Making Small Talk(s)



Small Talks is a new event series set up by Made by Many. As you can probably imagine, the structure of the evening is a series of small talks. interspersed with a bit of free beer guzzling, to-ing and fro-ing and Q-ing and A-ing.

Always on the lookout for new ways of thinking, two of team Speak headed down to the inaugural Small Talks in Angel to hear what the speakers had to say.

What’s a magazine without ads?

First up was Peter Bil’ak, a type designer turned magazine entrepreneur, whose project ‘Works that Work’ (WtW) is breaking new ground in publishing. Dispensing with a traditional ad-funded model, WtW was Kickstarted (large K) and from then on has run on a subscription-only model. Around 5% of the mag is devoted to ads, which all follow the same strict format (it looked rather like the classifieds section of a local paper to us), with no room for  what Bil’ak called ‘effective and deliberate blurring” of ads and content.
Most interesting about WtW it its distribution model. Bil’ak and co do not rely on a chain of national and international distribution partners to get their mag to the people who want it, they instead use a kind of crowd-sourced transit system, whereby people volunteer to ferry a bunch of mags back to their home cities when they happen to be in one of WtW’s ‘hub cities’.
So if I were heading back from New York to my home in Buenos Aires (I wish!) I might grab some copies for my local book store in NYC, for which I would pay 50% of the cover price (which is around £13), and then sell them to the retail outlet for around 60-75% of the cover price. A tidy profit of about £2 on each copy. The retailer then sells the copies for full whack and everybody gets a (roughly) equitable slice of the pie.
When one of the audience asked Peter why he started the mag, his response was a little opaque – we roughly paraphrased it thus:


I love Lamp (Post)

Next to speak was the brilliantly bearded Ben Barker, or BBBB as he (possibly) likes to be known. BBBB works at Pan, a design studio responsible for ‘Hello Lamp Post’, an interactive game that turned the city of Bristol into “a landscape for exploration and play” by creating hidden content and assigning it to everyday objects.

Using the unique reference that can be found on most council-owned amenities (postboxes, manhole covers and the titular lampposts), users could access this content by texting ‘Hello [OBJECT NAME]’, followed by the serial number of that particular item. Quick as a flash the user receives a reply.



It’s a very clever, very cool way of getting people to think more about the urban environment and the stories hidden within. But it wasn’t all plain sailing.


After teasing out the initial snags HLP took off and was used enthusiastically by a whole range of Bristolians young and old, and not just ‘a bunch of hipsters’ as Quad-B put it.

So what’s next for the team at Pan?


Do you know where your sweater came from? And do you care?

This was the question posed (and sort of answered) by final speaker Jessi Baker, a Cambridge graduate who has worked as a tech strategist for some pretty major companies. And Will.I.Am. No, seriously. Jessi jacked in her high-paid job with Mr Blackeyed Peas to focus on a strange gap in the commercial landscape – the question of where our products come from.


When Jessi started out she wanted to see how American Apparel, a fast-fashion retailer could possibly produce its clothes in the US and still compete with the other high-street chains. The answer was very simple, the company did everything itself – from growing the cotton to manufacturing (in an LA factory) and then to marketing. And, by merging these last two, AA created a feel good factor about its products and a point-of-difference to set it apart from the other sweatshop retailers.
And so, the first germ of an idea that would later become Provenance was born.
Provenance is a tool that helps artisan ‘makers’ market their wares in a way that clearly communicates the origins and manufacturing processes that go into them. It works with other ecommerce packages like Shopify and Square to help make this information part of the online shopping journey, so people can buy with confidence (and more than a little smugness I’ll wager).


Initial response, Baker says, has been warm, with many makers already signing up as a way of not only proving the small-p provenance of their product, but also going some way to compensating for the non-tactile nature of online shopping. Customers still can’t feel the items, but at least they can feel good about them.

So that just about wraps it up, a fantastic event which we’d recommend to anyone in search of some fresh perspectives. Big thanks go to Made by Many for the free beer and pizza.

Author: Tom Owen

A strategic storyteller and compelling content creator, awash with acuity and adept at alliteration. I work for Speak Media.

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