We talked to Matteo Bergamini on how Shout Out UK is the next generation’s voice, and this is what he had to say about it.
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Matteo Bergamini: Good and bad, good in the sense that none of us have died or fallen gravely ill due to Covid. Bad because I am based in London, UK, and my mum also lives in London close by. However, all the rest of my family are in Italy, where the lockdown conditions are a lot stricter. Due to this, most of them will be alone during the Christmas period, and my mum and I will be unable to see them until after the new year. I have personally found working from home a little challenging since I am used to heading into an office. Since March, my daily routine has been bed, table (for work), sofa repeat lol. However, I have started to mix out my day and take care of my mental health a little more, which is good. My partner is pregnant and due to having a child in March 2021, which is very exciting.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded Shout Out UK?
Matteo Bergamini: I started the company when I was in college at 22, and I started it primarily out of frustration that young people weren’t being listened to in politics and that we call ourselves a democracy, and yet schools don’t teach you how our democracy works or how to get involved. So I started attending events between part-time work and uni work and slowly began growing a blog that eventually turned into today’s business. I managed to secure investment in 2016 from the Start-Up Funding Club, which allowed me to come out of college and turn my company into my full-time job from the get-go.
How does Shout Out UK innovate?
Matteo Bergamini: We are completely disrupting the democratic engagement space, which has been stagnating for some time, ensuring that our societal discourse is based on facts unpinned by our creative and unique edtech approach, making political literacy and media literacy affordable and acceptable to everyone in and out of school. Covid 19 has lead to a massive boost in online delivery and an increase in our Portal, for instance. Our creative and unique take on London Voter Registration Week 2020, for example, which we ran in partnership with the Greater London Authority, has seen a 23 percent increase from the week before, despite the number of young people registering to vote to fall by 6 percent nationwide.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?
Matteo Bergamini: It has forced us all to work from home. However, aside from that, we have grown during this period by hiring three new staff members. The growing level of misinformation around the pandemic has made what we do hyper-relevant. For instance, during the hight of lockdown in the UK, we partnered with the US Embassy to create a series of free resources, including a short course, cartoons, infographics, and a podcast to support the teaching media literacy. We also secured a partnership with Nesta and the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS) to create a Media Literacy course, which was then launched in Youth Clubs and Schools across the UK during lockdown height. Alongside both, we also managed to secure support from the Times+, who freely promoted the individual and parent version of our media literacy program and E-Portal on their website and weekend newspaper.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
Matteo Bergamini: Yes, in that although our work has grown during this period, I had to consider if this growth would continue into 2021, especially with the uncertainty of Brexit. Despite this, I did decide to grow our team from 5 to 8, and it has paid off with new work coming in steadily into the new year. The lesson learned is that running a business in a pandemic requires you to take risks. It’s easy to resign yourself and tighten budgets, and at times that is the right thing to do. However, during periods like this, it’s best to take what you currently have and find a route to continue growing. It’s risky, but doing nothing is more dangerous in my view.
How do you deal with stress and anxiety?
Matteo Bergamini: Gaming. I have always liked playing computer games. It provides me with an escape to relax. It can be tough to navigate this period as an entrepreneur. You continuously hear about impending recessions, businesses going under, and you start to think will our good fortune run out? When you have people relying on you, it can be hard to escape it, especially in small companies where you are one big family in a way. The best thing to do is to stay sane and have a hobby utterly different from your work. I have also tried to create a SOUK culture where everyone has quite a bit of freedom and responsibility in their roles. It helps staff take ownership of what online they are doing and pushes them to find solutions, which allows my mindset as it’s not just me problem-solving.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Matteo Bergamini: We are in a unique position as the democratic engagement space is very small, meaning we have no direct competitors. That said, we are continually developing our products and methods, ensuring we stay at the forefront of civtech around political literacy by spending money regularly on R&D as part of our company culture, which allows us to find ways to make activities more engaging or products more innovative always. Our Portal, for instance, has several new features already from its launch in 2019, including a digital newsroom that allows young people on our programs to write articles on issues they care about. Then the best of those articles can be picked for publication by the local or national press.
Your final thoughts?
Matteo Bergamini: If the pandemic has taught me anything, it’s that the only constant changes. So as an entrepreneur, you can’t be too precious about your current situation. If things change, you need to roll with them and find a way to use it to your advantage. If you don’t, someone else will, and you’ll become irrelevant.