Emma Thackray is co-founder of Hip Pop. Here she shares her entrepreneurship journey:
Can you tell us a little about your background and the company?
“My business partner, Kenny, and I started out in farmers’ markets in Manchester and Cheshire in 2018 testing out our favourite fermented food and drink – kombucha, kimchi and sauerkraut.
“We had excellent feedback for all but decided we loved kombucha the most and wanted to focus on that, so we built our brewery in 2019.
“Kenny is a serial entrepreneur and has been since the age of 18. He’s always had an interest in health and wellbeing and was looking to set up a business in this area.
“I have no business experience. Immediately prior to this I was the director for Dolly Parton’s children’s literacy charity.”
How did the idea come to you for the company?
“I love kombucha and introduced it to Kenny to help manage his struggles with IBS. He also loved it too – particularly as it made his stomach better – and from here it quickly turned into a passion, which led us to explore the massive opportunity of functional gut health drinks that taste good, do good and look good.”
How did you achieve awareness?
“As all fledgling food and beverage brands discover, it is very difficult to achieve awareness and get in front of buyers, so you have to keep hustling, sending samples out and ensuring you follow up vigorously.
“You will be ignored by the vast majority, but your timing will be right with some. You also need strong USPs so you can stand out from competitors.
“Throughout our business journey we have had great support from Juliet Barratt, who is non-exec of Hip Pop. Juliet is co-founder of Grenade and has helped us build our brand from the ground up with her expertise in the food and drink industry. Her advice has been invaluable in helping us get our name and products out there, and we are so glad to have her on board.”
How have you been able to gain funding and grow?
“Since closing our first crowd funding campaign, the team, Kenny and I worked incredibly hard to scale the business.
“We knew the best way to achieve both brand recognition and long-term growth was by expanding our gut-focused product line and working directly with leading retailers.
“The evolution of our brand, together with our success with retailers and the launch of our own eCommerce site in early 2021, has enabled us to drive consistent growth.”
What are the key successes?
“We have had quite the journey since launching Hip Pop [then branded as Booch & Brew] in 2019. A pinnacle moment for us was in early 2020 when WeWork took a risk on us and agreed to stock our Kombucha on tap in all UK sites.
“However, due to the pandemic we had three stalled rollouts in April 2020, October 2020 and July 2021 and it is only now that we are about to unveil our first Kombucha tap at multiple WeWork sites in London.
“However, the fact that a big brand, like WeWork, believed in us has really helped us gain the traction we needed with other businesses, like Harrods, Amazon, Google, Booths and THG (The Hut Group), who now stock us or work with us on their wellness programmes for their employees, customers, or members.”
What were/are the challenges and how have you overcome these?
“When the pandemic started, we were completely wholesale with no direct to consumer and no ecommerce website. Like many businesses we had to start from scratch online.
“It’s now a huge part of our business so despite the initial challenge, it is now a blessing – having accelerated our online and D2C evolution, whilst enabling us to establish a growing and loyal customer base.”
What are your plans now/for the future?
“As mentioned, we’re about to launch on tap in WeWork, which is really exciting and will enable us to see draft kombucha start to grow and emulate the USA market.
“In addition, we are expanding beyond kombucha and will be bringing out an Apple Cider Vinegar Soda range which is an exploding trend in the USA and is something our customers have also requested – but, unlike market competitors, we have taken it one step further by ensuring it passes our rigorous taste tests without adding sugar or sweeteners so it’s all natural.
“We are also including over 1 billion live cultures for the added gut health focus to add to the benefits of your daily dose of premium Apple Cider Vinegar. We plan to expand this range along with our kombucha into the US market and across Europe which we have already started. We also have another gut focussed drinks product in development and will be releasing details of this later in the year.”
Can you share your top tips for entrepreneurial success?
“Build a team of excellent people – they might all bring different skills, but they need to share your vision for the business.
“Find a mentor or mentors, people who have been there and done it. This is one of the best things that we have done. Planning is also essential but most of the time you just have to jump in and get cracking, especially when you are in start-up mode.”
Who are the 5 people who inspire you the most and why?
“I very recently read Ann Bodon’s autobiography. She founded Starling Bank in her 50s, completely against the odds. Prior to this she had a very distinguished career in banking and is a computer scientist but she’s not a conventional “tech” person. Reading her book makes me think, “I can do this”.
“Dolly Parton is also a great inspiration to me – what. a. woman. She achieves everything she sets her sights on, is a wonderful singer, an astute and highly successful businesswoman, a philanthropist…and owner of a theme park! I love her song “Dumb Blonde” – people have completely underestimated her throughout her career and she smashes it every time.
“I also really admire my mum. She was a single mum and brought my brother and I up by herself until I was about 13 when my lovely stepdad joined the family. She’s a powerhouse.
“Last but not least has to be Sandor Katz – Mr Fermentation himself! He’s the reason I started out on this path. It was listening to him talk about the magical world of food, drink and microbes that sent me off in search of a jar and a kombucha SCOBY.”
What are your favourite inspirational /motivational quotes?
“Time Kills Desire”. Kenny often reminds me of that one when we’re in full on sales mode!
“Ever Tried, Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better ” used to be pinned to my desk – I find that very motivating.
“Finally, “If you have good thoughts they will shine out of your face like sunbeams and you will always look lovely”, because nothing is truer than that.”
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