Laura Clacey Founder of SXOLLIE Craft Cider says, we are now in over 900 Sainsbury’s outlets.
Give a brief description of your company.
SXOLLIE, pronounced sko-llie is a South African cider, but not just any cider – a cider made solely from your favourite eating apple varietal; think Golden Delicious, Granny Smith or Pink Lady apples freshly pressed and fermented for your drinking pleasure.
WHAT IT MEANS: The name SXOLLIE is a colloquial South African term for a cheeky rascal/ hustler, and that’s we’re all about; we speak to those looking to be more that what they are, to those with a glint in their eye and an eye on the prize, to those who have the inbuilt ability to hustle for what they want.
We launched in the UK 18 months ago, and with a bit of luck and lot of hustle, SXOLLIE entered through the gilded doors of Harrods and quickly gained a listing at 90 Waitrose stores. Amazingly, in November 2018 we were selected as one of the Sainsbury’s Future Brands and secured over 900 national store listings (if you’re wondering, that’s most of them). Bars and restaurants love us too, we are the only cider at Heston Blumenthal’s The Fat Duck and Hinds Head, and are stocked at Fullers pubs, Metropolitan Pub Company pubs and Swingers to name but a few.
We have also been found looting the UK ciders’ awards cabinet from a “Great Taste” award to the title of, not only “Best in Class-New World Ciders” but more importantly “Supreme Champion Cider 2019”and “Supreme Champion – Packaging and Design 2017” at the International Cider Challenge beating over 300 cider brands to the finish line.
With ½ a million bottles sold in 18 months and lot of exciting news in the pipeline we urge you to join the hustle, and drink us…
How did you get the idea/ concept for your business?
Karol, my partner and I love a good drink (don’t we all), so one hot sunny day we were thinking we fancied a cider and went hunting the shelves of our local supermarket, but they all looked so, well, …bleh, that we settled on a crisp white wine…again. That got us thinking; every category in the alcohol space had been premiumised…except cider. Think craft beer, flavoured beer, sour beer, pink gin, flavoured gin, gin that changes colour when you add tonic, premium tonics to use with your fancy gin, rum, gorgeous wine with gorgeous labels from unpronounceable exotic places, wine in a can, wine in a dinky bottle, bitters blah, blah, blah – I could go on for hours.
…But, name 1 cider that has revolutionised the way we see cider? This was and is the core of our business; to bring the world’s largest cider market into the 21st century and introduce them South Africa’s glorious apples, grown basking in the sunshine and soaking up the rays – yes, the very apples you scramble over at the supermarket to get your hands on – are more often than you’d know, South African grown!
Give a brief account of your education background.
I started by career at KPMG but not as an auditor (like Karol my partner) but rather in Climate Change & Sustainability strategy and consulting. I worked with many of the largest mining and brewing companies in the world to improve on their sustainability performance. I travelled the world as one does when working for a large multinational. Eventually I landed up transferring to KPMG in Sydney where I spent 2 years with KPMG, before moving on to work for the Australian Federal Government within an agency named Indigenous Business Australia. For the next 2 years I travelled to every far-flung corner of Australia working with incredible Aboriginal people making their own way, growing and expanding their own business ventures. This inspired me to want to start my own business.
We moved to Cape Town in 2014 to start SXOLLIE and launched in mid 2015. South Africa is an extremely difficult place to do business and that inspired the name of our cider, SXOLLIE – the hustler – something we had to embody to be where we are today.
Our sales in England began to skyrocket and so we made the move to London at the end of 2017 to launch here, which brings me to today. Tomorrow? – who knows?
Did you always know/ever think you would become an entrepreneur when you were younger?
Unquestioningly – yes, but cider – no way! While working in corporate I always thought I’d open a social impact investing or sustainability consultancy, going back further, when I was a little girl my parents remember me announcing that I wanted to be a “socialite”, which is fitting as I now seem to spend 90% of my evenings at networking events, which is incredibly important to us being entrepreneurs in a new country.
Is entrepreneurship a common trait in your family?
Yes, but I hadn’t really considered that until right now. Dad started a legal conveyancing practice that specialises in large scale housing developments. He had a team of 50-60 people before he retired, and mum is an artist who had always made a living from exhibitions and commissions, so I guess they are in a way, entrepreneurs within a loose definition of the term.
Did you have prior knowledge of the industry before setting up your company?
Not at all. I knew how large breweries like SAB Miller and Diageo operated having spent a lot of time with them; I knew a lot about their health and safety standards, equal employment opportunity development, greenhouse gas emissions etc, but very little about production. I’ve always tinkered with making boozy combos and I love experimenting, but starting my own booze brand? NO! But I have always believed you can do anything you set your mind to (expect maybe brain surgery).
Do you think your previous work experience (if any) gave you an advantage when setting up your business?
Yes, for sure! Working for KPMG, who pride themselves on being the early stomping ground for many future CEOs, CFOs and COOs, clearly demonstrates they have a great formula for breeding success. Being young and learning to compete with 1000s of great minds and A-type personalities certainly gave me the ambition, resilience, and ability to pull 23-hour days, all the while knowing how to think smart, and the knowledge that nothing comes to those who don’t ask. And let’s not forget the rather thick skin needed to deal with the daily challenges. I suppose that’s what most of being an entrepreneur is about.
The formal training on strategic thinking and systematic approaches to solving problems and getting things done was also invaluable.
How did you initially fund your business? (self-funded, government funding, etc)
So far, we have been 100% self-funded with a small loan from the bank and all our life savings (EEK)!
We are profitable, and now ready for the next stage of development as we really need to grow our tiny team of 3 and we need to spend to start boosting the marketing that ultimately turbo-charges growth. We were selected for Seedrs FMCG accelerator last month and are in the process of starting our first round of funding to launch early next year. Watch this space – or even better get in touch if you are interested (literally anytime, day or night – firstname.lastname@example.org or 079 223 84552)
Looking back, would you have changed the method of funding you chose?
No, doing this alone and on shoe-string has taught us to be frugal and spend wisely. We were forced to think strategically about everything and be creative in how we rolled out our product. It has been incredibly stressful at times to keep cash-flow tight, but I think we have more than proven our concept and I am confident we are now in a position to offer investors a superb return.
What difficulties, if any, did you encounter when securing funding?
Well to start with, South Africa is no easy place to do business! Our first bank credit card overdraft was the equivalent of £2.50 and so we had to work on a top-up system but if ever we went over it by 1 cent, the account was frozen meaning we had to physically go to the bank with 3 months’ worth of utility bills (to prove it was me) in order to unlock the account. We approached 2 investors in South Africa one of whom turned out totalk a big game, but not really have a game to offer, and the other was put off on the day Brexit happened (true story).
In the UK things have been far, far easier with the banks being very open to providing loans along with on-line and in-person support. The fact that programs like Seedrs & Spark crowdfunding exist, as well other support consultancies providing access to capital, make it much easier to succeed! (A big shout-out to Swoop Funding (another IIBN member) who have helped us a lot in the last few months as well). Here’s to the first of many successful raises…and the start of the journey to dominating the category….
Did you encounter any financial difficulties in the first year of operation? If yes, what did you do to surpass them?
Yes, it was probably the most stressful year of my life! We were the first craft cider to launch in South Africa, and the industry was not set up to produce a small-batch premium cider. We had to produce larger volumes than what we were comfortable with, and everyone made us pay cash-up-front, so cash-flow was a total nightmare! Getting our money on and off shore was also incredibly challenging with South African capital controls.
The answer was the hustle, pleading with suppliers to be lenient and along with many nights on baked-beans and toast. We also rented our home out on AirBNB and went to stay with friends at least 3 times a month to make ends meet. We became militant about debt collection (something we still pride ourselves on) and slowly started to see the light at the end of the tunnel.
What characteristics do you feel benefited you most when starting your business?
Resilience, a sense of humour, a lot of determination and never countenance a plan B…still to your gut…
To what do you attribute your company’s success/growth to?
On a rare occasion my dad gave me some advice when I told him we were starting our own business (he never tends to interfere with my life decisions). He said “either do things differently, or do things better”. This has really stuck with me.
I think that with SXOLLIE, our success can be put down to the fact that we are doing things differently by re-imagining cider, on the whole a rather dated and stale category. We are also constantly trying our best to do things better all the time; we aim to be hyper responsive to customers and suppliers, and are nimble and therefore able to stay on trend and ahead of our competitors. The other key, and not to be forgotten factor is to know your finances inside-out (which we do, thanks to Karol, my partner and the Money Bags) and not overspending (it’s so easy to blow through cash).
What is your opinion on the importance of a professional network for an entrepreneur?
It is priceless! I cannot stress this enough! The IIBN has been my rock in the UK!
Do you think entrepreneurship has changed in recent years?
As I’m only 34 and have only been in the UK for 2 years I don’t think I can really comment here.
Would you ever consider starting another company or involving yourself in new start-ups again?
Yes, we are always on the look-out of the next venture and have a few ideas bubbling away in the background but for now, I’m happy with reinventing cider.
If you had one piece of advice for a new entrepreneur, what would it be?
Be brave. Every. Single. Day.