2 March 2015
We're proud to share our whopping 9-page feature in ASPIRE magazine, Australia's premier entrepreneur e-publication available exclusively on iTunes.
A BEVERAGE IS BORN: NEXBA
The Beginnings of a Naturally Brave Start Up. By Monica Kade.
nexba® is an australian beverage brand founded by two young australian entrepreneurs drew Bilbe and Troy douglas. The pair are currently fronting one of the fastest growing beverage companies around and what’s really cool about this, is that they’ve come out of nowhere.
Sometimes all you need is a beach, a beverage and some good ol’ ocean air and boom! an uninterrupted flow of ideas buzz through your soul and for drew, one of nexba’s co-founders, this is where the idea for the “amazing, all natural, real iced tea” began.
In 2010, on the sunny shores
of Rio Nexpa, Mexico, Drew lived and sipped phenomenal local iced teas and soon enough the gates opened and the inspiration to “bring something similar back to Australia” started knocking on his heart.
“I saw the opportunity – seeing we only have Lipton and Nestea – and not with a point of differentiation, which is targeted to a younger consumer and more importantly a health conscious consumer”.
Returning to Australia, he immediately called his brother in law, Troy – Nexba’s other co-founder and ran the idea past him, “I think it’s got legs, do you think you’d like to be part of it?”
So despite having no background in the beverage industry they dived head first into the unknown.
Troy did his own research and before they knew it, the duo would be employing a machinery line from China and setting up base in Hornsby, Northern Sydney.
It did 2000 cans an hour,” drew reminisces on the not so distant past. “We had family and friends helping us out on our 18hour days to do the first production.
Regardless of working long days, many hours, they still had the chutzpah to get out on the road and
sell “100,000 units to cafes”, educating those who crossed their paths about their “better for you beverage” – and “people had a really good reaction to it.”
As their efforts started to pay off, they knew that in order to take it to the next level, they’d need to amp up their production line and that’s when they moved to a contract- packing place in Victoria, Australia. This move gave the lads the opportunity to focus on brand building and landing key accounts.
After a year the boys landed a meeting with 7 Eleven, one of the main players in the Petrol and Consumer (P&C) channel. “In the meeting, they [7 Eleven] agreed to launch Nexba [into 7 Eleven outlets] within a months time! That really got us on the national distribution level”, Drew says enthusiastically.
Even with this success, it wasn’t siesta time just yet, it was time to go for gold and tackle caltex, BP and coles express in order to build a strong foundation in the P&C channel.
Since then, Nexba has also launched an exclusive line for Virgin Airlines and have now tapped their way into the grocery channel, launching into Coles with a multi pack option – Watermelon, Peach and The Brewnette.
So while their story appears to be reasonably effortless on the surface, I thought it wasimportant to share behind the scenes of this Aussie start up.
Regardless of whether you have industry experience or not, I’m a firm believer in going after what you want and maybe that’s because if the opportunity or project I wanted wasn’t out there – I’ve always gone out there to create it. However, I wanted to know if the Nexba boys felt the same?
“What did it feel like entering an industry you knew nothing about?” I asked Drew.
“To be honest it was probably a good thing that we didn’t have any preconceptions about the beverage industry. When you come in with fresh ideas, you aren’t constrained to the norms of that industry and that really allowed us to think outside the box and launch skews that otherwise people wouldn’t necessarily launch – and seeing real success in our watermelon skew – our hero flavour.”
Being slightly oblivious to the ‘rules’ of how to play the game, it also gave the guys a chance to look into alternative ways of making their product healthier and ‘better for you’.
“We looked at natural sweetners like Stevia. We then launched our product in 2010 with Stevia and the next big brands didn’t get on that until Pepsi next did in 2013.”
I mean how cool is that? Two young guys, with no previous background in the beverage game and they end up rolling the dice and taking the lead against the biggest players in the industry!
In the time Drew and I have been chatting, it’s become evident that both he and
Troy are very motivated at making things work, in fact he tells me that “it helps that we’re young and have a bit of energy to really get out there and give it a good crack.”
And while there were times when they both thought they were “in deep” there was never a moment where they “weren’t comfortable” with their message and brand.
“We’re making progress and growing the category. [It can be] very scary at times, but we’re very
confident in the message, which makes it a much easier challenge.”
What I truly love about the Nexba brand is how they truly care about bringing products to market that are aligned with the rise of the health conscious consumer.
“There’s certainly a trend of consumers after the health conscious beverages and foods; people are wanting less sugar, natural and non artificial type things,” Drew says.
“It I wasn’t about coming up with a funky brand that was going to compete with the big boys, it was about coming out with a different brand that believed in health and innovation.” boom! I’m blown away with Drew’s comment and right on par with this statement.
I think the more individuals we have pursuing the things that are true for them and that they are passionate about, the greater difference and impact we will all inadvertently make in the world.
Now start-ups like this don’t just happen. For the most part, newbie’s on the scene don’t have the capital behind them to do what they want to do straight up. So how did the guys fund Nexba?
“Initially, with the factory we imported, we self funded with some help from family and friends. [Then] on a national scale when launching with
7 Eleven, we needed to get external capital and approached our external shareholders. [We approached] Peter Barron – the inventor of Uni- straw – flavoured milk straws and he loved the idea, our passion, plus the direction we were going and the message we were trying to convey and he helped us. To this point, it just remains Troy, myself and Peter, which are sole investors.”
Ultimately what was right for Nexba, isn’t necessarily the same formula that will work for another start up, so what advice would they give to those on the start line?
“Having runs on the board helps to source funding and it’s important to find business partners who believe in what you are doing. It’s great to have people who think differently, but they need to be going in same direction.” Drew explains.
For the moments they’ve lacked patience or have felt a little discouraged he says they just take a moment to remember that it’s about having “patience that you can get it and persistence to keep pushing.”
Drew now fires up, you can feel his passion booming across Skype, “As Aussies we love the underdog story and we’re certainly up against the global companies, so you really have to be brave to follow something you believe in.”
“When we do get setbacks, it’s not viewing roadblocks as a “no” but rather an opportunity.”
It’s to no surprise the brand’s slogan is ‘Naturally Brave’,
for one I personally think it depicts the pair perfectly –
but what does it really mean
to them and for the brand? Well, “the natural part is about being a healthy alternative and naturally brave is taking a chance on something you believe in.”
What I think makes the pair even more impressive is that what they deem to be “important in life” is family – both have families – Drew just recently became a father. In fact, it’s their families, which motivate them, Drew tells me. “It’s about leaving a legacy in friends and families lives, but also the wider community.”
Today the Nexba team still remains small with 6 people in the office and one of the
biggest challenges of being
a small team is “getting out
of the environment of just agreeing with each other.”
Ah lovely, honesty and communication is considered a golden virtue at Nexba HQ.
In the moments when they don’t feel like continuing or
it just seems too hard, that’s where the support and the close-knit team come into play. “We have a great team. Everyone talks it [challenges] out as a team – it’s chin up and push harder.” Drew says.
“The whole office comes up with creative and innovative ideas,” and they also survey the target market when bringing out new flavours. What also rates highly for the duo, is bringing in industry mentors, with invaluable knowledge of the beverage sector.
My ears pricked up when they mentioned “The Flavour Whisperer – Mr Smith”. Mr Smith has created all of nexba’s flavours and while the multi-nationals have teams of a hundred people mixing and concocting, nexba has one man. They’re not swayed to adopt practices or run things like their predecessors and that’s what i like about drew and Troy, they stay true to their “gut feel and true to the nexba message”.
Nexba is always listening to their consumers, putting out calls and messages to their social media audience to suggest things from names to flavours. They genuinely want to know how to best deliver a product that the consumer will love, plus they “want to get to know their followers.” Isn’t that great?
Their future goal is to be the fastest growing beverage brand in Australia – and they’re already at 36% in Petrol and Convenience and now they hope to create the same kind of buzz throughout their other channels.
While they are pushing for growth, I wonder if money is a driving factor at all? “Certainly not in what we want to achieve out of this. Both Troy and I created this because we believed
in the message of getting people to drink better, which I saw as something really important to the companies overseas as well.”
“We want to continue that [growth] in all our channels, but doing that through innovation and helping people drink better. [There’s] no point if we’re not offering the things we believe in, plus keeping true
to the message.
Their legacy is to go beyond iced tea and to be “an innovative beverage brand” and with their commitment to producing a strong domestic product.
I have no doubt that this is only the beginning of what’s to come from these exuberant Aussie men.
For our Australian readers, check out the Nexba range the next time you pop into a 7 Eleven, Coles Express or even head on down into Coles and try out one of their multi-pack options.