It’s a fantastic concept you have in Thor Drinks. Do you have much experience starting up a business?
Not at all, my background before I came to Thor Drinks was twenty years as a classical musician so, clearly, the obvious next step was going into soft drinks! I’ve always been freelance, and while I played mainly the London Symphony and London Philharmonic Orchestras, I was also involved in a street trio. Not necessarily the most natural of routes.
So how did you go from classical musician to entrepreneur?
I just became very interested in this idea of an adult soft drink and started thinking more and more about the concept, flavours and aims behind it. Of course I didn’t know much about business at all, what the business would be about. This was a proper, gritty start up company. There was no suitcase of cash in the background; it really was one step at a time.
What’s the thinking behind Thor?
The concept was to produce something more powerful than a soft drink. The flavours came as part of the concept, so there was something elemental about it – air, fire, water – was the idea behind the range of four drinks. About 5am one night I suddenly decided to register the domain name, then went back to bed and spent the next few days thinking and talking to people about it. I thought, whenever I’m out but not drinking, I can’t find anything that seems to be aimed at me or at my palate as an adult.
So it’s something you can drink without being the one ‘‘soft drinker?’’
Yes, that’s the general idea – so those that don’t want to drink still permission to party! Parity with alcohol is the idea that we had. Lots of people are drinking less alcohol, whether for their health, religious reasons or drink-driving concerns. Speaking to my friends and family they all agreed with me that there was a serious gap in the market. I decided to produce apple-based drinks that are crisp, dry and refreshing, and you can enjoy in the pub or in a bar.
How did the idea progress from there?
The idea kept on floating further and further. I spoke to people in the trade, pub owners and so forth and this idea of the adult soft drink transpired to be something that was on a lot of people’s minds. I started doing some research – the British Library had some fantastic resources for my initial research. I also looked at reports by companies like Mintel which showed that when asked consumers were keen to see all sorts of things like a wider range of soft drink flavours and lower sugar which would eventually be constituent bits of Thor.
How did you tackle the issue of funding?
Initially it was on a very small scale, just sourcing funds from friends and family who wanted to help me out. I have an aunt and uncle who were very keen on the idea and helped me out. It was only later after using Crowdcube that I brought in a more formal structure and issued some shares.
Branding must have been quite difficult at first?
Yes, our initial branding was very amateur. I never really sought any guidance along the way so the whole thing was pretty unstructured - perhaps an ad in the yellow pages but I didn’t do much more than that! We had a freelance graphic design guy who was a huge help, but the problem was that while the branding looked great on the screen of a mac, it just didn’t translate well to the product.
I knew that we had some tweaking to do so I went to Mystery in Shoreditch who did Giraffe. I thought, there is no way I will be able to afford this. But after tasting the product they were very interested in helping out, so they took an equity stake and decided they would help me out. That was pretty special. Brothers Cider in Somerset also took a stake, which all ended up giving me a lot of confidence in the product.
What have been the main obstacles?
Mainly getting to that next distribution stage. People like to wax lyrical about innovation and lovely new products but the truth is that a distributor’s job is not to sell lovely new products but to make money. There’s a big gap between people’s willingness and enjoyment in seeing new products and the commercial reality.
How are you trying to work through that?
Now we’re looking at building a team as well as very much focusing on our local area, getting our products into a few convenience stores, markets and pubs. We are generally getting our presence and personality, our “Thor Thunderclap” felt in the area. Being in Shoreditch is great because there’s a real ecosystem of entrepreneurship. We’ve done some drinks sponsorship in tech start ups, because you never know quite who’s going to be in the room. We’ve met some useful people who are interested in us this way. I think that with a very visual brand like Thor the best way to spread the word is by getting the drinks in front of people.
Would you compare yourself to other ‘adult’ soft drink companies like Fentimans or Bottle Green?
Fentimans is all about the traditional presentation, which really works for them. However, what is different about us is that our product is designed to have parity with alcohol. We want people to be able to stand around with friends as if they were having a bottle of alcohol. Something like J2O is all there really is in pubs and bars, so we wanted to create something that was more reflective of people’s palates as they get older. We don’t want excessively sugary drinks and this is something that doesn’t seem to be acknowledged by what’s already out there.
Could you say Thor Drinks is going down the ‘healthy drinks’ route?
We’re talking a middle-line. My view is this is what needs to happen when we talk about sugar. Moderation is a message that is virtually unsellable. It’s difficult to hear a story that says you should just cut down a bit which is what we need to do. Something has either got to be killing you or the best thing since sliced bread.
Thor Drinks are ideal because even if you’re had three of them, you’ve only had 25 more calories than a regular bottle of Appletiser, so you can drink with the best of them. For me the main thing about Thor was always creating these clean, dry, adult flavours, but the sugar thing is good news as far as we’re concerned.
And the next steps?
Next we plan to develop more sales and distribution and obviously raising some more money, building up the team, building up the brand. It would be nice to get a great big marketing budget to do something, after we’ve achieved a bit more in the way of sales. But as soon as that happens, it’s definitely going to be world domination.