How natural energy drink creator found the courage to break free
Many of us think we’ve had a great idea. You know, the business idea we’re convinced will make us rich (spiritually and, if we’re honest, financially). Not many of us, however, turn it into a reality.
But then, Huib van Bockel is different. As well as possessing a name that sounds like he could have played in goal for Holland in the late Eighties, Van Bockel had a vision: to create a healthy energy drink.
Oh, sure, lots of energy drinks claim to be healthy, but the Dutchman’s idea was different. Inspired by the Sherpas of Nepal and the natural energy brew they sip in order to help conquer the mighty Himalayas, Van Bockel set about sourcing ingredients to create a drinks industry game-changer. And Tenzing is exactly that; a refreshing, natural burst of energy. Welcome to the future.
With a name inspired by the great Tenzing Norgay, the most famous Sherpa of them all, and a taste that is at once thirst-quenching and rejuvenating, Tenzing has already proved a hit.
We caught up with media and soft drink veteran Huib to find out more…
It sounds as though you had an epiphany in creating Tenzing…
Huib van Bockel: I was keen to launch something that was healthy. Most of the time, energy drinks are associated with being unhealthy. With our drink, energy is the most important feature. Being energised is key. My starting point was: is it possible to create a product which is 100% natural, has a low level of sugar and all the ingredients to achieve the effects that will give you energy?
Was there a “eureka!” moment?
HvB: I was keen to just start my own company where I can control my own destiny. I also traveled to the Far East, where it all came together. I found out what the Sherpas were drinking, which includes a dose of salt. I spoke to a doctor friend to ask if it made sense. It did. The salt keeps you hydrated and the caffeine gives the energy. It hasn’t been done before for an energy drink; normally the caffeine gives all the energy, or in a sport drink it’s the salt. It was the combination that really got me. And for the name Tenzing, my dad was always talking about him; he was a big fan. Tenzing Norgay is such an inspiring person.
It must feel exciting being new too?
HvB: Well, a lot of existing soft drinks were launched more than 100 years ago, when people didn’t necessarily care or know if drinks were bad for you. Those guys are now at a huge disadvantage to change their products. They’re stuck with an old product with lots of sugar and unnatural ingredients. And so I can come in and looked at what can be done with science and what people find important. There’s also the sugar tax: it was put in so we could have healthier drinks. Instead of companies looking to be healthier, it was more about, “How can we avoid this tax?” So they took the sugar out, only to replace it with aspartame.
What was the elevator pitch?
HvB: I had the idea to have an energy drink: a highly healthy energy drink. I always believe that you have to deal with it and say what it is in a very short sentence. I think it’s that single message that you believe in.
How did you then test the idea?
HvB: We worked with experts on the ingredients. I also spoke to a doctor and contacted professionals to find out how much caffeine the body really needs. And many people answered. I also launched the drink before the sugar taxes were announced, and am lucky because it is still on the border, where we could still make it taste nice. All the ingredients are there specifically for the functionality that they provide. We put them together, added some natural flavour and then went to King’s College University and asked students to try the drink.
What advice would you give someone thinking of starting a business on their own?
HvB: My main advice would be to mentally go all the way, even if you don’t give up your day job straight away. Find a job that you can do on the side and then on go into the market place as much as you can. With my drink, I went to to universities, offices, Google, I spoke to various people all to gauge that this was something they’d be interested in. And the cool thing about it was that it is a great way to get buyers.
Did you have a mentor?
HvB: My family. I’ll explain: when you have a tough day, it’s important to have something else. You need to go and forget about it, play a football game in the garden. On the mental side, I would say my kids and wife were a bit part of it. I remember when I worked for one company, I was working from home and had to deal with a very stressful situation where I might have to let some new people go. I sat in my chair and froze. My son just came in and said: “Hey dad, how are you doing?” And he just gave me a hug. And thanks to him, I got out of it. If he hadn’t come in, I’d still be frozen in that chair. It is important to have strong support.
What do yo look for in investors or business partner?
HvB: With investors, the key is that I really do this for my freedom. I look for two key things: are they going to work with me for the long-term?. In my dream, there is this beautiful business, that makes a real impact. Also, do they trust me to run the business? Do I get to maintain my freedom? It’s really interesting because I also work now with 11 people in the team. And I am really keen to work with people, I do not want to create a hierarchy. My former bosses: I saw them as the master of evil; the ones who had power over me. When I left I thought, I don’t want to have someone to tell me what to do. So with Tenzing we agreed on no hierarchy… It’s a work in progress, but I really believe in it.
Exciting times, right?
HvB: Very much so. Although we launched January 2016, we’d worked on it for a while to get the product right. We’ve been going for, say, two and a half years on the market. Now we have real momentum. And I was lucky with the sugar tax; it is a great thing that happened. People were looking for alternatives that don’t have all this sugar and artificial sweeteners. What’s more, we are so tiny, compared to the big ones.