What started your entrepreneurial career?
My first attempt at a money making venture was an ‘after hours’ pizza delivery business whilst at Wellington, it involved persuading the local pizza delivery company to deliver pizzas in the cover of darkness. Much to their surprise the instruction was that they had to approach the main gate quietly without turning headlights on and we would let them know which window to deliver to by flashing a torch. The first delivery was a great success and so word got round and the second order was an enormous one where they had to pull in some additional delivery cars, sadly word also got round to a few members of staff who caught us mid delivery, the result was a lot of very dissatisfied customers and an early lesson in handling customer complaints!
However my first real entrepreneurial experience came at University where a friend and I started a small waitering agency business, this got a bit of traction and also caught the interest of my lecturers and formed the basis of my dissertation, this early experience really whet my appetite for an entrepreneurial career and whilst I went into advertising after leaving University, my desire to start a business had never left and I gave it up after only a couple of years to pursue one of the many business plans I had been busy scribbling at nights and weekends. This ultimately resulted in my making contact with my business partner Charles and the formation of Fever-Tree.
How did you get your idea or concept for the business?
It was very much a meeting of minds, I met Charles for a coffee to talk about the opportunities in the gin world, however over that first coffee the conversation turned from gin to tonic, we both had looked at the tonic category from different perspectives and clearly shared the same view. The movement towards higher quality ingredients, craft and provenance that was sweeping the drinks industry had passed the mixer category by – it had become a long forgotten, overlooked category dominated by large multinationals, who had ultimately ended up focussing more on manufacturing efficiency than quality or flavour. It struck us as extraordinary that people were paying good money for high-quality spirits yet had no choice but to drown them with increasingly poor quality and increasingly artificial mixers. After all, we reasoned, if ¾ of your Gin & Tonic is Tonic, surely the quality of the tonic should be as important as the quality of the gin.
How did you get initial traction?
Determination and a bit of good fortune is the short answer. We spent a long painstaking 18 months developing our first product, this involved a great deal of research both in libraries and in the field. Including scouring the world to find the very best ingredients, taking us to some of the most remote and dangerous places, most memorable being a trip to one of most lawless parts of the world the Democratic Republic of Congo to go and find our quinine. However, clearly having the finest ingredients a good tasting product is one thing, finding customers is quite another. In the early stages winning customers involved a great deal of shoe leather, as we set out to try to get interest from the key influencers of our trade, the bartenders, the chefs and the drinks journalists. Whilst we did make good progress across some of London’s top hotels, bars and restaurant, a fortuitous break came when we got an unexpected call from the Waitrose buyer who had read one small article about our product and prompted her to get in contact, this fortunately resulted in a National listing across Waitrose.
Did you / do you have a mentor?
I don’t have a mentor as such, I grew up in a very entrepreneurial family my father started and ran a very successful business, which I found inspiring. Business ideas were and still are an everyday conversation at home and were always encouraged, this undoubtedly had a very motivating effect.
Otherwise, I have also benefited along the way from the advice of my business partner Charles, he already had a successful entrepreneurial drinks background and his experience was invaluable.
Although, most influential of all has been my wife who has provided unwavering support and council throughout, particularly impressive bearing in mind our first child was born as the business launched!
What habits helped make you successful?
I was diagnosed as being hyperactive as a child, which as I have been reminded of many times from my parents made me an exhausting child to have around, I required constant entertainment morning noon and night, in fact my parents had a 10 year gap before having my younger brother which they always said was a much needed break after having me! However, ironically I think that energy has proved a useful trait when you are starting a business from scratch.
What is the best business decision you have ever made and why?
From a business perspective, no question the best decision I made was to contact my business partner Charles and I remain very thankful that he was prepared to put up with me – he has my wife’s full sympathy!
How has the pandemic affected you and your business over the last year?
The pandemic has been extremely testing from a business perspective, half our business prior to the pandemic was based on sales to the hotel, bar & restaurant trade around the world, so to have 50% of your business shut down overnight was a daunting prospect. However, despite this we made the decision not to furlough anyone and those whose roles became nearly redundant due to COVID like our hospitality sales guys we re-trained in different areas of the business and also encouraged them to volunteer for charitable schemes such as ‘support the NHS’. The security and support we provided was more than repaid by the extra-ordinary work of our brilliant team who are still doing a sterling job rising to the challenges of each and every new lockdown and change of rule and regulation. However, a special thank you goes to those people reaching for that much deserved drink at home as a way to treat themselves in lockdown, this was a phenomenon we saw take hold around the world and as a result we remarkably managed to make up for all that lost hospitality business.
From a personal perspective it depends who you ask, I loved being at home more and seeing the family round the clock, I think they missed me travelling!