Recently I caught up with Troy Douglas and Drew Bilbe, the brains behind Nexba iced tea. Here’s their story.
Why ice tea?
Drew: About four years ago, I was in Mexico and went to a place called Nexpa. I saw that ice tea was a massive market over there and came back realising there’s only two players here, and it’s a small percentage of the beverage market, being about 1 -2 percent where it’s about 12-14 per cent overseas.
Troy: There was an opportunity to grow a market, to create our own niche and space, drive growth and contribute to the ice tea category.
How did Nexba start?
Drew: Given my background is civil engineering, we initially imported a 2000-an hour canning line. We were able to set it up with the help of our two generous families. In those early stages our dream project was funded by us personally.
In 2012, we made the decision to forego a percentage of equity by drawing on ‘angel investment’ from two personal mentors to help guide the direction of our young brand. We hired a warehouse space, set up the canning line and produced 100,000 cans there with the help of all our families and friends.
Troy: Early on, we brought on people who were advisers and influencers to come in and listen to our business plan, to pick us apart and show where the holes were.
And these mentors were happy to do that?
Troy: Yeah, that was one of the best things we were able to do. To convince people that were very successful in their own right, to share their time with us in the prospect of investing with this business.
The structure is me, Drew and two shareholders, one minor and the other is Peter Baron who invented the flavoured straws.
So then we tested the market by having a Nexba van and Drew and I would go to cafes, schools, just to see if our product was worth backing further.
Pic: The Nexba range. Source: Supplied.
Was that difficult?
Drew: What made it easier is that we were the founders of the brand. No one can replicate that passion, and it was helped by the fact it was our story not a sales rep story, which made it quite easy to sell initially.
Troy: People were very supportive but we also did a lot of background work to make sure it was a better product than was in the market.
We wanted to offer everything that Lipton and Nestea weren’t – we weren’t in plastic, we had different flavours, we were 100 per cent natural.
And 7-Eleven picked that up?
Troy: We knew we wanted to execute and go big from a volume perspective, and we picked the petrol and convenience industry as well as schools. We got a meeting with 7-Eleven and won the account to launch into their stores. We sold our factory, started contract packing in Melbourne, and I guess took business to next level.
We took that sales story and template and success we had in that key account to gain interest, and it made getting meetings with other big companies a lot easier, so we were able to launch into Caltex and BP.
Can you give us any numbers on your growth?
Troy: Our market share is 4.7 per cent in petrol and convenience in ice tea category. Our goal is to be beyond 10 per cent with new accounts coming on board. From a revenue perspective, year one we wanted to hit $750,000. The year after, the goal was to hit a million.
Drew: And with Coles coming on board, there’s the opportunity to hit some serious growth on that. Certainly around the 4-5 million dollar mark.
Pic: The ‘Aussie Boys’ marketing. Source: Supplied.
Why the push towards natural ingredients?
Drew: We’re coming out as lifestyle, healthy, young, fresh brand. We started using stevia about three years ago, but consumers didn’t know what it was so we said ‘natural flavours’ instead. Now we call it stevia and people know what it is.
Troy: I think all our competitors will be heading that way, we just want to be known as the innovators. If it wasn’t for startups coming up with better products, there wouldn’t be a need for bigger companies to change.
What have some of your challenges been?
Drew: A lot of the technical aspect and industry knowledge, learning how the beverage and FMCG industry works here, which we’re still learning. Putting the factory in was the hardest mental and physical part of business.
Troy: Getting a meeting was a challenge in the beginning, but now it’s pretty easy because we’ve got a proven track record. For startups today I think a big challenge is “who are you?”
What’s your advice for others wanting to create a business and work for themselves?
1. Companies die from within. As the executive of your business, you need clear direction of where you’re going.
2. Dig deep not wide. This is about picking the easiest wins, because you’re limited on resources and people.
3. Innovation is king. Everybody needs to constantly evolve as a business and offer more value.
Main image: Drew Bilbe (L) and Troy Douglas. Pic: Supplied