On the up · 16 November 2015

TrueStart Coffee: Aiming to fuel a caffeine revolution by taking on Red Bull

Helena and Simon Hills
Helena and Simon Hills
The co-founder of TrueStart Coffee discusses how training for a triathlon led to a Eureka moment, and why she thinks her business has ‘stratospheric potential.

While training for an Ironman 70.3 triathlon, husband and wife Simon and Helena Hills had a habit of drinking coffee for the natural caffeine hit before training, and soon realised they had significantly different reactions depending on the day. One day we’d be on the bike with heart palpitations and the next day there would be nothing, Helena explained.

Looking into the caffeine variation, they realised there was a ‘shocking range? the two couldn’t believe how blind they were to it. TrueStart was created as a result of this, aimed at the health-conscious who want to know the exact amount of caffeine they’re drinking. It’s billed as caffeine controlled performance coffee and having beendeveloped by triathletes, it’s clearly appealing to those taking part in endurance sport. Yet it also recognises that more and more people these days are aware of, and wanting to understand, just what exactly they’re putting into their bodies.

you need to know that you’re getting enough caffeine for the physiological benefit without having so much that you risk adverse side effects, and the only other fixed caffeine options are synthetic, such as energy drinks or pills, Helena said.

This isn’t the couple’s first business together however. In 2011, they created a luxury cat furniture store, after wanting to find more variety for their beloved Bengal cat. Helena feels they’ve always been entrepreneurs at heart.

Simon also works on another startup, helpfulpeeps a social enterprise aiming to get people in Bristol swapping services and favours, instead of buying things with money. It hopes to encourage both saving money and the development of a network of people willing to lend a hand in their communities.

It was through his work there that he came across Entrepreneurial Spark, the accelerator programme, which has proved vital to TrueStart. We’ve received so much support. TrueStart has been an insane whirlwind from the word go and we joined Entrepreneurial Spark just as everything was starting to feel a little out of control, with opportunity coming at us from every direction, Helena explained.

The structure, mentorship and sounding board provided were all integral in helping the Hills focus and cut out the noise.

From Helena’s perspective, the single biggest mistake a new business can make is becoming insular and not talking to people. She thinks it’s very easy to do, but getting market insights and feedback has to be a number one priority.

Since launching, the TrueStart team has been on a mission to talk to as many people as possible to understand their customers’ behaviour. This has enabled them to be lean with marketing and product development and build a really relevant strategy? they know works.

This meticulous approach has paid off, and Helena warns you should never spend significant cash without lean testing the hell out of your idea first. TrueStart has already branched out from selling exclusively to the UK, also selling to the US, though Helena said their focus there is a lot narrower than it is here.



Rebecca is a reporter for Business Advice. Prior to this, she worked with a range of tech, advertising, media and digital clients at Propeller PR and did freelance work for The Telegraph.

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