HOW I MADE IT – Laura Clacey, Founder Sxollie Xider
Laura founded the award winning SXOLLIE Xider, “a unique cider made from single varietal apples grown in the Western Cape, South Africa. “Stop faffing about and just go for it. You’ll quickly see if your product has legs” she says.
For Laura Clacey, it’s all about authenticity with attitude.
Most business owners will tell you that you need to work hard, stay focussed on the job in hand, and capitalise on any luck that comes your way. What they don’t tell you is that you will also need a great product and to dig deep and hustle like never before, because no one else will believe in your company quite like you do.
So, when Laura and Karol created their business, the obvious name for their new venture was SXOLLIE: South African slang for hustler, disrupter, go-getter.
Having grown up in South Africa, Laura knew that apples grow best in the sunshine, but no one had thought to turn them into cider. So along with her husband they set out to revolutionise the UK cider market with a uniquely natural product in what is a dated category; the fusty tractor-clad cider made with bitter apples you wouldn’t dare try eat. SXOLLIE on the other hand, is making waves in the UK as it is the only cider made entirely from 1 type of eating apple with no added sugar or concentrate and sustainability at its heart.
The young couple launched SXOLLIE in Waitrose after winning the International Cider Challenge and turning the head of the cider buyer. Within 4 years they now boast thousands of stocking points at Sainsbury’s Waitrose and Tesco across the UK. But the journey has not always been easy, “making cider in a developing country has a raft of commercial challenges, from currency exchange, to government red-tape and access to finance”.
With no strangers to challenging business environments, in 2020 at the start of the pandemic, the South African government on a whim decided to ban the sale and export of any alcohol. On the other side of world in the UK however, consumers were drinking at home like never before! The SXOLLIE team had to manage stock very carefully and take a few risks, like decanting the kegs destined for pubs and bars. With luck on their side, the SA government reversed their decision and they managed to keep supplying retailers with only 2 days to spare. Laura recalls, “that was a stressful week”!
As with any true hustler, there is always some good to be gained from adversity. “We built stronger relationships with all of our suppliers and customers during these challenging times, and have come out the other side stronger and more resilient. We make sure we have a much larger stock-pile in case this ever happens again.” Say’s Laura.
Incidentally, with the current distribution challenges the UK is facing, this little shift in stock planning has swung a full 180 degrees and SXOLLIE has now been able to further build on the strong relationships with their customers, and assist them in keeping their shelves/ bars fully stocked while the UK and EU competitors can’t supply stock to them.
Laura spent the first decade of her career in Sustainability and social impact investing and Karol is a chartered accountant, so the duo knew they needed to surround themselves with great mentors. “You will be amazed how many people are out there willing to be a sounding board to ensure we made the right decisions to grow.” Having secured their first funding in 2021 with a pool of strategic and talented investors, they now have senior management team of 5, and 8 junior staff members. “We are in a great place to take SXOLLIE to the next level” says Laura with a cheeky grin. But not all advice given in her life was “good advice”. While in corporate before founding SXOLLIE, she was told that she would never make it life unless she dressed in a pencil skirt, dialled down her colour choices and painted a French manicure on her nails. “That comment really got to me, I tried to follow the advice, but felt like a fraud every morning. One day I decided enough was enough. I knew that to be authentic, I needed to be my own boss.”
On reflecting on the past 18 months, and the future of brands in the UK, Laura believes that for the UK to recover from the pandemic, government needs to stop interfering in business’ ability to operate. “The government gained enormous power over individuals and businesses’ autonomy without much understanding or foresight of the implications of their decisions. This has resulted in many disasters; the truck-driver crisis for one, and employees being able to dictate how, where and when they work, rather than the business being able to make strategic decisions on where they need staff to be.”
On success, Laura believes that entrepreneurs don’t usually have the benefit of deep pockets for product development, market research and consultants to develop plans for you. “The biggest mistake I see entrepreneurs make, is lacking confidence in their ability to make the right decision for their company.” This either leads to spending too much money on consultants, to stagnating and not making decisions quickly enough. Laura believes that entrepreneurs should have the courage of conviction to get out there, hustle and make mistakes. No one has a silver bullet and no one going to knock on your door and make things happen for you. “You, and you alone make things happen. My advice, stop faffing about and just go for it. You’ll quickly see if it’s a product has legs and from there the sky is the limit.”
SXOLLIE is sold in the UK, EU, South Africa, Hong Kong and Singapore. “The end goal is a buy-out so that we can start again with our next idea…”.