Founder Focus: Club Soda
While Shona Vertue turned what she was already doing into a thriving business and ChicP created a business out of a global problem, Laura Willoughby MBE co-founded Club Soda to instigate a movement of mindful drinkers.
With the aim to create a world ‘where nobody has to feel out of place if they’re not drinking’, Laura Willoughby MBE’s aim is to make non-drinking and mindful drinking widely accepted, so that everyone feels confident to change their drinking habits if and when they want to. Very apt for World Non-Alcohol Day this October 2nd.
We caught up with Laura to find out where it all started…
WHAT WAS YOUR EUREKA MOMENT?
I realised that I was not only bored with drinking but bored of myself drinking and that something had to change – but it was once I had settled on an alcohol-free lifestyle and began to socialise sober that the real eureka moment came.
Everyone was curious about how and why I did it. I realised that there were lots of people like me who wanted to change their habits but that there was nothing out there to help you do that. I wanted to create a movement that had a positive message, without suggesting that cutting down or going alcohol-free means that you have a problem.
WHAT WAS YOUR ELEVATOR PITCH?
It has changed over time but we’re on a mission to create a world where nobody feels out of place if they are not drinking. It’s a powerful and ambitious goal which is why we’ve teamed up with Heineken 0.0 – all natural, only 69 calories and alcohol-free.
WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO SOMEONE THINKING OF STARTING THEIR OWN BUSINESS?
Never be afraid to ask for help. I am lucky to have co-founders who share my passion as well as members who are always a constant source of support and continue to surprise me with their generosity. A lot of what we do in Club Soda works on reciprocity rather than hard cash – from people writing us blogs to even just sharing our events. Asking is a powerful tool!
WHAT IS THE BOOK YOU WOULD RECOMMEND THAT EVERYONE READS?
At the moment my favourite read is ‘The Kindness Method’ by Sharoo Izani.
Working in the health and fitness space, you encounter people making huge life changes but often they often punish themselves when they don’t do well or give up when they feel they have failed. Sharoo articulates in an amazing way, that change starts with being kind to ourselves. It is helping me support our members better and support myself to be in the best shape to run a business (and reach my goal of bench pressing my co-founder).
WHAT IS THE MOST WORTHWHILE INVESTMENT THAT YOU’VE MADE?
I found my two co-founders on OK Cupid – so my investment in dating has had a good rate of return!
On a serious note, our festivals have been our biggest risk to date. The events sector is not where we ever saw ourselves but with a whole range of new alcohol-free drinks hitting the market we decided that we would be the best people to curate and host the first-ever alcohol-free drinks festival.
It took a lot of time to get supporters on board, you are essentially asking them to take a punt on your crazy idea. Sharing a vision with Heineken 0.0 then was what made them a great match for us. In fact, it was very much like dating … so maybe I gave myself a head start!
WHAT ONE FAILURE ARE YOU GLAD YOU EXPERIENCED?
I failed to get into parliament – twice! Not only has the experience made me resilient but I think in hindsight being an MP wouldn’t have been good for me. I would have become frustrated, made too much use of the subsidized bar and never have set up Club Soda. For me, that was worth the knockbacks.
WHAT PIECE OF INDUSTRY ADVICE DO YOU OFTEN HEAR THAT YOU DISAGREE WITH?
You would think from much of the chatter in the start-up space that the only way to grow a business is to continually pitch for investors to scale yourself quickly. Yes, that does happen but pitching is brutal and really demoralizing since the odds are low.
Most businesses in the UK are small and medium size. They employ people and they allow people to generate a good living. Focus your efforts on generating and growing your own income and start looking for small angel investors who may want to benefit from the SEIS tax perks of supporting you. There is nothing wrong with growing steadily.