Louise Avery cornered a space in the drinks market 10 years ago - but it doesn’t mean she was in any way confident when it came to her business proposition, skills or expertise. “I suffered massively from imposter syndrome for the first few years of having a business,” she tells us. “That changed as I finally gained the confidence and experience to accept that any success was well-earned.”
We spoke to Louise about how it all began - and she reflected back over her journey as a founder to share the things she wishes she knew before starting up, to support the next generation of founders in going it alone.
Louise has always been driven by her passion for making kombucha. Over 10 years, this has remained her guiding star, and it's clear in everything she does.
“I think I became obsessed with the taste and the idea that I could manipulate the kombucha to taste like anything from champagne, to beer, to cider - but without alcohol.
“This came at a time when the trend of drinking less was growing, and I saw an opportunity to provide grown-up soft drinks in a space that was lacking.”
If you’re a would-be founder, you’re just starting up or you’re already on your way, there’s much to be learnt from Louise’s reflections on the startup life. Read on for what she wishes she knew before becoming a part of the startup grind:
Competition isn't a threat - it can positively drive you
“I wish I hadn’t worried so much about competition.
“When I started, I was the only one in London making kombucha and now there are probably over 20 brands in the UK. The great thing is that we are actually all doing different things, and each business helps to grow awareness within the category.
“Competition is actually a positive thing and helps you improve and ask questions that you might not have thought of otherwise.”
Don't make essential aspects of your product offering, like packaging, an afterthought
“I wish I had spent more time considering the packaging - my drinks leaked for the first few years until I sought proper advice on sealing methods.
“I also wish I had understood the legislation around labelling so I didn’t have to spend money changing it post the fact.
“Choose your packaging wisely, speak to your local trading standards prior to printing labels, and make sure it all works seamlessly before designing the branding around it!”
Be meticulously prepared before you crowdfund
“Aside from financing, one of the real joys of crowdfunding is being able to gain access to and grow a following of loyal ambassadors for your startup - so the campaign has to be meticulously thought-through.
“Ensure you: utilise your existing network and following as much as possible before, during and after; be prepared for very detailed questions around your finances, business plan and forward strategy; make yourself available for pitching to bigger investors, as we found these meetings to be very fruitful.
“A helpful piece of advice is to prepare your FAQs in advance - even using your current network to come up with these.”
Continually test your product at every stage of its journey
“Speaking specifically from my experience in the food and drink sector, I recommend first trying your product out on people you know and trust to build up honest feedback.
“Then, once you find somewhere to sell it (food markets are a great start for those in my industry) you must always find opportunities to listen out for customer feedback. Give away tasting samples; start to build up a following - that’s when you can then build a case study to take to potential stockists.”
It is possible to stand out in a saturated industry - it just takes time
“Make the quality of your product the priority over following a trend or perceived gap in the market - because those things will change over time, but quality is consistent.
“Consider how to make your packaging stand out if it is going to be sitting next to multiple other brands on a shelf or online.
“And don’t give up or take anything personally. It can take years to get an in with a key stockist - tenacity is very important when it comes to getting your product to a place where it stands out.”
Women founders: we can lift each other, and that will help us move the barriers that are in our way
“There are many women founders creating wonderful businesses every day.
“I recommend reaching out to women running similar businesses to your own. There are many startup communities on Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn which are geared towards empowering women in business and a lot of very nice people about.
“If we lift each other, we can push past the barriers that have stopped us before.”
Really consider a Start Up Loan
“I took out a Start Up Loan from Virgin StartUp and spent the loan moving my original kombucha operation out of my kitchen and into my first microscopic brewery space. This felt like a monumental step forward.
“Having a commercial space helped me to attract investment as I had essentially proved my concept, albeit on a very small scale. Securing a Start Up Loan has been invaluable, and can truly transform your business.”
What started as a love of foraging for natural ingredients and a dedication to creating beautifully flavoured drinks in Louise’s kitchen at home, has become a successful range of gently sparkling drinks brewed, fermented and bottled at her micro-brewery in Suffolk, with a loyal customer base and a successful startup story. Now you know what Louise wishes she had at the beginning, where will your startup journey take you?
Find out more about how a Start Up Loan from Virgin StartUp can support your business.