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The following is a post by Katie Finley, Marketing Intern at UP Europe.

Torrential rains are bound to occur on the odd day you (regrettably) aren’t armed with an umbrella.  Don’t worry – The Umbrella People, a London-based umbrella-for-hire company, plans to have you covered.

I had the chance to chat with Michelle Kingsley, co-founder and lawyer by trade, about an idea that was originally “dismissed as being a bit bonkers” but then went on to win Startup Weekend London in September 2012.


What’s the worst that could happen?

Michelle left her day job to co-found Inkling, a company that helps you find the perfect gifts via smart profiling technology backed by big data analysis.  Because Inkling had been in development for a few months, however, the company wasn’t eligible to be pitched at Startup Weekend (participants are only allowed to pitch early-stage ideas).

Hence the umbrella pitch.

“We’d been working on Inkling for three or four months, so I was told I couldn’t pitch that idea,” Michelle says.  “Instead, another idea that we’d talked about – but initially dismissed as being a bit bonkers – was the umbrella hire scheme for London.”

She mentioned it to a couple of people at the event, and managed to recruit a sizeable band of umbrella-hire enthusiasts even before the initial pitches on Friday.  “It’s a very pitch-able idea,” Michelle says, “which doesn’t always mean it will be a great business idea, but it’s very pitch-able, and has a great tagline.”

Being caught umbrella-less is certainly a relatable problem.  Further, Michelle notes that the logistics of the idea comprise a complex business problem, and attracted business people eager to take on a challenge.  In accordance with the idea’s positive reception, Michelle decided to go ahead and pitch it.  After all, she says, “I thought – what’s the worst that could happen?”

Umbrella victory

By Saturday, the true umbrella enthusiasts were separated from the pack, and The Umbrella People comprised a team of five, including Michelle’s key co-founder, Stuart Brameld.  The team went on to win the event, presenting a five-minute version of The Umbrella People concept: a corporate-sponsored, citywide umbrella hire scheme across London giving convenient access to an umbrella whenever and wherever it is needed.

In accordance with London’s notoriously rainy autumn and winter, the team will line up a series of trials later this year with a goal of launching fully in 2014.  Customer validation is a core element of any Startup Weekend (it’s actually one of the four central judging criteria); a series of basic trials to prove the fundamental assumption of any company is critical – in the case of umbrellas-for-hire, how often it rains and how much people are willing to pay to use the umbrellas.

In addition, they’ve held initial talks with Transport for London, and have already attracted a sponsor for the first series.  Success will require a critical mass of umbrellas around London; “The key idea,” Michelle says, “is that it has to be easy to use.”

Execution is key

In discussing advice for fellow entrepreneurs (which she claims to be under qualified for – her entrepreneurial achievements beg to differ), Michelle cites the importance of being able to describe the business in a simple, concise way, and then to execute that idea in an incremental fashion.

“If you’re going to think big,” Michelle says, “you really need to think about how you are going to get there.”  She talks about building an infrastructure for an idea, and having a realistic plan for each stage.  “You have to take it stage by stage – prove the concept, worry about the next stage, and the rest will take care of itself.  Execution is key.”

The soggy people of London will certainly appreciate Michelle’s execution of umbrella ubiquity.


Have an umbrella-hire opinion?  Take 60 seconds to tell The Umbrella People what you think here.

You can follow The Umbrella People @umbrellapeeps and Startup Weekend London@startupLondon on Twitter.

Claire Topalian Claire Topalian
(@clairetopalian) Blog, Professional Writing, Communications and PR Specialist. I craft compelling, mission-driven content for companies and individuals that amplifies brand awareness, fosters community, and drives engagement. My experience includes work with tech startups, major corporations, and international non-profits. @clairetopalian