How are business ideas generated? Well, there is no correct answer. Successful business ideas are all around you. Some entrepreneurs spend hours doing market research in hopes to formulate an effective business idea, whereas others simply stumble across an innovative idea. We spoke to Charlie Howes, CEO and founder of Nude Life, to learn more about how a chance encounter inspired his life drawing business. With over 70 models in 6 countries, he talks about his biggest challenges of starting a business from scratch and his future plans.
How did it all began?
I’d just finished an internship in Seville which I started after finishing University in Bristol. The job didn’t pay very well, and it was in the middle of nowhere in a small quiet village in Sussex. Given this, I decided to take up a bar job in Brighton on the weekends.
I was working at the bar for quite some time, doing extra hours in the day to earn more money, stocking bars etc. when I happened to walk in on a stark-naked male in a room. I was pretty shocked, immediately turned around and left the room – it was the middle of the day after all. When my boss came into work later that day, I asked him why was there a naked guy in here earlier and what was he doing naked in the middle of the day?
“Well Charlie, that’s our new life drawing model for hen parties, he’ll be doing 3-4 events every Saturday day, so keep an eye out for him!”
“How much are you paying him to do that?”
“£100 per class”
“And he’s doing 3-4 events a day?”
“Yeah, and it’s cash in hand!”
I was stunned and immediately told him to sign me up, I even said that I would be happy with £90 per session (I knew he would love a good deal), and I’ll even make sure I entertain the groups better than him!
I started modelling and realised that this hen party activity was getting pretty popular, and there was no established life drawing brand in the marketplace (similar to what butlers in the buff does for naked butlers). This encouraged me to google domain names, and nudelife.co.uk was available, I had to snap that up straight away. It was £1 and is still the best decision I have ever made to date for Nude Life.
So that’s how Nude Life started, and currently we’ve got over 70 models in around 5-6 countries. It’s owned and run by myself and my family – my two sisters and my Mum. We all have out seperate jobs to do around our full-time jobs. It’s pretty lean, considering the volume of events we’re doing, and that’s down to streamlined processes and creating APIs between apps.
A great fact is that the original model I walked in on is now one of our own, and one of probably our most popular model we have!
Why were you inspired to start Nude Life?
I never realised this until recently, but the primary reason for starting Nude Life was due to the bureaucratic restraints at my 9-5. I’ve always been a bit of a risk-taker, had a real desire to learn and I like to move quickly. The role I was working in prevented all of these, so I was afraid I’d get left behind the crowd. Learning ‘on the job’ has been the greatest asset from starting Nude Life. All my knowledge from jumping in the deep end has helped me move forward in my career. Once you have that knowledge, a massive barrier is reduced in launching other startups and implementing it in other companies.
How did your business get started? From the good, bad and ugly, what was your startup process like?
The launching of the company was a lot easier than I thought. I used Squarespace as a template builder for the website, so I didn’t need any developers. I put a lot of emphasis around the name of the company. I knew this would help organic ranking, CTR’s, authority, and memorability in the future. Luckily, the URL I wanted was available for quite a generic keyword for the product/service. From then, you’ve got to create a feedback loop and iterate fast.
I remember one time I had a life drawing class in the Edinburgh for Nude Life and one in Brighton for the previous supplier I was working on weekends. I didn’t have enough cash in the bank for a flight at the time, so I drove between the locations! I think it took 8 hours in total.
The biggest obstacle by far was my own doubts. I was paid quite well by the company I was already modelling for, so, I didn’t want to disrupt that. I had to fly under the radar for the first year (2016) as I wanted to use the money, I was earning from my two sources of income. I was my current employers competition, so that was pretty difficult at times! I think at times, working weeks 9-5, weekends and trying to build a company was prettyintense at times – looking back this probably impacted my mental health in some way.
What niche or hole in the market are you filling with Nude Life?
Ultimately, we’re filling the creative space where people can get out and do something different, explore different body types, meet like-minded people and learn a creative skill. Our bread and butter are hen do’s. Hens are going further afield, spending a longer number of nights away, and searching for more fun and sophisticated activities and places to stay. We have had weekends running 50+ events this year across multiple countries in Europe. Our main aim a couple of years back was to fill the hole for hen parties for life drawing, we’ve achieved that now with the volume of events we are doing and the number of models we have on our books – we’d like to maintain that but explore some other options too. We’ve recently launched corporate classes and public life drawing classes. The formats are different (less about having fun and drinking) and more about learning. We have a fantastic tutor we call upon from the Gagosian Gallery and some great models with all different body types and personalities.
How much has your business changed from day one until now?
In the early days we were just running hen party life drawing in Brighton. We moved on to The South East, now we have extended that to involve all the major cities across the UK and Europe. We’re now running corporate, birthday and public classes in areas of the UK too.
What are your biggest challenges in marketing Nude Life?
Nudity! Most advertising platforms have very strict nudity guidelines. So we just have to get creative 😉 check out our Instagram page @thisisnudelife What types of marketing are most effective for your business? SEO! That’s my professional background and what the company has been built on – we only run advertising in months we know that the cost of acquiring customers will be low.
What is the #1 lesson you learned since starting Nude Life?
I’ve learned that anything in life worth having comes from patience and hard work. With hard work and dedication, anything is possible.
What can we expect from Nude Life in the next year?
I would love it to become an established brand with a voice on nudity. We’ve always maintained we would like to be more than just a company generating profits, but one that has a voice. We’ve started a clothing line (tees embroidered with ‘send nudes’ on!) and I would love this to take off – although we haven’t been able to focus on this as much as we would like to. If we could run life drawing classes across the World, be it hens, corporate classes and public classes then that would be amazing!