ARTICLE / THE MAKING OF... SERIES
The making of...
These days, as a society we’re much more educated about the effects of alcohol. Habits have certainly changed as people either drink less, choose quality over quantity or change things up on a night out with water, soft drinks or one of the latest non-alcoholic beverage options thrown into the mix.
But what happens if you ignore the changing winds and drink alcohol like there’s no tomorrow? Well, if you’re like our next guest, Michael Payne, Founder of Lightning Minds, you might end up in hospital faced with a life-changing, wake-up call.
The making of... Series
Welcome to The making of... blog series. To start, can you give us a bit of a background into who you are and where you’ve come from?
Hello, I’m Michael Payne the Founder of Lightning Minds.
Previously to Lightning Minds, I founded and ran a men's shoe store called 'Gingers Gentlemen Shoe Boutique' along with our own branded footwear label called 'Gingers for Gentlemen'. Helping design our footwear and oversee production in Italy, Portugal and Jakarta, I was able to attend Micam in Milan regularly to work with some of the best footwear producers. We also collaborated with local businesses to create footwear for a shared brand experience. In 2018, I moved with my wife to Los Angeles for a role with Cole Haan at their flagship store. Still maintaining my footwear business in Australia, as COVID-19 hit we moved back to Australia. Like a lot of manufacturers, we were deeply affected by COVID-19 and decided to not renew our lease after 15 years. I then moved into some footwear consultancy for local stores and footwear brands whilst also dabbling in the hospitality sector to make ends meet. It was around this time, I was struck by the idea of Lightning Minds.
Non-alc beverages are a massive departure from your background in footwear. Can you tell us what happened and why you decided to change direction?
There was a single moment in which my journey in the non-alcoholic sector started. Walking home after waking up in the hospital from another night of over-indulgence, I had an epiphany-like moment. My dependency on alcohol had reached a tipping point. The experience shook me to my core. Like a bolt of lightning, I ended my relationship with alcohol there and then. That was July 9th 2020 and I haven't touched it since. The name Lightning Minds derives from that walk home.
After some months, I realised that by having a non-alcoholic drink in my hand I could still socialise with friends and family and abstain from drinking alcohol. I wanted to create a tasty non-alcoholic beer that I really enjoyed, knowing that if it helped me it could possibly help others too. The brand is also a great way to push a positive message of cutting down on alcohol.
Michael Payne, Founder of Lightning Minds
So with that knowledge in mind, how did you go about creating your first non-alcoholic beer?
Along with our talented brewer Matt Crockett, we tasted as many international and local non-alcoholic beers as we could. An added bonus was the fact Matt had completed his Master Brewers ticket in Germany, so he already had some knowledge of the art of brewing non-alcoholic beer.
After all the testing and tasting, what were the first iterations of your product like? How did you go about getting the recipe to market-sized quantities?
Having established a great-tasting recipe we were happy with, we took the recipe to a contract brewer for a larger production run. Going from a 19L fermenter to 20000L at a professional contract brewery was a little daunting as we weren't able to taste it until completion. Yet, it really is a tribute to Matt's recipe as it came back from the brewer tasting even better than we expected. The moment we got the first Lightning Minds carton from our brewer was a special moment.
We can only imagine what that would have been like. We know this isn’t cheap and it can take some considerable amount of money. With that in mind, how did you go about funding?
Using some of my own savings, I also organised some good friends and family to invest capital into getting Lightning Minds off the ground.
Most founders we interview bootstrap which is a great way to start. So with the recipe and contract manufacturer sorted, can you tell us about the branding process?
I am always researching brands and examining their identities. I also love the process of creating a brand. With Lightning Minds, I had an idea of how I wanted the brand to look and talk to people. Teaming up with Arran Russell from Folke Army Studio, we set about creating an identity that celebrated the positive benefits of cutting down on the booze or having a couple of non-alcoholic options in between alcoholic beers/drinks. We've also recently worked with Hypnosis Creative Agency in Perth on some slogans and awareness campaigns.
Branding in such a competitive category is hard to nail, so hats off to all those involved. After the branding comes awareness. How are you getting the word out there and how do you intend to scale the brand?
It's been a real hustle. Initially, I was delivering and dropping off samples whilst managing all things social media. So far, LinkedIn has also been a great way of creating brand awareness. We’ve been doing everything we can to get cans in people's hands. After establishing a number of accounts, we have now partnered up with Grape & Grain distribution to look after all our Western Australian accounts. I’m also based in Sydney now, which means I can attend to our Adelaide, East Coast and New Zealand accounts far more easily. We are currently looking for a distribution partner in Sydney and Melbourne.
That’s great to know and hopefully, you’ll find someone who can help out in Sydney and Melbourne. On that note, what would you say is your biggest challenge moving forward?
There’s still an incredible amount of learning ahead of me and I'm certainly looking forward to the challenges that will bring.
We agree. You never stop learning and there are always challenges that will reveal themselves as you move forward. Ok, time for our final question. knowing what you know now, what advice would you give another entrepreneur who is embarking on their own startup journey?
Do extensive research into your field of choice and understand there will be lots of uphill battles. This is all part of the experience of creating your own business, but it’s a great learning journey and can be very fulfilling.