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Suffolk founder brewing up purpose-led business

Louise Avery founded L.A. Brewery in 2017. Today, the Suffolk micro-brewery is a certified B Corp and boasts 100% recycled packaging.

Louise Avery Virgin StartUp

After experimenting with fermentation by embracing all that the Scottish Hebrides had to offer, Louise Avery founded L.A Brewery in 2017. The Suffolk micro-brewery is now a certified B Corp and all of their packaging is 100% recyclable, putting nature at the heart of the drinks they create and the planet at the forefront of everything they do. 

  • Start Up Loan Received: £6,000

  • Year funded: 2015


LA BRewery

What would you tell yourself as a new founder just about to start on your journey?

Be truly open to everything that comes your way. So often I have had a fixed idea of what success looks like or where the business should appear. The opportunities and ideas I have resisted the most have turned out to be the most exciting and pivotal. The FMCG climate changes continuously which means we have to adapt at the same rate and be open to everything. Covid is an example of this and the speed at which companies had to open up their own online shops - our Shopify store is one of our most exciting sales channels now.

What was the biggest mistake you've made as a founder? 

So many. Alluding to my earlier point about not being open, when we started the business we were obeying the laws of ‘kombucha’ which is a traditionally chilled product. Once I finally plucked up the courage to step outside of those confines, we stopped making refrigerated drinks and started producing the best drinks we have ever made, designed to emulate non-alcoholic champagne.

Ignoring the kombucha hype to create a new category has worked very well for us. We stopped trying to compete with kombucha producers and used the fermentation of the tea to focus on taste and move to non-alcoholic drinks rather than the crowded kombucha category.

What have been the biggest learnings on your startup journey?

Having your own production facility is incredibly expensive. Whilst ultimately rewarding in many ways, including that you have greater control over your products, I would recommend that any food and drink entrepreneurs outsource their production and save their cash for marketing and sales so they can accelerate their growth.

However, if you do have your own brewery or production facility, there is a lot to be said for owning your IP and I’ve been lucky to have a team over the years who have supported me in executing ambitious projects.  

What's been the most exciting achievement for you as a founder?

When we bring on a new stockist and it succeeds, I feel great pride and excitement. Most recently, launching in itsu, Nandos and The Wine Society have been huge moments for the business.

How has Virgin StartUp helped you to get your business to where it is today?

The foundation of L.A Brewery in 2017 was actually a tiny business called Lois & The Living Teas which I started in my kitchen in 2013. After two years I had to move it out of my house into a commercial kitchen and I had no idea how to turn it into a larger scale operation. I had three other jobs at the time to keep it going which was unsustainable, and so I applied for a Virgin StartUp loan in 2015 and borrowed £6,000.  

I used the money to set myself up in a commercial space on the Kingsland Road in Hackney, invested in some equipment and wrote a very simple business plan with guidance from Virgin StartUp. I paid off the loan over three years and the rest is history.

What has been the most valuable piece of advice, information or event that you've read/attended from Virgin StartUp?

There was a mentor who helped me to write the numbers alongside the plan and he explained the very basics of cash flow. Often we think about money coming in, but rarely grasp the full costs going out of a business. For example, founders usually assign no monetary value to their time at the start and so it leads to a misunderstanding of the real numbers. 

“I have a strong belief in the business and so even when it seems against all odds, I always think everything is going to be okay.”

Louise Avery, founder, L.A. Brewery

Do you have a mentor? If so, how did that relationship begin, what do you gain from it and how do you maintain it?

I have many mentors but my two business partners, William Kendall and Mark Palmer, have provided me with the most guidance and insight. They have vast experience in FMCG, having led New Covent Garden Soup, Green & Blacks and Cawston Press to name just a few of the brands they are/have been involved in. 

We met through a mutual friend and they helped me to raise my first tranche of sizeable investment and launch L.A Brewery. They are especially good at providing a realistic view of the wider expectations of investors, as well as asking the difficult questions you need to consider when keeping a business afloat during challenging times. We communicate weekly in a meeting, or more frequently if necessary.

How do you get through tough times in your business? 

I have a strong belief in the business and so even when it seems against all odds, I always think everything is going to be okay. Having a company is a series of peaks and troughs no matter what size you are and so I remind myself during the tough moments that it will pass. Also, if something goes terribly wrong, a great learning is usually unearthed and we move forward as a stronger unit.

What do you wish you'd have known when you were first starting out as a Founder of a startup?

I wish I’d known how long it would take to create a successful business. The world is full of stories of seemingly overnight successes, but the truth is it takes a long time for most businesses to create something sustainable - more than 10 years as far as I can tell from other larger companies I have spoken to!

Has anything surprised you about running a startup? 

I think we all walk in believing it will be easy and work out perfectly with blind optimism - and that is definitely not the case. I probably didn’t realise that the most enjoyable part is bringing people on the journey with you - without that it would be no fun at all.