It’s been a decade since Urban List hit the streets—a dream launched from my bedroom that didn’t stack up on paper, but gathered enough momentum to connect with millions; to connect with you.
The dream began at 24, living in LA, navigating a new city with no family or friends. I looked to the internet for tips, but all I found were user generated ratings—questioning how the same business could receive both one star and five. There were lots of misses on the experiences I had; and most importantly, I missed a sense of like-mindedness and community. All I wanted was a guide to help me feel that I belong. And from there, the dream was born.
It was a time when the world was becoming increasingly digital—businesses either diving in to explore this new space, or lacking the resources to do so and being left behind. It was early days—Facebook existed, but was far from meta—and social media was not the norm for commerce (Zuck hadn’t even launched the business offering yet). But I could see examples of innovative owners tapping into this fresh space, using social as an avenue of attracting and retaining customers; people like me.
I’m the daughter, granddaughter, and great granddaughter of small business owners—both in awe and acutely aware of the role local operators play in forging the culture of our cities. I could see a future (and was horrified) where these business owners could be left behind; dwarfed by major organisations with greater resources to explore this increasingly complex landscape.
I wanted to make a difference and I wanted to do it at scale—blending my own desire for a curated and credible guide, with small businesses’ need for support in attracting the customers that represented their future. And so I developed this idea—the one you now know as Urban List—to answer that call; building a community of like minds online, that could be channeled in support of deserving businesses and brands.
Sounds so obvious, now.
I could see the need. I felt the call. But I did nothing. I had the concept but not the courage. My confidence stood in the way. Eventually, the thought of spending a lifetime asking “what if” outweighed the fear of failing. I committed and my world moved.
Truth be told, my mental health was a rollercoaster. A decade of antidepressants. A breakup at the airport, moving home to Australia to start my new life. Still, I got off that flight ready to give everything I had to this dream. Call me romantic, but I still kinda believe U:L saved me.
I was completely ill-equipped to start a business, by the way. Or perhaps perfectly equipped, dependent on your lens. I’d never set up a company. Never hired or managed anyone. Never run a budget, sent an invoice or calculated payroll. Never written an article. Never worked in advertising. Never created a website or worked in tech. Never set up an office. Never scoped a new market or scaled. Never anything; never everything.
And somehow, all those nevers meant a fresh perspective from which to grow. No baggage—a complete blank slate. Failure felt less loaded—just feedback, reflective of a willingness to try. I was learning fast, falling fast. Getting up always, all the time.
(Nothing’s changed, in case you were wondering. Every day, at some point, I feel I have none of the skills, swimming in that same never sea. Never seeing, when that happens, that I do have the knowledge around and within me; plenty of proof that we can do this and we’ve absolutely done this and more before.)
From the outset, I wanted to make a difference—to the culture of our cities and their small businesses, and to the lives of people who appreciate how special our local operators are. I wanted to bring these worlds together; to create a sense of community among those who love to eat, see, do and explore, ushering this support through small businesses’ doors.
I dreamt of moving us—as a collective—to find more of these places and spaces we love; elevating our happiness through shared experiences, whether digitally or IRL. I poured my heart into moving millions to find and live their best lives, and for 10 years that was Urban List’s north star.
From 2011 through 2021, we made you a promise—your best life starts here; entirely apt for a decade where optimisation and individualisation was at its peak. The last 10 years have been all about being there first, customising our lewks and expressing our identities. (Also, cronuts, frosé and Kardashian-Ye.)
But in 2020 the world hit pause.
The pandemic inflicted a hard reset on the pace of the previous decade and culture curved—shifting from a space of eternal aspiration to one of conscious choice. It was clear that, as a collective, our needs had changed. And we sensed this new world offered opportunities for us to reflect and change, too.
We did a survey mid-year—The Big Still—looking to you for insights on how Urban List could mean more; be more for you. We asked, how is it that you want to live, now that you’ve had the chance to reset and reflect? How can we support and move you to that space, recognising that it’s not a one size fits all…
13,000+ people took up the call—one of our biggest responses of all time, which was the first clue that something’s shifted; that there are stories to be told, stories to be heard. And what we saw in these stories were common threads—repeated over and over, albeit in 13,000 individuals’ words.
Rather than aspiring to return to a life that was, we heard you say you’re turning down the volume—moving away from relentless productivity, hectic social cals and the pressure to constantly optimise.
We heard you say you’re willing to slow down and embrace pleasure in the present, enjoyment over enhancement. Balance was being prioritised over busyness—a balance that shouldn’t be confused with chilling. The more we looked, the more we realised that collectively, as a community, we’re more engaged.
We’re not leaning out but leaning in—selecting a more memorable existence that we started to call ‘the good life’. And this ‘good life’ became synonymous with an existence more akin to soul food than ‘gram candy; authentic experiences over filtering our #bestlife for the feed. We started to re-evaluate what we could and should be contributing to our world. What more Urban List could be.
Through The Big Still stories, we also noticed a meaningful movement away from the individualisation demanded through the 2010s—our obsession with customising products and experiences being replaced with our desire to support local, sourcing goods created closer to home.
Now, it appears it’s less important to stand out; self-expression taking a back seat to the growing desire to contribute and to belong. And that makes sense. Our inability to reliably socialise with family and friends has caused so many of us to reconsider what we once prized—the prestige of personalisation—with a marked shift away from the desire to be recognised as unique, an individual; and toward the desire to feel belonging, part of the crew.
Over and over, we heard stories of becoming more aware of the impact we have on our communities; more aware of the impact our communities have on us—increased support for the brands and businesses who embraced this value too.
And there it was. Plain as day.
As a brand you trust to connect you with the life you love, our OG promise, an individualist and optimised proposition—to live your best life—needed to shift too...
After 10 years, it’s time to welcome you to a fresh face for Urban List—a space dedicated to seeking and sharing the good life, in good company.
Some of you may sense nothing more than a font change. Some of you will feel seen.
Either way, this world has been created for you. An evolution, not a revolution, that will see Urban List showing up a little differently—a nuanced and important shift designed to take the pressure off and enable you to be.
Expect an environment that’s still recommendation-rich, while allowing you the space to select and to breathe. We’re encouraging you to show up as and where you are; the 30,000+ tips an hour we serve (I know, wild!) hopefully feeling more warm than cool, helping you realise the good life you seek.
We’ll also be looking to you, our community, to share your good life right alongside ours—aware that a plurality of perspectives is far more reflective of the world we wish to see. We’ll be actively reaching out, inviting you to share your experiences and thoughts with us and the broader Urban List crew, the voices of our community featuring across our site, social and beyond as we co-create content for and with you.
If you’ve made it this far, wow. And thank you. Longer than I’d ever imagined may pour.
You’ve given me the gift of a decade—sharing this U:L life and making it everything we can imagine it can be. I’m so grateful for all you bring to our journey, and I look forward to getting to know you more. If you have any thoughts, feels or suggestions, please drop me a line. Thank you, again, for the chance to create, dream, share, do and be—in good company.
(Founder of Urban List)
Design credit: Kate Mason
Image credits: @sarahs_films, @carla_ginola