It is 18 months since we introduced the world to the new Letts Group and its branded incubator approach, which we have been developing behind the scenes for quite a while. We are passionate about the intersection between technology, media and creativity. Our incubator, and the group in general, is currently focused on Web3, Media-as-a-Service, NFT, payment systems, cryptocurrency, art commerce, AI and climate tech. 

We believe that we have truly redefined the concept of corporate incubator, which our founder John Letts discovered in 1796, prior to inventing the commercial diary. And in 2021 we made progress on a number of different fronts.

In June we launched a digital greentech venture called Letts Safari in private beta. The beta proved successful and was 300% over-subscribed. We are now fully live and scaling our approach to online crowd rewilding. 

We also established the Letts Journal, a first step in our news media strategy. Behind the scenes we are developing a fully automated, AI driven news network and Media-as-a-Service (MaaS).

We are about to launch an art commerce platform called LettsArt in private beta, making it the first secure NFT enabled artist website platform. LettsArt is a Web3 venture which is building a future where creators can flourish by selling their art directly to collectors, disrupting the inefficient existing art market – for artists, photographers, filmmakers and designers. The latest Letts venture is timely given the creator economy and has a very scalable model.

LettsArt has developed a proprietary technology platform that enables creators to set up an online gallery in minutes and sell their art directly to their supporters with an automated payment system that takes cash and cryptocurrency, plus NFT minting. At the same time, collectors will gain direct access to artist sales and a transparent, data-driven art marketplace. LettsArt goes into private beta with invite-only creators in March.

Letts Group has an experienced team in place, with a number of new additions, and will be looking to scale our current ventures, continue to incubate new ideas and approaches, and start the journey to establishing a partner programme – to begin to welcome external innovators with their exciting ideas and concepts. 

We are passionate about working to create a brighter future and developing our unique branded incubator approach. If you would like to find out more about us go to Letts.group.

This year is the 225th anniversary of Letts. We are celebrating this extraordinary milestone with a series of articles (and events) – from the early years right up to today. The fourth article looks at the transition to the fifth and sixth generation of the family business – run by Leslie and Anthony Letts.

It was not until the 20th century that a certain dynamism becomes apparent in the diary products, reflecting underlying changes in demand which took the diary from a conventional but restricted market of a few hundred thousand to the mass consumer product of today. This rapid growth in demand, no doubt partly stimulated by Letts, was matched by a growth in the business which developed from a small family partnership at the run of the 1900’s to the worlds leading diary publishing business later in the century employing nearly 700 people and producing around 20 million diaries a year. The only aspect that had not changed was the family link, with the fifth and sixth generation in control.

Anthony Letts, the 6th generation of the diary family

The main spur of growth came as a result of the development of the pocket diary, which, being an article of personal attire rather than a desk-bound product, responded more quickly to changes in taste. The first development could be seen in the 1890’s, when thumb-size diaries were produced, no doubt in response to the late Victorian love of miniatures. These diaries were novelties rather than serious products. Then, in the early part of the twentieth century, the specialist diary, catering for specific interests, indicated a move to increase the market by segmentation. This was shortly followed by the first diaries designed as corporate gifts, and it was this sector of the market that grew to dominate demand in most developed countries later in the 1900’s.

The pocket diary dominated in the first half of the 1900’s

These new uses for the diary stimulated a greater responsiveness to the changing requirements of the consumer. Internal layouts became more formalised, underlying the future-planning aspects of modern diary-keeping, while the binding and general design of the diaries reflected current tastes. Patriotism during the World Wars, the delicate fashion of the 1920’s and the very distinctive tastes fashioned during the eruption of youth in the 1960’s and 1970’s are all very apparent in the diary designs of those periods.

The 1970’s introduced a more international approach to the market, for Letts dairies were no longer confined mainly to the United Kingdom. Traditionally sold within the Commonwealth, other markets were now penetrated so that Letts diaries were sold to most of the main markets in the world. The most significant development having been made in North America, where sales grew from 100,000 dollars in the late-1970’s to 10 million dollars and where Letts was the leading brand-name for quality diaries by the 1990’s.

The need to appeal to a more sophisticated and international demand helped to raise the profile of the diary as a consumer product and this was very apparent in the ranges published in the 1980’s and 1990’s. The influence of fashion and the need to compete for space in retail outlets which themselves became increasingly conscious of design, became modern social trends which manifested themselves quite clearly in late century design of diaries. Just as an individual diary when written up in the traditional way provides a window on one small element in society at the time, so a range of diaries for a given year reflected some of the tastes and habits of contemporary society.

Letts Diaries ended up buying Filofax

Letts invented the loose leaf diary, only to watch Filofax dominate the market. In the end Letts Diaries acquired Filofax – a nod to the growing importance of this new category.

What of the future? Will digital diaries take over diary-keeping entirely? Over time, they will to a certain extent, even though paper based diary products sell in very large volumes. And though electronic devices are made to plan time and store information, they struggle to replace fully the real purpose of a diary. After all, the diary is a personal friend, to whom one entrusts details of ones appointments and aspirations, and in whom one confides ones most intimate thoughts.

You could argue that it was this thinking that led the Letts family to sell the majority of the diary business in the late 1990’s, when arguably the paper based diary market was at its peak. And through the turn of the century the family divested most of their paper based products. Following the millennium change the Letts family’s focus on the diary gradually drew to a close as they started to turn their attention to future Letts family ventures and investments, focused around the digital revolution. 

Philip Letts is the 7th generation of the eponymous diary family and Chairman of the new Letts Group

And so began the generational handover from Anthony Letts, the 6th generation of the eponymous diary family, to Philip Letts, the 7th generation of Letts and the current leader of the family’s commercial activities.

In the last anniversary article about the history of the eponymous Letts diary family, we will look at the transition to the new, twenty first century Letts Group, led by Philip Letts, who alongside Anthony, is nurturing the 8th generation of this historic publishing family.

We are excited to launch the Letts Journal – a free, weekly publication that talks straight about business, climate and life. The Letts Journal is the latest Letts Group venture, from the family that invented the commercial diary over 200 years ago. It is the first step in our news media strategy.


Along with its main section, the Letts Journal has channels which include ‘Surviving’, ‘Liberty Shrugged’ and ‘Photo Synthesis’, providing future trends, political satire and photo cartoons. We’ll add more as the publication develop.

The Letts ushered in diary keeping, journaling and personal media. For a long time the Letts family have been innovating with new media products and dreaming of a time when news reporting would become more democratic and independent.

This year is the 225th anniversary of Letts. We believe it is the right time to launch a news publication with a difference.

News gathering is getting increasingly commoditised. User generated news is the future. We think there is a need for a new kind of digital publication that focuses on news commentary and insights. One that keeps busy readers informed AND entertained.

We take a view and we keep it short. Who’s got time for more?

News publications have become increasingly dry and jargonistic. We want to make reading the news easy and fun again.

The Letts Journal is about commentary, conversation and a more open and inclusive approach.

Straight from the hip… with a sprinkling of tongue in cheek.

This year is the 225th anniversary of Letts. We are celebrating this extraordinary milestone with a series of articles (and events) – from the early years right up to today. The third article looks at the transition to the third and fourth generation of the family business – run by Charles Letts.

A miniature tortoise shell Letts diary – 1940

In the 1870’s Thomas Letts, who had now been joined in the publishing business by his son Charles, took advantage of recent changes in company law to convert the business to a limited liability company. At the same time new capital was introduced to help finance the expanding business, and non-family directors became involved.

This, and the more academic nature of Charles, led to tensions between the family and non-family directors which culminated in Charles leaving the company in 1881 to set up on his own and thus create the business which developed into the 21st century diary publishing business bearing his name.

Thus two competing brands of Letts diaries were published until 1945, when Charles Letts & Co Ltd re-acquired the copyright of the original business founded by John Letts.

Charles Letts was not as innovative as his his father or grandfather. The diary and stationery products changed little during his time.

To set up on his own was a brave step for a man of forty-two with a growing family, and the first years of developing his own business were an uphill struggle. Charles was a scholarly man, author of an excellent essay on Celebrated Diarists, and the business only developed slowly under his control. It was not until his two sons, Harry and Norman, joined him that real signs of growth and prosperity were apparent. Harry, in particular, displayed many of the characteristics of his grandfather, Thomas, and he was mainly responsible for developing the business from one publishing a few hundred thousand diaries per annum at the turn of the century to a circulation of 2.7 million at the time of his retirement in 1932.

The fluctuations in the fortunes of the business were not reflected in the product. If you compare a diary produced in the early part of the century with a similar model at its end, what is apparent is the slow pace of change, no doubt reflecting the gradual maturing of the product and a more stable and conservative society. Designs and formats developed almost imperceptibly, while the information alone became more detailed and comprehensive. Even prices remained stable, with the 1856 and 1894 editions of the same model retailing at an unchanged shilling.

One innovation which occurred in the 1860’s was the introduction of advertising in the diaries which, no doubt, allowed for a better value to be provided at the same price. It was not until the twentieth century that a certain dynamism becomes apparent in the product, reflecting underlying changes in demand which took the diary from a conventional but restricted market of a few hundred thousand to the mass consumer product of today.

In the last of our anniversary articles about the past history of the eponymous Letts diary family, we will look at the development of the Letts Diary business in the twentieth century and the gradual transition, by the Letts family, to the new, twenty first century Letts Group.

The family that invented the commercial diary 200 years ago have launched an ambitious new greentech venture called Letts Safari. Letts Safari was created to expedite the move to ‘renewable nature’, obtained through nature regeneration and surface-based carbon capture.

Bird of prey hunting at Letts Safari’s first safari park

Letts Safari harnesses the energy of the environmental movement and gives those involved actions to take beyond protest. It enables all people to do something about climate change. Members subscribe to a digital platform at LettsSafari.com that builds next generation safari parks – one tree, one animal, one new park at a time. Every 10 subscribers they plant a tree a year, every 100 subscribers they release a wild animal, and every 10,000 subscribers they will create a new, real-world safari park a year. Their first safari park is up and running in southwest England.

The Letts remind us of the threat of climate change. They explain that our soil and waterways are so damaged that they’re no longer able to absorb the carbon we produce. As a result emissions are trapped in the atmosphere creating pollution, violent storms, droughts, flooding and wildfire. We’re losing wildlife and plants faster than ever before.

Our first safari park is at Mamhead Park South. The next one is up to you.

Letts Safari offers a simple solution. They build rewilding safari parks that do something about climate change. The parks rapidly repair soil and waterways so they can absorb carbon dioxide, and ensure that trees and plants thrive naturally, providing habitats for wildlife.

When you subscribe to Letts Safari they plant trees, release wildlife and build new habitats. Each tree they plant removes 1 tonne of carbon dioxide during its life. They also remove carbon with scrub, wild grasses, wetland and bog.

Once they get enough subscribers they will create more eco safari parks – with their members – to make a bigger difference. Hopefully along the way members will get inspired to build a mini wildlife haven in their backyard, at work, school and in their community. They’ll share the secret source.

Land holders with 50+ acre parks can apply to join the Letts Safari network of parks. Approved parks will receive support and guidance from Letts Safari and its members. 

Subscribers to Letts Safari get a front row seat at the safari parks. With video footage, hidden cameras, wildlife photography and stories that transport them to the wild – online.

Specialist herbivores drive the forces of habitat regeneration

The Letts accidentally discovered rewilding in 2006 when they decided to create a small, wild space outside New York. They built an ecosystem of wild grasses, wildflower, shrub, scrub and trees on just a few acres. Before they knew it the wildlife started arriving. First insects, bugs and snakes. Then birds and mammals. A wasteland turned into a wildlife haven in just a couple of years.

They decided to do it again in a larger space. In 2014 they bought an old, run down 100 acre park and garden on the outskirts of Exeter, in the southwest of England. It was a mess. Today it’s a leading rewilding wildlife park. They created Letts Safari so they can share this fascinating new approach to ‘renewable nature’ and build many more safari parks. What they accidentally discovered back in 2006 is today called smaller-scale rewilding. If enough of us do enough of it, we can help fix the climate problem.

It looks like a fascinating new greentech offering – providing a mass market approach to rewilding with a digital, subscription economy wrapper. It could prove a timely new way for us to offset carbon and restore nature, while reducing emissions and rebuilding biodiversity. It’s well worth taking a look at.

Rewilding could be one the most holistic and natural solutions to the climate crisis. Large national parks started the practice nearly thirty years ago in places like Yellowstone Park in America. Large scale projects are focused on wildlife conservation and reintroduction through natural, wild habitat regeneration.

Rewilding solves three key problems at once. It restores our soil so that it can become an effective carbon sink, it develops habitats which support wildlife and it helps regenerate natural plant growth. Each are critical ingredients to saving the planet from the effects of global warming. If we get it right, our soil alone should be able to absorb the majority of carbon emissions that we produce each year.

Rewilding is about creating the right balance of three essential habitats: woodland, open scrub and wild grassland. Smaller-scale rewilding also involves the creation of a fourth, which is waterways. Larger-scale rewilding assumes that there will be natural waterways flowing through the land. With smaller-scale rewilding this often has to be created.

Up until recently rewilding has been the sole preserve of national parks and a few large farms. They have proven the model and provided some of the approaches for how to make conservation-based rewilding work. But it needed something else to deliver climate-fixing rewilding at scale.

“A few years ago a Letts Group project started playing with an idea which could end up cracking the code for scalable, mass market solutions to the climate crisis. It is called smaller-scale rewilding.”

We accidentally discovered rewilding in 2005 when we decided to create a small, wild space outside New York for a specific project. We built an ecosystem of wild grasses, wildflower, shrub, scrub and trees on just a few acres. Before we knew it the wildlife started arriving. First insects, bugs and snakes. Then birds and mammals. A wasteland turned into a wildlife haven in just a couple of years.

We decided to do it again in a larger space. In 2014 we bought an old, run down 100 acre park and garden, called Mamhead Park South, on the outskirts of Exeter in the southwest of England. It was a mess. It has become a leading smaller-scale rewilding park.

Smaller-scale rewilding has become an accepted practice and it is classified as a rewilding project smaller than 250 acres. Over the last few years Letts Group have taken it a step further and defined a number of practical and distinct models from garden-scale rewilding through to 250 acre projects.

Smaller-scale rewilding is more involved, more technical and much more scalable. It is also focused on solving the climate crisis and not just limited to certain objectives around conservation. Smaller-scale rewilders make green spaces that are effective carbon sinks and oases of low carbon energy and natural food production. Their spaces also accelerate natural plant growth in a more controlled environment while nurturing habitats for wildlife.

Letts have for years been practising what it is now called ‘Wildlife Gardening’ – a trendy new gardening method for rewilding your garden. But we have also developed practical models for rewilding verges, allotments, commons, parks, smallholdings and corners of farms and estates. 

If you tour the towns and countryside in southwest England you can already see a number of the approaches developed and showcased at Mamhead Park South appearing in the region. Clearly something is catching on. Indeed, Letts Group regularly host and educate government and business leaders, environmental experts, landscapers, conservationists and land holders committed to a more regenerative form of farming. We have also established a private sculpture park, called Devon Sculpture Park, which is solely focused on environmental art to extend the climate message.

If smaller-scale rewilding can become a wider movement for change then perhaps there is a glimmer of hope in the battle against climate change. After all, we estimate that there are over a billion gardens worldwide, more than 250 million smallholdings, and millions of smaller farms and parks. Imagine if they were at least part-rewilded.

Wildlife gardening is rewriting the book on how to garden, turning gardens into mini carbon sinks that support insects, birds and small mammals while advancing regenerative plant growth. Wildlife gardening practices zero watering techniques, zero chemical or pesticide approaches and zero use of petrol guzzling tools, making the new crop of electric tools truly du jour. All plants are left to seed and pruning techniques could not be more different. Wildlife gardens use outdoor lights that are solar powered.

oznor

Garden rewilding recreates small woodland with just a few trees, shrubs are carefully selected as proxies for scrub and wild grasses abound. Plants are generally chosen for their year round ability to support pollinators. And each plant is left to seed. We have established a three-tier waterway system which effortlessly links a pond to a bog garden and on to surface water over grasses which creates wetland. The insects and birds love it.

Letts Group has effectively miniaturised large-scale rewilding and repurposed it for mass market adoption – making it effective and understandable for everyone. We can all become a rewilding expert, no matter whether you have a small terrace garden, a roof garden, cottage garden or more. We will soon be launching a new Letts branded venture focused on delivering mass market adoption.

The Letts constantly remind us that in your garden you are the herbivore and herbivores are vital to managing projects that are larger than a garden or smallholding. When you walk across the Wildlands at Mamhead Park South you understand why. The extraordinary selection of conservation grazers that are unique to smaller-scale rewilding help maintain and shape the habitats keeping scrub as scrub, woodlands as healthy woodlands (where you can practice silvopasture techniques) and open grassland free of invasive species, scrub or tree shoots.

You can’t exactly reintroduce the bison, the wolf or a red deer into smaller-scale rewilding so at Mamhead Park you get to see what does work. The grazers are smaller and lighter with a reduced footprint, but no less wild and effective than their larger proxies. We even help to mathematically understand how many of these conservation grazers can be hosted per acre.

Smaller-scale rewilding is an eye opener and you are left with a profound sense of hope. We no longer need to wonder what we can do about the climate crisis. We don’t need to wait for the government or super-rich to act. Any of us can become a rewilding expert and planet saver. Greta Thunberg might soon be telling us about how she has rewilded her school yard!

Corporate incubators have been all the rage. Around 10 years ago, a number of corporates started to set up some kind of corporate incubator or accelerator to nurture new business lines and innovative products. They had a limited vision of ‘incubator’ – generally designed to host new startups within their facilities. They offered them resources, support and, as they matured, market access.

10 years later many of these corporates have scaled down their efforts or largely abandoned them. Corporate incubator 1.0 did not realise its somewhat loose ambition. A number of the more innovative corporates and a few management consultants are working on the next generation of corporate incubator. 

Letts Group has taken a different approach. Our incubator is an internal function that is central to the organisation. It is our growth engine – period.

“We see our incubator as a strategic, internal, centralised function. We have repositioned the group as a ‘branded incubator group’ to underscore this. We don’t just make small bets on our incubator or outsource it’s core capability. We’ve bet the entire shop on our incubator. It is our core capability.”

The concept of incubator has been with us for 225 years. In 1996, our original founder, John Letts opened a stationery shop and publishing incubator in the city of London. The front rooms the shop and the back rooms the incubator studio. From this setup he launched the world’s first commercial diary in 1812. It was market tested exclusively in the store and designed and made in the back rooms. 

Letts Group’s Chairman, Philip Letts, started to develop the latest generation incubator in 1998. It was a separate entity, called Prophete, that nurtured external, non-branded innovations. It developed concepts such as Beenz, the Web currency, and Surfkitchen, a mobile operating system and media platform. It was an important parallel initiative as we started the process of divesting some of our book publishing interests. 

In 2007 we further developed Letts Group’s latest generation incubator, after initial successes. We built a proprietary incubation methodology, which is called [email protected]™, and we designed our first incubator studio with a clutch of then, very new, cloud systems and processes. From this base we launched b-uncut, a social network for artists and blur Group, an online marketplace for creative services. Both were successfully spun out and became independent businesses.

It took much of the last 10 years to perfect the methodology, systems and processes to get to the point where we felt comfortable that our incubator was ready to develop multiple Letts branded businesses and products from scratch – and in parallel.

At the end of 2020 we gave the go ahead for 3 new Letts branded ventures to go to ‘live concept phase’. The tech industry would call it ‘beta launch’. The first hits the market in June. We have engineered the group, and developed the incubator, to the point where we feel comfortable that we will be launching a new Letts venture per year, starting this year.

It’s taken us 20 years to get to this point but we believe that we might have a line on corporate incubator 2.0. The proof will be in the pudding – starting next month!

This year we celebrate the 225th anniversary of Letts. We will mark this extraordinary milestone with a series of articles and events – from the early years right up to today. The second article looks at the transition to the second generation of the family business – run by Thomas Letts.

The fortunes of a business tend to fluctuate with each successive generation of a family. John Letts, our founder, was succeeded by his son, Thomas Letts, the second generation of the Letts family business. Thomas took control in the 1830’s, provided a degree of enterprise and acumen less apparent in his one-time apprentice-bookbinder father.

Thomas diversified the business into maps and a wide range of stationery products and, in the 1850’s, extended the sale of diaries to overseas markets in response to the demand from Britain’s rapidly-growing Empire.

Then, in February 1858, a wonderful exchange of letters between Thomas and Dr David Livingstone, in which Thomas offers a free supply of diaries for life to the famous African explorer and missionary, marks what must have been one of the earliest examples of corporate sponsorship.

Thomas’s foresight in this gesture must have been repaid many times over in that Livingstone kept a detailed and poignant record of his travels in Letts diaries to the day of his death and thus provided one of the best examples of diary-keeping.

In the 1870’s Thomas, who had now been joined in the media business by his son Charles, took advantage of recent changes in company law to convert the business to a limited liability company. At the same time new capital was introduced to help finance the expanding business, and non-family directors became involved.

This, and the more academic nature of Charles, led to tensions between the family and non-family directors which culminated in Charles leaving the company in 1881 to set up on his own and thus create the business which developed into the 21st century diary publishing business bearing his name.

Thus two competing brands of Letts diaries were published until 1945, when Charles Letts & Co Ltd re-acquired the copyright of the original business founded by John Letts.

Letts Media publication ‘Surviving’ outlines a possible roadmap to reduce global warming – for Earth Day. 

We should all understand the challenge by now. If we don’t keep global warming to 2 degrees above pre-industrial levels we risk an irreversible climate crisis.

“There are two ends of the problem that need to be addressed. We need to both reduce emissions and get better at capturing and storing carbon in the right places, rather than letting it escape into the atmosphere which adds to the heating problem.”

From ‘Surviving’

The article goes on to look at 5 macro-level solutions to the crisis that are proven, deliverable in the shorter term and internationally relevant. As we celebrate Earth Day 2021 it is important to not just focus on the risks that climate change presents – but to highlight the advances and approaches that can start to solve the problem.

“We have boiled it down to just 5 macro-solutions to the problem that combined should get us there – they include renewables, electrification, replacements, rewilding and lifestyle.” 

EXTRACT FROM LETTS MEDIA’S ‘SURVIVING’

Letts Media publication ‘Surviving’ is about navigating business, innovation and life. It is edited by Philip Letts who is supported by some amazing analysts and researchers at the Surviving thinktank.

This year we celebrate the 225th anniversary of Letts. We will mark this extraordinary milestone with a series of articles and events – from the early years right up to today. The first article examines the founding of the original diary business by John Letts. 

John Letts founded the business 225 years ago, in 1796, when he opened a stationery shop in the City of London. The first of our commemorative articles will look at how we invented the commercial diary and our approach to developing new products.

John Letts invented the world’s first commercial diary in 1812. It was an innovation in that it was future-focused and not designed simply to record past events. It was also a commercial product responding to the growing trade in the City of London. Moreover, the 1812 edition is interesting in that it is quite clearly testing this market. It is a single gathering of 104 pages, stitched into marbled paper wrappers. It simply prints the dates of a six-day working week from Monday to Saturday with no information other than the public holidays as they fall. The product is branded by a printed label on the front cover.

That this test was successful is demonstrated by the rapid sophistication of the product both in content and presentation, and by the early 1820’s a range of diaries providing different sizes and formats was published. They were a most effective combination of the old and new, incorporating between one set of covers the detailed information, governmental, legal, commercial and astronomical, of the long-established almanac, substituting for the plain notebook often sold in conjunction with it the printed format of the diary or bills due book.

The diary soon established itself as an essential feature of commercial life, unaffected by the slump which followed the boom years of the Napoleonic wars. It was given a further boost by the publication of the works of two major diarists – John Evelyn in 1818 and Samuel Pepys in 1825. These publications created a literary interest in diary-keeping and and no doubt stimulated demand for the new product in its more traditional role.

John Letts demonstrated a keen ability to read the market in his popular stationery shop while developing products in the back room. He located himself at the heart of things in the bustling City of London, and his early products were clearly aimed at the traders and financiers that surrounded him. He developed an effective process for testing new concepts and ideas which today is at the heart of Letts Group’s modern day incubator.

Letts Incubate may be a little more sophisticated and high-tech these days but the core principles remain the same. Indeed, we are currently testing three of our latest projects with paying customers in the live environment – just as John Letts launched his first ‘concept’ diary in 1812.