Updated: Dec 23, 2021
2Based on Courier Magazine’s 2021 guide. (You can read Part 1 here.)
Earlier this year Courier magazine published a bigass issue covering 100 of the latest, greatest ways to make a living in a less 9-to-5, more self-high-five way. To save you hours of time as well as any number of potential papercuts, I’ve distilled and summarised the hell out of the whole thing. There’s so much good stuff in there, even my summary is a longass one — so I’m breaking it into quarters. Each idea comes with a takeaway — and the best thing is, those takeaways are pretty universal, so even if running a dog grooming salon isn’t for you, it’s worth checking out the insight or tip that comes with it, instead of throwing the baby (puppy?) out with the bathwater. If you don’t want to miss the next 2 parts, you can subscribe to my newsletter.
dea 26: Olive oil.
Example: Fat Gold Robin Sloan is a fiction writer, techie, and the co-founder of Fat Gold, a Californian extra-virgin olive oil brand. Despite the growth in popularity of olive oil producers in California, Robin thinks that his success is partly due to his writing skills: ‘If you have any skills in communication or marketing, that puts you a step up from the rest. There are plenty of people who are good at making extra-virgin olive oil, but not so good at talking about it.’ Along with each delivery, the Fat Gold team sends out a seasonal magazine. There are also specially designed magnets, subscriber tins, and other physical collaterals. Takeaway: Creativity can be your unique selling point and the difference between success and failure — so make sure you have people with creative skills on your team.
Idea 27: Rentable furniture. The global residential furniture rental market is estimated to grow by 116% between 2018 and 2025. With city renters moving every one or two years on average, the demand for furniture rental, as well as subscription homeware, is going up. Takeaway: Think of something that would make the life of Generation Rent easier — then build it.
Idea 28: Restoration.
Examples: iFixit, Repair Cafe, Fettle, Free Geek, Sojo With the shift to a more circular economy gaining speed, the first word in the phrase ‘repair, reuse, recycle’ is becoming even more important. The service of restoring something faulty offers a great opportunity, especially if you can offer that service from a physical location locally. One the recent trends has been the growth of repair cafés where people can get access to tools and guidance in order to fix their broken items. iFixit is the online database where users help each other to fix pretty much anything. In the past few years the community has gone from 3 million to over 10 million. In the Netherlands, Repair Cafe has experienced a sharp increase in the numbers of their members over the past few years, and now has more than 2000 cafes all around the world. The five most frequently repaired items are coffee makers, trousers, vacuum cleaners, lamps, and bicycles.
Plenty of businesses have set up with no stock, and instead specialise on repairing one specific item —such as bicycles, which is what London-based Fettle does. Also in London, Sojo offers a similarly user-friendly service for clothing. Nicknamed ‘The Deliveroo of clothing repairs’, their platform lists local seamsters whom customers can pick depending on the repair needed. Free Geek, a not-for-profit organisation based in Portland, takes broken laptops and other devices before refurbishing them at its workshop and returning them to the local community at low cost in order to democratise access to technology.
Takeaway: Now is a pretty great time to be a fixer.
Idea 29: Sleep tech.
‘I’ll sleep when I’m dead’ is becoming a thing of the past, eben for entrepreneurs. Today people are just as likely to boast about how many hours they managed to clock up in bed last night. Businesses are chasing this opportunity by creating innovative apps, tech and wearables.
LYS is a light-tracking wearable and app that measures a user’s daily light intake, teamed up with behavioural advice to improve their energy levels.
Bryte produces beds powered by AI that can adjust its temperature, customised support for different body parts, and even rock you to sleep.
Rise aims to help users optimise sleep debt and circadian rhythms, which are two things that affect how we feel and perform.
Sleepio uses CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) against insomnia through a six-week, digital sleep improvement programme developed by sleep scientist Colin Espie and ex- insomnia sufferer Peter Hames.
London-based Pzizz is an app that provides ‘psychoacoustic’ lullabies to soothe your mind before sleep.
Takeaway: Take a daily activity that’s not going anywhere anytime soon and affects life in a major way — and improve it.
Idea 30: Rollerblading.
Examples: Five Stride
Since the start of the pandemic rollerskating has gone through a resurgence. Its popularity has boomed partly due to viral YouTube and TikTok videos. Roller-skate manufacturer have noticed that people are now willing to spend more money: for example, on customizable skates. What’s interesting and perhaps crucial about this renaissance is that social media has turned skating into a visual thing, with a lot more people interested in quirky-looking skates.
Takeaway: Retro is in. Take one thing that was huge in the 70s or 80s, and run (or skate) with it.
Idea 31: Supplements that work.
The supplements industry does not have the best reputation — but independents are taking on this unregulated market and formulating better more effective products. Surprise: when people see results, you start to see growing sales. This industry is projected to double in value by 2024, and it’s still not too late for a new business to tap into the opportunity.
For Lyma, the trick was to find peer-reviewed ingredients that guarantee results. These ingredients are much more expensive, so they don’t fit into the commercial model of the supplement market, says founder Lucy Goff. Attractive packaging and word of mouth also help Lyma stand out. They sold 10,000 pills within its first 10 days, and online sales have grown 10 times since the pandemic began.
The other example, Beauty Pie, sells directly to customers; their supplements include no fillers, no genetically modified organisms, and the right dosage of ingredients — all of which they manage to do while keeping prices low. The result is raving testimonials and demands to expand the range.
Takeaway: The biggest opportunity lies in creating high-end, evidence-led supplements at high street price points.
Idea 32: Sex toys.
It might have been the ongoing sexual wellness revolution or simply general quarantine boredom — but sex toy sales boomed during the pandemic. The online retailers saw 600% growth in sales year on year. The global sex toy market was worth 33.6 billion in 2020, and is expected to grow 8% every year until 2028.
Takeaway: Humans won’t stop seeking sexual pleasure any time soon. Just find your niche or unique angle within it, and… enjoy.
Idea 33: Alternative ways to invest.
Wine. In 2020, the only luxury investment with a better return than fine wine was Hermes handbags. And while handbags do seem to be a good bet, wine might be even better. It’s classed as a wasting asset, which means that it has a typical lifespan of less than 50 years — and because of this, it’s exempt from capital gains tax. Investment firms will typically keep your booze stored in a bonded facility until you choose to either sell on or drink up.
Fractional art funding. Want a Banksy, original, but don’t have $24,000 to spare? It’s a common problem that almost 200 people have found a solution to. They each own a share of one of his paintings, ‘Soup Can 7/10’. They can sell their share to another investor if they choose, or wait until the entire work is offered for sale, at which point they will receive a share of the profits.
Song rights. When you buy rights to a song, you’ll start receiving income every time it’s played on television or radio. The average return on investment is around 10%, according to Royalty Exchange — although songs by major artists can earn double that amount.
Litigation funding. Litigation funding enables those with a little spare cash to bankroll lawsuits: typically, class actions against companies that would otherwise not be filed as they are too costly. Here’s how it works: you help fund the case, and if your side wins, you pocket a share of the money. It is high stakes, but can also be highly rewarding.
Sports cards. The value of sports cards has been known for a long time, but it’s not always easy to get started. However, Alt, which raised $31 million in 2020, makes it easier to buy, sell and store rare sports cards. It currently covers more than 10 million assets.
Takeaway: Perhaps it’s time to look beyond stocks, bonds and crypto for your investments.
Idea 34: Hardware stores.
The independent hardware store has always been a reliable neighbourhood stronghold, but these days the most successful ones are those that can bridge online and physical sales. Over the last year, hardware stores have seen a change in customer. While the majority used to be tradespeople and skilled labourers, now it’s more likely to be someone with limited knowledge of tools who will pop in. As more people have taken on DIY projects, hardware stores now have to cater to a new DIY crowd looking for both form and function. And because they don’t have the knowledge of a typical tradesperson, they will be looking for a high level of customer service.
Alternatively, the new customers will head online. There’s a growing trend for online-only hardware stores, and online hardware sales are on the up. Just look at brands like Plank and Swarf, both based in the UK, or Ace Hardware in the US which reported a 580% increase 580% increase in online sales this past year, in comparison to just 26% increase in its retail store sales. CASSON, an online-only hardware store in Toronto, says they don’t have any need in a physical store, thanks to their virtual showroom. Frome Hardware in Somerset has its own workshop space where they take commissions, including signage and laser engraving. Hardware 2.0 in Brooklyn has recently expanded to houseplants. Meanwhile, Objects Of Use in Oxford sources homeware goods from all over the world and collaborates with independent designers and craftspeople to tell the stories behind their products. Takeaway: DIY is on the rise, and the crowd has changed — see if you can cater to them.
Idea 35: Niche hair salons. HAIRRARI is a gender-neutral barbershop in LA, founded in 2011 by Poland-born Magda Ryczko. Hairrari is a collective of hair stylists that aims to remove gender bias from traditional haircutting, opening the doors of the hairstyling world to others. The team has become deeply embedded in local social justice, working with Planned Parenthood and Black Lives Matter. They train people and offer free haircuts to those in need. Alongside the four barber shops, the team also have their own merchandise and product line. Not only does it bring in additional revenue, but it also affirms the brand’s identity.
Takeaway: Take a stand, and your crowd will come to you.
Idea 36: Vinyl bars. Led by millennials and Gen Z, sales of vinyl records are taking off worldwide, and speciality bars are popping up to meet the demand. UK vinyl sales were up 10% in 2020, almost totaling 100 million pounds; while in South Korea sales were up by 75%. For collectors who have hundreds or even thousands of records in their possession, opening a vinyl bar can become a tempting opportunity.
The Book and Record Bar in London turns the experience of listening to a record into a multisensory one with an intimate setting. Spiritland has a few sites in London where they provide a restaurant, cafe and bar, plus radio studio and shop, where they regularly feature special guests spinning records on the world class sound system. Running a successful vinyl bar is about so much more than good music: you need to interact with the listeners and maintain a good vibe, among other things. Vinyl bar owners often have to be multiskilled: curators, DJs, bartenders, baristas, and hosts. Naturally, it’s the big cities like Tokyo, New York, Berlin, London and Seoul that are leading the way — but vinyl bars are also increasingly opening up outside the big cities.
Takeaway: People are increasingly seeking shared, unifying experiences. If you build a great one for them, you’re winning.
Idea 37: Skateboarding lessons.
Examples: Neighbourhood Skate Club
The founder of Neighbourhood Skate Club, Lyndsay McLaren, was working full-time as marketing director for the street- and skatewear distribution agency called Out Of Step Ltd before she started running skateboard lessons in Victoria Park in early 2021. She was immediately blown away by the interest from women and girls of all ages looking to take looking to try their hands — or should I say, legs — at the sport. Lindsey aims to make skate culture less intimidating to women and girls, as well as supporting her neighbourhood. All she did initially was make a post on Instagram asking if anyone would like a lesson — and some 15-20 people signed up just from that. Lots of people approach her during lessons in the park, saying they have been looking for a female teacher and signing up on the spot.
Takeaway: Take an area of physical activity dominated by a particular group, and make it accessible to other groups.
Idea 38: Mushroom-based startups.
Examples: Mycosymbiotics. Mycosymbiotics is a mushroom research company in Pennsylvania. Turns out the humble fungi lend themselves to anything from coffee, biodegradable packaging, depression treatment and protein powders to skincare, beer, and leather. However, there are many companies who are just willing to capitalise on whatever is trending, without any idea what they are doing or selling, says William Padilla-Brown, founder of Mycosymbiotics.
Takeaway: Don’t just jump on a trend, go deep. It will pay off, and as a bonus, you’ll be able to look yourself in the eye.
Idea 39: Innovation in haircare.
Winnie Awa, founder of natural haircare platform Carra, found her place helping people through an all-in-one consultancy for curly and coily hair. She studied management technology and took stints at Ernst & Young, ASOS, Net-A-Porter, and IBM as an analyst before she stumbled upon her first venture. Once she launched her haircare store called Antidote Street in 2014, she was blown away by the fact that the personal hair consultations became the most popular service. She admits that there was a time in her life when becoming partner at a big firm seemed appealing, but she soon realised that it wouldn’t sustain her or put her on the path towards her real goals. Winnie has a double-sided approach to success: one side is people engaging with a personal coach to give them advice, and the other side is machine learning. It is the second part sure we’ll be focusing on in the coming months.
Takeaway: Combine new tech with personalised, expert human service for a successful startup idea.
Idea 40: Accessible fashion.
15% of the world’s population is estimated to have some form of disability, but they remain underserved when it comes to fashionable clothing that’s easy to put on. Specialist features like wheelchair friendly cuts and hands-free shoe closures are still relatively new, but the market is starting to pick up.
Takeaway: Ask the audience what they struggle with, and design for that.
Idea 41: Sustainable housing solutions.
Billions of people around the world lack access to decent housing, so the search for creative solutions is a major business opportunity with high social impact. Billion Bricks, based in Singapore, builds self-financing solar home communities. Each home has a solar powered unit, producing surplus rooftop energy, which is sold to finance the development costs. Through this model, residents become home owners within 25 years.
Sheltertech is an accelerator programme run by Habitat for Humanity. In Mexico, Kenya, India, Southeast Asia and South America’s Andesl, it connects entrepreneurs who have breakthrough housing ideas to investors, financial institutions, corporations, governments, peers, mentors, and technical experts. Together they develop their concepts; ideas range from bricks made from waste materials and soil to financing technology in Colombia.
Padsplit is an Atlanta-based startup that helps convert existing housing into shared homes for low-income workers.
Mighty Buildings produces quality houses using 3d printing, robotics and automation to produce components more quickly with less labour and less waste than standard construction times.
14Trees takes advantage of construction tech, such as Durabric, to build green and affordable housing solutions in Kenya and Malawi. Durabric is a stronger and more sustainable alternative to traditional burnt clay bricks. It’s a compressed-earth stabilised block created from local sand, earth, cement, and water.
Takeaway: Take one aspect of the enormous housing crisis, and fix it (that’s easy, right?)
Idea 42: Innovative use of space
Lately, our circumstances — such as how and where we work — have changed quite a bit. Retailers have moved online, and companies have cut office spaces as more employees work from home. But for small businesses, the influx of available rental space is a welcome chance to grow. Post-pandemic closures left an extra 15 million sq. ft. of retail space available on UK high streets, while in the US, the figure is 159 million sq. ft. And for every struggling chain or an underused city space, there is a small business looking at a new opportunity. Basically, the pandemic has opened up an incredible choice of properties.
Solo60 is a micro-gym network which currently has sites in London’s Shoreditch and Tower Bridge. Due to the size of their gyms — between 500 and 1,000 sq. ft. — they were able to secure sites in some prime areas.
Meanwhil, in Paris, Cycloponics is turning unused underground car parks into mushroom farms. They use hydroponics to grow mushrooms and microgreens under LED lights in nutrient-rich water, which eliminates the need for natural light and soil. Takeaway: Look at spaces that are underused or wasted, and see what great things you can place there.
Idea 43: Tiny spaces.
Té Company has a tea shop is a tea shop in New York’s West Village. 13 People can sit inside and enjoy Taiwanese tea with snacks; there is also outdoor seating and a takeaway option. The sense of community, as well as the size, is part of what makes the tea room so special, say the founders. It feels cosy: as if you are in someone’s living room.
Pigalle a European beer bar in Tokyo. Based on a quiet, unassuming street, it’s the city’s smallest craft beer and bottle shop. Because of the low rent, the owners can spend more money on an incredible collection of products: customers can choose from around 70 craft beers and ciders to take home, or pull up a barstool and order from a menu of six on tap. They can also grab a Danish hot dog with a choice of 10 different cheese toppings. Pigalle wastes no space: the toilet is called The Music Room, has its own speaker, and sometimes they even have events in there.
Livraria Simão is a secondhand bookshop in Lisbon. The owner is a former chemistry professor who transformed an old tobacco shop into one of the smallest bookshops in the world, stocking mainly secondhand books from some of Portugal’s greatest writers, as well as old records, comic books, papers, manuscripts, and engravings. Only one person can be in the shop at one time.
Amar Cafe is run by a married couple who took the London icon that is the red phone booth and turned it into a coffee shop during the pandemic. There are now one or two red telephone boxes in four locations in the UK that are home to Amar Coffee. Here’s how it happened: they spotted a booth outside a museum, found a private landlord who loaned them out, got in touch — and now they rent from him. Each phone box comes with a fridge, a coffee machine, and electricity. The only missing thing is water —so they have to bring slim jerry cans, one with clean water and one in the back for dirty water.
Backdoor 43 is a cocktail bar in Milan that calls itself ‘the smallest bar in the world’. Standing at just four square metres, it only has space enough for four guests at a time. If you’re lucky enough to get a booking, the bar manager and his team will put together a personalised experience for you — while those who aren’t lucky enough to get one of the coveted spots can order drinks from a small takeaway hatch.
Takeaway: Instead of despairing over things you don’t have, take a look around and think of what you could do with the space you do have — or take a look to see if you could provide microspaces to other entrepreneurs.
Idea 44: Storytelling-based fashion
Example: Labrum London. Foday Dumbuya, founder of menswear brand Labrum London, didn’t get into fashion to make clothes: he did it to tell stories. Sierra Leone-born and London-raised, he studied information systems and design while working for DKNY. Soon after he got a job at Nike, where he discovered his real purpose. He noticed that Nike loved telling stories through its products, and realised that this is what he wanted to do as well: tell a story that he felt was missing from fashion.
He founded Labrum London in 2015, blending West African influences with British tailoring, creating wearable pieces that don’t reflect trends. Instead, he wanted to bridge the gap between West Africa and the West. His team doesn’t believe in having something new all the time, he says; they might do an autumn/winter collection but not spring/summer, if they don’t feel the need. It is an approach that is at odds with an industry that is obsessed with new seasons, to a point where they burn old ones to maintain exclusivity. Transparency is important to the brand: they’ve been working ona QR code to reveal every garment’s life cycle. And a few years ago Labrum London caught attention when it put the phrase ‘designed by an immigrant’ on its garments in order to turn the negative connotations of being an immigrant into somethinh more positive.
Takeaway: Don’t just make products, tell stories.
Idea 45: Bouldering.
Examples: The Climbing Works, The Climbing Hangar, Organic Climbing. Climbxr. Bouldering is low-level climbing without ropes or harnesses. The sport has just made its Olympic debut in Tokyo, and climbing enthusiasts have seen the bouldering scene expand rapidly. New walls are springing up in cities around the world, and people are taking steps to make the activity more inclusive: for example, London’s Climbxr is a community set up in 2019 which welcomes and empowers black people and other underrepresented groups through the sport. While the industry is definitely booming, there is still plenty of room for innovation — such as inventing new occupations within the sport: for example, professional route setting is a profitable new occupation, with experts being employed to set the routes at the Olympics.
Takeaway: From unique new angles to inclusivity and accessibility, there is plenty of opportunity for innovation in popular sports.
Idea 46: Hot air balloons.
Example: Cameron Balloons
Cameron Balloon (whose slogan is, I kid you not, ‘We make hot air balloons.’) have been creating hot air balloons for leisure, sport and marketing customers since 1971. The team first started working out of the founder’s basement flat before moving to a church hall. Since 1983, Cameron balloons has been operating out of a former paper and printing factory, with an impressive output of around 500 balloons per year. Takeaway: Sometimes you literally need to aim for the sky.
Idea 47: Niche coffee.
Rapper and activist Bartholomew Jones launched Cxffeeblack in 2018 to address the lack of diversity in the coffee scene. Cxffeeblack is an umbrella brand, offering everything that the caffeine-loving hip hop enthusiast could desire. There’s a coffee label Guji Mane, apparel including hoodies and T-shirts, a podcast, and of course, music. Right from the beginning, hip hop and coffee were always hand-in-hand, with Bartholomew rapping about brews and selling bugs of coffee at gigs. One time they ended up selling 50 pounds (or 23 kg) of coffee in 10 days, and 90% of it was bought by young black creatives.
Since then he has neatly packaged up this concept with the Anti Gentrification Cxffee Club Subscription Box, which offers first dibs on exclusive coffee and music content to those who sign up. He has also launched a physical coffee pop-up which caters to likeminded people in his neighbourhood.
Bartholomew says he thinks about his business as a social enterprise, using it as a means of doing good in the community. For him it was never about what people will buy — it was more about what people need. He believes in looking inside yourself to figure out your purpose, and then creating a product that serves it. If you’re feeling good about what you’re doing, he says, you are able to market it without feeling greasy — and you see people connecting to your story.
Takeaway: Don’t ask ‘what will people buy’; ask what they need. Start with purpose, and then make a product that serves it.
Idea 48: Mental health startups.
COVID did not do our mental health any favours — but on the plus side, public awareness around the importance of psychological wellbeing has never been greater, and lots of people are now accessing support remotely. Since 2020 alone, 1 billion of venture capital funding has been given to startups focusing on mental health.
Takeaway: Look at what is still untapped within mental health tech: from specific audiences to approaches, tools, and specific conditions.
Idea 49: Tattoo innovations.
Examples: Briar Rose, Ephemeral, Rose of Mercy, Helena Obersteiner Today’s tattoo industry is making its mark by opening itself up to under-represented audiences, artists and styles. Ephemeral is pioneering a new type of biodegradable ink that dissolves after just one year. There are now inclusive, LGBT-owned salons such as London‘s Briar Rose and Velvet Underground, both staffed exclusively by women. In São Paulo, Brazil, Helena Obersteiner practices a unique method of freehand machine tattooing with clients who are happy to experiment.
Takeaway: Take a given (e.g. ‘tattoos are permanent’) and ask: is it really a given?
Idea 50: Insect-based food.
Examples: Circle Harvest, Micronutris, Eat Small, BUG, EatCriche. Using insects as a protein source is not a new idea: cultures across Latin America, South-East Asia and indigenous Australia have been eating creepy crawlies for their flavour and fuel for centuries — and now, a growing number of brands across the globe are getting in on the action for snacks, flours and even pet foods.
Circle Harvest is an Australian startup founded by an entomologist and food scientist Skye Blackburn. They sell a variety of products from saltbush-and-rosemary mealworm snacks to cricket corn chips. Sky also conducts workshops on the nutritional benefits, environmental advantages and misconceptions around eating bugs.
Micronutris is a French brand offering insect-infused snacks and catering options for cafés, delicatessens and restaurants.
The use of insects as a protein source isn’t only growing in popularity for humans, but for pets too. Eat Small is a Berlin-based dog food company making food from insects, including black soldier fly larvae.
BUG is a UK-based insect meal kit startup which gives you the step-by-step process of cooking a delicious insect-infused dinner, starting with your own choice of traditional protein and carbs and then adding bug-based ingredients, spices and sauces, coupled with online instructional videos — allowing for flexibility and customization.
EatCriche is a Cambodian social startup which sells cricket protein powder to help local farmers raise income sustainably. The baked goods, roasted cricket snacks and powder are made in Cambodia from community farms that boost the local economy while keeping sustainability at the forefront.
Takeaway: Looks like entomophagy, aka eating insects, is here to stay, and it will only grow in popularity. See what clever and delicious twists you can put on it!
…phew — 50 done, and 50 more to go. If you don’t want to miss all those other ideas, you can sign up for my newsletter where I share tips and ideas on personal branding, inventing your own work life, non-sleazy self-promotion, and creative problem-solving.
llustration by Julia Gnedina from Ouch!