In a world where independent trade is slowly dying out and in need of some help from its local community, Colu is bucking trends fast with its blockchain-powered platform for creating digital, localised currencies.

Remember your favourite sandwich shop in the world? The one that used to sell you the most delicious roast chicken on bloomer topped with rocket and a drizzle of homemade mustard mayonnaise? Remember when they had to close down and they took a little piece of your heart with them? Then a big chain opened up in its place, full of automated pay systems and no soul. This is exactly what the people at Colu are trying to solve before it’s too late and we say ‘rock on!’

Colu’s digital wallet makes buying local easy, instantaneous and convenient. In paying with the Colu app, you guarantee that your cash will empower local businesses and facilitate a stronger, more sustainable local economy and community. Sounds pretty good right? For us at East LDN, it’s the idea that every customer can play a role in preventing certain demonic high street retailers from crushing our favourite independents, that Colu allows us to protect our community, now that’s the golden ticket. The company offers peer-to-peer and customer-to-business app-based payment platforms facilitating digital financial transactions at local businesses, creating a closed-loop economy that bolsters both the economic well-being and social fabric of the community.

Will it work, you say? Well this isn’t Colu’s first rodeo. They already have several digital currencies in place outside of the UK, such as in Tel Aviv and have even provided access to their tech to a company in Barbados to create its own digital currency. Now, with close to 100,000 users and over 850 local businesses spending almost $4 million in the past year, it seems that Colu has got what it takes to continue this growth into London. As we know, local trade is hugely threatened by the scale and market penetration of low-cost of retail chains. These chains, although appealing to us shoppers at first glance, are doing considerable damage to local economies where the vast majority of the cash coming in, gets funnelled out to other parts of the corporation thus out of the city. Colu are working hard on their mission to reverse this effect and may have swept in just in time while local businesses in London are being hit by a severe, two-pronged economic attack. On one side, the rates reevaluation has taken a huge bite out of the margin that keeps these guys afloat, and on the other, Brexit speculation has lead to consumers spending less of their disposable income. Everyone can feel the squeeze, and we love that Colu are looking to restore the balance that keeps London what it is today.

We needed to do some digging. How does this work exactly? And is this really going to help independent traders? Well the answer is quite simply, yes. Colu charge businesses much less than they’d be paying to the banks to carry out transactions, and these local traders have access to a whole new set of tools that help them to manage their operation too. To get to the bare bones, East LDN sat down with the Colu gang, seeking to know little bit more about the company, its inception and the bigger picture:

We think the idea is great! How did it come about and how did you get going?

Colu’s founding mission was twofold: we wanted to give locals a way to directly exchange digital cash with each other and with merchants, and we wanted to support local, independent businesses. So, we created an app that makes it easy, fast, and convenient to shop and pay while doing something good for your community.

The company initially started in Israel, and we developed economies in Tel Aviv and Haifa. We expanded to the U.K. earlier this year, starting first in Liverpool and then in East London. All of our employees are locals, and we hire students from universities in the area as interns. 

Is the East London Pound just for East Londoners?

Our focus, first and foremost, is to support local businesses. So while East London locals make up a large part of our community, we realise that East London’s vibrant independent scene attracts Londoners from all over the city as well as tourists. We encourage them all to utilise our wallet to pay in East London Pounds. After all, everyone has a stake in the vitality of one of the city’s most original destinations.

We know that Colu is a blockchain powered platform, but we’re not quite sure what that means… care to elaborate?

The blockchain is essentially a digital ledger of transactions that is extremely safe and transparent. It’s a decentralised system, which, in short, means it cannot be corrupted by hackers. Some of the technology is also open-source, so anyone can access and build on it. By open source, we mean that any developer out there can access our code and use it to issue their own currency. For example, this is what happened in Barbados, where a local startup used our technology to build a local digital banking system. We’re using blockchain technology to create the digital equivalent of cash. Our technology facilitates direct exchanges of digital currency, creating a truly peer-to-peer economy.

Colu seems to be very community-focused. What are you doing to build community?

We believe that community is more important than money. By building community from the wallet up, we’re re-infusing money with meaning and uniting people around the common cause of supporting the local economy. Money spent local, stays local -and as a result the community prospers.  Small businesses are the backbone of the UK economy, and an investment in local businesses is really an investment in the residents of East London. By introducing the Local Pound, East London, we plan to change the way people think about money in the heart of the UK. We’re also building community in other ways, for example, by facilitating collaborations between businesses and creating a local supply chain.

We love that you help independent retailers by giving them tools to use for free. What are these tools?

For us, encouraging more people to shop locally is just one side of the story. Helping independent businesses access advanced technological and financial tools is also extremely important to us. Colu provides local businesses with a digital toolbox to help them compete with large retailers. This includes marketing and promotional tools, microloans, advances, analytics and more. We also provide a business dashboard that could one day replace the need for point-of-sale systems. We’re not there yet, but it’s something we have set our sights on.

Cool! So why Liverpool and London?

Liverpool and East London are ideal places in which to build a local, digital economy because they have a strong sense of identity and pride of place. Both communities also have many unique independent businesses and a bustling tech scene.

What’s the biggest problem you’ve faced so far and how did you break through it?

At the beginning, onboarding local businesses was difficult. They were concerned that Colu would be more complicated to accept than it actually is, and because we only started with a small handful of businesses, business owners were skeptical. They’re also regularly overwhelmed by salespeople approaching them for various reasons. However, we’re all about building close relationships with our businesses. Once it became clear that we’re invested in understanding our businesses and how we can best support them, rather than merely imposing our payment solution on them, these traders became open to the idea of using Colu and they realised that it’s easy to use and chock-full of benefits. Adding well-established businesses to our community also encouraged other businesses to join.

What’s the next step?

Most importantly, we’re here for the long run. We’re truly invested in the East London community. We have lots of things in the works, one of which is bringing about cryptocurrency for day-to-day usage. We plan to continue growing our network of local businesses and expanding to new areas. We’re also focusing on creating a local supply chain to boost local trade between businesses.

Wow it seems like you’ve got a load of good stuff going on and we’re super excited that you’ve brought it to our home, East London. Thanks for shedding light on your journey, and we look forward to getting on Colu straight away. Lunch anyone?

Remember to sign up for Colu here and get 5 East London Pounds for free!

Words by Tom Barker