Last week saw the end of our campaign to support startups affected by Coronavirus by making our membership free and, as things start to open back up again, it seems like a fitting time for it to come to an end.

For all of you that joined our community, engaged with our content or donated to our campaign, I wanted to write a little review of everything we’ve been able to accomplish over the past few months as both an FYI and as a thank you for all of your support.

So, what was the campaign?

As with many other businesses at the start of lockdown in the UK, we knew that our community was feeling the effects of the uncertainty that the sudden ‘new normal’ brought about, both in their businesses and on a personal level. 

Though we were keen to do something to help, it was also important to us that nothing we did appeared opportunistic or could be misconstrued as taking advantage of the situation. 

This combination of factors inspired us to launch our Coronavirus Crowdfund at the end of March which would allow us to make our membership free for new AND existing members, whilst covering our overheads. Ultimately this meant that our existing community could continue to access the support and benefits that Yena provides, whilst also ensuring that other startups could join when they needed it most.

In total, thanks to the incredible support of 39 generous donors from both inside our community and the wider startup ecosystem, we raised £2,670, in just three weeks, to bring our campaign to life.

What happened after the launch?

From April 24th to June 24th, Yena was completely free for anybody to access regardless of their location, stage or sector. 

During this time, we had 204 new members, from 19 different countries, join through the campaign and several existing members make use of the offer, including Dan Hinton, founder of Pixelfish, who emailed the team to say:

I really appreciated the 2 months free membership you offered to members. I remember when I took advantage of it, projects were all getting paused and things looked pretty uncertain. Fortunately it quite quickly turned around and June has been the best month ever for Pixelfish!” 

When I read this feedback earlier this week, it gave me a genuine sense of pride at the difference we’ve collectively been able to make to our community over the past couple of months. 

There have also been some truly heartfelt acts of kindness from members of our community, including anything from offers of free support to full-blown pro-bono projects, that have gone on to help individuals, communities and businesses through what has been a challenging time for everyone.

How else did we support our community?

Alongside the free membership on offer, we took the opportunity to test out a number of new formats and services that would allow our community to continue sharing, learning and collaborating during isolation.

  • Perfect Intros

Our first and most apparent concern was ensuring that our community could stay connected. Thus came Perfect Intros!

We’re often told that the introductions we make at Yena are pretty good and so, based on a few assumptions we’d been working on, we wanted to see whether we could apply the logic we use on an ad-hoc basis, to a more specific service.

Two rounds in and nearly 100 connections later, we’ve iterated… a lot… and are ready to launch version 3 in a couple of weeks!

One of the participants in the last round of Perfect Intros said,

“I thoroughly enjoyed the chats and stories of how people ended up where they are. We talked business and the current challenges we are facing. We talked about what actions we are currently trying and if any are working! We discussed other pieces around what we can learn from each other and looked to organise that all important pint when things blow over.”

If virtual pints were a thing, we’d be on to a winner!

  • Virtual Rebel Meetups

Our second focus was our Rebel Meetups as, effectively overnight, we’d had to cancel more than 30 events (from March through to June alone!) across 21 different cities. 

Though we’d previously tested out virtual platforms for some specific member-only events, like our Host Town Halls or webinars with our partners, we hadn’t done it at scale. 

So in mid-April, along with the rest of the world, we went into “let’s try it out and see what happens” mode.

It hasn’t always been plain sailing (you can read my round-up of our first virtual meetup here), but we’ve now hosted two Virtual Rebel Meetups, one with the awesome Jessica Blacker (founder of Jecca Blac) and the other with a panel of investors (from funds including Connect Ventures, Ascension Ventures and Ada Ventures), and we’ve planned an interview with Clare Jones, CCO of what3words (something which the geography fan in me is super excited about!), for July 14th.

We’ve also started to enable our Rebel Meetup hosts to run virtual events for their localised communities, allowing them to provide (and receive) more contextual insight and support.

So far we’ve seen more than 100 people attend our virtual meetups from more than 10 different countries, completely removing the geographical barriers that so many people face. 

We’ve also spoken to attendees who find it considerably easier to join a virtual event as an avatar, than to deal with the anxiety of turning up to a venue in-person, so it’s great to hear that we’re breaking more barriers than we anticipated.

What’s next?

I know that the world hasn’t yet returned to ‘normal’ (whatever that is), but a lot of the things we’ve learnt and built over the past couple of months will become core parts of what we deliver in the future.

We’ve seen everything from translators to tiktokers and graphic designers to developers join since April and it’s of vital importance to us that we continue to celebrate and encourage diversity across our community into the future.

Finally, I’d like to take this opportunity to, once again, say thank you to our new members for making our community even more rebellious and to every person who donated to our campaign, for making all of this work possible in the first place – We couldn’t have done this without you!