THE TRUTH! We like to do things a little differently at Baotic, so we are going to post some 2017 reflections… well over a week into February J But you deserve it…
And while our website gets worked on for our March launch, we are posting it here raw!
If you are one of our friends, connections or truly lovely people that we have met up and down the country on this incredible journey so far and followed even a little sprinkle of our journey we know what you are all thinking “So where’s this blooming drink??” But please pause to think of our beloved family, who have heard talk of this Baobab drink dream since 2008 – “Yea right, so you’re going to launch baobab drinks” they have said as we serve them samples *wink wink, giggle giggle J
There have been many positive stories we have shared, the awards and recognitions we have been picking up (meeting Sir Richard Branson is going to be pretty cool!), the funding won, the happy proud days that we have shouted about, but typically as with many start-ups you are probably very unaware of the roller-coaster ride that sits beneath that journey.
We started 2017 off the back of a successful soft launch – taking our very first raw drinks to farmers markets, food and drink festivals, sports events and University canteens. We secured an early distributor and started to be stocked in stores. We had customers passionately trying to get us into their local outlets.
But there creeping silently behind the curtains in the dark at night hid that same old start-up story; we were producing in our kitchen, it was difficult to meet demand and it quickly became (more!) apparent that it was going to be challenging to scale. For all the zeal that we had, and the interest we had coming in, we look back now and know that the product, packaging, process all had its flaws at that time. We could have continued to serve a small number of local stores, but we had to remain true to our vision/mission and that is ‘to inspire and empower healthy communities around the world’ (you should know our Gambian backstory by now!).
So in many ways, it was back to the iterative drawing board. We paused production and sales to focus on developing a ‘scalable manufacturing model’. We had amazing support in the Scottish startup eco-system from @Socttish Enterprise, @SIE, @EDGE, @GCU, that has helped us on our way.
Since we both met (way back when in 2008), our Baobab drinks passion has always been to deliver a functional health drink for social/health impact in the UK, as well as giving back to lead Gambian and African development as a huge motivational driver. A key part of that vision has always been in tackling the ugly subject of gut-health because that is where we believe, in the deepest parts of our hearts, we can have the biggest impact. So one of the flip sides to pausing production and slowing down was to get that bit right. We were moving towards small bottles (see current branding above) as the PRObiotic market is largely high in sugar, contains no fibre, all dairy/tablet based, ‘scientific’ lab enhanced and not natural, no multivitamins, not fruit based – I can go on! Here’s a snippet from our pitch “Euro monitor international (2017) states clearly this category has not innovated for over 15 years, and needs to do more to capture a millennial market”).
Wanting to position in the ‘gut-health’ market we were a little stubborn to small bottles at that time. We worked with ex clients in china and international trade and moulded our own packaging. We tested with manufacturers, and processors up and down the country, we visited machine manufacturers hidden down lanes in the Yorkshire valleys, rocked up at drinks companies to see if we could outsource, tested different foil capping processes, had calls across Europe, were let down by bottle suppliers (grrr no names!) ahead of a major event but resiliently ploughed through regardless. We battled with redundancy, injury, juggling a University degree and in the lowest of days we even danced playfully with the idea of giving it all up as heads were turned on respectable job opportunities knocking on our doors from exotic locations overseas.
We drew breath. We dug deep. We moved forward. We had innovated on the drink, but the packaging was still outdated. It also turns out small bottles do have the potential to lead one aspiring, albeit resilient, creative, ‘will try anything it takes’ slightly crazy, entrepreneurial start-up down a manufacturing dead-end to nowhere.. your’s truly. Amen.
So that all put the brakes on, but when brakes wear through its full throttle ahead so drawing positively from that time it has meant that our branding, strategy, market positioning, confidence and networks are a lot more advanced. We love our soon to be launched branding and have been able to change packaging (you didn’t know? We’ll share it with you next week if you promise to keep following!) and whilst we continually seek innovative and environmental solutions we have more confidence in taking a product to market (everything in good time they say!).
It has meant less time on the ground in The Gambia – but our last project is now EU backed and reports from the community are strong. Along with a running injury it also meant GambiaRiverRun took a slight back seat. We haven’t accomplished the fundraising we would have hoped for, and that is disappointing, but Baotic was always about a more sustainable vehicle to deliver bigger impact, so if we can get that right it will all work well. Not much riding on it, no pressure there then!
So we hustled through last year, and only looking back now (now that momentum seems to be flying) we realise it wasn’t an easy slog. It was difficult at times, presenting challenges that are difficult to communicate. That makes us a little anxious of the net big challenge(s) that will be thrown our way, but 2018 is already shaping up to be somewhat super exciting (oh yea, we promise not to leave it a year before our next rambling blog. One month in and there’s already so much to share!).
If you get the sense this post is late (well over-due), and things are chaotic (absolutely barmy).. well you are right, that’s the truth. We are glad the message of the post has landed JOur start-up experience has been incredible, inspiring, life changing, but it has not been free of its challenges. At the end of the day that is what it’s all about. We took this on to challenge ourselves, to invest in ourselves as well as the dreams and aspirations we have for a brighter shared tomorrow.
Thanks for reading, and most importantly for your beautiful support.
Stay healthy, happy and helpful!
Isatou and Paul
Team Baotic x