Interview: Charlotte Cramer and Scarlett Montanaro, founders of Crack + Cider

"It’s not that we don’t want to give — people are prepared to give nearly £30 — it’s just that they needed a way to do it"

It’s no secret that we at Gadgette love talking to empowering women who are using technology in new and awesome ways. In keeping with that trend we talked to Charley and Scarlett, the co-founders of the amazing site Crack + Cider, which uses the internet and e-commerce to help London’s homeless population.

Hi, tell us a bit about yourselves!

I’m Charley and I’m 25. I’ve been working as a strategist in advertising agencies since I graduated. Scarlett and I both met at university.

And I’m Scarlett. Charley and I did the same course at university, and I’ve been working in a different department in advertising, in the creative department. I think that’s where we’ve teamed up and managed to create a little mini agency of our own.

Can you explain what Crack + Cider is and what it is that you guys do?

Crack + Cider is an online shop — it was also a pop-up shop as well before Christmas — where you can buy essential items for London’s rough sleepers, and then we distribute those items across shelters in London. We’ve worked with 13 shelters now, and we’ve raised £35,000 in donations — which is brilliant — in the first six weeks. So it’s taken off, it’s done really well, and it’s enabled us to distribute nearly 6000 items across the capital.

That’s amazing.

Yeah it’s made quite a big difference and we never expected it to go this far, so we’re really happy. And at the moment, we’re working on the launch of two new products that will enable us to continue sales and continue to be useful to the homeless population over summer. One of the new products is a canine care pack. It includes a warm jacket and some snacks that have been donated by Lily’s Kitchen, which is a premium dog food retailer. Then there’s the female care pack, which will be coming later in the year.

How did you come up with the name “Crack and Cider”?

It was actually a homeless man who said to us, “You know, the reason people don’t give me cash is because they just think I’ll spend it on crack and cider.” Although we were a bit nervous and we knew that it was a sensitive subject, we also knew that was the reason people weren’t giving money and we were creating a solution that enabled them to do something to help them and they didn’t have to give cash on the streets. So we kind of put that inside the heart of our idea, and it still felt right to use the name.

The canine care pack

I know you both said you were in advertising, so are you currently working in that sector? Or what did you guys do before Crack and Cider?

We both worked in advertising and still do. We’re doing this as a side project so we’ve still got our full-time jobs and then we just run this in our spare time. It’s hard work, but it’s paying off so we don’t mind.

What motivated you guys to start this project?

I think it was the fact that we walk past these people every day, and we met someone and he asked us for some spare change and we were together and we both were like, “Oh no, sorry” and kind of brushed him off just like everyone else tends to. And we got thinking about it, and we thought that it’s really awful that we didn’t give anything to these people. They’re human beings and we’re so conditioned to just walked past and ignore them. So we thought, hang on, let’s jolt ourselves out of this for a minute and think of them as a human being and what do they need, and what’s stopping people from helping them?

You were saying that you were working on two new packs to put in the shop, and you currently “sell” products such as winter jackets and fleeces. Will you be changing these options according to the season/weather? So for instance will the winter items be swapped out once it’s the summer?

Yeah, exactly, that’s why we’re introducing the dog packs, and we’ll start thinking about other products we’ll be selling over the summer. We’ve also got a project manager on the ground in San Francisco and I’m [Charley] moving out there in a couple of weeks so we’re going to be looking into products that will be more useful to the homeless in San Francisco. We’re talking about working with a tent manufacturer, for example, and seeing what else we could provide that would be most useful for that audience, because obviously it’s going to be different from London and the English weather.

Wow, that’s really cool, to be moving to San Francisco. It’s far, but definitely cool.

Yeah, there’s so much going on out there, especially at the moment in the news, so I think it’s great that Charley’s moving out there and is able to actually be on the ground and help.

What kind of results have you seen from Crack and Cider?

As Scarlett mentioned, we sold over £35,000 worth of stock in the first six weeks from launch, so the average donation was £28 per person. For every 10 people that came on the website, four people went on to purchase something. That was quite impressive to see the number of people who are actually motivated to do something rather than just talk about it or engage with the issue or say that they care. I think on Twitter, we got 6.5 million Twitter impressions, 35,000 visitors to the website, so it was like a pound for every visitor. It’s just great. It really showed that £28 per person per donation is a really significant figure for us because you would never give £28 to a man on the street and that was the whole thing that we were trying to solve: how do we get people to feel comfortable parting with their money in order to help a rough sleeper? And it’s just shown that it’s not that we don’t want to give — people are prepared to give nearly £30 — it’s just that they needed a way to do it.

I think the idea of combining e-commerce with this, it’s never been done before as far as I know, and I think it’s just a brilliant concept to get people to donate money for a great cause.

Yeah, and we’ve also had a load of homeless people who we’ve spoken to who have really praised the idea. One guy said that he actually used to be homeless and he said, “If you guys were around when I was on the street, it would’ve been a godsend.” It’s nice to know that we are really providing something that’s so essential to their life and it’s unbelievable that we’ve had people contacting us, asking us to deliver them socks, specifically, and we just think it’s crazy that there are all these huge charitable organisations and then there’s a homeless guy who lives in central London who needs to tweet two young girls doing a project to get a pair of socks. It just highlights how bureaucratic and messed up the current charitable model is when they can’t access those basic amenities, it’s crazy.

How exactly does the process work? Once someone purchases, say, an entire pack on your site, then what happens afterwards?

We’ve gone and found suppliers and secured our costs to keep costs down as well so we don’t have any warehouses or storage space to pay for. So we’ve secured the costs, and then we go and buy in bulk that number of items — say you’ve got 100 items that have been bought online, and we’ll go and we’ll buy the 100 items and distribute them straight to the shelters across London that we’re partnered with. It’s kind of a neat way of doing things for us really because otherwise it would’ve just gotten too messy trying to figure out how many sales we were going to get and purchasing all this stock and storing it and it would’ve just ended up being more expensive that way as well. So we’ve tried to keep everything to a minimum. Also, it means that obviously we didn’t want to go to a shelter with 10 items and then they have to pick the 10 people who are allowed a jacket, so it means that when we do work with a shelter, we’re able to provide one of every item for every single person that comes to that shelter, so there’s no kind of favouritism.

When you first approached these shelters with this idea, how was the initial response? Was it positive? Were people doubting if people on the internet would actually just do online shopping for homeless people?

We’ve had a really mixed bag of responses. Considering that we’re giving all these essential items to their patrons completely free of charge — they don’t have to cover anything, there’s no delivery cost or anything like that, we turn up and clothe all of the people that go there — some people have actually been very negative and some people have actually refused to take stock because of our name. It’s been interesting to see that and I’m really surprised by it, because I don’t think that a shelter manager’s morals should stand in the way of whether or not his patrons get winter jackets that year. It’s not fair and it’s not right. It’s not justified by any stretch of the imagination. But some people have just been so grateful and they send us pictures of them giving out their stuff to all their people and they email us saying thank you and they can’t believe all the work that we’re doing, so it really is polarising.

Do you have any plans to expand in the future, either with Crack and Cider or with new projects that similarly utilise technology and the internet? Is this going to be in other cities around England or would you like it to be?

At the moment, because obviously this is just a side project for us and we’re still working full-time, we’re just trying to take it one step at a time. We really just thought this was going to be a pop-up shop in Dalston for a month and then we were just going to do it for Christmas and that would be the end of it but now we feel like we have a responsibility to keep the work going and it’s been incredible and we are in no way complaining but it’s just one step at a time. It’s San Francisco next, and we’ll see.

I think an American audience doesn’t seem to be as responsive to it, so we’ll see how it goes, really. It’s probably also worth saying that we are looking for investment to kind of shift this from just a small project into what could be a sustainable social enterprise. But the way we would do that, we’ve talked about multiple different routes and whether it’s technology-enabled, or whether it’s just creating products that we sell on a one-for-one strategy, or just creating our own consumer product line that kind of builds love for the brand and turns it into a bigger project, one that’s sustainable.

We pitched to the 50-50 Tech Challenge the other day with Martha Lane Fox. That was really amazing, as we’ve been looking for investment because we do know we’re onto something here. It’s just that it’s frustrating for us not being able to do it full-time and make it the best it can be, so we are looking for some investment. We don’t take a wage from this project or anything like that, so we wouldn’t be able to sustain ourselves or live in any way.

What advice do you have for other young entrepreneurs, especially young women, who want to get into the charity/non-profit sector?

I would say that now is the best time that there’s ever been to be a woman in tech, so far. I mean obviously it’s going to get significantly better, but there are so many opportunities out there at the moment if you are a female founder. There’s communities online and forums and event, and mentoring, and we got so much help from the 50-50 tech event by DotEveryone the other day. We were at the Google Campus with the most amazing mentors who are really just killing it out there at the moment and you just think, obviously, we’ve got a great idea and we pitched it well and all the rest of it, but also it’s because we’re women. So people are really actively trying at the moment to make it fairer for women in tech, so it’s a great time for you to do it if you are going to go out there and try it.

Equally, the social enterprise base is growing so drastically, so you can combine technology and social enterprise, and there’ll be a lot of help out there. And anyone who’s reading this is more than welcome to get in touch with us and we’ll share the things that we’ve learnt on our journey.

Is there anything else you want to add that you really feel is important that our audience knows?

I think it’s just important that when there are these social issues that we become so immune to, because they’re around us every single day, to look at them in a different light and think about why they exist and whether we can use technology to solve them and start having those discussions. The more discussions we have about it and the more small projects we start, the greater impact we’re all going to have together. So even if you’re doing something small, I think it’s really powerful.

Main image © Crack + Cider