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The ‘OnlyFans of food’: DEMI’s CEO Ian Moore talks us through the future of the food industry

By Alma Fabiani

Mar 4, 2021

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If you thought that OnlyFans was the ‘place to be’ for upcoming chefs looking to making a living during the COVID-19 pandemic, well, think again because DEMI is here to dethrone it. The platform, whose beta version was only launched in October 2020, allows subscribers to interact with and get cooking tips straight from their favourite chefs, who in return get paid for it. OnlyFans who, right? We spoke to DEMI’s CEO and founder Ian Moore to find out more about where the idea for the platform came from, how it’s giving back directly to its contributors, and what food enthusiasts should expect next from him.

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A food enthusiast at heart

Although Moore had more than enough experience under his belt to cook up a concept as fresh as DEMI, it was his long-lasting love for food that initially led him to develop the platform’s concept. “When I was growing up in Ireland, I was already really into food,” he shared. “I would always search out for the weirdest things to eat. If there was something at the supermarket that would make the rest of my family go ‘ugh, that looks weird’, I would want to eat that—I just think it’s a cool way to experience stuff.”

As a teenager, Moore played in a punk band and whenever he would come off tour, he worked in kitchens, because “believe it or not, I didn’t make any money off punk music.” There, he met people as colourful as himself, that came from all walks of life, which led him to “always ending up working in kitchens.”

Moore continued to explore his passion for food through the media industry where he made a name for himself as Vice’s deputy managing editor first, leaving in 2015 to become LADbible’s creative director until February 2017. Shortly after that, he went on to become the COO of Empirical Spirits, the Copenhagen-based brainchild of Lars Williams and Mark Emil Hermansen, both alumni of Noma, also known as one of the world’s best restaurants. Let say this again: Moore had more than enough experience under his belt.

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A pandemic-induced idea

As the world went into lockdown and restaurants, pubs, cafes—you name it—closed their doors indefinitely, the hospitality industry got put on hold, and so did its employees’ income. “I always knew I wanted to do something in food, didn’t know what I wanted to do, but at the start of the pandemic, I already knew I wanted to do something for a while. One day, it just clicked in my head, I thought, ‘shit, chefs work so hard, 18 to 20 hours a day, and they’re only filling the same amount of seats every time and it’s only the same amount of people that end up experiencing what they do every night’.”

Just like many of us, as the pandemic hit, Moore missed more than the actual food—he missed the people, the experience, the theatrics of it. “You know, when the chef comes down to your table and gives you this cool explanation of something, and it’s only 30 seconds but that’s hospitality, that interaction.”

As someone who regularly ranks the top five restaurants to go to first as soon as they reopen, I can relate to Moore’s longing for the community that makes the hospitality industry what it is to this day—the ‘vibe’, if you will. As Moore wondered about ways to scale that experience and connection beyond the four walls of a restaurant, he came up with DEMI’s blueprint, one that although highly needed during lockdown, could also stay relevant post-pandemic.

“I want to be part of a community where I learn from people that are passionate about the same things as me. That’s what social media was until they tried to ram stuff that I’m not asking for down my throat. I wanted to take social media back to the idea that it was, the fact that you can build small communities and bring people together through their values. People in the DEMI community are discussing socially-conscious stuff, what they’re fighting for or even their bloody pets—all sorts of topics. It’s not just discussing how to bake, it’s just that that subject brought them together,” explains Moore.

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So what exactly do you get on DEMI?

According to its website, DEMI is “a platform that connects communities through food,” and it does so through two main elements: the DEMI communities and DEMI Love Letters. In December 2020, DEMI rolled out Love Letters on its platform, allowing anyone (users and non-users) to share personal and touching reviews of their favourite restaurants, cafes, bakeries and bars. The love letters, which can be about any place, anywhere in the world, range from short but sweet reviews to full-on, three-paragraph mini-essays, nurturing that same sense of community Moore mentioned previously.

“The Love Letters pretty much summed up everything that I wanted DEMI to be,” explains Moore, “I wanted it to be able to show just how important food is. We all ‘speak food’ you know, that’s something we all globally have in common, something that brings us together.”

While Love Letters are accessible to everyone through DEMI’s website, DEMI communities are where the membership comes in. For $10 a month, users gain access to six (and counting) different communities, which for now, come in the form of WhatsApp groups. Speaking to Thrillist, Moore said there is a global roster of “roughly 200 chefs that will host their own communities in the future.”

From Rebekah Peppler’s community, CLUB APÉRO, where members discuss the ins and outs of the French near-sacred ritual, and more, to Lucas Sin’s Chinese-ish Cooking Club, a group that focuses on applying generational knowledge of Chinese cuisine to whatever you’re cooking, the DEMI community is made up of an eclectic mix of chefs, food stylists, pastry chefs, culinary guides and wine connoisseurs.

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It’s clear that comparing DEMI with a platform like OnlyFans has its flaws. First of all, one look at DEMI’s WhatsApp groups highlights the fact that interaction, collaboration and exchange are very much what makes them so fun. In comparison, even OnlyFans’ top content creators wouldn’t be able to reach that level of familiarity with their followers, simply because the platform’s model is not built for that.

Secondly, DEMI’s mission is to actually give back to its community’s hosts by redirecting all the memberships’ money directly to each contributor. How does that work exactly?

Sustaining DEMI

Moore’s idea for DEMI was not focused on its revenue potential, but I had to ask, how can a platform like this sustain itself if all of the money made from memberships goes directly to each community host? Was DEMI about to become the new DOJO?

“Right now we’re just giving all the money to the chefs and other hosts because we’re not providing any value as such—we’re just using WhatsApp chats. I wouldn’t feel comfortable taking a cut from the chefs’ money for literally putting them on a WhatsApp group,” Moore told me. But WhatsApp groups were only the testing part of DEMI’s platform. In less than a month, DEMI will have its own app, where hosts will have access to new tools created with them in mind.

“As soon as we have an app with specific tools made to actually help chefs monetise from their community and from their content—tools that we’ll build with them and that will bring data directly to them—then I think we’ll take about 15 per cent of revenues, which will cover transfer fees, platform fees, and people will have to get paid too. The hosts will get about 85 per cent of all the money made.”

DEMI’s impact on its hosts

Let’s be honest here, in our current society where most creatives get paid close to nada while only a few get paid for doing nada, DEMI sounds almost too good to be true. That’s why I also reached out to Rebekah Peppler, host of the CLUB APÉRO community, to hear what she had to say about DEMI and the different ways it helped her during the pandemic.

The ‘OnlyFans of food’: DEMI’s CEO Ian Moore talks us through the future of the food industry

“When I got sick with COVID in early March 2020, I didn’t expect to devote a year to long COVID and put a near full stop on my work to focus on my recovery. And yet! While I did manage to hand in the final edits to my upcoming book À Table a few weeks into getting sick, I then basically laid in bed resting and storing up energy to do a patchwork of work with the express purpose of paying rent,” Peppler first told me.

“Because I was living alone for the bulk of this past year, I have a personal relationship with the deep levels of aloneness that I know so many are feeling right now. Because I’ve felt the risks so heavily, I am also hyper-conscious of the need to create a community in a safe yet meaningful way. My hope is that CLUB APÉRO exists as a space where anyone can feel the embrace of connection and communal apéro, even from the confines of their own home,” she added.

Speaking about the part that she plays in DEMI’s impressive journey so far, she said, “It’s always great to be part of the early stages of something you feel is special and has legs. The best part for me so far has been connecting with people in an online space that feels from the onset much more familiar and far less curated than Instagram. We’re sharing recipes we like, bottles we want to try, asking questions, and posting photos of our apéros all with the emphasis on what we’re drinking and eating, not with any superiority or how perfect it is, how well-lit, how organised the space around it looks, etc,” echoing Moore’s picture of a community where authentic interactions are its driving force.

And when it comes to receiving feedback from DEMI members, Peppler told me they pretty much agree with what the platform aims to be and do, “They mentioned how it feels almost like a new online experience. I fully agree—the community is beyond kind, supportive, and sincere. It’s been a way to create bonds and new friendships that could otherwise feel impossible to form during this time.”

So, while we await the reopening of our favourite places—and hopefully even after that—why not put our money where our mouth is and join DEMI’s community on its mission to get the movers and shakers of the food industry actually paid? I’ll be waiting for you on the CLUB APÉRO, ready to share all my French knowledge on the matter as well as to learn from others. Cheers!

Quarantined to quarantoned: How Bala Bangles became the internet’s weapon of choice over the pandemic

By Malavika Pradeep

Feb 23, 2021

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As makeshift gyms and offices show no immediate signs of moving out of our living rooms, it is of little surprise to witness the steady demand for office furniture and gym equipment well into 2021. But what if your Instagram feed, one fine day, decides to tell you that you could workout while baking a cake on your cheat day? And that the only equipment required to do so fits right into your cosy little jewellery drawer? Enter Bala, a Los-Angeles based movement company behind the Instagram-famous workout accessory, ‘Bala Bangles’. Screen Shot spoke to Bala’s co-founder, Natalie Holloway, to decode the brand’s success and bring you insights into managing a business in these uncertain times.

 

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Let’s start by getting our hands on and into these chic accessories. Bala Bangles are the world’s first wearable weights that are both functional and fashionable. The one-size-fits-all accessory is made from recycled stainless steel wrapped in soft silicone and features an elastic band with strong velcro to aid its customised fit. Simply slide the bars down the elastic, wrap around your ankles or wrists and fasten the velcro with the logo facing outside. Available in sets weighing ½, 1 and 2 pounds each, these weights work by adding a constant yet comfortable resistance to all types of workouts, helping burn fat and build muscle.

Launched in 2018, Bala’s hero product, Bala Bangles shot to fame after debuting on the popular reality series Shark Tank, with Maria Sharapova and Mark Cuban partnering as investors. They are now sold at major retailers including Amazon, Urban Outfitters, Nordstrom and Goop apart from Bala’s own site.

A clear mission and vision

“Bala was conceived on a trip throughout Asia with my then-boyfriend Max, now husband and co-founder,” reminisces Holloway, “We were doing yoga and thought we wanted a way to push ourselves during the class and we thought added weight/resistance would do just that.” The problem, however, as Holloway mentions, was that “no cool weights existed back then.”

Now, let’s jog your memory a bit before we proceed. Do you recall spotting wearable weights anywhere before? Perhaps in a Jane Fonda workout VHS back in the 80s? Ankle and wrist weights doubled as a workout staple and a fashion statement back in the 1980s before they fell out of trend. Apart from numerous other benefits, these weights are scientifically proven to increase heart rate by 30 per cent and improve posture by strengthening upper-back muscles. “We wanted to bring them back as they are so beneficial to workouts!” Holloway admits.

 

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Bala, which translates to ‘strength’ in Sanskrit, is passionate about designing products that help users make the most of every workout. With a clear mission of “inspiring movement through design,” the co-founder describes the aesthetic guiding Bala’s design process as “anti-fitness fitness.” “This is because we will put someone in heels while they are lifting weights, for example.”

Bala stands out in the industry with this unique approach to fitness, “We like to think of it as the fashionable, fun side of fitness. In contrast to the utility-led products that dominate the fitness space,” Holloway claims. “We believe beautiful, functional fitness accessories will change the way people work out.”

Bala differentiates itself from its competitors, the sandbag old school weights themselves, by being “designed very differently, made to be more comfortable and sweat resistant.” According to Holloway, Bala’s world can be summed up as playful, inclusive and colourful. The brand loves to have fun with colour and print pairings with a total of twelve options currently available for their 1-pound weights.

 

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The rise of Bala Babes

The appreciation of health and well-being has somewhat been renewed over the lockdown. Yoga mats, resistance bands and workout weights are in the spotlight as Google searches for ankle weights have nearly tripled since last year. According to a report by Visual Capitalist, 60 per cent of gym members in the US enjoy their home workouts so much to a point where they plan to cancel their gym memberships.

This is where Bala Bangles come in. Bala portrays its hero product as the perfect pandemic lifestyle. The product realises the fact that there is more than one way to break a sweat. With Bala Bangles you can workout doing your daily laundry loads or grocery trips, a pandemic-accelerated market segment which the brand increasingly monopolises. This has also led to the creation of an entire community of Bala Babes eagerly awaiting special edition releases and higher weight options.

Holloway admits she didn’t expect this level of reception for workout weights back in 2018 with Bala’s launch. “We are still blown away on a daily basis. We just believed wrist and ankle weights were an 80s trend that went away but was one that should not have gone away because weights can be so beneficial to many workouts. We wanted to bring them back in a way that inspired people so we focused heavily on the design of the product.”

Bala Bangles are meticulously designed not to pinch, slide or restrict movement in any way. Wildly versatile, they can be used for training and recreational activities alike. Holloway recommends using these weights for slower-paced, lower-impact activities like walking, pilates and yoga. “Many trainers say you can use them for anything but those are some of our favourite ways to move with them!”

 

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Digital mantras for success

Bala has achieved various digital feats of success over the pandemic. Apart from bringing back a forgotten 80s trend in one of the most uncertain times, Bala Bangles are dubbed ‘Instagram-famous’ and ‘internet-recommended’ fitness accessories.

When asked about the digital marketing strategies Bala invested in to achieve this, Holloway enlightens us with some insights, “We have partnered with several aspirational retailers, which has definitely helped. We also have a gifting strategy where we send press kits and products to celebrities and editors. This has really helped us because they try the product and if they love it, they share it with their community.”

Bala has also been in the news for being an active part of give-back programs. “My passion is giving back to rescue animal organisations. We have a colour called Pibble Purple where 100% of the proceeds go to animal rescue organisations. To date, we have donated $44,000 and counting.” The co-founder also plans on continuing give-backs, admitting that Bala’s success means a huge give-back programme one day.

“Our ambition is to overhaul the at-home and studio fitness experience with design-led accessories and equipment,” Holloway states when asked about Bala’s itinerary in the 10 years. “I hope Bala is more than just a brand, but we are a lifestyle and make people feel good about themselves. There will also be a huge give back component in 10 years from now!”

 

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Good things come to those who sweat

At Bala, every movement matters. From hand-shipping each order back in 2018 to Bala Bangles presently flying off shelves moments after they are back in stock, Holloway reflects on some of her biggest struggles and learnings along the way: “I learn so much each day about running a business and growing a brand. I think the biggest thing I have learned is to roll with the punches, stay positive and just keep moving. My partner and I often joke that running a business seems to be mostly about solving difficult problems on a daily basis. And it’s true. With each day comes another problem or challenge so I have really learned to calm down, solve it, and move onward. All with a positive outlook.”

Bala prides itself on having a strong grip on every Bala Babe’s heart: “We understand that your life includes exercise but is not exclusively defined by it,” its website reads. The ‘small-but-mighty’ workout accessory has managed to redefine the fitness industry in a time where other brands employ survival tactics to outlive the pandemic.

And if you are thinking about establishing your own business soon, Holloway has the perfect advice: “Just start. So often ideas just stay ideas because it is so hard to know the first, second, or third move and it can feel extremely overwhelming to just take that first step. I think it is important to take baby steps every single day until you have something real. If you promise yourself to just take baby steps daily even if you don’t know the next step, eventually you will figure it out.”

“No business was built in a day. So keep moving and move daily towards your goal!”

 

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