Insights into a private members club for founders

August 9, 2023

Innovative revenue-generating strategies, commitment to bridging the gender gap in tech and valuable advice on building a strong support network for founders.

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Insights into a private members club for founders

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In this episode, Erin Wolfe, co-founder of the Curve Club, a private members club exclusively for founders, shares her background, including her experience working at big tech companies in the Bay Area. Erin talks about what inspired her to start the Curve Club in London. She discusses the importance of creating a physical space for founders to connect and share ideas. The Curve Club is located in Old Street.

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The key moments in this episode are:

00:01:50 Creating a profitable members club.

00:03:15 The plan for the club.

00:07:11 Branding challenges and misconceptions.

00:10:17 Female founders in a male-dominated industry.

00:13:09 Favourite tech product.

00:15:03 Building a supportive founder community.

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Read the transcript

00:00 Erin Wolfe Welcome to the Tech Story Podcast, a place where we interview founders and interesting people in tech. Today, I'm very excited to welcome Erin Wolf on the show. Erin is the co-founder of the Curve Club, a private members club exclusively for founders. Erin, thank

00:18 Charles Brecque you for being with us. Really excited to be here today. And would you like to share a bit of background about yourself and the Curve Club? A little background about myself. So as everyone will quickly tell, I'm American, moved over from the Bay Area, kind of cut my teeth in working at big tech companies from the likes of Oracle to smaller tech startups. That's actually where I kind of got like the entrepreneurship bug. Ended up moving, working there for five years, moving to London five years ago, and we started Curve Club 10 months ago. And what sort of prompted you to start a members club in London for founders? Right. We get asked this question a lot. So what we realised was we basically took a lot of inspiration from Y Combinator, a lot of inspiration from Soho House, slammed it all together to create Curve Club because we wanted everyone to be ahead of the curve, mainly being because there's so many founder WhatsApp groups, Slack groups. There's such great inspirations, ideas, like some really cool people out there, which I'm sure you're meeting a lot of. But we found there wasn't like one physical space they were able to meet and we just wanted to bring everyone together. So that was a big reasoning for

01:18 Erin Wolfe it. It's great. And so you opened the first club in All Street. What sort of, you know, fan for the club and

01:24 Charles Brecque why should fans listening to the podcast join? Yeah. OK, even better question. You're teeing this up well. So we did get our first building. It was actually originally a firehouse. Then it was Jamie Oliver's 15. I think that's what it was really known for. Then it was like vacant for a little bit. So we took it over and in a full founder, like gritty way, we figured out how to make the building profitable before we actually started to look to get members. Because fun fact, we started a members club, we start with zero members, zero revenue, zero MRR. So we're like, great. How do we figure out a way to change the model? Because we ended up meeting with actually one of the main investors back in the day of like So House and whatnot. And they were like telling us around all these things aren't high overheads, these scary numbers, like risks that you just didn't want to take on because it was just myself, Rose and Iona. We're like three co-founders. We're all like, you know, Iona's like in her 20s, but Rose in her early 30s. We're like, we don't really want to take on these crazy numbers. So we ended up putting in dark kitchens into the basement. So they went through delivery Uber Eats to make their revenue and paid us rent. And we rent out the two top floors to two different tech startups, which was also really fun because it also helped us like improve the network. And then we started hosting like regular founder dinners to kind of create our founding members. That's great. And I guess, you know, other dark kitchen still running? Yeah, so the dark kitchens actually do really well. We ended up getting some really nice like high end restaurants that were predominantly in West London. So they basically had the full East London scene that they can like deliver from. That's why originally we decided to do an Italian brand and a Japanese brand, because we're like, people will probably order pizzas and they might also want to order sushi. So it was kind of a gamble on our front. But the one nice part is we can like rotate them. So let's say if it's not working or if like people are like, listen, we actually would be interested in this or interested in that, we'd be able to do it. And we normally keep one kitchen open for like different chefs to kind of keep it new, fresh, local talent, different things like that. And what's sort of the plan for the club the next three, five years? Biggest plan for the club was this is going to be a plot twist. We ended up getting our SEIS. So we're technically kind of going as like a closed network for founders with a clubhouse as an added benefit. So we're going to have our we have our first location or old street that we're going to be opening up in central London, West London. And after that, we want to expand outside of London. So personally, I think we're thinking New York and LA. Everyone keeps telling us like Lisbon, Dubai. So I think we're going to be hyper focused on like the community where they think they'd find the most value, because for the most part, we were kind of doing this like for the founder journey and like what can kind of support that. So I think we really want to stand by that. That's really important for us. So we'll kind of like grow to the different floors, different things like were trying to like we've letting everyone vote how they'd use each floor. It turns out like our natural instincts is not what we thought people would want. Like for instance, for right now, old streets, two floors, downstairs, we thought everyone would want this like really by the underground restaurant. Turns out everyone just wants a really clean,

04:14 Erin Wolfe elevated luxury co-working. So that's what it's going to be now. I wouldn't do that for a co-working space, but it was going to be Club Curve and turns out not really. So cool. And I guess what you wish you'd known before starting the Curve Club.

04:28 Charles Brecque Oh, what I wish I would known before. That's actually a really tough one. I think I actually do like how we went into this really naive because none of us had like a private, we had joined Private Members Club, but we had we had no background in like this sort of space. Like all of a sudden we realized like I've we all came from like B2B tech, like software, all those things. And then so when we went to our model, that's how we kind of looked at it. Like sort of looking at things like on an MRR basis, like what are what are the cogs? What's those things? So when we came in from like a very tech centric view. So sometimes but then when you realise it at the end of the day, you're sometimes you're also in the hospitality business. So something I mean, it sounds like so obvious to say, but we we didn't really even think about those sides of things like with the kitchens being like, actually, like, this is the revenue we would need from events. This is what we need there. It sounds again, it sounds so obvious to say out loud. But I think our biggest learning curve was when we opened it up, we weren't really sure what to expect because none of us had my only hospitality background with software as a service, not actually anything else. So before we even hired waiters, I had to step in, had to help turns out didn't know how to twirl the pasta, didn't know how to do those things. Humbling moment can add us a resume now. But I think for the most part, so many people told us how to do it and we just didn't listen to them. So I think like, I wish we did almost do a bit more interviews to see like how people launched what they did. Because it turns out we did things completely differently than every other frickin word at Private Members Club.

05:59 Erin Wolfe Yeah, I guess customer support in SAS is very different from customer support when you've got a restaurant. You'd be surprised. Actually, probably wouldn't be. But we were. Yeah, and I guess, you know, why why didn't Unison know?

06:11 Charles Brecque I think for us, like we thought like the beauty of it was we just had such a raw vision. Like, we knew we want to support the founder journey. We knew there were like the coolest companies coming out of London, we wanted to bring them together. Like, we already met a couple different founders that kind of validated the idea. They helped doing like the proof of concepts like product market fit. Like we went through that journey. So we were so bullish on it that we were like, well, you guys did it a different way. You took on the risk. You took on the overheads. You didn't do it that way. But at the end of the day, like they do have a lot of experience.

06:40 Erin Wolfe So well, yeah, profitable before opening the club is, I mean, pretty good. And I'd say not how typical tech people think.

06:51 Charles Brecque Yeah, but it is tough because when we then went to raise additional funding, everyone kept locking us in. It's just like a real estate company. And we were trying to say like, no, this is what we're doing. This is how we're ahead of the curve. This is how we're using AI. This is what the tech looks like. And no one can once say to the clubhouse, you are a real estate company. So that was a bit different.

07:11 Erin Wolfe Yeah, I guess you just need to be careful about, you know, and become like WeWork.

07:14 Charles Brecque Exactly. I think people for us, plus like you can imagine when you first started to legislate, like how we described ourselves changed like week over week over week. We were moving so quickly that like suddenly some people were like, you're WeWork. We're like, no, we're not. Some people were like, you're a SoHouse. We're like, no, no, we're not. So things were getting a bit like convoluted. So I feel like in the beginning, if we put like one stake in the ground and we're like, this is who we were. I mean, it would have been hard to do because we were kind of like developing that as it went. I think that would have made a difference.

07:41 Erin Wolfe Yeah, I think, yeah, I mean, the vision always says the same one is the direction. But you need to iterate and you speak to clients, speak to investors. They use they describe the problem better than you. And then you think sort of they're corporate.

07:54 Charles Brecque Exactly. And I think when we first started, for some reason, we decided to do all of our branding with Neon. So everyone thought we were like a gaming website.

08:03 Erin Wolfe So it's a bit of a web free angle. Was there still a web free angle?

08:07 Charles Brecque There still is a very gentle one, because we also thought that was like a concept that was like head of the curve, something new to London. Didn't really take with too many people. So we wouldn't be.

08:18 Erin Wolfe Good chain. There's NFCs.

08:19 Charles Brecque And I think we'll always have it like we have everything set up. We built it out in the Ethereum blockchain. It makes sense, I think, for the people that enjoy it, like they see it. But it was almost like we bit off too much than we can chew when it was like around like educating all these people on like something completely new that they were like not fully interested in. Yeah, I did struggle. I was just about to say so. Great. And what's been your favourite moment so far? I think our favourite moment was when we finally had 100 members. I think that was big for us. I think as you can probably imagine, when you're like growing, when you're scaling, when you're like when you kind of like jump off with both feet, when you're like, this is going to be my full time job, like I'm going to leave the security of my nine to five. I'm just going to give that up. I think once we got like, you know, our first two like angel investors that we're able to find and then also like those first members that supported it, they saw the vision. Not only did they saw it, but they supported it like yourself. That was actually changed for us because I think in your head it makes sense. But then when other people see it, too, it really validates it.

09:21 Erin Wolfe So it's really special. Yeah, when I remember one of my first angels, he gave me his investment as a check. Yeah, pretty. So they give it to me and say, you know, here's the X amount.

09:33 Charles Brecque Is it kind of don't waste it. Exactly. And I think like people also gave us so many advice and like, this is how you do this. This is how you do that. And I think like I do like how we kind of went through it away. Like, I'm not saying you should definitely take on advice that that's a gift. Feedback's a gift. All of that's amazing. But it was nice to see like we're like we had such a direct way that we wanted to do it. People were telling us, no, no, take the overheads, do it this way, do it that way. And so I'm happy we kind of stuck to what we were thinking without having that background.

10:00 Erin Wolfe Yeah. Right. And another key or special thing about the Curve Club is it's pretty female co-founders. And then, you know, however you found that as it being sort of, you know, how the investors approaching you and how you thrive in it,

10:15 Charles Brecque because you're doing great. So, yeah. I think it's actually been like phenomenal so far. I think another big reason why we did this is because a lot of the members clubs in London, a lot of like the larger establishments, they all came from like historically as a gentleman's club. They were all like male founded and they were all like kind of like in that vein. So we were like, why don't we take this on? Why don't we do it? And it's actually been really positive feedback. I'd say like every time when we were doing like this is technically how we qualified like lead generation is through like our different founder dinners. But we always kept the table like half women, half men, because I think we also just wanted to show people like there's a lot of people doing things. I think just not everyone knows where to find those people. So for us to be able to bridge that, that also have like really great feedback was also really rewarding. So I think like, yeah, being three female founders, it was it was something we weren't really shouting about, because we weren't sure how people would take it. We were sure people would like rally behind it or if they'd be like a bit weird or what it was. But so far, it's actually been amazing. So we kind of thought definitely as a women's club. No, no, no, no, no, no. Yeah, I think I think the only thing that happened is the female founders of the name is for some reason, people associated Curve Club with something else and we were like, oh, no, we meant like ahead of the curve. So we've had to explain that a couple of times. Other than that, other than that, dreamy. It's been it's been amazing.

11:30 Erin Wolfe As a busy co-founder, I imagine little legal documents or contracts of a land and a desk were in front of you. Yeah. And what sort of patterns can you show or tips can you share with other founders?

11:42 Charles Brecque I think for us, like a big thing is it's like you can actually like really force someone to pay a subscription. Like if they're saying like we're not going to pay it. So, for instance, it's like if you have a 12 month contract, like I'd say this is like a common one. Like some people might want to come in and do something. I'd say say like the biggest feedback I'd give is just like understanding like what are your different just make sure you have like a clear route of like what are your next steps? Like how far are you willing to go? Like what makes sense? Like first time risk value, which is really basic thing to say. But for us, that's kind of what we had to figure out. Not that we've had like too many, but we'll never forget like one person was like we want to cancel. We're like, why? Like, but we're obviously you're going to see attrition in any company. And I think for us, it was like, especially from the legal side, it's really hard to like keep someone

12:26 Erin Wolfe potentially like a 12 month contract if they're going to pay it. Yeah, you need to obviously make sure that the termination rights and clauses of care. Exactly. And then even if they are clear and the consumer is, you know, seeing particular than customers always right.

12:42 Charles Brecque Exactly. Yeah.

12:44 Erin Wolfe You're on the tech story podcast. So what is your favourite tech product?

12:48 Charles Brecque My favourite tech product. Oh, we see a lot. So I'd say from let's say, let's see any specific category in tech that you're addressing? Software, hardware, anything. All right. That's an interesting one. I'd say not favorite. Most used in the beginning software was Notion. I feel like everyone here probably knows about that. It was it's been great for everything. I'd say we're using the dots for apps like that was also great. I think figuring that out. We live and breathe in test flight. And I'd say actually something recently, we had a really fun founder dinner. I just started using her, which was like a fashion, fashion, like eco-friendly sustainability like circular fashion app, which has been phenomenal. So instead of like you feel green, the help of that turns out there's lots of people in that space, but it's become like a new favorite for us. And we also also found like another system that does the same thing, but for furniture rentals. So you can actually like start going green with a lot of things as we're trying to like really go big on sustainability for obvious reasons. So.

13:54 Erin Wolfe Really interesting. I hadn't had it with her. And I mean, Notion is a tool that we've only recently discovered at Just Like. Yeah, I was trying to think of like the basics and like a fun one. No, I mean, but with Notion where we're sort of rebuilding our template at the server, we're rebuilding it as Notion basically. So blocks.

14:17 Charles Brecque I will say for like the geeky side for us to like work out like our different databases where you pull things from, how do you read into things? Notion's actually been the terrain.

14:25 Erin Wolfe Great. And what one piece of advice would you give to a respective founder?

14:32 Charles Brecque One piece of advice that I would give them is build your board. Like those people that support you, they're valuable. I think for us, like we had such a strong group of people that had been founders before. And I think like they, we owe a lot of our success to them because their wisdom was like invaluable. Like their perspective, like none of them had also like a background in the industry that we're now operating on. But I would say surrounding yourself with a, I'm a big believer that you're an average of those that you surround yourself with. So I'd say like building those people that are like rooting for you, fighting for you. Like we always joke in the office, there's like up roller coaster days and down roller coaster days. It's like they're going to bring you right back up. They're going to celebrate your wins. And when you're on that trajectory down, they can kind of help you like steer it on the other way. So that's a big one.

15:18 Erin Wolfe And then how do you find them?

15:19 Charles Brecque How do we find them? I'd say some we kind of reached out to. First, one of those things where you're like you wanted a mentor. Some you just naturally do. I think like you'd be surprised how many people are willing to help. Like the founder community in London, especially is like really small. So I think we ended up just being really lucky with like the high quality people that we ended up fighting ourselves with. Like one of them was the co-founder of the Dirt Kitchens company. And that helped us like in Dirt Kitchens and in Curve Club. Like one of them was like Rosie's co-founder who like first company was Fat Llama. He also was just like he just knew how to figure things out and spin things in a way where you all of a sudden you just saw a solution where before it was like murky waters and you were like, where is the product market fit? And they kind of help you like soundboard, get things through.

16:02 Erin Wolfe So that's been great. Yeah, I think you're right. The community in London is well, it's big, but approachable. And you can definitely just meet people, join clubs like the Curve Club and build your network and then go to a board.

16:18 Charles Brecque Yeah. And it was a big reason why we were like, maybe we'll do Curve Club because I think everyone should be able to do that. I think everyone should be able to meet the different people they need to meet. I think like it just makes such a big difference if you're building a business, because it's a really hard thing to do alone. Because I think if I didn't have co-founders, Curve Club would not be what it is today.

16:39 Erin Wolfe Well, I'm a solo founder, but I had my leadership and they like my co-con. Exactly. Yeah. Well, thanks very much, Eric, for being on the podcast and best of luck.

16:52 Charles Brecque Thank you. And thank you for your support. We love Legislate.

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