Meet the North East Entrepreneur Who's Spreading Kindness Through Her Inspirational Start-Up
Mum-turned-entrepreneur Michelle Jones’ most recent start-up, Kind Currency, is already getting nominated for prestigious national awards
Start by telling us a bit about yourself and your background.
I’m a mum primarily and family is what comes first in my world, but my husband would probably describe me an an addict to charity and voluntary work. I’ve had several commitments over the years in relation to these roles and paying gratitude forward and wanting to make a difference in the world has been a huge part of my adult life. A lot of that’s been around inclusion, equality and ensuring that the most disadvantaged access opportunities to live a quality of life which feeds into the concept of Kind Currency.
I’m also a disabled entrepreneur so I’ve got several chronic illnesses and invisible disabilities that I’ve got to manage on a daily basis to try and live the best life that I can around the barriers and challenges that I face with that. I’ve been self-employed because of those conditions for most of my adult life and that was really why I went into entrepreneurship, so that I could have a right to earn a living alongside managing those chronic conditions as well.
What is the concept behind Kind Currency?
Basically, we support local ethical businesses primarily, to share and celebrate their kindness and what they’re doing in the world to make a difference. We then connect those businesses directly through our platform with individuals who are looking to make kinder lifestyle choices. We do that through a subscription membership club and that allows the consumer to access those businesses that we’re supporting. Through the subscription we will advertise directly to the subscribers offers, discounts and incentives that they can take advantage of.
For the businesses it’s a win-win situation because it’s a free opportunity for them as we want to celebrate the businesses that are out there protecting the environment, but whilst we’re shouting about them we’re also connecting them with a consumer audience. We then also help them to engage further with that audience and within their business to achieve additional profit and trade. So we work with them to understand where there’s a need within their business and encourage them to put an offer out to people that subscribe to fulfil that need. So, for example, it could be if you’ve got a community coffee shop and you want to test a new product line or you’ve got stock that’s potentially going to go out of date, we will create and put out offers to our subscribers that would sell those products. This can either increase sales or reduce waste, or both, so it’s good for profit and protecting the planet.
Finally, the money paid for the subscription is then used as a small charity donation to our Kindness Fund which then goes out and supports the kind people that we rely on in society who are living in deprivation, for example charity workers, volunteers, NHS and care workers, and ex-servicemen and -women. We basically want to pay their gratitude forward to them so that we enable them to live a life above the poverty line, believing that kindness should be rewarded in kind. This means subscribers not only protect the planet through more conscious consumer decisions but also, through their subscription, help people on a daily basis.
Where did the inspiration for the business come from?
My voluntary and charity work exposed me to the massive disadvantages that we’ve got in society and on a daily basis I was being faced with lovely people that were giving their all within the community to make a difference to people’s lives, but they were really struggling themselves. It’s situations like the person who was running the local food bank actually needing to go home with a food bank parcel at the end of the day. Or the nurse that’s working a 14-hour shift saving lives, going into debt to pay their bills.
So I saw a side of society where we were letting down the people we were depending on to make a difference in the world. I just thought, this isn’t right, we need to be looking after these people as much as they’re looking after us. We need to pay that forward to them and ensure that they’re living a life above the poverty line so at least they can meet their basic needs.
I then realised that opportunity is an important way of resolving that. I thought if I created a fund that could provide opportunities and resources to people, we could try to alleviate poverty within that area of society. I’ve also got a business that is in the high-end market of the wedding industry and I learned that whilst those that were struggling had no where to turn for help, what I was seeing was that very privileged people had opportunity and resources at the tips of their fingers. So for me I want to try to close that gap and the fund is a way to do that. By harnessing the power of kindness and incentivising people to make that difference in society it allows us all to do our little bit and make that difference. Then hopefully it has that ripple effect.
You’ve been announced as a finalist for the 2022 Great British Entrepreneur Awards’ entrepreneur for good award – how does that feel?
I was actually gobsmacked when I found out. I was on a meeting at the time and my phone and emails were going crazy, then once I came off the meeting I realised why and I was a bit shellshocked. To be nominated alongside obviously other incredible businesses and incredible people is such an honour and such a privilege. For me it allows the message that I’m trying to deliver to have a bigger voice, and to share that space with so many people that are doing such amazing work to try to make a difference in the world is just incredible.
I’ve been so poorly as an individual, my life has had so many challenges and I’ve met so many barriers, so to be nominated in the month that it was disability pride month was just incredible. To think of the journey that I’d gone on personally, then to get such an amazing nomination was just great.
What advice would you give to other budding entrepreneurs?
The advice I would give is don’t fear the fear. Step into the fear. That only thing you can do is fail and failure really isn’t a problem. Regret for me is actually lot worse and the thing I fear in life. I don’t want to regret not making that decision and not just going for it. So very much just step into the fear, don’t let the fear win and just go for it. It’s about diving in. We’ve only got one life so it really is important that we live it and we live it true to our values.
What are the plans for the future?
I say this tongue in cheek but I really mean it: I want Kind Currency to be a global success. I want to basically make kindness accessible around the whole world and for us all to be able to use kind currency as an opportunity to make the difference in society that we really need to make. When we talk about climate change and poverty alleviation it seems like such a big challenge and we look at the big businesses to make that difference but Kind Currency is there for every person on the street, every small business to actually do their little bit.
So for me it’s that global domination and I want everybody to be a Kind Currency member and to be proud. To wave the Kind Currency flag and celebrate the fact that kindness isn’t a word, it’s an action, and we can deliver real change with kindness.
What do you love most about living and working in the North East?
The people. For me the North East community is really special. People are not just caring, they’re passionate about people as well and it’s that passion that really drives people to look after others within their communities. I boomerang back to the region – I left when I was 18, headed to the South, lived in various areas in the country and came back to have my children because I wanted them to be brought up in the North East. I don’t think there’s a better place to have family life in the whole of the UK. It’s just an incredibly special place.
Also when I thought about accessibility, as a family, the North gives us lots of opportunities. We’ve got the city, we’ve got the coast and we’ve got the countryside all within a stone’s throw of each other and it’s just a vibrant, loving area to be in.