Lulu Laidlaw-Smith: Rip It Up Start Again


Lulu is a person without a normal job description. We first collaborated over a strapline for a Unilever campaign when she was in branding, and we continued working together when she became a partner at Honey Creative. But most people know her best for founding Rip It Up Start Again, a live-streamed event launched at Shoreditch House, which has mobilised a huge community of disruptive start-ups. I don’t think there are many people she doesn’t know in the FinTech scene. Her energy and goals might seem mad to some, but she has managed to do something impressive – to bring together like-minded people; a community of disruptors. I caught up with her for the evening at her home in Hampton to drink mugs of green tea and catch up on what’s happening.

Lulu Laidlaw-Smith: Rip It Up Start Again

Left to right: Douglas Orr (Novastone), Lulu Laidlaw-Smith, Darren Tenkorang (TRIM-IT), Alistair Shepherd (Saberr).

Rip It Up Start Again began almost by accident. Lulu met Ernest Capbert and Giles Rhys Jones in the same afternoon. What a combination. Ernie had co-built the coolest surf brand this side of the Atlantic and Giles was on the way to reinventing the postcode. I put them in touch with Lulu as possible speakers for a private dinner series. “Instead of having established businesses, they came out with this energy – a short pitch. I knew I needed them to speak,” Lulu said. “In a sense, I created Rip It Up Start Again for them, so that they could tell their stories.” With a film crew, a breakfast spread and a live audience in place, they took to the stage in the first Rip It Up Start Again in the top room of Shoreditch House.

One of Lulu’s early speakers was Tom Blomfield, the founder of Monzo bank, followed by a very long list of others. The event eventually migrated to Runway East and is currently hosted at Disruptive.Live. I asked her what all these speakers had in common. “A way of thinking. For instance, Two Good To Go was a really interesting pitch. I asked one of the founders if he realised that their success would also mean they no longer have a business – because they are focused on trying to eradicate food waste. He said, yes. He knew that and looked at me like I was archaic, which is absolutely valid. In the past, the aim was to build an empire for life. But the modern disruptive mind is to serve a purpose at that point in time. Where it goes next or whether it even continues is irrelevant.”

“The more we can encourage people to be true to themselves, we’ll all be much happier people and will be able to give more. Why do I want to be the same as everyone else? What happens if you jump in the puddle and get wet? You dry.”

Rip It Up Start Again

Left to right: Anthony Copping (Binumi), Anna Rasmussen (Open Blend Method), Lulu Laidlaw-Smith, Molvia Maddox (Melting IceCubes).

Lulu also works closely with many of these start-ups, using her contacts and experience to get them off the ground. I recently helped her shape the foundations for an entrepreneur that is building a new infrastructure for banks. Lulu explained, “He left a bank to do this because banks are so big that they believe they can’t rip it up and start again. What he is doing is creating an infrastructure for a market that doesn’t yet exist.” Another side project is her own start-up, Acappella, which she is working on with her incredible mentor (an inspirational man called Steve Kelsey). “It’s a platform that will allow branding agencies to behave in the way they want to behave by bringing trust and transparency to the creative process. Imagination, communication and collaboration ­– that’s what we’re good at as humans. Let technology take care of repetition, compliance and organisation, which humans are crap at.”

The conversation turned to brands we’re excited about at the moment. “Scott Harrison of Charity Water,” she said, without hesitation. “He realised that many of the world’s problems are down to bad drinking water. Recognising that people are increasingly cynical about giving their money to charity, he changed the whole business model. He has two bank accounts, so you can see what goes towards running the business and what goes towards helping those in need. He also uses GPS and cameras to prove how the money is being spent and is generally using technology to bring transparency to the process.”

Rip It Up Start Again Disruptive.Live

Left to right: Annette Burgard (More Than Carrots), Louise Doherty (PlanSnap), Lulu Laidlaw-Smith, Margaret Briffa (Briffa). 

Lulu also spoke about her belief in blockchain as a way to level the playing field. “As blockchain advances, we will be utilising the transparent transaction process to enable actions without the need for compliance. It’s will be there to see. Those currently trading in Bitcoin will understand the power of transparency. It beats ‘regulation’ hand over fist. It’s about time we consumers understand that compliance and regulation, if transparent, is okay. If not, it’s bullshit. Control of us by others. Remember the ‘fatcats’? Well blockchain will eventually take away their cream!”

“I believe in the balance of entrepreneurship. On one end of the scale are the narcissists, on the other end are the disruptors. I believe I am a disruptor, and I was born one. As a child I was called precarious or precocious, now I’m disruptive, and later I’ll be eccentric.” Bringing this back to what she has achieved with Rip It Up Start Again, she said, “Since finding others like me I am no longer alone. For that, I am truly grateful. I love every disruptor I meet. They all seem to want to help towards building civilisational wealth. That’s my goal: to be a small part of that and to ensure we evolve collectively. I want us to take care of our communities and enable technology and humans to work together, not in fear.”

The last question of the evening before we both set our alarms for a 5am Rip It Up the next day. I asked Lulu where she gets her ideas. “I do a lot of networking and go to events, probably about a tenth of my time is at technology events. Real Time Club is a good one. It was founded by the early birds of computers. There are only about 350 members, and it’s held at the National Liberal Club at Embankment. It’s much better to go to events that are in your area. When I chaired The Disruption Summit Europe, I realised that surrounding myself with people who were incredibly disruptive excited me and challenged me further.”

Does she read books? “Reading books is the last thing on my agenda. I like meeting people because they are much more up to date.” Although she does make time to read literature – she named her children, Lolita and Amelie, after characters from her favourite novels. Amen to that.

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Posted by: Seth Rowden

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