We spoke to him about how he became a brand owner, what he’s learned along the way and the advice he’d give to someone following in his footsteps
Tell us about your career so far?
Post-university I did a masters and then went straight into banking. I spent a couple of years doing that during the credit crunch which was an interesting time to enter into the industry, but realised it wasn’t my bag so decided to leave that to go and work in marketing. During my time at university and in between my masters I did a lot of internships and really enjoyed the marketing and digital side of things so after leaving banking that felt like a good direction to go in.
I started my marketing career as a social media analyst, understanding how people behave online, interacting with brands and using that to develop insights for clients. I continued along that path and went into a more traditional marketing/advertising agency focusing again on digital and social media before leaving to help a friend start a financial tech business called Osper, which is bank for young people.
Then I went back into advertising agency land where I spent the bulk of my career at Bartle Bogle Hegarty where I was a strategist developing brands and comms and digital strategies for different types of businesses – it’s where I got my first taste working with Pernod Ricard on Martell Cognac and Absolut vodka, getting an insight into the world of spirits and how that worked from a brand marketing side.
Now I work at Meta (aka Facebook and Instagram) helping brands use our platforms to grow their business and connect with consumers – that is my full-time job.
What is Spearhead Sprits and why did you want to launch it?
Spearhead Spirits is run by myself and a close friend, Chris Frederick. Chris is an operational genius and I tackle the brand side of things so between us we pool our skills. Chris is an accountant by trade but he is also a former MBA basketball agent, and he also bought and ran a pub for a few years which is great experience for what we’re doing now. He also worked in finance for numerous years, so his path is equally interesting.
There are people who have been doing this for years and we’re by no means saying we’re experts – we remind ourselves that this requires a humility to listen, learn and ask questions.
Spearhead came from both of us acknowledging that you would go to an off licence and there were no spirits from Africa but there were from every other continent on the planet. It was a clear problem and we thought it could be interesting to solve it. Chris went away to figure out what the operational side would look like and how you actually develop a liquid that was commerically viable and at the same quality of the finest spirits in the world.
We plugged away at how to make that happen and through a bit of graft we managed to find a distillery in South Africa who we partnered with to create the liquid. We developed a liquid that we felt was at a quality that could stand up, and the thought about how to export this liquid to different markets.
What’s it like being a drinks brand owner?
Needless to say it is a steep learning curve. There is a lot of nuance within the industry and we have been very lucky that we have been able to speak to some incredibly experienced people who have been generous with their time and knowledge. There are people who have been doing this for years and we’re by no means saying we’re experts – we remind ourselves that this requires a humility to listen, learn and ask questions.
The growth has been… I don’t know how to describe it. Sometimes it feels painful, you’re growing so quickly, but it’s also a privilege. I never thought I’d be in a position where I’d be building a brand from the ground up and at this pace – I’ve learnt a hell of a lot.
We received advice and mentoring from the folks at Uncle Nearest and had great conversions with Fawn Weaver – a one hour conversation with her focuses one’s mind on what you need to do to be a success in this industry. Yes we have transferable skills and I’ve worked with big spirits brands, but none of that replaces the experience of owning a brand and all the things you have to do to get it into the market. You don’t know what you don’t know until it is in front of you.
Are there skills you’ve had to utilise that you didn’t think you would have to in the process of launching Spearhead Spirits?
Yes, things like selling. In every job there is an element of sales because sales is effectively persuasion and communication. Making your value proposition attractive to someone else is a skill and you have people who are exceptional sales people. We are passionate about what we’ve created and some of that helps in the selling process, but I never thought I’d be doing hand-to-hand sales but I really enjoyed doing it and I think the experience I’ve had being a brand strategist, having to sell ideas for adverts to clients, has helped me empathise with people in the process of selling.
How have you grown professionally and personally?
The growth has been… I don’t know how to describe it. Sometimes it feels painful, you’re growing so quickly, but it’s also a privilege. I never thought I’d be in a position where I’d be building a brand from the ground up and at this pace – I’ve learnt a hell of a lot. It’s making me more rounded from a skill-set perspective working with someone like Chris who is exceptional at making things happen.
What do you think the industry needs to do to diversify?
I guess it is no secret that there is a need for more diversity in this sector so being able to add more diverse representation is for us a privilege. We are lucky to be able to step into that space and we also recognise our own personal privilege – regardless of our background there are privileges that we personally have that have allowed us to build this business and bring it to market.
Don’t be afraid to share your idea because you’ll be surprised at how many people are willing to help you to progress.
All that being said, I hope that it is evidence to people like us that it is possible but also that a reminder to the industry that there is a need to create a space for more diversity within the spirits sector. I’m really passionate about trying to connect a community within the industry so we can help others, learn from others and also find ways to ensure people progress – it’s all good getting in, but what about staying in.
Any advice for someone coming into the industry?
Talk to as many people who are in it or who have done it as possible, because you will learn a lot and will avoid mistakes. Don’t be afraid to share your idea because you’ll be surprised at how many people are willing to help you to progress. There is also something to be said about understanding the business model because there are a lot of businesses in this sector that will start as a passion for the product – while that is important, quite quickly you have to figure out the commercial foundations. That will help you decide whether it is a passion project or business – doing as much as you can to understand the business side of the drinks business will help you to make that decision.