Meet the co-founder of Sandows
Hi Hugh, thank you for being here. Inspiration is always a great indication of why people launch businesses. Who or what inspired you to get started?
I have lots of inspirations but my parents are both pretty entrepreneurial and definitely helped develop my business forward tendencies. Our time at TAP Coffee taught my co-founder Luke and I that we had something special in us and were capable. My time at Giraffe when I first moved to the UK taught me many things… in the beginning how fun a business could be and by the end of my time, how much it can affect your business financially when you compromise on everything to make more money.
Sandows is named after Eugene Sandow, the first bodybuilder (or strongman as it was known at the time) to focus on holistic strength over pure size. We interpret Eugen Sandows’ ethos as ‘using unusual methods to strive for perfection’ so attention to detail and innovative thinking are the parallels we aim to make between him and our cold brew. We take a really uncompromising approach to product quality.
How do you set yourself apart from other businesses in your industry?
We’ve been in it for so much longer than many of our competitors, having started 4 years ago, plus a further year before that researching and planning. We know the category inside out and are confident venturing outside our own category to learn from other people doing things well. People love our packaging and brand tone of voice. We’re not trying to be all things to all people but to really hit home with the people who find our products, style and ways of communicating relatable.
What’s the single most important decision that you made, that contributed to your business?
I mean there are just so many but I think the thing that really changed everything was the first time we raised money and that decision to do so. There’s no going back when you make that decision, you lock yourself into turning it from a hobby to a business and become accountable for delivering a return which I consider a very real responsibility.
How did you fund the launch of your business and what creative strategies did you use to execute a minimal cash flow?
We were pretty lucky on a number of fronts. Our employer at the time, TAP Coffee, allowed Luke and me to go part time and share one role between two. Another former colleague from TAP had left to start his own café called Vagabond and had just opened a second café at that time and had a number of empty rooms in their basement he was keen to monetise. Because they were still a little short on staff having just opened, we agreed to pick up 3 shifts a week between us and that Vagabond would deduct from the rent both a nominal wage for those shifts as well as the wholesale value of our cold brew for any orders they placed.
So quite quickly we were working 4 shifts a week each at TAP, 1-2 shifts a week each at Vagabond, one day a week brewing and bottling all our product and every other waking minute responding to emails and building the business. That said, we got our first stockist out of it and before long we actually built up a credit from the amount of cold brew Vagabond were selling which allowed us to go full time and grow even faster!
How did you conquer those moments of doubt that so often affect entrepreneurs or stop many with great ideas – what pushes you through?
I feel privileged to have a trusted support network like my co-founder Luke, my parents (in Australia) and family here in the UK and friends. The way I look at it these days after our experience so far is that starting a business and persevering is a great character building exercise and that you have to accept the down moments and look to your support network to ride them out. For me, so long as you are persevering and not losing belief, the journey is like Newton’s Third Law of Motion in that the worse it gets, the better it’s just about to be (and inevitably the flip side too!).
Who is your target audience?
Anyone with a creative sensibility who wants to look after themselves and feel great. We find our messaging and aesthetic tends to appeal most to 18-35 year olds but it’s really evenly split between male and female which is super cool.
What would be your number one tip for young entrepreneurs who are ready to launch their own business?
Read, listen to podcasts, meet people. Message people whose work you admire on Instagram/ LinkedIn/ email and tell them and ask them specific questions you’d like to hear their opinion on to help build up your own. Don’t ask them if they have any advice, extract it from them!
Apart from that, get going and be prepared to recognise failures, draw a line under them quickly and iterate. I always loved the story of the fighter pilot in a dog fight who had such fast reactions that it didn’t matter that they’d missed a load of shots because they still managed to land a shot before the other had even made one shot.
If you could have one person record your voicemail, who would it be and why?
Probably Hank Azaria from The Simpsons because I love that show and he could switch between so many voices on the message like Moe, Chief Wiggum, Apu, Superintendant Chalmers and Duffman!
What first in the mornings, phone, book, laptop or me time?
Phone unfortunately. The first thing I do when I wake up is get my home screen back to the point where I’ve zeroed out all my notifications. Then a shower and if there’s time a mug of black coffee.
What plans do you have for Sandows over the coming 12 months?
We are building the foundation for Sandows to have a successful entry into mainstream grocery and working on securing those listings concurrently. We’re focusing a lot on universities, travel sites and also the on-trade.
What’s the most important question entrepreneurs should be asking themselves?
How can I learn more?
How do you believe the evolution of tech will affect your industry over the next 10 years?
Oh it’s gonna be amazing. I think Amazon has the potential to be bigger than all the major supermarkets put together but they’re smart and will be working against that which is only going to mean better value and service for consumers across the board. I imagine it will make life more difficult for brands as that dependency on Amazon or the supermarkets to reach the consumers will drive a price war but they won’t want to sacrifice their margins.
I’m also excited about blockchain technology helping to inform stakeholders all along the food and beverage supply chain on value vs socio-economic and environmental impact.
What would be your top marketing tip, to grow a business that is so niche, yet incredibly timeless?
Use the free, algorithmic platforms like Instagram and LinkedIn and learn how to optimise your content for the algorithm. You can’t win big every time but making sure you’ve got a consistent presence is key.
We always go big on physical activations too. Whether it’s the execution of our packaging or photography, commissioning awesome illustrators or giving out 15,000 samples of our new cans at the London Coffee Festival, we go to great lengths to get it right.
The way you have utilised Instagram to grow your brand is amazing. What would be your top 3 tips for any small business owner, on how to build an engaged audience on Instagram?
1) Whatever you’re saying, write the copy like you would say it if you were taking to someone in person.
2) Make sure your photos are never, ever blurry and create original content at least some of the time.
3) You’re using Instagram to help you to sell product! Sales come first, Instagram comes second. Don’t lose track of that.
What are your thoughts on failure as an entrepreneur?
I’m an expert! I think it’s key to learn the difference between a success, a non-event and a failure and to know how to draw learnings from each.