Our August MeetUp brought together three amazing founders from the food and drink industry for a buffet of advice and stories from their own experiences.
Dominique woolf, founder of The Woolf’s Kitchen
Fabian Clark, co-founder of Quarter Gin
Andy Young, business manager of Black Milk
Host Ben Keene made sure he went in for seconds when it came to asking our panellists questions. The recording of the session is available to watch back on our YouTube, but here’s the top takeaways of what was served up on the night.
Taking the first bite of business
The first step is quite often the hardest one, so were our founders all eager to get into the nitty gritty of starting up?
Dominique opened up about how the idea of The Woolf’s kitchen came to her when a sauce made by her Thai auntie “sparked excitement” and “blew her away”.
“I knew I needed a new career, and after a lot of soul searching I realised it was food. I was always obsessed by food and I was most happy in the kitchen creating and concocting.''
But was it a straight path to success?
“Instead of going straight into it,” Dominique explains, “I kind of procrastinated. I decided to go to Leeds Cookery School to immerse myself because I knew I also wanted to be a food writer. But my plan was to do the food writing, develop that whilst developing a product and somehow the two would merge and make something great.”
Andy dished out how his idea was based on “the nostalgia of looking back to your childhood”.
“As a brand, experience is everything. It’s the service you have, it’s the food you eat, it's your senses, your smells, your vision, what you hear. We wanted, in a good way, a sensory overload, so you’re just left with a wow.”
Black Milk has since become a viral sensation, sprouting imitation all over the UK.
“We started as a cereal cafe and then it worked so well immediately that we added a seating area. It just initially got the support from the community and we made sure we shared our story online, through social media and the press.”
The food and drink industry can definitely give founders a grilling sometimes, with high competition and so many variables which can change and disrupt supply and demand, how do they keep it sweet?
“For me it’s that desire to keep the business at the forefront, to keep the momentum up,” said Dominique.
“I’m a bit tunnel-visioned, so I’m so focussed on getting to the next stage and building it. It’s only me in the business, so if I take my foot off the ball for a minute, it goes to pot. So for me it’s keeping that momentum up, keeping that enthusiasm and for me it’s that excitement - I want to still love what I'm doing and that passion for it. How can I keep it exciting for me as a founder?”
Fabian reflected on the bigger picture and mission of what his startup, Quarter, does.
“It’s doing something completely different,” he said, explaining how Quarter Gin is crafting out a whole new category in the spirits market.
“It’s daunting, it has its challenges and hurdles, but I find it really exciting to fundamentally change how people potentially drink and interact with spirits.”
All in the name
When building a food or drink brand, sticking out on the shelf and being memorable is high up on your priorities when you start. A brand name and identity can tell you lots about your product and the business people behind it, so how did our panellists name their startups, and why?
Andy explains that “Black Milk was consciously chosen as a brand name where we can do anything with it. We understand as we evolve as individuals, and our consumers also change, we can slowly, gradually change to provide needs in different sectors and keep it interesting for ourselves as entrepreneurs.”
“Asian flavours are big, bold, feisty. They’re fiery and it's kind of colourful, and for me the ‘Woolf’ really fits that!” Dominique revealed.
Fabian told us how quickly he and his co-founder snapped up the name for his brand.
When brainstorming the actual product, Fabian said to his co-founder “I think it should be quarter the alcohol, quarter the calories” and they settled on Quarter being the actual identity.
“It was the fastest naming decision we made so we got started working on the brand!” he confessed.
Tried and Tested
How do you know it will work and become a family favourite brand? Before you bring something to market, you need to make sure it’s popular.
Dominique told us that to test her product she first set a boundary for herself, “I gave myself a deadline, I’m a bit disorganised so I need a focus.”
She worked on three products, found a manufacturer and took it to Ally Pally, a local farmers market, and tested the concept - she sold 250 bottles! This was the indication she needed to take her startup tp the next step
Fabian initially ran a 500 person questionnaire to “really understand why people drink” and whether they would be interested in “enjoying the same drink without the consequences and without as much of the effect.”
Luckily the majority came back with yes and the data was surprising.
”Even though the 0 space is growing,” Fabian said, “over 80% who drink 0 alcohol, still consume alcohol. So they aren't trying to abstain, they're trying to moderate the amount of alcohol they’re drinking,” he said.
Andy points out that any new combinations and flavours are very customer-led, with common favourites and the specials board running the show to test out what’s trending for people’s taste buds.
Grab a ticket to our next MeetUp or relive old episodes on YouTube or our podcast.
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