16 February 2015
Words by Mat Beeche
It’s the way in which Nexba has embraced a ‘tech-style’ scalability that makes it a startup to keep an eye on
There is nothing extraordinary about the way Australian beverage company Nexba was started. According to the founders Drew Bilbe and Troy Douglas, the idea was conceived on a ‘summer day’ in 2010 over a glass of iced tea that Bilbe was enjoying in Rio Nexpa, Mexico.
Still buzzing at the idea of starting his own venture that sold low calorie iced tea when he returned back to Australia, Bilbe teamed up with his good mate Douglas and by 2011, Nexba started to take shape slowly but surely turning into a company. By the end of that year, the pair had set up their own manufacturing location in Australia just north of the Sydney city outskirts.
At first, the target market of Nexba was exactly the play you would expect from most entrepreneurs trying to introduce a new beverage product into the Australian market – leading Sydney cafes – and for Nexba’s product, the school market. The pair was successful in gaining traction across this space, selling over 100,000 cans of their signature ‘canned’ ice teas that include flavours like peach, watermelon and cherry lime. The next steps were all about leveraging this success to gain trajectory – in true bootstrap style, Bilbe and Douglas grew the brand via sales. It wasn’t long before Nexba commanded shelf space in stores like 7/11, BP Service Stations, Toby’s Estate, Newslink Post Offices, Harris Farm Stores, IGA Supermarkets and one of the two Australian supermarket giants Coles and its associated retail brands.
Nexba certainly are not the first new beverage company to accomplish securing this level of distribution (over 3,000 stores) for a series of beverage products into stores. Another canned drink play from Melbourne based Innovative Beverage Company hit the market with its signature product, an anti-energy drink called ESC in 2011. However, it appears that the distribution of that product has waned over time. In fact, it looks as though the product may be going through a complete overhaul with the ESC website no longer existing and the main company page down for maintenance.
One of the things that the ESC brand failed to do was build a strong engaged fan base for the product. When you look at some of the most successful beverage brands both in Australia and overseas, they have a cult-like following and associate themselves with a particular community sector. Brands like Redbull and T2 are prime examples of this.
What is interesting about Nexba is that the company is using technology as part of this ‘fandom’ process with their own unique online community called Nexba Nation.
Nexba Nation plays a dual role for the company. First and foremost, it encourages and fosters brand recognition and reach, primarily by piggy backing off customers social media channels. Secondly, it helps drive cash through the door. Sales is a big focus for the company; since day one, the company has always been about profit and growth.
Users of the system earn points that can be ‘cashed’ in for products and services related to Nexba and its partners. It works very similar to the way programs like FlyBuys or Qantas Club does. Initially, users earn points by connecting their social streams to Nexba Nation; this allows the application to scan a user’s social feeds on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.
From there, users then earn points for posting images related to Nexba products and the usage of a number of different hashtags that the brand wishes to associate itself with. Points can then be traded for items that range from Nexba merchandise and cases of the Nexba product to gift vouchers at Nexba partner operations like Rocket Internet backed Hello Fresh as well as niche hospitality chains such as Moo Burgers.
Whilst the UI of the Nexba Nation platform could be a little cleaner and less ‘ecommerce store’ looking, the UX is actually quite intuitive and navigation is pretty seamless for those using the platform and fosters an element of product ‘stickiness’ that is fantastic for the brand.
What Bilbe and Douglas have been able to achieve in terms of growth with Nexba in such a short period of time in such a harsh and unforgiving industry is most definitely commendable. It is, however, their increased use of technology to build their brand and the early wireframes of what could potentially be developed into a proprietary and licensable online property for their company that make me think that this duo are going to be serving us up a lot more than tea in the years to come.