By Estelle Nilsson-Julien, First Year Politics and International Relations
On the 5th of July Carview-20, a unique drive-in cinema, launched in North London for two weeks. The venture is the brainchild of Nicole Wojakovski, a first year Civil Engineering student at the University of Bristol, her cousin Emmanuelle Benjamin and her sister Nathalie Wojakovski, both students at UCL. The story of their start-up is the tale of a family-run, all-female business, launched amid a global pandemic.
It all began when Nicole stumbled across an article which highlighted the rise in drive-in cinemas alongside the long-lasting implications of the Covid-19 pandemic on the entertainment industry.
Nicole mentioned it to Emmanuelle and Nathalie, who decided they should give their own drive-in cinema a go: ‘lockdown has been such a unique moment in history, we felt we should try and use it to do something!’. Eager to please cinema goers stuck at home and discouraged by Hollywood’s standstill, they became captivated by these emblematic symbols of the USA in the late 1950s and early 1960s.
In the setting of the vast greenly Aldenham Country Park, an extensive range of screenings are already scheduled from the 5th until 19th of July. With a nightly viewing at 8.40pm, films include both retro Hollywood classics such as Grease and ET, alongside more recent releases like Borat and La La Land. FM Transmitters will allow for volume control through spectators’ car radios.
Meticulously planned, Carview-20’s tailor-made app allows hungry spectators to dodge queues through digitally ordering food and drink from trucks stationed nearby, delivered straight to their car windows. With no previous business experience and roughly two months until the launch date (which they set in line with governmental easing of lockdown restrictions on the 4th July), their journey has been a steep learning curve.
‘We kind of did it all on a whim’, explains Nicole, as she recalls their naivety at the beginning of the process. They had imagined it would be no more complicated than dumping a large screen in a field but have had to come a long way since.
Nicole underlines the fact that Covid-19 has clearly created a climate of deal-making ‘people don’t have much to lose at this stage, business is already bad. They will take a small gamble and certainly slash prices for you’.
They therefore managed to attract investment through their advertisements and cut prices from their screen supplier, notably more eager to make a sale than usual. They have sought to make their drive-in as cheap as possible, with early bird prices starting at £23.50 per car and standard tickets at £34.24 per car.
Navigating the minefield of legal regulations, negotiations with the Council, film distributors, and many more external bodies has proved challenging.
This renders them accessible to the student market, as well as families and friend groups. Their film selection is inspired from the classics and box office favourites, with the aim being to screen as many crowd pleasers as possible. Initially they dedicated a few hours a day to the project, whilst also juggling their University exams.
‘In retrospect we were far too laid back at the beginning’ says Nicole ‘usually start-ups take a year or so. You should really be working 18 hours a day if launching a start up on such a small time-frame as ours!’.
Since then, they have seriously upped their hours. Having always wanted to go into business she hadn’t realised how exhausting and run-down she would feel: ‘at the end of the day, it’s on you, you can’t stop, you can’t think oh it’s fine someone else will do it. You have to make it happen!’. An important reminder of the truth behind the sometimes seemingly glamorous front of running a business.
Navigating the minefield of legal regulations, negotiations with the Council, film distributors, and many more external bodies has proved challenging. Nicole advises aspiring entrepreneurs to ‘make a detailed business plan with a clear risk assessment’, in other words do not go into anything blindly.
Certainly, do not ‘not cut any corners when sorting out legal issues’, which they discovered when decisions made at the beginning of the process came back to bite them. They were not shy to gain advice from family and friends along the way but also accepted the need to gain further assistance, consulting third parties for legal advice, and general events management assistance.
On top of this they have self-funded much of the project, with background conditions being both a huge strength but also an added source of pressure. When your colleagues are family and Covid-19 forces you to work from home, it must be tricky to wind down after a long day.
Initially, the three tapped into all areas of the business, but with time they have each found their strengths, with this allowing for some boundaries to be set and easing any rising tensions. The young entrepreneurs have certainly taken the meaning of lockdown productivity to new levels, growing immensely over the period.
‘I feel like I know what I am talking about and I have got quite good at pitching to people on the phone’, an essential skill in being taken seriously in the business world, ‘it feels great to be 20 years old and getting someone in their 50s to believe in us’.
Nicole reveals that it can nevertheless be intimidating when companies interrogate them about their previous business experience. She advises anyone in a similar situation to approach any such concerns with utter transparency, in their case she reiterates their absolute dedication to the project and delivering assurances that they are working with third parties where necessary for guidance.
Though business partners may not expect to ‘meet three little kids’ when turning up for a meeting, as Nicole puts it, it is their very age and determination which makes the three students stand out.
Featured Image: Mia Cubie
More information can be found on the Carview-20 website.