This week I caught up with James Dawson who left the corporate life to start T Plus Drinks, a healthy tea company.
Can you give me a bit of background to yourself?
I've been an FMCG business owner in waiting for the last 6 years. After leaving uni, I worked for a large IT company in London, then South Africa, then Dubai. Every year stalling on taking the plunge. I finally got bored of being that guy in the pub talking about a great business idea and took the plunge in Summer 2014 to hand in my notice and get back to the UK to start up T Plus drinks.
What is your startup?
T Plus is the UK’s first range of vitamin enriched green tea. We make an all new category of tea by blending green tea with herbs, fruit and vitamins to create a functional, great tasting tea. It’s been designed to help the new generation of tea drinker get something more healthy, more functional and better tasting than anything else out there in the tea aisles.
What was the inspiration behind it?
Really, it was from despair at the state of the tea market. I have always been a fairly health conscious individual so tried to cut down on coffee and looked towards the healthy world of green / herbal teas as an alternative. However everything out there I ever tried was either bitter, bland or just plain boring. I saw the innovation in the world of coffee and cold drinks and felt the world of tea needed to get a bit smarter!
How do you differentiate from the competition?
We’re different on two points. First - we make a clear, functional blended tea that doesn't exist on the market elsewhere. Each cup of T Plus gives you 50% of your RDA of 9 daily essential vitamins. That’s in addition to functional herbs, high antioxidants and natural fruit flavourings. We’re basically the only company to combine green, herbal, fruit tea and also vitamin supplements. Secondly, T Plus as a brand is unlike anything that exists. We’re bright, bold and fun, not flowery, premium, pretentious and a bit dull like a lot of the teas out there.
How have you funded your business so far?
We got off the ground using my savings from my previous job but we've also made the most of alternative funding and grants out there. We won an accelerator competition to raise £50,000 in April last year and have also successfully applied for local grants totalling £3,000. We’re just starting to set out for our next funding round now to fuel the next stage of growth.
What has been the biggest challenge in starting your business?
Doing it alone. In this tough, time consuming and fast paced world of FMCG there isn't currently enough hours in the day to handle sales, marketing, NPD, sampling and the 1000 other things that come up day to day. Luckily I've got a fantastic wife that’s helped me with operations and also put up with me boring her about my thoughts on new retail trends!
Are you looking to grow the team?
I’m in the process of expanding the team. We’re currently putting together an awesome team of brand ambassadors in London and we’re looking for someone to help focus on the marketing. That will all help speed us up and then we will expand the team further later in the year. We’ve got a great range of brilliant mentors and advisors also so they all help plug the gaps in knowledge or connections.
Startups are full of ups and downs, what gets you through those downs?
I would say perspective is the main tool to get over the downs. Running a startup really is the epitome of a rollercoaster and in one week you can be hit with one high and multiple lows. It’s important to always remember that and for the good times of awards, new listings or good feedback to keep moving forward always because something will be around the corned to bum you out again soon! That and gym sessions and time with friends help get my mind away from the day to day.
What have been your biggest achievements since you launched your business?
We’ve won a nationwide grocery accelerator competition from 130 new food and drink brands, won great taste awards and had our first nationwide listing. Its been an amazing first 10 months for T Plus but really the best moments are on getting customers that feedback and love our products, that is, and always will be the most real and best thing.
How was your experience on the accelerator?
The key thing for me was on help to build education of the sector and also building my network. Building a brand can be a pretty lonely place so the access to a network of new startups and contacts in marketing, logistics, wholesale and retail was invaluable to us.
What advice would you give any entrepreneurs just starting out?
Build a network as fast as you can of mentors, fellow entrepreneurs and industry contacts. There will be many times when something is dropped on your plate that you don't know or are unsure on so having a good network of friends and colleagues to learn from is invaluable. Whether you have experience in FMCG or like me, none at all, running a startup is a different animal so people who have run the course already will help keep you on track.
Some great advice. Thanks for your time James!
If you have a drinks brand but need a route to market, further traction and funding, then you should check out the IncuBus Retail programme: https://www.f6s.com/incubusretailclass2/about