We caught up with Rhoda Meek, founder of Isle20 to talk all things, from the importance of supporting small businesses, to her upcoming projects designed to help people shop local…
Tell us about Isle20
Isle20 is an online business directory and marketplace for small businesses in the Scottish islands. It lists almost 500 small producers and has over 1000 unique products and gifts for sale, each of them from folks living and working in the islands.
How did you come up with the idea for the company?
Just before the pandemic arrived I had left a contract with an American tech firm where I was a Product Manager. I planned to take a break and set up a wee tea label called Tiree Tea. Tourists would be my first customers. I live in the Scottish islands and it soon became obvious that there would be very little tourist footfall. I have the skills to try and up my online game, but I knew many didn’t, and then I got thinking. Back in the late 90s when I was discovering the internet and starting to build pages, there were lots of niche directory sites and interest groups supported members by collaborating and sending traffic to each other.
So I dusted off my web hosting, re-acquainted myself with the ins and outs of WordPress and got going. 8 hours later, I sent a tweet out on my personal account asking for small island businesses to try signing up for a free listing – after all, if I was going to create a directory, I needed some listings that weren’t just my tea. And from a Product Management perspective, I needed to see what the uptake was, even at that early stage. If no-one was interested, then further work would be a waste of time.
For once, my timing was spot on. Businesses started signing up, the tweet got shared, and word of mouth got on the move. There’s a lot of love out there for the Scottish islands!
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How has the need for Isle20 evolved during the pandemic?
It became clear as lockdown started to bite that a lot of the businesses who rely on tourist footfall or who stocked local shops didn’t always have the means to take online payments – they hadn’t needed to up to that point. To set up websites for all these folk would have meant a lot of time on my part, and outlay on theirs, so I built an online marketplace and onboarded everyone personally! It has filled up with really great products – perfect for finding unique gifts, and supporting micro businesses at the same time.
Isle20 has continued to evolve – as we opened back up to tourists in July there was a need to make food ordering easier in the islands, and help visitors buy local, so I piloted a new project – isleEats, and in turn that made me realise that there are loads of cool wee projects we could and should be trying to do to build stronger island economies. So I incorporated as a community interest company – Isle Develop CIC.
What can we hope to see from Isle20 in the future?
It’s hard to believe that it’s only been around a few months to be honest! I think there is huge potential to grow isle20 to sell island products year-round – especially in the run-up to the festive season. There’s huge potential when it comes to encouraging visitors to eat local and support great producers. I’m also really excited about future projects under the Isle Develop banner. I’m hoping we’ll have a few more new initiatives in the next few months. Watch this space – from software projects to packaged goods, we’re up for the challenge!