Laura Willoughby

Club Soda

Laura Willoughby

Meet Laura Willoughby from Club Soda, who helps people change their drinking whether they want to cut down, stop for a bit, quit or stick. Laura is a fellow of the Ogunte Make a Wave Incubator for Women Social Entrepreneurs.

Follow Club Soda on Twitter @joinclubsoda

Ogunte: What is it that you are doing differently?

LW: We are using technology to help people take a self-guided journey to change a specific habit. We use recognised behaviour change techniques to create a club that brings everything you need in one place, from technology to track your goals through to real-world gatherings. After all we get drunk together so... why should we get sober alone?

Ogunte: Tell us how do you manage to successfully run your venture?

  • LW: Extreme boot strapping has forced us to experiment and not waste cash. It means we have had to learn before we build, which is a good thing.
  • Collaborating with others, a lot of people who have supported what we have done are doing it for free (or very little). They are keen to help us experiment and we pay that back in kind too. So do ask!
  • People come and go. Start-ups are hard work so don't take it personally.
  • Don't spend lots of money on tech - we used off the shelf tools for our first MVP. We know it's terrible but people don't see those same flaws. And now we have the cash to build some more.
  • Always have a spare phone charger - you can do a lot on the move.


Ogunte: What do you know now that you wished you had known from the beginning

LW: I wish I had started blogging early on. I thought I had nothing to say but in fact, when we finally got there we had lots. I could have built a bigger following whilst we were building the first website.

  • Your investor deck will never be finished. Keep working on it but do send it out.
  • You can often get swept up by the hype - but take it with a pinch of salt. There are not tonnes of investors out there, especially for social business. So focus on selling your product and find investors who want to invest in a £10m long-term business not a multi-million pound here today gone tomorrow app.


Ogunte: What ideal conversation would you rather have with an investor?

LW: Alcohol is a funny subject. The investors I am most interested in are those who know there is a hidden market out there to leverage. Those who think we should be a charity have missed the point. Alcohol reduction is a personal issue and people pay not to go near charities and the NHS - these things come with a big label of Alcoholic that has a massive stigma, of course people want to find another way. They want something that feels personal to them.

Ogunte: How do you close the gender gap in your day to day activities?

LW: Funnily enough not being focused exclusively on women actually make us unique in this space. As a team we are quite genderfluid and so deliberately have not asked our members their gender, but we are getting to a point where it is important to ask. Gender differences around alcohol are fascinating and getting to grips with that will help us build a better product. For example women blog and read real life stories about not drinking, but men secretly read those blogs and gain a lot. It's about understanding how to straddle that gender divide to give people what they need and so they can learn from each other.

Ogunte: What would be your ideal social conference panel or professional dinner party?

  • Professor David Nutt (no neo-prohibitionist which is great)
  • Cindy Gallop (Make Love not Porn - behaviour change and sensitive topics!)
  • Robyn from Square Root Soda (because what to drink instead is just as important)

Ogunte: How is your eagerness to be involved as a social entrepreneur stem from what happened in your early years?

LW: Club Soda is based on my personal journey to change my drinking (I quit 3 years ago) but also rooted firmly in my politics (I used to be a Lib Dem Councillor). My liberal politics flows through the values of Club Soda.

Ogunte: If you were not doing what you are doing now, what other business or activity would you be contributing to?

LW: Getting the Lib Dems back on track or looking for a disruptive business in the arts!

Ogunte: What was a pivotal moment in your life as a woman social entrepreneur?

LW: Going on the Ogunte pre-incubator and realising I could take one of my many ideas and run with it - I did not need to be in a bigger organisation or have a grant already on the table.

Ogunte: If i tell you "financial literacy", what are you telling me?

LW: Always know where your money is -even if it's on a spreadsheet. It's not as hard as you think but be disciplined. In a small business the buck stops with you and it's an area you can't trust to someone else (although do get help to understand and demystify).

Ogunte: If i tell you "measuring your social impact", what are you telling me?

LW: Is it more important than impact on an individual?

Ogunte: If I tell you "love", what are you telling me?

LW: Build your business by including ways of acting that energise you and make you happy. Spending time with other people makes me want do more - so we are deliberately collaborative. Jussi [Laura' business partner] loves research and academic work, so getting a tie-up with a university and actively engaging in it was a must too.

Ogunte: How does your world look like in 2030?

LW: You can ask for a non-alcoholic drink in a pub and they will offer you a Cucumber Square Root first and your mates will be jealous of your choice.

Follow Laura's blog on Club Soda and @joinclubsoda

Company info

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