Shaper: Josh Littlejohn

Show aired on 17th December 2016

Transcript

Elliot Moss
That was Sergio Mendes with Mas Que Nada, a lovely way to start the programme this morning. Hello this is Jazz Shapers, I am Elliot Moss and thank you very much for joining me. Jazz Shapers the place where you can hear, I hope you know by now, the very best of the people shaping the world of jazz, blues and soul and I am very lucky because I bring alongside them right here for you someone who is shaping the world of business and we call them Business Shapers. Slightly different today because my Business Shaper is a good person, not that all Business Shapers aren’t but he is super good. His name is Josh Littlejohn and he is a social entrepreneur. He is running a social enterprise business called Social Bite – I am going to say the word social just a few more times to everyone – Social Bite have restaurants, they have cafes, they have all sorts of things going on which are basically for those people who want to give to the homeless and do wonderful things they can and I will explain why George Clooney and others have popped up to Edinburgh to see him doing his fine things up there. You will be hearing lots of phenomenal things from Josh very shortly. In addition to hearing from John, you will be hearing from our programme partners at Mishcon de Reya some words of advice for your business and as well as all of that we have got some brilliant music today; Hugh Masekela is coming up, Astrud Gilberto and this from Richard Bona.

That was another Latino sounding number there, Cubaneando from Richard Bona, although he is actually from Cameroon I am reliably informed. This is Jazz Shapers and as I said earlier my Business Shaper today is Josh Littlejohn; he is the co-founder of Social Bite. He is also and you are going to be hearing about this, the co-founder of Brewgooder, he is also the founder of the Scottish Business Awards and I am sure he has got lots of free time and will be founding something else by the time we have finished today. Josh thank you very much for joining me.

Josh Littlejohn
My pleasure, thanks for having me.

Elliot Moss
You are incredibly young and I say that only because you seem to have achieved what many people never achieve in their lifetimes’ which is you focussed on doing something that has majorly good impacts. Tell me a little bit about why, I believe you read a book, Mohammad Yunus and you were inspired to do things differently. Tell me what happened, this movement from the business world into – well it is still the business world – but it is doing something else?

Josh Littlejohn
Yeah so I suppose like growing up as a teenager like I was always kind of quite idealistic and I was like my ambition was never to set up in business, my ambition was to try and change the world in some way so I went to University and studied politics and economics with a view to leaving and trying to make some kind of difference in my career. So I left and originally I applied for a job with the Government and it was a great big long graduate scheme process, it lasted about six months and you had to do psychometric tests and you had to come to London and do sort of assessment centres and I passed the second last stage of that which was like a daylong assessment centre where they tested your knowledge of economics and they recommended a really thick textbook which read back to front and I kind of passed that technical stage. Then the final stage was another assessment centre in London where they kind of tested more your personality traits, sort of your communication and teamwork and leadership and after that long process I just got a single sentence email saying ‘sorry you were unsuccessful to get the job’ so I was a bit kind of deflated about that and I thought ‘do you know what I don’t want to do that again and jump through someone else’s hoops’ so I decided at that stage to set up my own business and at that time the only real definition of business I knew was one to try and you know, make a financial return so I came up with some ideas and they revolved around events so I set up a little events company. So I was a couple of years in to organising various events and as I say, I read this book by a guy called Professor Mohammad Yunus so this guy is a Nobel Peace Prize winner. He won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006 based in Bangladesh and in this book he described an idea that he called a social business where he talked about how in Bangladesh he set up over fifty different companies and some of them went on to become billion dollar businesses but he never owned a single share in one of them so every business he ever created was never for the traditional purpose of maximising return for himself or investors, it was always because he kept seeing social challenges in Bangladesh and his solution was never to set up a charity or ask for donations, it was always to set up a business to tackle that particular issue. So this kind of like merged younger idealism with this new found passion for the entrepreneurship and you know business and it sort of married the two so I thought that’s a really interesting idea so long story short, me and my ex-girlfriend Alice went and visited Professor Yunus in Bangladesh in 2011 and we spent a week and we toured round his different social businesses and we came back really inspired by that and decided to try and set up our own little social business. And at the time I used to go into… I had a little office in the centre of Edinburgh and I used to go into Pret A Mange for a sandwich and Starbucks for a coffee and we thought maybe if we could set up something in this market it might work and it kind of started up Social Bite then in 2012.

Elliot Moss
And we are going to find out a lot more about Social Bite but the usual story there of a young man who decides to you know, read a book and then go and visit the man who wrote the book and set up a social business. I mean totally normal behaviour Josh. Unbelievably not. You are going to be hearing lots about what Social Bite is and this extraordinary guest of mine today. Time for some more music now though before that, this is Grazing In The Grass from Mr Hugh Masekela

Hugh Masekela with the upbeat Grazing In the Grass. Josh Littlejohn is my Business Shaper today and if you were listening earlier you would have heard of the very usual story there of a young man reading and then visiting author and then deciding to set up a business as you do. Tell me about Social Bite specifically; just give me a few sentences so if people haven’t heard of it they understand what it is?

Josh Littlejohn
So Social Bite is now a small chain of sandwich and coffee shops throughout Scotland in three different cities in Scotland and we have also got canteens and we opened up a high end restaurant in Edinburgh so it tries to compete with really good food and good service and everything you would expect but ultimately the whole thing exists for a social mission so that kind of takes three forms; one is all the profits we make go back into good causes and the other two things are more within the business, so the second one is customers can pay something forward for homeless people to come and eat later so maybe buy an extra sandwich or buy a meal in the restaurant and homeless people are invited in to be treated as customers and then the third aspect is that roughly a quarter of our workforce are people that have previously struggled with homelessness themselves.

Elliot Moss
The buy forward thing or whatever, the pay forward thing was that… I mean that I think is one of the most brilliant ideas I have ever heard. I don’t know if it was your idea or if you found it from somewhere else, the innovation, I mean one thing is looking after people who are vulnerable I get that and I want to come on to the root causes of homelessness and how you can help resolve those but that kind of innovation around that idea, where did that come from and where did the other innovative ideas come from?

Josh Littlejohn
Well the whole thing like started much more one dimensionally the original concept was just open up a sandwich shop, hopefully make a profit , that sells nice food and then we chose three charities to give the profit to but ultimately we were looking at the world through lenses of trying to make as much of a social impact as we could so when we very first opened up our first little sandwich shop in Edinburgh we had been open about a week or two and we met this young guy who used to sell the Big Issue just outside the shop, a guy called Pete and he used to come in and we were chatting to him and we gave him a free sandwich and after a couple of weeks he kind of plucked up the courage himself and asked if he could have a job. So we sort of thought well the whole point of us being here is to try and do something good so we gave him a job in the kitchen and it was really amazing how much he relished that, like he just relished the idea of having responsibilities and getting a regular pay cheque and making all these friends and colleagues so when another position opened up we thought ‘let’s try that again’ and we asked him if he knew anyone else that was homeless that would want a job and he suggested his brother Jordan was in the same situation and then when that worked out we asked if they knew anyone else and they suggested another Big Issue seller called John and then they suggested Colin and it kind of worked its way up through peer to peer referral and then we came across this idea of pay it forward. I think it originated in Naples in Italy. It was called caffè sospeso, like suspended coffee where people could pay ahead for coffee for the homeless or the hungry or the needy. So yeah we again like because we were looking at the world through just trying to maximise the social impact that became a logical thing to do so I think we simply just wrote a hand written sign in the window that said something crass like ‘attention homeless people, we run a pay it forward service so you can come and collect something that our customers pay forward’ and before we knew it customers started engaging with that and donating and we started feeding perhaps thirty, forty homeless people a day and then as we expanded the business we just sort of ingrained those principles into it so now you know, all the units have a pay it forward service and as I say, a quarter of the workforce are people you would probably typically have seen selling the Big Issue or sometimes begging in the city centres.

Elliot Moss
Stay with me for more of this fascinating story as it is unfolding and I can hear that you kind of iterated as you have gone, it wasn’t just one big splash at the beginning and that’s what I think is really fascinating about what you have built. Lots more coming up from Josh but first we have got some travel in a couple of minutes and before that, some words of advice for your business from our programme partners at Mishcon de Reya.

You are listening to Jazz Shapers with me, Elliot Moss every Saturday I am very lucky because I get to meet someone who is shaping the world of business. If you have missed any of the brilliant people I have spoken to over the last five years then go into iTunes, put in the words ‘Jazz’ and ‘Shapers’ you can find them there. If you are on a British Airways flight you can also find a few of our best and Cityam.com is another destination for you. Josh Littlejohn is my Business Shaper today, he is the co-founder of Social Bite and they are doing amazing things for the homeless, not just by giving money but by giving people opportunity and giving people responsibility and by asking us the punters, the people out there to actually do some interesting things – the pay forward notion which you may have heard about earlier being just one of them. Josh in those early days, I mean you were as you said, I think you said a politics and economics graduate. What would you have known about setting up a business apart from the fact that you knew you wanted to do that. I get the impact thing. But in real terms you must have had lots of really good advice or are you just a genius who knew exactly what to do from day one.

Josh Littlejohn
Well…

Elliot Moss
You can lie by the way, you can say ‘yes I am a genius how did you know Elliot?’

Josh Littlejohn
…no I think like I find sort of the entrepreneurship and entrepreneurial process very addictive I think in like it started off a game, I had no real intention of doing it I just decided to set up this little events company and the first event I ever created was a fashion show that I put on during the Edinburgh Festival called the Festival Fashion Show and that was largely an excuse to try and hang out with good looking girls and get a girlfriend.

Elliot Moss
I knew I liked you for a reason. I could just tell you were smart.

Josh Littlejohn
But like that’s kind of happened, I put on this fashion show like I recruited ten models and if I saw a really attractive girl in the street I would sort of interrupt and say ‘sorry to interrupt you, my name is Josh, I am the organiser of the Festival Fashion Show have you ever considered modelling?’ and that was kind of my chat-up line for a while but the whole thing like happened and it like it was cool to see that process like of something that was just in my head become real and that was kind of a thrill and as I say, quite addictive so then I rented a little office and I started organising other events.

Elliot Moss
Were you doing this when you were a kid? I mean have you always been kind of get up and go and do stuff? By the way I should mention here his dad’s in the room at Jazz FM here and we are going to bring him in a little later so he is nodding and saying yes he probably was. But I mean this doesn’t just start at a certain age, surely this is within you? This kind of get up and go thing.

Josh Littlejohn
No like I say at University like I was at Uni for five years and I was kind of like felt lethargic you know, I just kind of I did enough to get a decent grade and pass the exams but I had no get up and go you know, I used to drink a lot and you would sleep in and it was only when I started organising these few events that it kind of just you know, sort of a light went on and you know suddenly you wanted to get out of bed and make things happen.

Elliot Moss
Why have all these people, like I am going to talk about George Clooney and I think the Duchess of Cornwall and a whole host of celebrities and well-meaning celebrities as well as many people are, why are they so intrigued by what you are doing do you think?

Josh Littlejohn
Well you know I am not sure they are intrigued. We… so one of the things that I set up in the early days of this events business I came up with an event and I call it the Scottish Business Awards and so that’s five years in now and every year we have over two thousand people now come and gather and have dinner at this award ceremony which makes it by far the biggest business dinner in the UK and it has become the biggest sit down dinner gathering in the history of Scotland ever so a lot of people ask me now like how I got involved in the Scottish Business Awards and if I am really honest I have to kind of say ‘well I created an event, I called it the Scottish Business Awards’ and I think because it was called that that everyone sort of assumed it was really prestigious and it had been around for many years and we just didn’t correct them and reality it was just me sort of sending out letters to lots of businesses saying you’ve been nominated for the Scottish Business Awards initially and it’s kind of grown so every year we invite like big speakers over to come and be the key note at that and typically like that event generates a fair bit of money through table sales and sponsorships so we are able to pledge a donation to their particular cause so over the last five years; the first year we had Bob Geldof come and then after that we speculatively approach Bill Clinton’s office, the Clinton Foundation and we got Bill Clinton to come and then we had Richard Branson and George Clooney and just last week it was Leonardo DiCaprio so typically the model for that as I say is each of these people have their own foundations that they are passionate about, various causes and we are able to make a large donation to that through our event and then just recently with George Clooney and Leonardo DiCaprio we have said ‘listen as you are coming to Scotland this is the work we are doing in social enterprise with the homeless, would you come and visit you know, one of our cafes – Leonardo DiCaprio came into our restaurant – whilst you are here’. So those two have said yes and that’s brought amazing profile to us and gave us a real platform to sort of expand our work.

Elliot Moss
Wow that’s pretty impressive isn’t it. I mean the names are very small there, Bill Clinton, Bob Geldof. I think you should really aim a bit higher there Josh. Lots more coming up from Josh Littlejohn, my brilliant Business Shaper today. Time for some more music right now though, this is continuing the Latin theme, Dom has got Latin on the mind, brain today, this is Astrud Gilberto with Take Me To Aruanda.

That was Astrud Gilberto with Take Me To Aruanda. I am talking to Josh Littlejohn today and he is the founder of the Scottish Business Awards as you heard, he made it up himself and here it is being now one of the most prestigious Business Awards probably well not just in Scotland but probably in Great Britain. He is the founder of Brewgooder. We are going to come on to that in a minute and he is the founder of Social Bite. Can I ask you a question, a bit of a technical question so I understand it. Many good people want to help the homeless and I personally have tried to do stuff and failed miserably just whether it is someone outside a restaurant or whatever because the causes of homelessness are multi-various and complicated. Now that you are in it, are you… have you got the magic answer or is it perseverance and sort of talking to professionals about how you can really help someone not be homeless because isn’t superficial at all is it that issue?

Josh Littlejohn
No. I think like it comes down to like just trying to find like a strong level of compassion for these people and that comes from understanding their backgrounds and kind of why they are there. I think there is a bad misconception in the UK and perhaps further afield that people have ended up homeless as a result of making bad decisions, people kind of assume that they have become alcoholics or drug addicts and hence ended up homeless. One of the things I have learned over the last five years you know, becoming increasingly engaged with the homeless issue is that almost everyone I ever meet it is like staggering and kind of scary that almost everyone I come across with a homeless background typically grew up through the care system. So what I always find is that almost through the cards they were dealt when they were born, when they came into the world it was kind of almost their predetermined destiny to end up in that situation and most homeless people I meet had really harrowing childhoods, really terrible cards dealt to them, typically got taken into the care system at a young age, bounced around different foster homes and children homes and in many instances became homeless in their sort of late teens and as I say, it is striking how similar threads like that run through most of these guys’ stories so I think when you understand people’s lives in that context then it does give you a large degree of compassion and patience in trying to rehabilitate them back into society and back into employment.

Elliot Moss
And that compassion and understanding, has that translated into different relationships that you have now formed. Do you look at people and kind of size them up and I don’t mean that in a weird way but just in a I kind of know where they are coming from or want to know because most misunderstandings are predicated on people not really being compassionate at all. Has that helped you in your overall?

Josh Littlejohn
Of course like it’s not an easy thing to do. So we employ about a hundred people now and as I say a quarter of those are people that are from a homeless background and that has a lot of challenges and quite often you know in that process of rehabilitating them into employment they will screw up; maybe they will you know, won’t show up or will be late or whatever their particular issue is, we have a lot of issues in that process but once you understand if the context of someone’s life if they have had a really harrowing childhood and they’ve became homeless at sixteen and you understand that then suddenly you don’t view it of ‘my God you are late what are you doing?’; you view it of ‘good God you are still standing, you are still turning up to work every day trying to break that cycle’ so it just gives you a different way of looking at it when you understand the context of people’s lives.

Elliot Moss
We will be having our final chat with Josh and plus be playing a track from Louis Prima, that’s after the latest traffic and travel here on Jazz FM.

That was Louis Prima with the brilliant Jump Jive and Wail. Josh Littlejohn has been my Business Shaper for quite a while now so it is time to bring in I think a bit of family; I mentioned that Josh’s father was in the house, he is… Simon hello.

Simon Littlejohn
Hello.

Elliot Moss
How are you?

Simon Littlejohn
I am fine thank you.

Elliot Moss
Very good. Now I mentioned earlier when were off mike as it were and I said is it weird looking at this young man he’s your son and you must be unbelievably proud?

Simon Littlejohn
Yeah I think you are always proud of your children whatever they end up doing and yeah obviously I am proud of Josh. He has always been a challenge as in, not as a child a challenging child but a challenge with his views. I remember we went on a skiing holiday with his brother Jack and they were about twelve or thirteen at the time and just the three of us in a hotel and we were talking about money and what we do and I had been in business a few years so they were saying ‘well dad why don’t you sell it and give your money away and do all these things’ and that was at kind of a young age, the two of them. So yeah, I am proud of what he has done.

Elliot Moss
He has chosen a path and he’s got great vision and he’s got his… he’s dying of embarrassment by the way over here, he is thinking can we please stop talking about me… but it is about you Josh for a moment. But what does it beyond the pride, I mean in terms of the impact, you were as you said, you have been in business a long time. Does it surprise you he has gone this route?

Simon Littlejohn
Well it has because I never had him down as self-employed. When he was younger you know you always imagine what your kids will do in the future and I never thought Josh would be the kind of guy who would be self-employed. But when he did his own thing the one thing he has changed and he has said it before when I was listening to him, that he works incredibly hard which you have to do if you do your own thing and he is so stubborn it is unbelievable so I think if he gets an idea he just follows it through until it happens. However many people might say it is not going to work, yeah so…

Elliot Moss
He keeps going.

Simon Littlejohn
…he keeps going.

Elliot Moss
Josh let me ask you, so this perseverance and tenacity that your dad has alluded to. Where is it going to take you? You’ve got expansion plans, I read recently that you are going to open Scotland’s first homeless village. I know that you’ve got plans for London. Just tell me a little bit about how you are going to shape things going forward?

Josh Littlejohn
I mean like I never like tried to think of things in too bigger a picture like I always just try and take one step after the other and see where the path goes so like the next big thing for us is you know we are kind of thinking about ourselves as a social enterprise or engagement with the homeless and we are thinking about how we could look to try a solution that really tackles the issue of homelessness full circle. So at the moment we offer jobs and free food and some support but if you are thinking about like a three hundred and sixty degree solution at some point you get back to the issue of a home or a roof over someone’s head so we started looking at housing and how we could get involved in that issue so we have basically just announced plans to build a small village in Edinburgh which sounds kind of mad but…

Elliot Moss
Because it is mad. It’s good mad though isn’t it. I mean you are just saying I want to do that and you are going and doing it.

Josh Littlejohn
Yeah so we went to see Edinburgh Council and asked them for some land so that just recently they signed off on about two acres worth of land in an area called Granton in Edinburgh which is a really nice little spot on the sea front really and then we tried to find like an innovative low cost nice housing model so we met this guy who is just based on the outskirts of Edinburgh who has built this prototype called Tiny House Scotland which is small but really beautiful little houses. It has got a wood burning fire, it’s got a nice kitchen, it’s got like a dining table, little sofa and a loft double bedroom so we believe you can create a two bedroom version of this house for about £30,000 so we have plans to build ten houses for twenty homeless people which will be coupled with a vegetable garden and a chicken coop and a furniture workshop and the idea is that they would live in this supported village environment for twelve to fifteen months during which time we would link them in with employment opportunities and work placements and lots of support and after that time support them into some permanent accommodation and hopefully break the cycle of homelessness for those individuals. So that’s the next plan which I am really, really excited about and…

Elliot Moss
And the Brewgooder just briefly because I have got one more question and then we are going to have to wrap up but on the Brewgooder thing, just tell me you’ve got some plans. It’s a business which basically makes nice tasting lager by the sounds of it and then all the money that you make goes into water projects around the world. Is that right?

Josh Littlejohn
Yeah. So that was my friend Alan’s idea really. So I am just working with him on that so we partnered with Brew Dog who are Scottish based, massive obviously craft beer company and so they brew the beer for us. It is a new company called Brewgooder and yeah, all the profits go to dig wells basically so the idea is the customer can have a nice beer but feel good that they are helping somebody else have clean water so that’s in the early days but we have just got stocked by Asda so it’s off to a decent start.

Elliot Moss
It’s been a real pleasure talking to you Josh and I know its brief but congratulations, the world needs more people like you and he wants to say another thing, yes go on one more.

Josh Littlejohn
I just want to plug our fundraising thing we are doing so we are opening up the shops on Christmas Day to do a big Christmas dinner for the homeless so we are asking people to donate £5 to buy a homeless person Christmas dinner on a website called Itison.com and you can also support our village project on that so just keen to give that shameless plug.

Elliot Moss
It isn’t shameless it is a good plug – itison.com. Well thank you Josh for spending some time with me and to Simon as well for popping in, it was good timing, we planned that earlier obviously. About half an hour ago. Just before I let you go though, what is your song choice and why have you chosen it?

Josh Littlejohn
So my song choice is Dave Brubeck, Take Five and that was I believe my granddad’s favourite song and I think he used to play clarinet with Dave Brubeck before he was famous so that’s it.

Elliot Moss
Well here it is just for you. Thank you very much.

That was Dave Brubeck with Take Five, the song choice of my Business Shaper today Josh Littlejohn. An incredibly inspiring young person with real go get mentality, he has gone and done things that many of us would be proud to have done in our lifetimes let alone in the ten years or so that he has been working in business. He has total focus, total conviction and as his dad said of him, has got stubbornness right to the core which makes for someone who is really going to change things. Fantastic stuff. Do join me again, same time, same place. That’s next Saturday, 9.00am for another edition of Jazz Shapers. Meanwhile stay with us because coming up next it’s Nigel Williams.

Josh Littlejohn

Josh is one of the UK’s leading social entrepreneurs. He is the co-founder of Scottish sandwich shop chain Social Bite, which shot to global fame when Holywood A-lister George Clooney visited an outlet in 2015.  Social Bite competes in the high street takeaway food market, but does so for a social purpose. 100% of Social Bite’s profits are donated to good causes and 1 in 4 of its staff are people from homeless backgrounds. Social Bite also feeds the homeless with food that their customers pre-pay for. Recently, Leonardo Di Caprio visited Josh’s restaurant and met staff from homeless backgrounds.

Josh is also the founder of The Scottish Business Awards and as well as George Clooney, he has has also enlisted the help of world leaders such as President Bill Clinton and Sir Richard Branson to support his social endeavours.

In March 2016, along with business partner Alan Mahon, Josh launched a beer brand called BrewGooder, where 100% of the profits go towards providing clean water. The brewery plans to provide clean drinking water for 1 million people in five years.

In just four years of business, Josh has raised over £4 million for charity and made a significant impact on the issue of homelessness in Scotland. Josh is an originator of social businesses which not only tackle specific issues but radically challenge how we think about doing business.

Follow Social Bite on Twitter @SocialBite_.

Listen live at 9am Saturday.

“Growing up as a teenager, I was always kind of idealistic…my ambition was never to set up in business, my ambition was to try and change the world in some way.”

“Ultimately the whole thing exists for a social mission…all the profits we make go back into good causes.”

“Customers can pay something forward for homeless people to come and eat later so maybe buy an extra sandwich or buy a meal in the restaurant…”

“Roughly a quarter of our workforce are people that have previously struggled with homelessness themselves.”

“I find the entrepreneurship and entrepreneurial process very addictive.”

“The first event I ever created was a fashion show that I put on during the Edinburgh Festival…and that was largely an excuse to try and hang out with good looking girls and get a girlfriend.”

“I think there is a bad misconception in the UK and perhaps further afield that people have ended up homeless as a result of making bad decisions.”

“I think the Scottish business community has been awesome. I feel like there are a broad array of people in Scotland who have given us a lot of support.”