No marketing experience. No manufacturing experience. Just into their twenties. Doing it their way. The story of Drew Bilbe, Troy Douglas and their start-up FMCG brand, Nexba, treads a well-worn path except for one thing – success.
NEXBA HQ, work in progress. A Nexba teardrop lightbox will be attached to the mural.
Act One: The budding civil engineer and law student launch a brand.
Four years ago, young civil engineer, Drew Bilbe, was on holidays in Rio Nexpa in Mexico, doing what cool dudes do when they’re on holiday: getting into the local vibe. Part of the local vibe was the “drink in your hand”. And the drinks that ‘everyone’ was drinking were different to those at home.
“There was a vibrancy about them, all the packaging was amazing and iced teas were massive.” Bilbe saw an opportunity. But Nexba didn’t start there. First, Bilbe did a lot of homework. He learned that iced teas were also ‘massive’ in Europe and America, between 12-15% (and growing) of a market in which the dominant sector – soft drinks – was in decline. ‘Unhealthy’, high calorie, high sugar, soft drinks were being rejected, not just by cool dudes, but by most target groups. In Australia, two brands were making little noise and minimal impact with 1-2% of the beverages market.
Bilbe called a mate, Troy Douglas, and the pair worked out a plan. Nexba would be a better for you lifestyle brand, producing natural, low sugar, low calorie, real iced teas, produced sustainably. It would look, feel and taste like it belonged to cool, young hip market. Bilbe was 23 and law student, Douglas, was 20 at the time.
Act Two: They teach themselves how to be manufacturers
The pair bought a factory in Sydney’s north. And chose to package in cans because PET did not meet their criteria for sustainability. They had two supplier choices, and chose Orora. “We started producing 2,000 cans per hour. That’s nothing compared to the big guys. Now we’re producing 100,000. Running our own factory has been important. It has given us the hugest understanding and respect for the manufacturing process, what it takes and what is needed to service key accounts.”
The two sides of Bilbe and Douglas:
Act Three: Working with the creative collective called Facebook
Nexba is, if you will, a crowd sourced brand. The idea that “ideas can come from anywhere,” is given free rein and used to develop most aspects of the brand. Bilbe designed the cans but everyone at Nexba got to input. A Facebook fan suggested the name of the Life’s a Peach variant. Another Facebook fan asked for an iced green coffee variant and that’s how Brewnette was born. Nexba staffer, Emily Matthews, created the Nexba bubble (logo). Street artist (friend) Alex Lehours, created its illustrations. Graffiti artist, Roberto Rivadeneira, painted the office mural. Recipes are developed and tested by Nexba staffers. All marketing is carried in social media, its reach expanded only by organic growth. Market research is achieved by asking questions in social media.
“People want to hear, and input into, our brand, its products and its stories. And they engage with us because we’re the real people involved with brand. They know we’re not a bunch of content writers. That takes up a lot of manpower, but it’s worth it,” Bilbe stated. Unsaid, but obvious when you listen to Bilbe’s story, is his attention to detail. Bilbe is a walking encyclopedia of the beverage industry.
To be continued…
Nexba grew up in grab and go outlets and online, selling single cans. By October last year, it had become a significant player in Coles, IGA, Costco and Aldi, selling four-packs. To service these chains, the brand will launch 1 litre bottles this year. In keeping with its sustainability stance, these will be glass. It has two new (cool, hip and healthy) product ranges in development, both expanding the brand beyond iced tea/coffee.
The journey so far. From here…