your career as a product designer. And over time, you shifted towards service design. And now, you're actually on this whole new journey around empowering women and boosting confidence in women. Tell us about your career journey from starting as a product designer to shifting your career towards, let's say, social innovation and empowering women.
Lauren Currie 01:58
Of course, thank you. So, yeah, I went off to art school on a mission to be the next Steve Jobs, to study product design engineering. So, I decided I would build a product that would make me very rich and change lots of lives. And then, really quickly into my studies, I was introduced to the discipline of service design which is, now, we talk about design thinking, customer experience design. Back then, it was a very emergent, unknown field, and I very quickly became obsessed and really excited about the idea of crafting beautiful, useful human-centered experiences the same way I'd been taught to craft lampshades, and trash cans, and the physical products that exist in the world. Service design applies to any service you can think of, and that's everything from buying a cup of coffee, booking a holiday, trying to get insurance, to visiting your GP, and everything in between. When I left art school and kind of looked up and out into the world, there were no service design jobs in Scotland. They were all in London, and I wanted to stay in Scotland. I wanted to use service design and my creativity to solve the problems that I could see around me, in my neighborhood, in my city, and in my country. So, I co-founded Scotland's first service design for social change agency called Snook, which my mum came up with the name, which is a Scots word for the feeling of being super cozy, like fresh bedsheets at a fire type of thing. My gran would say, "Oh, this is this snooks." So, I built Snook from the ground up, one paying customer then another paying customer. I led that with my co-founder for seven years. We were very focused in the public sector, so applying service design to government services, education, health. We used to stand on stages and talk about, "Designers belong in government," and people would look at me like I had landed from Mars, which of course, design is very commonplace now in government and our National Health Service and lots of public institutions. So, that was my first entrepreneurial journey, if you like, and I think one that was started from a place of complete naivete. I had no idea what I was signing up for. It was my first job, really. I'd never been employed before that. Then, I spent a year in education at Hyper Island, which was one of the things that led to me falling in love with Sweden, which is where I moved to six months ago. That was super fun, designed one of the world's first MA programs in Digital Experience Design. And then, the call of London, that was in Manchester, and the call of London just became stronger and stronger. I joined a team called Good Lab, which was a super interesting brief where the founders had got investment from 11 of the top charities in the UK, and our mission was to build one business that would bring in £250 million of profit every single year for the entire charity sector. It was bonkers, I think, so I jumped in. There was a team of five or six of us, and our job was essentially to proof set businesses and ship a new business idea every few months, building on what is the value proposition that this unique collection of charities brings. I guess that was when my attention started to shift away from the design of the product and the service and the business, to culture and leadership, because the biggest challenge we could see at Good Lab was actually not about the businesses. It was about the culture clash, different ways of working and being and operating that we could see across the charitable sector, and that was what led to me building my business after Good Lab, which was NOBL, and that was all about organizational change, culture design, helping teams design how they work together which led to me then realizing that leadership development is a very out-of-date field. So, I spent the last 15 months building a startup, building a leadership development app which I actually just left a couple of weeks ago to now focus on UPFRONT. UPFRONT is something that started around Good Lab time, 2016, as a kind of guerrilla campaign to make stages more accessible. And over the last five years, I've built it up as a business on the side, and it's now my full-time focus, and we are on a super exciting mission with a global community. And yeah, that's where I'm at now.
Maiko Schaffrath 07:22
Amazing. Wow, that's such an inspiring journey, especially kind of really the breadth of experiences you had across your career, the different missions and areas you've worked on. Let's zoom in on UPFRONT. That's what we're here to talk about and your mission with UPFRONT. As far as I understand, you literally started with realizing, "Okay, I'm being invited to speak on all these stages, but I'm very often the only woman. When I speak to women, they say, 'I don't really feel like I should be applying to these things. I don't really have the confidence to be on stage,' and you thought about, 'Okay. Let's find a way to at least put women on stage, even if they're not speaking, just basically make some space for women or any sort of diverse set of people to be on stage with you when you were speaking,'" right? Is that how UPFRONT started and how did it evolve from there?
Lauren Currie 08:24
Yeah, that's a beautiful summary. When that started, again, from a place of complete naivete and me thinking, "Why is this, I go to design conferences, it's the same five white dudes telling the same five stories on repeat?" Venture capital seems the same. I discovered every sector is the same, a huge overrepresentation of white middle class men and not enough diversity when it comes to race, gender, class, economic background, diversity of thought. My design training really taught me how to listen in these conversations I was having with people of all genders about, "Okay. Tell me why you don't talk on a stage," and the fun part about what led to all that research was I put a post-it note in the toilet's conference to say, "Do you want to be on stage one day?," and I was absolutely inundated with people who wanted to talk to me. So, that was my discovery phase. That was my kind of journey of realizing, okay, this is intersectional. This is complex. It's societal. It's got a lot to do with racism, sexism, ageism, ageism, but I kept hearing this insight of the idea of standing up on a big race stage in front of a big audience, "No fucking way. Too scary, too big. It's just not something I'm prepared to do." And when you think about it, in our professional lives, when we want to do a new thing, you go on a course, or you buy a book, or you shadow somebody, there's usually a "dip your toe in the water" phase before you're expected to show up as the field expert or as the field professional. Whereas with public speaking, that phase doesn't exist. It's like one day, you're in the audience, the next day, you're up there, and the spotlight's on your face, and you have to be charming and articulate. So, I thought, "How can we design a way to dip your toe in the water for people who-," and this is not people who are like, "Oh, one day, I might want to do a TED talk." This is people who are like, "Don't ask me to introduce myself, because I don't want to do that in front of people." This is people who are very not used to and very uncomfortable with being in the spotlight, with eyes on them, with the idea of being on a stage. And my thesis was this, what if we get every keynote speaker in the world to put a big, giant, red sofa on stage with them, so that people with stage fright can just chill out and be on the stage, let their heart rate go back to normal, remember how to breathe, and realize it's not that scary? You're safe on a stage. The prototypes showed me, so I tried it out at different conferences. There were 50, 60, sometimes 100 people applying for a seat on a three-/four-seater couch, so the demand was huge. People in the audience were really struck by, this is forcing them to challenge themselves on, why is it strange for me to see three black women on a stage? Why is it strange for me to see two women over the age of 55 on a stage? For the organizers, the ones that are really listening and good at their jobs, they know this is a massive problem, but they're not quite sure what to do about it, and UPFRONT was giving them something to do about it. So, I tidied it up into a process and, just through my own social networks, asked other keynote speakers to take part, and we had over 500 people sit on the couch at conferences all over the world. We gathered data from them before and after, and we had data that it worked. You're 30% more likely to talk at an event yourself one day. You feel maybe 90% more confident, lots and lots of brilliant stuff. But, there was no business model. There was no strategy. It was just this, like how do we launch more of a kind of campaign? And then, the people on the couch were like, "Okay, what happens now? Do you have a book I can buy, or a podcast, or a program?," and I was like, "No," and that was where the next phase began, yeah.
Maiko Schaffrath 12:53
Yeah. Are there some stories of those people that were drawn to you on the couch that now are renowned public speakers or maybe at least kind of really overcame the fear of public speaking? Any people kind of out there right now that-
Lauren Currie 13:10
Maiko Schaffrath 13:11
Work on the stage out there?
Lauren Currie 13:12
100%. Honestly, and I'm really not exaggerating when I say I get so many messages that I can't keep up of people who have been on the coach. We used to do in-person workshops for businesses and for individuals as well. Now, we're on our online programs. I get so many messages every week of people saying, "Because of UPFRONT, I did a talk myself." I know there's somebody, a couple of people who had decided they were not going to speak at their wedding, who then did give a speech at their wedding, because of the UPFRONT experience, people who have got promotions, earning more money, starting their own businesses, speaking up and out against prejudice, saying no to things that they would normally have said yes to. I mean, essentially, yes, it's public speaking, but it's also the skill of advocating for yourself, being able to articulate your worth, your skillset, your talents in a way that makes people listen and take you seriously which, of course, is harder, depending on who you are. That's much harder for a black or brown woman than it is for white women. Women are not an homogenous group. We're as unequal as women and men are as a group. So yeah, I'm really incredibly proud of the impact. One of my jobs to be done at the moment is to think about how I can put some more systems in place to gather that data and turn those stories into metric, so that when I come back on this podcast in a year's time, I can say, "Well, yes, there's 1,402 people who say this," but I don't quite have those numbers yet.
Maiko Schaffrath 15:10
Yeah, but we'll get there. We'll talk about what you do with the wider UPFRONT community, but I'll stick to the beginnings a little bit longer, because I think it's a nice example as well to show some of the issues behind this. Obviously, we've just talked about the issue of women sometimes not having enough confidence to speak or to kind of put themselves out there, but obviously, that's only one side of the coin in terms of what women on an individual level can do to put themselves out there. There's also a societal and structural problem. There's a problem maybe for conference organizers. Even if there's plenty of great women out there that are great public speakers, that are up for it, that are volunteering for it or signing up for it, they're still not on stage, right? So, how do you weigh these two issues? From one side of view just saying, "Oh, it's just a women's issue. Women need to just boost their confidence, and everything will be fixed," which is, obviously, I'm just trying to make it clear, versus, "It's all a structure issue. Basically, we just need to change society, and then everything will be fine, but it's not an issue that women have." Do you think it's both? And how can we improve on both, I guess, in some way?
Lauren Currie 16:35
Yes, and this is my favorite question, because nothing pisses me off more than the narrative of "women need to fix themselves." The reason why UPFRONT is different, and special, and powerful is because it does not do what the majority of courses, and and lectures, and products, or in conferences do which is, we do not place the emphasis on the woman having to fix herself, because when you do that, you're erasing very complex systems, and you're casting the woman as the maker of her own fate. Where we come from is a stance of "We want to change confidence, not women," and we want to educate women as to why things are the way they are, why are women crippled by low confidence in a way that men are not. Now, don't get me wrong. I also get emails on a weekly basis from men who want to join UPFRONT and from women who have had the experience and say, "My brother needs this. My husband needs this. My next door neighbor needs this." The patriarchal, very American, masculine, quiet version of confidence is also harmful for men. It just so happens that I've chosen to focus on serving women in this space. How we approach it is all of our content and the work we do is based upon these three truths. So, one, your low confidence is a consequence of the patriarchy. You are a result of your environment, and that truth, for many women who go through the Bonds, is completely transformative. It's the first time in their life that they have realized, understood, and accepted, "The problem does not lie with me." The reason that that is so powerful is because our world is full of multibillion dollar industries that exist and thrive off of women believing that the problem is them, so that's why that's like a really significant thing. The second thing is not all women experience depression in the same way as we kind of talked about before. There's a strong emphasis on intersectionality, the role of race, and class, and economic status, and how all of these things combine to affect how a woman is perceived by the people around her. And then, the third thing is about responsibility, and power, and privilege, because if I am going to teach and train millions of women to be upfront and to build this muscle of confidence in a way that feels good for them, I only want to do that with the knowledge that they are going into that with a very clear objective of "I must bring other women with me. I must amplify women who have less privileges than me, and I must do all of this work in a way that is building ladders around myself." So, there's very much a focus on the collective power of community and networks, as I mentioned earlier, to try and make there be more equality within women ourselves. There's gay women, trans women, poor women. I think a lot of the conversations around supporting and amplifying women are focused on white middle to upper class women, and that is very dangerous and is not going to achieve the quality objectives that we would all love to see for our children and for the future of the world.
Maiko Schaffrath 20:47
That's a really good point. I actually recorded a podcast a while ago with Gary Stewart, who used to be my boss at Wayra and is now running a company called FounderTribes helping black founders mainly raise funding. We spoke a little bit about that as well, that sometimes, even the word "diversity" is interpreted in a very one-dimensional way in many spaces. For example, if an organization that was previously pretty much white male becomes white male and female, that's already kind of diverse for many organizations and that's, I think, their problem. That's not the definition of diversity if you only stick to that, so that's a really good point that you're making there. I guess from there, I'd love to move towards kind of the role of men, specifically, and maybe focusing on the role of men in UPFRONT. I don't know if there's any role of men in UPFRONT that you think about, but also on more of a societal level or on the level of men opening doors. What's advice that you would share with men in power or men in positions that can actually enable women to access what maybe was previously restricted?
Lauren Currie 22:19
Yes. Thank you for asking that question. I want every single man listening to go and ask the women in their teams the same question. From an UPFRONT perspective, there's two things. One is, often, the women who wants to join the Bond are seeking permission or funding from a male leader or boss, and they often can find that conversation quite difficult, because the man on the other side of the conversation is really struggling to empathize with, "What is this problem that you're asking me to pay $1,000 to fix or whatever it might be?" So, there's something about being really open to when women in your team and your organization come to you with a request for a learning opportunity, that you believe them and you listen to them, that that need is real, and you go out of your way to fund and pay for the experience that they're asking you to pay for. I think the second thing about just men in general and their role in this, it's huge because, as we've said, confidence is a result of our environment. Women are not born feeling less than. As they grow up, they are taught to feel less than, and that looks different depending on where you live in the world, your culture, lots of different things, but there are very key patterns that repeat themselves around, for example, being interrupted at work, being spoken over the top of, being dismissed for having ideas or opinions that our male counterpart would not be dismissed for, right through to bigger things, like we know women are paid less than men when both do the same job. I think for the men listening, okay, this starts at home. It starts in the pub with my friends, on Zoom with my teammates. I am going to call out sexism and the dismissal of women when I hear it. I am going to role model paying women, amplifying women. This is particularly important around race. It's like being a person to say, "We don't talk like that here. We don't talk about women like that. We don't say those things here. When there's an opportunity, how might we pay a black woman to be our keynote speaker? How might we find five black women to be our next podcast guest?," and being the voice that asks the question, "Who is not in this room and why is that and what can we do about it?" And then, the last one is to tell people what you earn, especially women and people of color, because there is an intense pay gap. There's a race pay gap. There's a wealth pay gap between genders, and there's lots of evidence that shows that when a man reveals what he earns, it's incredibly powerful for a woman to have that information, so that she can then negotiate from a really sound place of, "I know that my counterpart is getting paid sometimes £10,000, £20,000, £30,000 pounds more than me," so she can go into that negotiation feeling much more confident. It's not about anybody getting thrown under the bus or getting into trouble. There's ways that you can do that that is sensitive to the context, and I know that employers go out of their way and go to great lengths to prevent their employees from having those conversations. There is a reason that they do that, and the reason that they do that is to maintain the status quo. Right now, the status quo is only serving an elite few, and we know that men benefit from it far more than women. So, those would be my, I mean, yeah, there's a lot. I could write a book about this, but those would be my three things.
Maiko Schaffrath 26:34
Please do, please do. It's a really good one, I think. On that, I guess that there is a need for a book like Sheryl Sandberg, the CEO of Facebook, wrote for men.
Lauren Currie 26:52
Maiko Schaffrath 26:54
Basically, for men to say, "What do you need to do to-"
Lauren Currie 26:58
To lean out, get our way.
Maiko Schaffrath 27:00
Yeah, lean out, that could be a good idea.
Lauren Currie 27:03
Maiko Schaffrath 27:03
Maybe you can pitch that to somebody out there.
Lauren Currie 27:06
I mean, I think there's two books who would really do a brilliant job in this context. One is Invisible Women, which is a book all about data. It's a data-driven book all about how the world is designed with a bias for men in mind. And then, the second book is Laura Bates's new book. She is the founder of Everyday Sexism Project. I might get the title wrong, but I think it's called Why Men Hate Women. It's, again, coming from a data perspective. Just yesterday, I saw a horrific article sharing the number of searches for "How do I hit a woman in a way that nobody would notice?" It has millions and millions of searches. I can't remember the exact number, and also a 70% increase over COVID. I think these types of statistics and stories- when you and I get together to have these conversations, it's easy to focus on the team meeting, and the pitching process, and raising capital, building your business, but we also need to remember that there are whole populations of women who are nowhere near a place where it would be safe for them to build businesses or apply for funding, because they are stuck in situations where their only option is to escape. We kind of talked about Lean In earlier. That's the problem with narratives like Lean In, as they're usually ignoring poor women, women who are in situations where no matter how smart they are, how hard they work, how much they lean in, how much they strategize, how much confidence they have, it wouldn't make any difference because the system is so fundamentally broken. So yeah, it's an important part of the conversation.
Maiko Schaffrath 29:19
Yeah, that's an interesting one. I'd love to follow up with a question on that. What do you think needs to happen for this issue to not only be tackled for the boardrooms of massive companies, for the Sheryl Sandbergs of the world to be able to have the positions that they have? But really, yeah, most women are not Sheryl Sandberg. Most people are not in those type of positions. They may be in much different situations in terms of what they need to do. So, what can happen across society that will empower women at all stages, all kinds of levels of education, all kinds of wealth spectrums? What do you think can happen to have a broader change happen?
Lauren Currie 30:11
Okay, so this is your "If you were Prime Minister Lauren, what would you do?" question.
Maiko Schaffrath 30:17
Pretty much, yeah.
Lauren Currie 30:20
I've thought about this. It's a really, really big question and far more complex than you and I can answer in a podcast. I think there's two core pieces to the answer. One is education, and one is policy and laws. We need policies and laws to change, so that they are policies that are designed with entire populations in mind. I think we all need to look at the headlines around how the UK government has responded to COVID for a really brilliant example of the trauma and devastation that's caused when policies are implemented that ignore pregnant women, for example, or that ignore black and brown people, for example. We've seen those two things play out to devastating effects over COVID, and we know that the number of women who were involved in those policies and the generation of those policies was practically zero or very minimal. So, how do we get more women into positions of creating policies, creating laws? Alongside that, how do we get more women to stand for office? How do we get more women to be elected as government officials, so that women are at the tables where these decisions are being made? That would be where I would start, and where those decisions need to start is around infrastructure, around childcare and family life. It's no coincidence that I've just moved my family out of the UK to Sweden, a country where policies are built with families, and children, and mothers, and fathers in mind. I sit on the board of a charity called Pregnant and Screwed, which is a maternity discrimination charity and our founder, Joeli Brearley, has just written a book, which I recommend everybody buys and reads. In that book, she outlines the crisis that is happening in the UK around childcare and the choices that women are having to make between, "Do I buy nappies or do I buy food?" It's really dire streets, and we see that often for many women who- to go back to the kind of Lean In context, often, for many women, the first time they experience discrimination is when they become a parent, whether that's through pregnancy, or adoption, or whatever that looks like. They might work in a startup. They might work in advertising. They have a disposable income. They're in a healthy income bracket, and it's the first time in their life that they experience discrimination and oppression, and it can ruin lives and it's devastating. That's why the conversation around childcare is so powerful. I know from my work in Pregnant and Screwed that when women have that experience and they go through that trauma, they then get a tiny, tiny insight and glimpse into the oppression that they're black and brown peers, for example, have been experiencing for decades upon decades, but often, it doesn't manifest itself until the moment you become a parent. I got off track a bit, but yeah, that's where I would start, elected officials, lawmakers, policymakers, and childcare, family infrastructure.
Maiko Schaffrath 34:26
Got it. Amazing. Lauren for Prime Minister, let's go.
Lauren Currie 34:29
Maiko Schaffrath 34:32
No, great. Let's go from the really big picture, societal picture, again, to kind of the more micro picture with what you're doing at UPFRONT. We already covered how UPFRONT started. You basically opened the stages of the world to people that weren't traditionally beyond them, but what has it evolved into now? I understand there is now a global community of women that are part of UPFRONT. I think you called it the Global Bond?
Lauren Currie 35:04
Maiko Schaffrath 35:04
And then, you're also running regular Bonds and programs for women to build confidence. Tell us more about what you do at the moment with UPFRONT and, yeah, also how people can be part of that.
Lauren Currie 35:17
Yeah, absolutely. So, we have the Global Bond Community, which is a network that you join, and by joining, you get access to me, you get access to the rest of the Bonds. We have four events a month. We have daily, weekly conversations all around the theme of building new muscles of confidence, visibility, power with the context of building ladders around ourselves and embracing and understanding intersectionality. So, that's our global community. And then, the individual Bonds are the cohort of women who go through our six-week program. Our flagship product is a six-week program. It all happens online. You've got three hours of pre-recorded material and three hours of live material, which is very high-energy, very optimistic. We have women from all over the world join, and I think what's super powerful about it is we are very much not interested in your job title or your professional identity. We show up as individuals, and we bring our confidence stories and challenges from our work, our home life, our personal lives. People say to me that that, combined with the focus on neuroscience, behavior change, mindset change, is something really spectacular that people love. As I said before, we've had nearly 500 women move through the Bonds from 25 different countries. And your audience are in luck, because the next Bond, the fourth Bond, launches on the 7th of June, and we still have places left. So, do visit the website or get in touch with me however you wish if you're interested. We're working with a lot of organizationss, organizations like Bulb, Babylon, Co-op, Big Lottery Fund who are onboarding multiple teams of 10, 20, 30 people to go through the Bonds as well, so we also have a strong B2B part of our business too. So, that's the current focus, again, of what is emerging or coming soon is I'm looking at creating many Bonds for women with a very specific lived experience. The one that I'm working on at the moment is for women who are neurodivergent, because what I've realized through learning from women who are neurodivergent who've come through the Bond is that there is a huge gap in the market for professional guidance focused on career development, showing up, public speaking, owning your power if you are neurodivergent. I've been talking to- who knew the world is full of amazing women and this is their job? They're neurodivergent themselves, and they teach other women how to navigate that complexity in a world that's set up to not really understand nor embrace what that means. And so, that's something that I'm working on at the moment that I'm excited about.
Maiko Schaffrath 38:48
That's amazing. Everybody, we will have the link to the UPFRONT website in the show notes. I think it's weareupfront.com.
Lauren Currie 38:57
Maiko Schaffrath 38:58
I'll leave it there for sure for anybody that wants to check it out.
Lauren Currie 39:01
Maiko Schaffrath 39:03
One question we didn't cover that I'd love to cover before we wrap up is how you actually evolved UPFRONT from this initiative that didn't really have, let's say, a long-term plan behind it necessarily, that you were like thinking, "Okay, I'm going to develop all these things into a business." Now recently, you jumped back in full-time now on UPFRONT, so I'd love to think, from an entrepreneurial perspective, how have you evolved it? And maybe some advice for entrepreneurs that are starting out? Is that a good route to take, to first start with something that solves a clear problem even if you don't have a clear strategy for the future and then develop it as you understand more? How are you approaching it now?
Lauren Currie 39:51
Yeah. I'm a designer so my training, my worldview, my methodology is "learn by doing, bias towards action." So yes, absolutely, I would always preach that that is the way to go. You learn far more by putting a tiny scrap of a half-formed idea into the world than you do sitting behind the desk trying to build an idea on a laptop on your own. And, the story is a fun one, because when you look back, the way it's like, it's very nice and neat and progresses from one stage to the other. But at the time, as I said, the truth is it was always on the sides of either a day job or another venture. So, we have the coach phase, and in that phase, I would have conversations with people who sat on the couch. And what happened was during those conversations, I would hear lots of stories, and I would get to really listen to people's stories about where they've come from, why they sat on the couch, what they want to do next, and I kept hearing all these incredible stories, meeting these incredible people, and becoming more and more inspired and driven on, "How can I help them? Gosh, why are the same messages of barriers coming up time and time again?" And that was when I kind of started Googling like, "Okay, so if I wanted to go on a course to learn public speaking, to learn how to tell my story, what's out there?," and essentially, you've got two buckets of stuff. You've got Tony Robbins, Gary Vee, white American extroverted are, again, puffed up, "Let's all do confidence as if we're about to go on a boxing ring," and then, you've got very academic, quite elite, usually rooted in drama or acting, "Learn confidence through movement, your relationship with your body." Now, just me as me, both of those things are like, "No, thank you." So, I know that if I feel that, there'll be lots of other people in the world who feel that too. So, I put together a one-day workshop. I convinced my boss at the time to let me run it in our office at the weekend. I didn't have a baby then. I've got a wee boy now who's three. So, my weekends were free, because I wasn't a parent and had the privilege of time and put it on Eventbrite, sold tickets, I think for 30 quid a ticket, to see what would happen, and every single one sold out, had a waiting list. They were days that I still remember, incredibly emotional, powerful in the best of ways. And every single session I ran, I got smarter on like, "What is the problem? What do these women need? What do we need to happen next?" And essentially, I developed that overtime to be a smarter, more sophisticated offer. So then, we had one-day sessions, two-day sessions. We started selling them to businesses. I had a network of brilliant improvisation artists and actors whom I would bring in to cover bits around physicality, and voice, and posture in a non-drama school way. Drama school is brilliant, but I think when you're somebody who isn't feeling good about how you're showing up in the world, it's not the best approach. So then, I really quickly realized I wanted to do something online, because I was very aware it was all very London-centric, and I was still attracting usually on average majority of white, middle-aged, middle class disposable income women who lived in and around London. It took me three years to build the online version, because it was always on the sides, then I had a baby, then there was a pandemics. It was very painful. And also, I think I had a bit of fear around- online somehow feels more permanent. It's also much more complicated to build than just hiring a space and rocking up and giving everybody a brilliant experience, and it just so happened that the launch of that coincided with COVID-19. So, we launched the first version of the online course in August, and the fourth Bond as you know, as we talked about, will launch in June. And when the first Bond happened, we had over 300 women sign up. It was an incredible experience. The impact was phenomenal. But I had at least 50 of them who were like, "This cannot be over. I can't allow this to be over," after the six weeks, and that was why I decided to build a community space, because the community asked for it. It was never in my plan to have a membership space, but the need and the demand was there. And now that I've started building that, I'm realizing there's lots and lots of opportunity around there. Ultimately, I do think there is an opportunity to build a product to increase our impact even further. I don't know what that is yet, but my hunch is that that will be the next phase once we get the Bonds really optimized and running super well, and potentially these many Bonds around areas such as neurodivergence, and potentially another one for BIPOC women, potentially another one for women who are living with long-term conditions. There's a whole bunch of things I want to do there, but I think a product is somewhere on the horizon.
Maiko Schaffrath 45:59
Got it. That's exciting. We'll definitely keep watching that. One last brief question is, if you think about 10 years' time from now, how does the world look like if you succeed with your mission at UPFRONT? How will the world change?
Lauren Currie 46:18
So, when UPFRONT succeeds, it will be a household name, term, that everybody understands in a way that you'll say, "You need to get more upfront. It sounds like you need to learn how to be upfront. This is an upfront moment." What I can compare that to is what Brene Brown's work has done for vulnerability. I think Brene Brown has done a really transformational job of taking vulnerability from something that was academic, misunderstood, made us feel a bit awkward to something that there's a whole population of teams and leaders and organizations all over the world who are like, "We are in this. We are here to learn how to be vulnerable, to talk about vulnerability," and I want to do a version of that for confidence, because confidence is equally misunderstood and equally powerful when you reframe it. So yeah, that's what it will look like in 10 years.
Maiko Schaffrath 47:24
Wow, amazing. Thank you very much, Lauren, for joining me. It was really inspiring to hear your journey and your mission with UPFRONT. Thanks for joining me today.
Lauren Currie 47:34
Thank you so much, Maiko. Thank you.
Maiko Schaffrath 47:37
Thanks. All right. I'm just stopping the recording.