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Gemma Wakeham

Female Founder Spotlight: Gemma Wakeham

2 May 2021|Latest Posts, Meet the Successful Founder

Meet the Successful Founder: Gemma Wakeham  Two Drifters Distillery
Meet the Successful Founder: Gemma Wakeham Two Drifters Distillery

Gemma Wakeham is the Co-Founder and CMO of Two Drifters Distillery, a genuine British rum distillery with a carbon negative footprint. 

Can you tell us a little about your background and the company?

I went to Kings College London and did a degree in nursing studies, when I qualified, I worked in Orthopaedics and ICU for five years. I then moved into medical sales where I worked as a Business and Regional Development Manager for six years. I also trained as a Social Media Manager before setting up the distillery. Two Drifters Distillery is a distillery based in beautiful Devon and makes delicious rum from scratch; we are also the world’s first rum distillery to have a carbon negative footprint – meaning our rums have removed more CO2 than they create (from sugarcane plantation to consumers doorstep).

How did the idea come to you for the company?

We have always loved rum and owning a rum distillery was always a pipe dream but six years ago, we lived in Vancouver and we were so impressed with the craft beer scene out there that we thought it would do great in the UK and could be a way to making some rum. We are both from Devon and wanted to move home and set up a business, but we needed more time to prepare and plan. So, Russ got a job at Swansea University and in our spare time we started brewing beer. We started to get good at it and people wanted to buy it, so we set up Two Drifters Brewery and started selling our beers. Eventually we couldn’t keep up with demand and it was taking all our spare time to make a small amount of beer, so we took the plunge, sold our house, moved in with my parents and put all of our money and efforts into setting up Two Drifters Brewery & Distillery in Exeter. We were naïve in thinking that the beer would outsell the rum but after a few months of having both we couldn’t make enough rum and we decided to stop beer, turn our brewery equipment into distillery equipment and we’re now 100% Two Drifters rum. April 2021 will be two years since we had our first rum and beer. We also had to remove our impact on the planet, as much as we love rum, our business couldn’t contribute to global warming. So we have reduced our own CO2 emissions as much as possible and where we can’t influence (e.g. farming, shipping, glass bottle production etc) we remove these emissions with Climeworks – they capture CO2 from the air, turn it into stone and bury it underground.

How did you achieve awareness?

My social media course has been an absolute game changer and I’ve been able to tell our story, raise awareness, watch competition, engage with consumers from the very beginning. Our social media isn’t about just plugging the product, but followers are on this journey with us and get to see everything, we’re very transparent about what we do. I am also relentless about contacting people who can shout our story further for us!

How have you been able to gain funding and grow?

We started with our own investment from the sale of our small semi-detached house in Swansea, it was just enough to set up our expensive equipment, but we were determined not to get outside investment until we had made a name for ourselves and proven that we could do this. Then in September 2020 we knew we had the numbers and the story to go for investment. We ended 2020 with a very successful crowdfunding campaign, raising over 190% of target (approx. £250,000) and we’re using this investment to improve processes at the distillery so we can make more and more rum but also to rebrand our look, and make Two Drifters Rum the most striking bottle, the most interesting story, the most delicious British rum and the most talked about sustainable drinks business in the UK.

What are the key successes?

We’ve had a growth rate of 205% year on year. We secured a collaboration with Exeter Chiefs to make a Chiefs Rum to be available at their 12,000-capacity grandstand within 5 months of starting. We secured John Lewis national listing, making us one of only two rums available in John Lewis after 12 months of starting. Our 190% crowdfunding project was a huge success.

Two Drifters Distillery
Two Drifters Distillery

What were/are the challenges and how have you overcome these?

Cash flow is always a huge challenge for any new business, but we have to factor in spirit duty; for every bottle of rum we make we have to pay £8.05 (ex VAT) before we can sell it to a customer. That customer may not pay an invoice for 90 days, but we have to pay the duty straight away. So, a big new contract is exciting but it’s always a numbers game as to whether we can actually do it. Russ and I had no employees until December 2020, we did everything ourselves and it was exhausting. From brewing beer, to distilling rum, to cleaning the huge warehouse, to marketing the products to sales calls to accounting for everything it was all on us. We’re now a team of four and it’s amazing but we’re so cautious of the numbers working that we never rush into anything.

What are your plans now/for the future?

We are about to secure our first national distributor which is so exciting as it means our rums can be in more shops and on more bars. Home drinking has kept us in business over lockdown, but we’re excited to get into bars and onto cocktail menus soon. Our new branding will come out in the summer and it’s going to mean we have all the tools to grow quickly. New look, new website, new signature cocktails, national distribution and my relentless need to tell our story!

What would you like to share with others to encourage them to start their own entrepreneurship journey?

Be brave, if it was easy, it would already be done. There will be challenges but each one you overcome is an obstacle your competitors will fall down at.

Can you share you top tips for entrepreneurial success?

• No-one can tell your story like you can.

• A social media post lasts 20 minutes! Keep doing them!

• Be transparent and genuine in your brand, it shines through in your story and consumers love provenance.

• No-one cares about your business like you do, you may think something is important, vital and urgent but it’s likely no-one else will!

• Remember why you started. Decisions can seem overwhelming, especially when everyone has an opinion but always remember why you started in the first place.

• Play to your strengths. In the 18 months Russ and I did everything, we learnt what we enjoyed, what we didn’t, what we were good at and what we knew someone else could do better. Then when we were ready to outsource areas, we knew exactly what we needed help with.

Who are the 5 people who inspire you the most? 

@MichelleObama – She just talks sense.

David Attenborough – he talks and people listen.

Kamala Harris (@VP) – a total trailblazer.

Jessica Meir (@Astro_Jessica) – I love Space and all things NASA so it has to be Jessica Meir and Christina Koch for the first all-female spacewalk

Halsey @Halsey – she is so transparent, genuine and passionate about her brand. She doesn’t bend to others, her being her is enough.

What are your favourite inspirational /motivational quotes?

I love Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill.

Failure can’t cope with persistence

And this poem!

If you think you are beaten, you are.

If you think you dare not, you don’t.

If you’d like to win, but think you can’t,

It’s almost a certain you won’t.

If you think you’ll lose, you’ve lost.

For out in the world we find,

Success begins with a fellow’s will:

It’s all in his state of mind.

If you think you’re outclassed, you are.

You’ve got to think high to rise.

You’ve got to be sure of yourself before

You’ll ever win that prize.

Life’s battles don’t always go

To the stronger or faster man,

But sooner or later the man who wins

Is the one who thinks he can.

What are your social handles and website links so our readers can connect with you?

Facebook: @2DriftersRum

Instagram: twodriftersrum

Twitter: @2driftersdevon

Website: www.twodriftersrum.com