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Wapping: How The Rattle is investing in crazy in the depths of Tobacco Dock

It has 600 members from 9,000 applicants and is ‘deliberately mysterious and secretive’

Jon Eades and Chris Howard of The Rattle
Jon Eades and Chris Howard of The Rattle – image Matt Grayson

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BY LAURA ENFIELD

Something is growing in Tobacco Dock. Tucked away in one of its workspaces is The Rattle – a company that wants to give creatives the same power as tech CEOs.

Deliberately mysterious, its website and social channels are almost barren and membership is notoriously hard to come by. In five years, it has vetted 9,000 applicants and taken 600 members. 

But with founders Chris Howard, 40, and Jon Eades, 38, about to land $10million in funding for an international expansion, the subversive ploy seems to be bearing fruit. So what the hell do they actually do?

“I began investing in weird humans in 2017,” said CEO Chris. “I had this personal belief that startups are really boring and every single one was yet another Uber for olives or Netflix for donkey saddles, just the same company over and over again.

“So I gave money to musicians and authors, comedians, math olympiad competitors and psychologists. I wanted to see what happened if you joined their team for six months and, it turned out, it was really cool stuff.

“It shows if you place the same trust you would in a tech nerd in a crazy creative type, they can create something just as valuable and socially powerful as Mark Zuckerberg.”

The premise is simple, at least on the surface. Members of The Rattle pay a fee and can drop into the Wapping site anytime between 8am and 10pm. 

It comprises two small studios for writing or recording demos, a live room for up to 10 musicians, which can be used for live streaming and video shoots, and a well-equipped production room for recording and later stage production.

It sounds pretty standard, but under the surface there is much more going on.

“The Rattle is deliberately mysterious and secretive,” said Chris. “We want people to find it hard to join because it implies a certain character type. 

“It’s important to us that every member is fucking crazy and has a world view that makes you go: ‘What?’.

“Then they have to be insanely talented at something, particularly something creative, or have made something really special.

“Finally they need to have this magnetism that draws people in.”

The space includes recording facilities
The space includes recording facilities

So how do you nurture such a diverse mix of people without stifling them?

“We’re not trying to make another Abbey Road,” said Jon, referencing the studios where he worked for a decade. 

“This is a very fluid, very human environment where you are free to experiment and not count the clock or be hyper-conscious of how much it’s costing you.

“It’s a laboratory free from stress for prototyping and experimenting.”

While members casually chat, live stream, record and write, behind the scenes a team of 20 experts is busy documenting every move in order to “engineer serendipity”.

“It’s behind the scenes puppet mastering,” said Chris.

“That sounds weird, but all our members know we do this and the huge wealth of data we track allows our team to understand who needs to meet who and under what conditions. 

“Then, for around 20% of our members that move into the venture side, we have a veteran team of about 20 ex-hackers, founders, music folk and tech developers whose job it is to co-create these projects that we think can change the world and transition them into companies. That’s our primary business. 

“The last thing we do is connect the outside works into The Rattle so we curate investors and superstars that have done incredible things to come and inspire our members to be more daring and break as many rules as humanly possible in a safe and responsible way. 

“Our entire mission as a company is to help the next generation of artists, hackers and inventors become disruptive founders.

“We think they are the ones who change society and the economy and we want to make sure this category of human has a chance.”

The co-founders have very different roles, defined by their obviously contrasting personalities and the diverse paths they took to find each other.

“Day to day, Jon focuses on getting the machinery working well together,” said Chris.

“My job is to make sure the right humans are in the mix from a team point of view and that the people who give us money don’t have too much influence over what we do. So I’m kind of like the shield and Jon’s the sword.”

Neither can keep a straight face at this point but while Chris guffaws with laughter, Jon gives a wry grin. 

He grew up playing in orchestras, studied music and sound engineering at the University Of Surrey and pretty much walked straight into a technical role at Abbey Road Studios.

He went on to discover a  passion for startups and launched Abbey Road Red, an incubator for tech entrepreneurs. Meanwhile, Chris was the council estate kid with a music A&R dad who he defied to become a moderately successful singer-songwriter. 

But believing he was “too shit or too ugly” to make it work, he jacked it in and, on completing a degree in physics and a Ph.D in computational physics, ended up across the pond at MIT conducting research into the online psychology of motivation and social influence “because why the hell not?”.

He spun this into tech company Libboo, which identified audience trends and helped a thousand authors sell their books.

But when it began to fail, alongside his marriage, he landed back in England at Tobacco Dock, as MD of the UK arm of MassChallenge, a global network for entrepreneurs.

It was through their shared passion for music and startups that the two finally crossed paths. 

“Having the Abbey Road business card meant I attracted a lot of people and one of those was Chris,” said Jon. 

“Most people don’t forget their first meeting with Chris and I certainly didn’t. He just tells it how it is and suffers the bullshit less than some.

“As a young founder if you have a meeting with Chris, you get the truth and sometimes it stings.”

Chris said: “I just sent Jon a random email saying: ‘Hey, you don’t know me but…’ He had his guard up, but I decided to just keep trying and finally he invited me in.

“I just had the impression that he thought: ‘Urgh another one desperate to be involved’. So I just thought: ‘Fuck it, I’m not going to sell myself I’m just going to say what I think’.

“Fair to say I didn’t play it cool. I’m not cool.”

They kept in touch as The Rattle first took root and, when it secured its first investment at the end of 2017, Jon decided it was time to leave the “safe haven” of Abbey Road and follow his “entrepreneurial urges”.

“That’s how The Rattle started officially – on February 9, 2018,” he said. “It was a quick turnaround and at this point Chris decided to get married and go on honeymoon to Thailand.”

Chris, who now lives in Bath and juggles jetting round the world with parenting, laughs gleefully at this point and shortly afterwards dashes off unexpectedly once again to do a pitch to an investor.

“Man on the ground, Jon, notes his business partner has a “love-hate relationship” with raising funds, but his brilliance at doing so should soon land them enough cash to launch the next phase of The Rattle.

The Rattle began with 50 founding members
The Rattle began with 50 founding members

Jon, who lives in Peckham, said it started with 50 founding members as “an experiment” and they had made tonnes of mistakes along the way, but by the end of 2018 had raised $2million, which allowed them to open a second location in Silverlake, Los Angeles, in March 2020. 

“Most people remember that week,” said Jon.

“I got the last flight back as America was closing its borders and we had to put a blanket over it for four months, but our founding members all stuck with it and so did the London crowd.

“There is this real feeling of belonging and being chosen.”

That nurturing environment is now evolving into an ecosystem that he wants to see spread across the world.

“In 2019, we started to explore the notion of venture building where you join someone’s team, temporarily, parachute in and leverage everything you have to help them.

“The other people who tend to provide that sort of thing in music are managers, labels and lawyers.

“Our offering was such a breath of fresh air and we were amazed by the results – that’s become the seedling of everything we have done since. 

“Really what The Rattle is today is a venture studio where we can explain our world view about drawing on expertise from the startup world and approach funding in different ways to see how it can benefit them.

“Once you have built that trust you can partner with them and now we are taking long-term positions with people.

“They stop paying us and we take a bit of ownership and hope in five years they become profitable.”

Today it has 75 members per location and has started roughly 25 ventures that it thinks will help change the world.

“It’s not about trying to become famous and high numbers,” said Jon. “Streaming only really makes sense for the Ed Sheerans and Dua Lipas of the world. 

“But if you really know who you are and how to engage with high-value fans, there’s real money to be made and a social impact that really affects people’s lives.

“We are the first ones who have found a way to show people a different path, which is all about behaving like a founder, taking responsibility and not handing over control to people prematurely and being taken advantage of. 

“If members choose to interface with the existing industry then so be it – we are not anti-label – but we want people to do it from a position of strength so they know what they are getting involved in.”

The Rattle is structures so it shares in members’ profits

Everything The Rattle does is on an equitable basis. They never touch revenue or rights, but become shareholders, so are the last to get paid if there is any profit.

“That means we can give honest advice because if we screw the artist we are screwing ourselves,” said Jon.

“Although we are down every month from a cash flow perspective, we are signing more and more equitable agreements with people, so the assets we are accumulating are increasing. 

“At the moment, we are trying to close out $10million, so that’s really exciting and we’re also trying to lead the way by doing a crypto raise, which is attracting more new investors.

“Having that money will mean we can refresh our spaces, maybe even move to new facilities and set-up New York and one or two more within the next couple of years and for the first time be on the map as a real challenger. 

“We have been this scrappy outsider so far, but now it is really starting to come together and we can start to challenge some of the bigger record companies and offer the best people a real alternative.”

ON THE RADAR

Broaden your horizons with members of The Rattle:

“Instead of signing a record deal he formed a limited company, sold shares and raised £150,000,” said Jon.

That enabled him to explore business models and he grew a super fan community using WhatsApp and other platforms and built his whole operation around figuring out what they were interested in buying from him and being quite high touch about it.

He isn’t very famous, but he has built up a really solid business.”

“Created a platform that allows people to create immersive 3D experiences really easily so musicians can perform inside interactive worlds and make live streaming less dull. They are just closing out a big round of investment.”

Feed Forward

“Using AI to improve music search and retrieval, which sounds quite boring but is quite impactful.”

“They call themselves high five hip-hop. It’s throwback 1990s where they are quite irreverent and write songs around topical themes. They did one for World Bee Day. They have built up a core of fans and throw house parties with beer pong and Super Nintendo.”

“British psychedelic band trying to revive that golden age of the 1970s. Saw other bands doing it and incited a whole lifestyle around tie-dye and slow living.”

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