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Inspirational Female Founder Spotlight: Elisha Cannon

Elisha Cannon, together with her husband, Tom, is co-founder of English rosé wine brand, folc.  Elisha gave birth to their first child, Otis, in October 2023 and the family lives in their other passion project – a renovated Kentish Oast House in Brenchley- with Lupin and Lola, their Bernese mountain dogs.

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

I am originally from India but was born in the UK and started my career in the City as a trainee lawyer at the age of 24.  From there, I spent six years in the corporate law world before turning inwards and realising that the City law life was not one I wanted to be in for the long term. After many late-night chats with my boyfriend at the time – who is now my husband and also wanted to leave the corporate ladder behind – we did exactly that.

Tom and I are partners in life as well as in business, and after we decided to start an English rosé brand, we went from launching folc in a Devon kitchen at the start of the first COVID-19 lockdown to now being the highest scoring still English rosé in the country.  As the only woman of colour to co-found a Provençal-looking rosé wine business in England, I’m breaking the industry mold.   

How did the idea come to you for the company?

We could see the early demand and success that was being achieved in the English sparkling wine world, and that together with our entrepreneurial spirit and the desire to create something that would belong to Tom and I, led to the decision that rosé wine – and particularly English rosé – was the future of wine.  From the start, we knew that sustainability, high quality and local sourcing would be as important to our future customers as they were and are to us.

How did you achieve awareness?

After launching at the start of the first COVID lockdown in 2020, the only route to market was via social media.  Folc’s Instagram page grew rapidly through organic content being produced late into the night and early in the mornings since at that time, I still had a full-time job as an in-house lawyer.  I also spent my time finding the editors of key trade and lifestyle publications, often trying multiple first and last name iterations until I got the correct one, eagerly trying to get our wine onto the pages I knew our customers would be reading.  Entering the wine into domestic and global competitions also got the trade acceptance and acknowledgement that was key to brand growth.  So, all in all, it has been a combination of social media, PR and award wins that have helped establish and grow the awareness of folc.

How have you been able to gain funding and grow?

Folc was self-funded at the beginning of its journey but as Tom and I were only 30 years old when launching the brand, we soon completed a successful external fundraise campaign with angel investors and high net worth individuals. This has allowed us to grow the team (there are now eight of us working at folc) and also increase production, scale marketing activations and do a thorough branding exercise for a wine product that I truly believe in.

What are the key successes?

I’m proud to say that the successes keep coming and the pinnacle has to be the achievement of folc as the highest scoring English rosé in the country.  Sales have increased from a 1000 bottles in 2019 to tens of thousands of bottles today, which includes being stocked in Michelin Star restaurants.  We’ve successfully fundraised over half a million pounds during a recession, meanwhile growing the team from two to eight people.  And along the way, folc has been featured in The Times and the London Evening Standard, on ITV This Morning and in many more publications and platforms.

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

There are still plenty of challenges to overcome.  One is how to build brand awareness without much of a marketing budget.  I have encouraged the spread of awareness by word of mouth and as part of the unparalleled power of social media to get folc into people’s hands and minds.  By investing in our customers, they have become folc’s brand evangelists, bringing new customers to the brand. We also work with up and coming influencers whose content reflects folc’s brand’s values to reach as large an audience as possible.

And then there is the cost of goods, the prices of which have been pushed up by Covid and inflation.  To ensure customer loyalty and brand trust, we keep an open channel of key communication with our customers to explain why costs are increasing and the impact this has on the business. 

What are your plans now/for the future?

To double down on the brand and underpin the full folc story and the brand’s key messages, which will underline why this wine is so important to our customers. We need to continue to build distribution so that folc can reach more people, always ensuring that the quality is the best possible. We want to continue creating and building a strong team that feels a part of the brand’s journey and shares in its successes.

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

I would encourage any entrepreneur to start their journey by writing down all their fears surrounding it. The process of listing them all out feels like they’re no longer a secret and that there is nothing to be afraid of. From there, write a contradiction against each fear.  For example, the rebuttal to “what if I fail?” could be, “what if I succeed?”  This provides a list of mantras that you can repeat to yourself each time a fear arises.  And you’ll soon realise that you don’t have as much to be afraid of when starting your entrepreneurial journey as you thought.

Can you share your top tips for entrepreneurial success?

You have to believe in your product or service with unwavering passion. Not everyone will like your business idea, in fact a lot of people may tell you it’s a bad idea, but if you have a market for it, a proof of concept and a true belief in it then that will set you up for success.

Don’t expect others to care about your product or business as much as you do. The entrepreneurial journey will take all of the spare time that you once had, and the people around you won’t understand how much time and effort it takes.  But if you don’t go in with high expectations, you won’t feel disappointed when something that feels like a huge success to you – like getting 100 email subscribers – is met with a lukewarm reaction.

Who are the 5 people who inspire you the most and why?

Tiffany Masterson, founder of Drunk Elephant skincare, which she launched in her forties after having been a stay-at-home mum, all with very limited experience in skincare.  Six years after launching, Tiffany recently sold her business for $800m.  This is a true testament to being able to do anything, at any age, while still being a mum.

Mel Robbins, motivational and confidence leader, went from being a lawyer to starting her own business as a life coach after getting help from a life coach herself. She then went onto coaching huge companies while hosting her own radio and TV shows as well as TED Talk shows with over 30million views.  Plus she is a hugely successful author and podcaster.  Mel is a brilliant example of how you can change your career to something completely unrelated and be incredibly successful in doing so.

Steven Bartlett, serial entrepreneur, is equally interested in and motivated by entrepreneurial success as he is in personal growth.  This is a great example of how the two are interlinked and how your background (such as low grades at school and /or no university degree etc.) does not define who you are and who you become.

My grandfather was the first in his family to go to university and became a teacher.  He moved to Kenya from India having never had a passport before, and then realised he didn’t enjoy teaching so he became an author, initially writing novels and then moving onto writing school textbooks. He’s now 86 years old and his textbooks are still the cornerstone of the high school curriculum in Kenya.  That’s not bad for a boy from a tiny village in India.

If I say that I’m one of the people that inspires me the most, it is going to come across as incredibly egotistical.  But hear me out… If you had asked me ten years ago if I could be an entrepreneur, leave a stable career, and embark on a heavily risky business in wine, I would have shut that idea down in a heartbeat. I had very limited belief in my ability to do anything other than the path I was on (and even that was questionable).  But somehow, I am now on the other side, writing advice for other women in business, and I see that as inspirational. Whenever doubt inevitably creeps in, my journey inspires me to continue growing and believing in myself.

What are your favourite inspirational /motivational quotes?

“The past is the past, so don’t waste a perfectly good present by worrying about the future.”

“Your dreams are your responsibility.”

“Your life is too short to be unhappy five days of the week in exchange for two days of freedom.”

“You can be the ripest, juiciest peach in the world, and there’s still going to be somebody who hates peaches.”

What are your Instagram, Facebook and LinkedIn social handles and also website links so our readers can connect with you?