Since launching in 2015, Gunna Drinks’ sugar-free craft sodas have become available in over 3,500 outlets and it has raised over £800,000 on Crowdcube, the crowdfunding platform. But when the founder Melvin Jay is asked if he has any advice to other people considering on embarking on a similar entrepreneurial journey, he only has one thing to say: “Don’t do it, get a job and let someone else lose their hair.”
It’s easy to see where he’s coming from, with the launch of the company having required a lot of hard work. Fortunately, Jay is no stranger to being at the coalface – he sold his first company, the marketing strategy and innovation consultancy Clear Ideas, to M&C Saatchi for £23m in 2007.
Following the sale, he worked as the CEO of Simplicity Consulting, the management consultancy, until he had the idea of creating his line of craft soft drinks. “I am a big fan of craft beers,” Jay says. “I love the interesting flavours and quirky non-corporate image.” Luckily for him, the past decade has seen a proverbial craft beer explosion in the UK. For instance, the iconoclastic brewery BrewDog, famous for its campaigns for equality and against homophobia, was valued at over £1.8bn in January 2018.
However, while he had a wealth of IPAs and porters, he caught himself enjoying it a bit too much. “So I wanted to find an interesting craft soft drink to replace my Punk IPA but, to be honest, I found the existing mainstream brands rather dull,” Jay remembers. “Just like people found lager boring and monolithic before the craft boys came to town. There was one interesting soft drink I found called Gunner – a spicy blend of ginger ale, ginger beer, angostura and lime – but [it] was only available in bars that knew how to mix it and was packed full of sugar.”
And, clearly, Jay wasn’t alone in feeling the need for a new type of soft drink. “When I spoke to other people – especially millennials – about soft drinks I found that they agreed with me,” he recalls. “They felt that mainstream brands were lacking in pizzazz. They [wanted] healthier, more natural soft drinks with more flavour and character.” Doing more research, he found out that the soft drink market was huge, reaching £15.2bn in 2017, and that people were craving a healthier option. It was ripe for the taking. “So, I decided the UK really did need a new soft drink with true character and style,” Jay continues. “And I created Gunna.”
Bootstrapping the company with his own savings and with a capital injection from an angel investor, Jay set out to make his vision a reality. “We did extensive research into the craft drinks opportunity,” he remembers. Recognising the importance of getting the taste just right, he spent the first year sourcing ingredients and trying out over 200 variations to get the flavour just right. And it’s clear Jay is happy with the results. “This passion for the products and great ingredients means that in blind taste tests we beat established brands like San Pellegrino, Cawston Press, Fever-Tree and Fentimans,” he boasts. “That was a reassuring moment for us to move forward.” Gunna Drinks hit the market and it was well-received, given how many stores it’s in today.
After achieving a sales growth of 300%, the startup decided to source more capital in 2018 to fund its growth. But rather than approaching VCs, Jay opted for another strategy. “At our stage of evolution crowdfunding and angel investors are the best source of funds as they’re willing to accept the risk of startups in return for the promise of very high returns,” he explains. “Venture capitalists typically look for brands that are a bit more established with revenues of [more than £1m] and approaching break-even. We will be close to that in a few months.” The idea worked like a charm and the company ended up smashing its £500,000 goal, raising £819,150 in total. The money will be used to accelerate the growth, hire more sales people and develop more flavours.
Even though he quipped about the hard work he’s put in, we’re certain he savours the sweet taste of success.