The Making of Courier Paper

25 Sep 2016

Courier is a free business newspaper, championing start up culture and stories from around the world. Founded by Jeff Taylor and Soheb Panja, their mission is to create an FT for a start-up generation. With their latest issue off to press, we caught up with Soheb, to find out how Courier plans to give the start-up industry a new voice.

Soheb Panja, Courier Paper

Tell us what your latest issue is all about?

Our cover story is about how the fitness industry is changing. The two big gym groups Fitness First and Virgin Active are losing members and market share just as a growing number of people appear to be spending money on their fitness. Low cost gyms and boutiquey independent studios meanwhile are growing rapidly. Any sector that’s got this kind of drama is always fun to have a peek into.

Do you have a favourite story from this issue?

I think it could well be our best ever issue. One little gem is the dispatch from our New York columnist and her search for a half decent grocery shop in Manhattan.

Your magazine is distributed for free, what’s the thinking behind this decision?

We wanted to be able to grow fast and get to where our audience are. People rarely go to newsagents any more, but they do hang out in coffee shops so that’s where we want to be found. We’re lucky that we also have an agency side of the business which helps cover the costs of distribution. We’re now stocked in over 350 locations worldwide.

Courier Paper

How has Courier developed over the last 3 years – and where do you want to be in the next 3 years?

It started out with just two of us, now we’ve got ten full-time members – plus contributors from across the world. We’ve grown independently, improving the magazine on all fronts (stories, design, commercial, distribution) and of course doubling the frequency. Our client services business has become a lot sharper with a really strong offer to clients looking to understand startup culture.

What we’ve got now is a solid basis for us to make a big jump. The FT is a real inspiration. They’re tremendously innovative without getting drawn into fads. They focus on doing what it does best in the most effective and profitable way. It continues to be the indisputable voice for financial markets and what corporates are doing. We want to do the same for startup culture. We want to be the best in what we do. Like every media business though, we’ve got the challenge of building a sustainable commercial framework amid what’s a pretty fluid media market.

How has the start-up industry grown over this time?

We are seeing a big change in social aspiration. There are now 100,000’s of new businesses forming each year causing disruption in all industries. Now the brightest young people want to go and work at innovative small businesses where they can make a difference, rather than getting lost in big corporations.

Courier Paper

Which start-up companies do you think we've reached the peak of in London, and which do you think we'll see the biggest growth in the future?

There’s been a hell of a lot of excitement and activity around on-demand businesses like Deliveroo. It’s possible there’s a bit of overheating there, and I think the fierce competition could well be disguising longer term problems in how much money lots of companies can really make on the basis of blokes on bikes delivering burgers.

Two very different sectors that remain fascinating to me are food and healthtech. There appears no end to new people coming in with imaginative and often very focussed food ideas. On the other side, a bunch of entrepreneurial health practitioners are looking at how they can shake up patient care with technology and working with the NHS.

What's one thing London could be doing better to support independent businesses?

Their biggest problem is getting their stuff in front of prospective customers. Funnily enough, I think things like AppearHere could be a powerful catalyst in giving a literal shop window to talented designers and opening up some desperately needed distribution.

What are the challenges of setting up a print magazine in a digital age?

Good content is hygiene these days. Having a clear and distinctive voice is important. And wrapping your arms around your readers is another. We’re working on that last one.

Courier Paper

Most useful tool for your job?

I’m not very imaginative on this. My desk has a laptop and several biros. My stapler kleptomania remains a problem. Apps-wise, I often have a peer into my surveillance app on my phone to see what my little one is up to at home.

What's your best piece of advice to someone looking to set up their own magazine?

Having a great business partner and mate in Jeff has been a stroke of immense good fortune. Building this without him is frankly unthinkable.

Also, it’s very clear the media business is in a crazy unpredictable state. This kind of uncertainty and chaos is actually very exciting for a startup like us so we’re trying to stick to a clear and focussed strategy, stay flexible and execute as best we can. But it seems remarkable to us that people who seem very clever and experienced continue to make definitive pronouncements about the media market today when obviously no one has the foggiest how things are going to pan out.

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