Are you bored of having mundane conversations that don’t spark interest, passion or new connections? Well meet founder of Trigger Conversations Georgie Nightingall. Trigger Conversations is a London-based human connection organisation using the power of conversation to create cultures that put the human back into our relationships and workplaces. Her events have quadrupled in size since their first event in 2016 and one of the best things about them is they grow from word of mouth. To date, Trigger has engineered 5,000 stimulating and meaningful conversations with over 1,300 humans at 75+ events and trainings, generating connections, collaborations and growth. Georgie is the driving force and brains behind it – she’s even nailed a TED talk! Want to know how to grow a lean start up? Read our interview with Georgie here…
Name: Georgie Nightingall
Age at time of interview: 27
Where’s home? London
Company Name: Trigger Conversations
After university was it a clear cut path as to what you wanted to do?
No, I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I had too many ideas and none! Post my undergraduate degree I took on a part-time distance-learning Masters and decided to spend the year dipping into a number of internships and jobs to test out different roles and companies. This helped me get a better understanding of where my passions and strengths lay.
What is Trigger Conversations and when did you launch?
Trigger Conversations is a London-based human connection organisation using the power of conversation to create cultures that put the human back into our relationships and workplaces. As life coaches and question curators, Trigger designs label-less spaces and teaches emotionally-intelligent tools to awaken curiosity, inspire aliveness and remind people to be real.
To date, Trigger had engineered 5,000 stimulating and meaningful conversations with over 1,300 humans at 75+ events and trainings, generating connections, collaborations and growth.
Our first event was in in October 2016 to a crowd of 21 people – so we have been running for just over 2 years.
How did the idea for Trigger Conversations come about?
It started with my problem. Back in 2016 when I was a Project Manager. I was frustrated and bored with constantly being asked the question ‘what do you do?’ at the start of every conversation. I would end up repeating my elevator pitch, the other person saying ’interesting’ and the conversation mostly dying there. I felt pigeon-holed as my job, disconnected from the people around me and that it was a wasted opportunity to have a great conversations. I missed the thought-provoking, stimulating and curious conversations that were a daily part of university life. Conversation was about work and holidays and they felt uninspiring, unfulfilling and boring. I craved deep and creative conversations – the kind of conversations where you get to be your whole self, you learn something new, where you get a new perspective on something and your world shifts a little. And in so doing so, you create a new connection with somebody.
My frustration left a gap in my life that I knew I needed to fill – I just didn’t know how. I knew I would have a great conversation every few weeks almost by mistake but I wanted to be able to engineer it when I wanted it. So I started noticing and experimenting with ideas – I observed conversations and analysed what was happening, I designed and ran parties with slightly different rules to see if they would affect social dynamics, and I went to as many ‘deep connections’ and networking events to see what I could learn.
It was at the Wilderness Festival in August 2016 at a conversation workshop that I committed to a stranger (now friend) – Edwin – that I would create an event that stimulates meaningful conversations. Within 24hrs I had a name (Trigger Conversations), the conversation menu format and the vision. We launched 8 weeks later.
What were the initial challenges in getting the ball running for Trigger Conversations?
At first, I didn’t know what I was creating. But after a few months of examining the problem and testing out some ideas I got clarity about what I wanted to create. I’m pretty organised and process-driven so I knew I could get everything done – the issue was just finding the cheapest way to do it. And ensuring I got enough people interested. A new friend (and mentor) managed to use her contacts to find me a free venue (which was super helpful as I was searching all over the place to try and find one and they all have large minimum spends). My aim was to spend as little as possible to ensure the risk was low. I created the conversation cards myself on MS Word, got them printed in a local printing shop and the original logo was built on Canva.
The other challenge was time – I didn’t have time to create a website so just created a FB page and an eventbrite link, then had this printed on some Visatprint business cards and took them to a tonne of events I went to. The challenge was to get enough people to make it a good evening – so I had to talk about the idea to everyone which felt incredibly daunting but I got a lot of great feedback and excitement and a number of people came to the first event! 10 friends and 10 strangers – ish.
How long were you juggling full time employment before you decided to do Trigger Conversations full time?
I was on a Fixed-Term-Contract until the end of 2016 so knew it would be finishing soon after starting Trigger. My plan was to get another contract but when I got some great feedback and traction at my events in Oct and Nov I thought ‘this actually might be a thing’ and I wanted to create the space in my life to explore and see if I could build it into a business. I had saved most of my income from being a PM and was living at home so that took away the risk. And I thought – the worst thing that can happen is I have to go and get another contract if it doesn’t work. So I decided to leap….
Have you seeked investment for Trigger Conversations or do you plan to?
I thought about raising investment after some encouragement by business-owners however I decided against it for the moment. We have been able to raise finance from the start – through selling event and training tickets and having very low overheads – and I knew that we could continue to generate revenue this way. I also recognised that I liked having the control and freedom that comes when you own something completely. Growing slowly without raising investment is a viable method and a number of business books I read talked about the positives of this approach. I have considered it for the future though as we get bigger and want to spend more on growth to our cities.
Do you have a mentor?
Yes! Many. At the beginning I searched for coaches and mentors that had been recommended on various FB groups I was part of – like ‘Escape the City’ and met with or skyped them all over a 2 week period to see who was a good fit. I found one mentor this way who was also a Brand Consultant and helped me work out what I wanted and the first steps for doing this, in exchange for some payment. Since then I have found mentors everywhere. The books I read were my guides. I found another few at speaking events I shared my story at and at Trigger events – they approached me and wanted to help.
Now I am on the New Entrepreneurs Foundation programme, we have access to a selection of incredible mentors who I have contacted and asked for help. I have also realised that you really don’t need to know someone to ask for help – and most people say yes. Posting questions on Facebook groups and cold emailing people works too. It took me ages to reach out to people because I felt I had nothing to offer. Now I know that people like to help and it’s a very giving community – no one can do it alone. I enjoy helping others too! That is why creating a network and building relationships is so important.
How often do you run Trigger Conversation events?
We now run monthly themed events and conversation workshops every few weeks or months.
Do you have a set event space or do you partner with spaces?
We mostly partner with Work.Life and use their spaces for our events and workshops – I am a member and they are great spaces and run by wonderful people. I used to run events in pubs and at We Work too – as they are free and have the right vibe – but Work.Life works best. The best way to find venues is to look at current similar events online, see where they are run and call the the venues up and ask. I also asked contacts and they suggested places to. Then it was just a case of lots of chasing!
How many people on average attend and how do you ensure you get the numbers?
We have somewhere between 30 and 50 people per event at the moment. Most people find us through word of mouth, which is great, so we haven’t had to market too much. However we do now use a few different channels for brand awareness – Facebook ads, Meetup and Eventbrite. I do a lot of speaking gigs and network too and a lot of people also come after meeting me in person. The key thing is collecting details and following up afterwards with event details.
How do you grow your Trigger Conversations community?
Word of mouth. I was surprised when at the second event we held our numbers more than doubled form 21 to 45 and it was 65 at the third event. Even now when I asked people how they found us it seems it is through a friend or a community they are part of. I think there is a lot of things to be said about doing things well – I really care about details and getting great feedback each event – and people often say how surprised they are that they enjoyed the event. Most come skeptical and leave feeling fulfilled! We are also quite unique – I have not found many organisations who do what we do – so I believe that is also what makes us memorable. The problem is sometimes though because we are quite unique, people often aren’t searching for us – they only find out about us and come through recommendation – so we really have had to rely on word of mouth.
Do you work on Trigger Conversations solely alone or do you have a team?
I now work on Trigger with a team. I am a solo Founder and realised pretty quickly how hard it is to work alone – it can be lonely and it’s just hard working making every decision alone and then having to do everything. I learnt about my weaknesses fast! I trained a number of people to facilitate events with or instead of me in 2017 and then later a couple of creative freelancers helped out with social media, operations and the creative side. Derek was one of the first and is currently still helping out with everything – from designing the questions and logo, our brand to running events – and is a valuable member of TCHQ!
I was surrounded by a wonderful groups of freelancers and people with ‘normal’ jobs who wanted to help out on the side where they could. But I did really want more help because I felt a little overwhelmed and pulled down by myself. In mid 2018 I made the difficult decision to bring someone on board full-time. I had been struggling with marketing and comms for a while – not wanting to do the work – and finding it hard to be happy with anything I created. Olivia had been helping out with running events since meeting me at the third ever event in Jan 17 and had abilities and a passion for brand, PR and comms. She completely got the vision and the philosophy and was able to communicate and shape it in a way that I couldn’t. When she was looking for a new role I decided I really wanted her to work with me on Trigger and persuaded her to come on board. It was a good fit although there was plenty of learning on the jobs for both of us! In order to finance this we had to create and run a training programme, which we piloted in Sep 18 -a good success. I also had some savings left over to cover costs not met by the programme or our B2B events.
Matteo is also another key person in the Trigger Team. Like everyone else, he found me through my events – he kept coming and I decided to find out more about him! With his background in teaching, executive coaching and leadership training, and a passion for psychology, creativity and deep conversations – he was super helpful as a sounding board and for help building the training side of Trigger. Such that he now runs the training programmes we run in the B2B and B2C with me, along with everything else he does.
Everyone who works with me generally found me through attending a Trigger event. They loved the experience and wanted to get involved. After a coffee of two I was able to understand if they were the right fit and what they could contribute. One of my massive lessons so far was the importance of having the right people on board. People who have the right attitude, are keen to learn and shape the business, who get and believe in the vision. You can learn skills along on the way.
Through my network and running events I have met more individuals who ‘get’ Trigger and are coming on board to help with other parts of the business as we leap into the B2B space in 2019.
You run programs for Trigger Conversations. Tell us about the programs and what they entail for those who sign up …
As well as designing label-less spaces for conversation we also teach emotionally-intelligent tools to awaken curious cultures, ignite serendipity and accelerate collaboration and growth. We run an 4-week intensive Transformational Conversations programme (3 days’ face-to-face workshops plus 4 weeks of group and individual coaching) to help individuals develop the tools, mindset and confidence to be able to be their whole self in conversation, connect quickly anywhere and have deep and creative conversations. We’ve brought together an eclectic mix of trainers and teaching from coaching, philosophy, non-violent communication, improvisation and social freedom to achieve this through a mixture of in-person workshops, ‘in field’ training on the streets, life coaching and weekly homework so you can progress 1% every day. Our past graduates have gone onto launch their own businesses, side-hustles, deepen their relationships with family and friends and found fulfillment in their dating lives. Our next programme takes place in early July – with taster workshops in May and June.
What hiccups have you faced along the way through running Trigger Conversations?
There are always so many hiccups in creating and running a business – and they have been great learning opportunities for me.
A few come to mind. First, health and burnout. I have quite an obsessive and driven nature and don’t really enjoy stopping to take time out. When you’re creating your own baby you never really stop thinking about it which means your mind is always ‘on’. In the beginning, when I first went full-time on Trigger, I would wake up feeling either stressed about the work I had to do, the decisions to be made or in existential doubt about what what I was doing. As a solo founder I didn’t have another person to throw ideas on or to pick me up when I went down. Of course I had friends, family and my support network but I felt like I couldn’t rely on the same people each time. Some days I was on fire but then on other days or weeks I felt like I was sinking and I knew it was all in my head. My body was also exhausted. I was craving space and rest and I started to get ill – spending 3 day chunks pretty unconscious and then going again for a few weeks before it happened again. Eventually I started to realise that I just couldn’t sustain this lifestyle and that everything falls to shit when I get ill. So I had to say ‘no’ to a lot more, make time in my diary to do nothing, prioritise sleep and exercise, see my osteopath for a few months to help rebalance my body and forgive myself for having ‘off’ days. You have to have time off from work. To give your body and mind space, to ensure that you’re excited to work and it doesn’t feel like a burden. To give yourself time to come up with new ideas and to simply enjoy other parts of life – relationships, other activities and skills. I started Zouk Dancing in 2017 and quickly became addicted to it. It has been a great off-switch for me, and way to express myself in a different medium. Next, I need to work on giving myself proper weekends and evenings off so I feel fully energised in the weekdays to give it my all.
Other hiccups include not knowing what the organisation actually is or represents – we felt a little lost and because we couldn’t define who we were it made making decisions really hard. We spent a good 6 months having conversations about our brand and it’s taking us ages to realise we are not just about conversation. That conversation is our tool to being human, to being creative and to connection. Lesson learnt – defining a brand is super important but it doesn’t happen overnight.
What 3 pieces of advice would you give to others looking to set up something that relies on community?
Spreading the Word Starts With You. People didn’t attend Trigger in the beginning because they found it online. Almost everyone came because they were invited by me or by someone who had come. You have to talk about what you’re building and ask people to come. It can feel daunting and it is but it is the only way to spread the word in the beginning.
People want to experience and feel something. Community needs to make people feel good and needs to tap into their emotional narratives and paradigms about the world. Share your story when you talk about what you’re doing – the why. When I talk about Trigger to new people I don’t say what we do, I say why I started it – because I wasn’t defined by my job and yet every conversation was about work. This is an experience most people have felt and can relate to.
Community needs to be about something. Something to find a common purpose around. And it need to be specific – find your Minimum Viable Market who sees the world in a particular way and want change. Everyone seeks community but they seek it with people who are like them. Anything you create needs to be for someone, and not for everyone.
What is your biggest outgoing in running Trigger Conversations?
The biggest outgoing is people costs, by far. Everything we do is lean and doesn’t require much to run.
What has been your biggest learning, in running Trigger Conversations?
Keep you feet on the ground and your head in the sky.
You need to both take small steps forward to execute but you need to be able to have a big vision for where you’re going.
What exciting things are next for Trigger Conversations this year?
Last year (2018) was a lot of experimenting with and testing new offerings – our training workshops and programmes for B2C and B2B events for organisations and conferences. We know how well these work and how much of an impact we can make – 2019 is therefore about hitting the B2B sector and demonstrating how important it is to have a human culture, powered through conversation, for innovation, happiness and collaboration in the workplace.
We are continuing to run our public events each month – with a different theme – and our training programmes – both 8 week long programmes and a 3 day intensive too.
What has been your best moment so far as a result of setting up Trigger Conversations?
Before I started Trigger – years ago in fact – I knew I wanted to speak at TED. I had no idea what it would be about but I knew I wanted to share something with an audience like this. Last year I decided I was finally ready to apply, ready to think I had something important to say, and I was fortunate to be accepted to speak at TEDx Goodenough College. It was exciting, it was daunting, it took so much work to prepare (crafting and re-editing and then learning a speech is such an iterative process). I remember feeling excited but nervous when I was about to walk on the stage to a crowd of 150ish. On that stage I felt alive and I felt present and pretty comfortable with my material so it went well and I received good feedback. Post event I was exhausted and it felt a little anticlimactic. It wasn’t until the video went live, on my birthday in August, that I started to feel proud. Proud of the talk and also proud of what I had achieved with Trigger. I’ve found it hard to own success growing a company because it never felt good enough but this moment helped remind me of what we had achieved. Looking through our statistics and talking about the TEDx made me realise one of my dreams had happened, and that it was possible. Of course, I now need to make the real TED!
What’s the dream?
Changing the way we think about conversation – at home, with friends, with strangers, at work and in our communities. I feel like it is such an incredible potential for changing the way we see the world – for new creative ideas and perspectives, for authentic and meaningful connections and for accessing new serendipitous opportunities but we just don’t tap into this. I want to change this!
Just for fun
In your twenties the three things I tend to think about are… Learning Through Experience and Exploration, Building Good Habits (Exercise, Health etc). Friends and Community.
3 startups with founders Under 30 I admire are…
Pip and Nut, The Lions Club and Go Sweat
The Twenty Mile Club is…. Inspiring – a reminder to go and do something different and live your dreams!
Find Trigger Conversations on their website here
Find Georgie’s personal website here
Watch Georgie’s TED talk here