On the up · 28 January 2016

Why two years of planning pays off when it comes to revolutionising the drinks industry

Seedlip founder Ben Branson

As Dry January draws to a close, we spoke to the founder of a a brand that has created a year-round alternative for people who want something to drink when they’re not drinking.

Though Seedlip’s first product has only been on the shelves for a couple of months, it is the work of years of planning by its creator – and inspired by his family’s 300-year history of farming.

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

I’m Ben Branson, creator of Seedlip, the world’s first distilled non-alcoholic spirit. The brand is a grown-up, sophisticated option for people who want to drink in moderation in nice places.

(2) How long have you been around for?

We launched 12 weeks ago after two years of planning. For the first year of that I was working on the company part-time while also working in a design agency, but for the 12 months before the launch I focused just on Seedlip. I had no idea how to set up a drink manufacturer, so there was a lot to learn – and I had a lot of people to convince, from bottlers to label designers, because what I was doing was so different.

We’ve recently hired our first employee, which has been quite emotional. It’s really exciting to have another person working with me, but it’s also meant that I need to decide what I want them to do, and so I can’t be in my own little world any more. We’re also about to move out of my house and into our own office.

 (3) How do you make money?

At the moment the core focus is on starting right at the top, working on the premise that the few influence the many, and targeting influencers who really get the product. We’re lucky that we’ve been able to pick and choose where we’re stocked, and only work with people who have the same values. At the moment, the only retailer stocking Seedlip is Selfridges – some other stockists are simply too big for us to fulfil their orders.

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

Very simply, we want to solve the problem of what to drink when you’re not drinking – a problem which people face all over the world. People are increasingly trying to drink less, but don’t want to feel like they’re missing out. Seedlip offers something for people who want to drink in moderation in nice places, and it’s a much more sophisticated option than sugary or fizzy drinks.

We’re launching a second product in May which will have a summer-focused flavour, and will have a third coming out in the autumn – they’ll both use ingredients from my family’s farm, which means a lot to me. The plan is to build our own distillery soon as well.

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

All I started with was a problem I wanted to solve, and the whole time that has been the driving force behind Seedlip, rather than it being about making money. I think that has been a massive help in terms of staying on track when things have been difficult.

Meeting people who have been there and done it has also been really helpful. When you boil down a food and drink business to the nuts and bolts they’re all pretty similar – you’re producing physical, tangible things. I’ve spoke to people who have made beer and coffee and the underlying principals have been the same.

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

The really simple fact of getting something from my head and onto a shelf, especially as that shelf is Selfridges. Having worked on other people’s brands I knew it was possible, but it’s different when it’s your own idea. To be able to go into the Savoy and order a cocktail made with Seedlip is also really surreal.

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

Without a shadow of a doubt, the biggest challenge has been keeping up with demand. In October 2015 we doubled the amount we wanted to produce to 1,000 bottles, which at the time felt like a massive risk. But since we launched haven’t been able to keep up with demand, production-wise, and we’ve had to play catch-up.  People keep telling me that it’s a nice problem to have, which is true, but it is still a problem.

(8) In five years’ time, I will be…

The owner of a fully up-and-running distillery. I want to be in 20 markets by then too, so that we’re really starting to solve this problem around the world. Getting to £10m in revenue by then is another target. It might sound like a lot but I’m in massive hurry all the time because I’m so excited about what Seedlip is.

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

Make the sacrifices you need to in order to make your business number one. The jockey Tony McCoy is a real inspiration to me and what really struck me when I read his book is that if you really care about something you have to do whatever it takes to achieve it.

(10) Who are your business heroes and why?

My father funs his own business and has done for the last 25 years so he’s a big inspiration to me. David Hieatt, who founded Hiut Denim, is also a massive hero.

If Ben Branson has inspired you to take the first steps to turn your business idea into reality, make sure you check out James Caan’s seven-day startup guide.

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Hannah Wilkinson is a reporter for Business Advice. She studied economics and management at Oxford University and prior to joining Business Advice wrote for Kensington and Chelsea Today about business and economics – as well as running a tutoring company.