ARTICLE / THE MAKING OF... SERIES
The making of...
It goes without saying… Having experience in an industry before you launch is a smart move if you want to have any chance of success. With National Sales roles at both Capi and Minor Figures under his belt, Kristian Johannsen, Founder and Managing Director of bobby… did just that.
The making of... Series
Welcome to The making of... blog series. To start, can you give us a brief background into who you are and where you’ve come from?
Hello, I’m Kristian Johannsen, the Founder and Managing Director of bobby. I’m Melbourne-born and raised, I’ve always had a passion for great products, challenging norms and connecting with customers. Previously, holding National Sales roles at both Capi and Minor Figures, the experience garnered from these businesses has proven to be invaluable time again as I navigated bobby from concept to market launch and now, scale.
Kristian Johannsen, the Founder and Managing Director of bobby
Capi and Minor Figures are two great brands… so we’re sure you learned a lot there. How did you come up with the concept for bobby?
I was always infatuated with beverages, I love the fast-paced nature of the industry and the minimal barriers to innovation within the category. However, my idea of bobby was a data-led decision. I was paying close attention to businesses in the USA that were starting to revolutionise the soft drink industry for the better and there was an obvious lag in Australia. This gave me the opportunity to take learnings from what I was seeing and tasting from a competitor's perspective to create bobby with some advantages.
There’s nothing like utilising inspiration and learnings from overseas. So how did you go about the research? What did you do to arrive at what you've got now and how did you test your product-market fit?
There were three main areas of research: 1. Category opportunity and expected growth 2. Consumer demand/preference for the product 3. Competitor landscape in Australia (where we would launch initially). The testing was all theoretical.
Having a theory and process behind the research is a great approach. But as you know at the end of the day it all comes down to the product. What were the first iterations of your product like?
Working with some very experienced beverage gurus who have extensive rap sheets in innovation, we landed on what is now referred to as our 'core' range quite easily. The brief wasn't complex and it allowed for a very successful pilot run, before we eventuated with our first full-scale production. We really only had to adjust the carbonation levels and nothing else. A great result and quite different to a lot of food and beverage stories I hear where 'it took five years of tweaks etc' to land on the perfect product.
We agree that industry experience and good people can help to fast-track the process significantly and we’ve seen this consistently with our own clients. Ok, what about the funding? How did you initially fund everything?
Initially, it was funded via a small amount of savings with a small family loan. However this doesn't give the full picture, as we were fortunate to secure a major retailer who ranged us in 720+ stores, so we quickly needed to find investors. We were so lucky to find some really key investors that understood the mission and cannot fault their advice/contributions to date. Beverages are high-volume low margin businesses on a whole, the capital required to support a national retailer and various customers is significant.
Getting up and running quickly is part of the battle. Having investment and support to ensure you deliver to retail is often where the wheels come off for startups. So, well done there! What about your branding? Can you tell us about the process and how you arrived at where you are today?
I knew what I wanted bobby to represent and stand for, however, I didn't initially know exactly what that looked like when it came down to our product packaging. Bobby, from day one, existed to have a personality (hence having a name). I knew that I wanted to create a strong brand identity and challenge the norms that existed. The packaging designs were formed from looking at the similarities in multiple brands in the market and thinking ‘no - we will not do that’. One of the biggest norms we noticed was that 99% of the lemon-flavoured drinks in our space would have a lemon depicted on the can. I think consumers are smarter than that! So, we wanted to achieve simple messaging, bold colour blocking and product recognition through a simplistic design.
You’ve hit the nail on the head... consumers are smart so there’s no point in copying industry conventions. So with branding for bobby sorted, how are you getting the word out there?
Awareness is a marathon, we have 'focus' areas that we considered as non-negotiable that may apply to a specific suburb we want solid distribution in or a certain sales channel or a certain style of OOH (Out of Home) we want to own. Our big focus to drive awareness is through community-based activities, like 'events' and 'partnerships' where we connect with the end consumer at the ground level coupled with more traditional OOH media, like posters, billboards etc.
Awesome. And what about future challenges? What's the biggest challenge or challenges you think you'll face moving forward?
Price/cost. Inflation is hurting us and a lot of our peers at the moment. There’s only a certain bandwidth of acceptability when it comes to pricing that customers, both wholesale and DTC, are willing to pay. Whilst we’re a premium product, we’re still a single-serve canned RTD and that comes with price parameters. Our strategy of 'first price, right price' rather than passing on price decreases as we scale and achieve efficiencies in production. Competition and supply-chain interruptions are also two other areas that have the ability to be able to challenge our business.
The current financial climate is making it difficult for many players… so, we fully understand the challenges you and others are facing. With that in mind… knowing what you know now, what advice would you give another entrepreneur who is embarking on their own startup journey?
The top three are:
- Resilience is key. You'll want to give up 99 times out of 100 but you just have to find a way to keep progressing. However when you hit that 1 out of 100 milestone or achievement, it makes the 99 failures feel redundant
- Go hard and go fast. The early phase isn't the time for reflection, regardless of how many times you are told to ‘stop and smell the roses’.
- In regard to capital requirements, whatever you think you need, it'll never be enough. Double it, plus some. You'll make mistakes and sometimes these mistakes will cost. You also need to allow a buffer in your working capital in order to support opportunities that’ll bring great learnings & growth.