Letts Group’s Incubator

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 Innov@te™, 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!

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Letts Media Publication Examines Solutions to the Climate Change Crisis for Earth Day

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.

To read this and other articles go to Surviving.


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225 Years of Letts – The Early Years

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.


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Art Exhibition Review – Artemisia Gentileschi

Artemisia Gentileschi at the National Gallery.

The National Gallery has opened an exhibition of Artemisia Gentileschi in their more prestigious Exhibition Rooms in the Sainsbury Wings which must be seen and remains the talk of the town. This is unusual because – as one of the first female Artists from the beginning of the Renaissance to the 17C AD –  famous in her lifetime as we read in the contemporary writings – she was hardly known from the 18th century onwards. What prompted her present discovery?

Hardly discussed by the Curators of the present Exhibition which just presents her as one of the greatest baroque European artists ??? – contemporary of Caravaggio, Rubens, Rembrandt, Annibale Carracci, Guercino etc – is not credible; but she is a good and interesting artist to be seen in context. This is what makes her particularly interesting.

A programme shown on Monday 26 October at 9 pm on BBC Four “Michael Palin’s Quest for Artemisia” is well worth listening and looking at –  it was for me a masterpiece which sets the record – and what a record – straight! It can be seen on the BBC iPlayer for the next month.

A girl brought up in Rome – 1593 -1656? – Naples – daughter of Orazio Gentileschi an early Baroque artist – orphaned by her Mother aged 12, had to run the house in which they lived with her three younger brothers. By the age of 15 Orazio started teaching her also to paint since she was the most endowed of the 4 children and by 1610 – aged 17 – she painted a most telling picture:

‘Susannah and the Elders”, oil on canvas, signed and dated, Art Gallery of Pommersfelden.

What sadly made her famous was the fact that a few months later a new painter associated to Orazio’s Workshop, Agostino Tassi, raped her in her Father’s House above the studio – ruining her possibility of a proper life since, having promised it, he could not marry her: he was already married. When the father learnt about the rape he decided to go public and started a legal case against Agostino which they won. It sounds like a real thriller well worth following!

I recommend visiting the exhibition and from time to time I will present one of Artemisia’s paintings and discuss it!

This is the first of a new series of exhibition reviews for Letts Art by Rosa Maria Letts.


Keep up to date with the latest Letts Group news – follow us on twitter @LettsGroup.

Letts Media Publication Examines Rewilding in London

Letts Media publication DSP Online is currently running a series on rewilding in London.

When we think of rewilding, too often we imagine vast wilderness or national park’s such as Yellowstone Park. Less known, but potentially as impactful, is smaller-scale rewilding which yields similar benefits in smaller green spaces in cities and the countryside.”

Sebastian Letts

This series is timely given that researchers and scientists have recently stated that we could reverse much of the damage of global warming by rewilding around 15% of key lands. A study in the Journal of Nature has shown that by doing this we could avoid 60% of expected wildlife extinctions while sequestering 30% of the CO2 increase in the atmosphere since the industrial revolution.

To achieve wider rewilding targets we will need to develop rewilding techniques for urban and rural settings. One of Letts Environment’s rewilding experts is producing a series of reports which looks at approaches that could be taken in smaller, well known public spaces in London.

Rewilding such spaces would enable them to absorb the cities emissions while creating habitats which support wildlife. It would also educate Londoners about the importance of rewilding and hopefully inspire them to rewild their gardens.”

DSP Online

Rewilding could prove to be the most cost effective and holistic approach to reversing the damaging effects of climate change by absorbing emissions back into the soil while restoring and rebuilding wildlife populations. We have lost 68% of our animals worldwide in the last 50 years.

DSP Online is the leading publication for people who want to understand the affects of climate change and the growing array of solutions. It also examines eco-futures, research, findings and the environmental arts.

By subscribing to DSP Online you also get to support one of the worlds leading centres for smaller-scale rewilding based in southwest England.

If you want to understand more about climate change and the range of solutions being developed, subscribe to Letts Media publication DSP Online today – CLICK HERE.


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Eco Change Management

Is this the new direction for corporate board rooms?

We have all heard the term, the new norm, enough times to give us the shakes. We understand that things are different and that we need to adapt. But adapt how? If the landscape has changed so much how do we best navigate it?

Corporate board rooms around the world will be ringing with such questions. Managers have been playing defense most of this year. Now that their employees are back to work, whether they are working from home or at the office, managers will need to paint a new direction.

Your colleagues need inspiring leadership like never before. They seek clear direction with a concise, data driven analysis of how things have changed on the ground for the industry and for their company. They will hope for a new path forward.

So what’s new?

Well, of course, there is that elephant in the room which changes everything. Coronavirus has affected all our lives. The data, analysis and trends from this year are fundamentally different to anything seen in modern times. The world has altered course.

The pandemic has made us feel insecure and vulnerable. We realise for the first time in a long time that we are truly at risk. Our future might not seem as assured as it felt before. And if the elephant in the room is Covid-19 then the dinosaur in the room is climate change. Fix climate change and we might see fewer pandemics. Fix climate change and we might still be here in a hundred years time.

Climate change is the issue of our time. It will likely affect consumer behaviour more than any other issue. It might prove to be the constant backdrop to our future. The ultimate macro event. And as the Internet has changed society and business over the last 30 years, global warming will do the same over the next 30 years. This time though, there is so much more at stake.

Progressive businesses will want to steal a march and drive change in their business toward this new reality. To an eco change management programme.

This, was the challenge that the Surviving think tank set the Letts Group more than a decade ago. Over the years we have helped them to journey from awareness to analysis to action. Action has ultimately proven quite profound and far reaching. So much so that they developed a third area of business for the group focused on environmental solutions.

Looking back, it is clear that together we have undergone an informal, experimental eco change management process. We started with a simple desire to understand the implications of climate change on the business. Somewhere along the road we collectively decided to become eco-leaders in our sectors and through our products and services. We believed that our customers, employees and partners would share the same concern for societal wellbeing and the protection of the planet.

At the outset we read and watched as much as we could to learn about the climate crisis and to attempt to understand the science. We talked to those steeped in developing the early environmental solutions from a wide spectrum of sources including technology, energy, media, fashion, the arts, agriculture, wildlife, foods, transport, travel and more. It was amazing how much was going on at the grass roots level.

We started to map out a plan for how the business could follow some of the higher impact disciplines we researched so that they could get some early wins and become more eco friendly. Today it has developed into a 10 point plan that a wide range of businesses and eco warriors are in various stages of absorbing and adopting.

The Letts Group has ended up putting ‘eco’ into all of its offerings and business lines. The digital media products are skewed towards environmental issues and trends. The group is on a path to become a leader in environmental arts and has set up a whole new division focused on natural solutions to the climate crisis. We worked together to open a centre of excellence for the business and its partners which practices what we preach. It is an eco-learning centre for the Letts Group, partner companies and other worthwhile organisations.

It has been an amazing journey for the experts at Surviving’s think tank and it has been a pleasure watching the Letts Group and its partners embrace this grand safari into the new world. One that we feel we have traveled just far enough to be able to share.

More recently we have nudged the group to a next point of arrival with its all new, eco-friendly group positioning, website and a strap line ‘a brighter future’ that we think says it all.

In the mean time and in response to our partner companies questions about how to begin an organisational eco journey we have a simple answer – get in touch.

We would be happy to nudge you in the right direction. It has and continues to be the ride of our lives.

It might not be very long before your most valuable customers decide that they only want to buy from an environmentally responsible and environmentally active business. Don’t get left behind.

This article first appeared at the Letts Media publication Surviving.


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Letts Group’s Incubator History and Methodology

In the 1990’s it became clear that the battle for the digital diary would be lost before we could go after it in any meaningful way. We were hemmed into paper based products.

The desk diary market was destined to get eroded by Microsoft with their windows PC’s and MS Office software, which included integrated diary features.

Soon after, Nokia and Motorola launched calendar features for their mobile phones which, over time, would erode the traditional pocket diary business.

It was a huge wake up call. How could we have dominated the diary market for 175 years only to watch these upstart technology companies out innovate us?

For the Letts family it began the process of gradually divesting of paper based products so we could focus on a new, diversified group and a digital future. The seed of the future Letts Group was born.

We made a promise to ourselves that we would not get out innovated again. But how could we guarantee that? We had a hunch that it would not be enough just to focus on digital media and publishing. It came to us in a possible moment of madness that we should build a private incubator to help us develop our various ideas and turn the right ones into profitable products and services. A repetitive process that would be the engine of this new diversified group.

In the late 1990’s we started to experiment with what ultimately become Letts Incubate. We understood early on that we would need an incubator methodology to ensure that we could develop new products and businesses in a scalable and process-driven way.

We were also interested in the idea of incubating businesses and products that we could spin off and sell. Some carrying the Letts brand and some that were not Letts branded (which we call partner companies).

As a long standing family business we understood the constraints of many private, family controlled businesses. Access to capital is more limited which works for certain kinds of businesses and markets, but not for all.

Our incubator would need to be world class and one that could create and nurture a range of different ideas. So we designed a methodology calle Innov@te™. It took us a decade to complete the work as we wanted to develop it while we were also nurturing the early fruits of the nascent incubator. So we could road test the process.

Innov@te™ has come a long way. It has 7 key stages and 49 steps. Our manual is over 50 pages long and is constantly evolving. The 7 stages include:

  • Creativity
  • @HA Idea
  • Concept
  • Market Entry
  • Market Development
  • Market Dominance
  • Exit

We use it whenever we incubate a new Letts branded idea or a partner company. We have incubated quite a number of partner companies in the last twenty years.

Today, we also use Innov@te™ to help leading corporates develop a more effective approach to innovation and we recently established an incubation centre in the southwest of England.

We offer a newsletter, called Surviving, which helps business leaders, investors and entrepreneurs to navigate the future. Subscribers to Surviving can also tap into the team and our panel of experts.

If you would like to find out more, go to Letts Incubate.


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Welcome To Our New Website

We are excited to launch the Letts Group’s brand new website.

We opted for a clean, minimal look with a Buzzard soaring as the main image to support our new strapline ‘a brighter future’.

We wanted the website to look as fresh and fluid as when we first started. Even though we have been around for 250 years, for us, this is a new beginning.

The Letts Group is about tradition, quality, innovation and change.

John Letts invented the commercial diary in 1816. Today we are a branded incubator group run by the Letts family and focused on media, the environment and the arts.

We hope you can join us for the next leg of the journey.

You may want to sign up to our blog and follow us @LettsGroup.