If it’s still in your mind, it might be worth taking a risk... but without research and data, you are just another person with an opinion.
I spent the last 5 years of my cooperate career working for one of the biggest soft drink manufacturer in the UK. Managing Out-Of-Home market data at Britvic was not the most rewarding job as the channel was never the company’s top priority. But I never do things half-heartedly so I devoted all my time and energy to study all aspects of the industry. I read and analysed tons of research and data, not just about the soft drink category but also about the consumers’ need states, mindsets, occasions, trade dynamics and their expectations of the category and its suppliers. Being in charge of the company’s data and insight agencies had its perks, I could investigate in depth any trend, phenomenon or dilemma. I had an unlimited access to the most precious assets of all – industry knowledge and intelligence. In five years I learnt a lot and from all angles.
For a foodie like myself, passionate about eating out and socialising but also analytical and naturally inquisitive, the more I learnt about the sector the more fascinated I became. I enjoyed my job, loved the industry and respected the company I worked for. With growing market understanding, I also started feeling the need to make a difference to the consumers’ experience in this fascinating sector.
The market opportunities for soft drink manufacturer such as Britvic become very apparent to me but there was one huge problem. There were very few people in the company interested to listen about it and none of them had the power to act upon it. My recommendations for seeding new brands and categories in Leisure were met with a lot of interest but no action. It takes years and serious resources to seed and harvest new brands and most of the directors don’t stick around that long to see the benefits of such risky strategy. After years of exasperated attempts to influence the company’s strategy, I finally realised that unless millions of litres are at stake, big companies are just not interested. If I wanted to see my ideas in market, I had to go it alone.
Starting up my own business did not appeal to me for a long time. Not because I lack confidence, drive or fear the hard work. In fact, once I set my mind on an objective, I persevere with passion and determination. I left Poland at the age of 21, came to England with £80 in my pocket and limited English but with a burning desire to study in London. A year later I was accepted on a Business degree course, for which I had to pay dearly as a non EU student. For several years I held numerous jobs that enabled me to work around my courses, always in the foodservice industry - a kitchen porter, bartender, waitress, barmaid, assistant chef, pub manager…. Averaging 60 hours a week mainly worked at nights and weekends while studying full time during the day. I did eventually graduate and than completed an MBA for a good measure. I am not afraid of working hard and I do take risks.
But I never aspired to become an entrepreneur. I never felt the desire to change the world, revolutionise industries or to achieve astonishing financial success. For whatever reason, I always assumed I’m not an idea person and that creativity is not my strongest asset. I couldn't possibly launch my own business .... or .... COULD I???
I can't even explain how it happened that agains all odds, the idea of launching a business took hold of my rational mind and wouldn't go away. I became obsessed with designing the ultimate beverage suitable for current climate and the discerning consumers. It took me a few months to finesse the concept but I was certain, it was a relevant and credible solution for the market.
Summer and Autumn 2015 are a bit of a blur in my memory right now. It felt under a spell, a trance of some sort. The business concept was the only thing I wanted to talk, dream and think about. I spend most of my free time either reading, visiting trade shows or doing trade visits. Like an insane woman I walked from bars to restaurants at different times of a day, took pictures of people socialising and what featured on their tables, the drinks they drunk and how they matched them to food. I approached anyone who could share genuine insight with me - mixologists, bar managers, restaurant owners and managers, guests in restaurants, anyone I personally knew in the industry, friends and family members. At night I’d immerse myself into data and stats to verify whether my gut feeling was playing tricks on me or whether the concept had valid commercial basis.
At first I was worried that people would judge me as crazy but didn't need to worry, the whole Eating Out sector is high on the same drug called Passion. I don’t think you will ever see it in such abundance in any other industry. Winning concepts are driven by extreme devotees, food and drink enthusiasts to the consumer experience in their outlets. Founders, managers, chefs, mixologists and floor staff take incredible pride in what they do and love sharing their passion, creativity and industry knowledge. I felt at home with those amazing people, their devotion was contagious and encouragement uplifting. With my husband’s blessing, I finally left Britvic in Summer 2015.
In the following months I consumed voraciously any published content related to business and entrepreneurism. From mindset setting and self help books (A. Robins, J. Canfield, D. Schwartz, N. Hill, D. Priestley ….) through “how to” manuals (my favourites: Dragon’s Den “Start your own business” and “The Perfect Pitch”; V. Evans “Writing a Business Plan”; E. Ries “The Lean Start Up”; G. Cardone “The Closer’s Guide” and “Sell or Be Sold”; O. Klaff “Pitch Anything”; J. Hogues “Step by Step Crowdfunding”; R. Bridge “How to start a business without any money”; W. Knight “Think Digital First”, S. Godin “Purpule Cow”… ) and biographies of inspiring brands and the people behind them, such as Brewdog - James Watts; Innocent Story by J. Simmons; “Wake Up and Sell the Coffee” M. Dawes, H. Schultz Sarbacks founder “Pour your heart into it”; A. Sugar “What you see is what you get”; H. Devey “Bold As Brass”, V. Vallely “Heels of Steel”; “Elon Musk’ by A. Vance; D. Bannatyne “Anyone Can Do It”; “Lean In” S. Sandberg, B. Mycoskie, founder of TOMS shoes “Start Something That Matters” ….
I became inspired but not totally blind to my limitations. I am a female immigrant in my forties with limited budget and still lacking some essential aspects of business knowledge. But I have a couple of unique advantages and assets to leverage: genuine passion for the industry, drive and determination combined with solid market knowledge and powerful category insights. My drink proposition for the industry is not a result of my personal drinking preference, it’s a genuine solution for consumers and trade in the modern dining. If implemented the right way, this concept will not only greatly benefit the consumer, it will re-define the drink category.
I have now joined the entrepreneurial revolution. The excitement, joy, fears and pains of starting up my own business are overwhelming at times. All consuming intensity of building a new brand, the physical, mental, emotional and moral ups and downs are my way of living now. It feels savagely brutal at times and somehow enjoyable and fulfilling. I want to share this journey in real time with other enthusiasts and like minded people in the industry. I know there are plenty of us out there. I hope my brand will make a difference and succeed in this fiercely competitive market but if not, there will be plenty to learn from, evaluate or criticise. Whatever the outcome, I will be able to look back and say to my young sons “I fallowed my heart and did my best to make my dream come true. With passion and integrity. Take risks and live your life to the fullest, it’s your turn now.”