Admit your naivety

‘Having worked in professional services my entire career, I was naive in my initial approach to creating a physical product. The number of assumptions and unknowns was slightly overwhelming – particularly when trying to scale gradually (and not waste 10,000 cans in the initial run). I went to seminars, meetups, conferences and tried to build a network of experienced professionals to address my own inexperience. I found a food-and-drink startup course through the Guardian Masterclasses, The Pub Show industry event through talking to a potential supplier and a group of industry founders through LinkedIn. I knew I was going to make mistakes, so I was just trying to maximise my learnings and limit the costs.’

Help others to help you

‘I found that, in general, people want to help – particularly with new business ventures – but it’s up to you to maximise the learnings. Understanding the situation that the person you’re calling is in was a huge learning. For example, I found speaking to manufacturing professionals difficult at first. My call was literally taking them away from their work. I learnt to be more direct with my questions and tailor my introduction to provide just enough info, and show I’d put in the effort to research them before calling. I began to get more confident about picking up the phone to talk to people I’d never met, I made sure that I knew what I wanted out of the conversation (even if it was just information or experience) and, where possible, I ensured there were actions as a result.’

Challenge your assumptions

‘My initial assumptions in regard to the launch were fairly ineffective. My lack of experience meant I wasn’t able to break them down into manageable chunks. Over time, my list became more functional. Where possible, I made them independent and next to each had “scariest outcome”. What I tried to avoid was tackling the easier assumptions rather than the scariest. The tendency to focus on the fun tasks can create a false sense of progress and, in my case, a fair amount of espresso martinis being consumed in the name of “product development”.’

Balance the highs and lows

‘When I made a breakthrough, for example, receiving positive consumer data or having a good conversation with a potential supplier, I’d start asking myself more ambitious questions about scale and accelerating launching. However, the flip side – when days or weeks were less productive – created the feeling of stagnation and made me question the value of the idea. You have to taper the highs and lows in order to keep a steady outlook.’

Don't ignore the evidence

‘Although this one might seem obvious, it was a difficult pill to swallow. All the effort and progress I’d made had to be set to one side to evaluate the next steps. To achieve a sustainable margin, the scale had to be of a certain significance. The ability for large corporations to replicate the product at a fraction of the cost meant that the brand would be the only source of value. Ultimately, the evidence told me that the commercial potential of the idea was not worth the financial risk. That is where my side hustle journey ended – 18 months, 20 different cans of espresso martini, 190 consumer surveys, six brand iterations and one financial model I wouldn’t invest in myself.’

This article was first published in Courier issue 39, February/March 2021. To purchase the issue or become a subscriber, head to our webshop.

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