On the up · 26 May 2017

Entrepreneurial advice from Covent Garden restaurateur – Listen and adapt

Hilary Marsh launched a drink to help people look after their health

As a life long wine lover, wine merchant and professional wine-taster, Hilary Marsh realised she needed to protect her long-term health, but found non-alcoholic wine alternatives to be frustratingly lacking in flavour.  

Based on the happy experiences of her childhood, making hedgerow wines and elixirs with her family, as well as her experiences from being an experienced Covent Garden restaurateur, Marsh launched Botonique in June last year, as an alternative to wine with additional health benefits. 

(1) Who are you and what’s your business?

I’m Hilary Marsh, founder of Genius Drinks Ltd. We’re the home of Botonique, the new and unique British-made natural, dry, sparkling non-alcoholic drink alternative for lovers of wine. Our mission is to help people drink less alcohol and look after themselves, but without loss of pleasure.

(2) How long have you been around for?

Since 2013. We learned a lot from our first drink, the controversial GoodShot. However, our new flagship product Botonique was launched in June 2016 and is going strong.

(3) How do you make money?

By creating and selling new and innovative drinks, that are manufactured righ here in the UK.

(4) What makes you different and why should people take notice?

Unlike other non-alcoholic drink alternatives, Botonique isn’t sweet. We listened to demand and created a drink that has a sophisticated taste associated with alcohol, but without including it.

It also has unique health benefits due to the inclusion of the beneficial elements of Prelixir, a unique blend of vitamins, minerals and amino acids which alcohol is known to deplete.

This unique element means that Botonique is able to provide anti-oxidant, anti-inflammatory, alkalising, detoxifying and hydrating benefits, resulting in all the pleasure of drinking without the negative side effects!

(5) What was key in terms of getting started?

Botonique listed on Ocado in November 2016
Botonique listed on Ocado in November 2016

I qualified as a chartered management accountant, and at aged 27 I was director of a venture capital investment company specialising in startups, so I knew certain things from a financial perspective.

I’d also been co-founder and managing partner of a 15-strong business consultancy, and was CEO of a young software company, so I know entrepreneurship, but it had all been business-to-business at that time. Learning about fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) was difficult, but it helped to win a menteeship with the Grocery Accelerator.

The ability to create the product itself went back to my childhood, where I acquired an aptitude for blending flavours, and hospitality, without realising it, helping my Mum cook and Dad make and blend hedgerow wines to satisfy our stream of house guests and parties in spite of them having a civil servant’s income.

The reason for creating non-alcoholic drinks specifically is due to the realisation that after having previous job roles as a wine merchant, taster and Covent Garden restaurateur, I had to look after my long-term health. However, rather than stop drinking altogether, I decided to create a non-alcoholic drink with a long and complex finish like wine.

(6) What’s your biggest achievement to date?

In terms of Genius Drinks, it would be getting Botonique listed on Ocado last November, and being the number one best selling product in their Discovery Shop.

Personally, it would be building Cafe Baroque, the restaurant, wine bar and music venue I created and ran in Covent Garden for seven years.

(7) What setbacks have you had along the way?

The biggest setback at Genius Drinks was the mixed reception for our first drink. This was called GoodShot, and was positioned as a functional mixer “for a better tomorrow”.

Consumers and bar staff loved it, but we couldn’t get mainstream listings, as someone in the decision chain would always think it looked as if we were encouraging people to drink too much, which was never the intention. So, we pivoted and launched a drink positioned firmly to help people drink less and look after their health.

(8) In five years’ time, I will be…

Hopefully running a global functional beverage company, Or, having sold or moved on from that, working on one of my many other business or public service ideas!

(9)  What one tip would you give to others starting out?

Use the whole you, dare to be different, but most importantly listen and adapt when you have to. You cannot do everything on your own.

(10)  Who are your business heroes and why?

Mohammed Yunus, founder of the Grameen Bank which pioneered micro loans through networked local peer groups of women in Bangladesh. Its paradigm shifting, effective, and makes the world a better place – though of course, like all businesses, they’ve had their share of problems.

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Fred Heritage was previously deputy editor at Business Advice. He has a BA in politics and international relations from the University of Kent and an MA in international conflict from Kings College London.

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