🎧   Work in Progress
 · 
40
 min listen

Ugly Drinks 💦 Hugh Thomas on building an eCommerce business across two continents

Hugh Thomas

Co-founder at Ugly Drinks

Harvey Hodd

Host & CEO of Blueprint

Hugh tells the story about how he started Ugly with his co-founder Joe after working together as some of the first employees of Vita Coco in the UK [2:57]. As Ugly gained more popularity in the UK, they decided to expand their business to the US in 2018 and target a much broader audience which inevitably came with challenges [15:00].

Hugh highlights how important the test and learn mentality has been for Ugly and how they've been able to leverage being in two different markets at the same time [16:45].

We speak about the retail challenge that COVID-19 has poised for Ugly, and how they've been able to overcome some of these tests from the strong foundations they've built online [30:00]. We end the podcast with Hugh giving us his take on how the global pandemic will impact the future of retail and eCom, and how Ugly are adjusting to that [32:00].

Harvey [00:00:04] This is Work in Progress. A podcast by Blueprint covering e-commerce, growth, strategy and retention. 


Harvey [00:00:14] Today's guest is Hugh Thomas on this. The co-founder and CEO of Ugly Drinks. Ugly are a flavoured sparkling water brand challenging sugar and sweets and soda started in 2015 by two ex-Vita Coco employees they're now a category leader in the U.K. and expanded to the US in 2018. How you doing Hugh? 


Hugh [00:00:30] Thanks for having me, Harvey. How you doing? You good? 


Harvey [00:00:33] Not, bad. Not bad. With the chaos ensuing. But yeah. Doing alright. So for our listeners that don't have a ton of context around Ugly, could you give me a brief overview of what you guys are and what you're doing currently. 


Hugh [00:00:49] Yes. Ugly is a water business. Initially, I'm obviously from the U.K. and I live in New York, so I'm caught speaking to you from the other side of the pond. But Joe and I, my co-founder, started the business with a vision to make water fun and to build a can and kind of plastic free water business that could give people an alternative and affordable and accessible price point to unhealthy sodas, sugary sweet and soft drinks, energy drinks and also plastic bottled water. We have a range of products. We have a flavoured sparkling water range in a blue can, which you may have seen really ugly in big letters, down the side range of different flavours. And then we have an energy water range, which is the products with similar caffeine and other ingredients to an energy drink, but without any of the bad stuff. Then we also have just launched last week a plain water range and still a sparkling. All the products are 100% natural. None of them have any sugar, sweetener, calories or artificial ingredients. And then Ugly stands for the ugly truth. We wanted to expose some of those ugly truth in the world around the beverage industry, but we also aim to do a lot more than that. So we donate money from every council to different causes. One of those causes is girl up gender equality supporting charity. And another is the oceanic global partner who help the world take plastic out of the oceans and work on plastic pollution. So we are a beverage brand, super refreshing. The brand is meant to feel approachable and accessible whatever price point you live up. And we're now available in almost 10000 retailers in the UK and the US. And we have been available online also from day one in both markets available wherever you might get thirsty. 


Harvey [00:02:30] Well, I mean, that's probably it. That's us for today. Well, yeah. So a brand with, like, a real true story to tell at the heart of everything you do. And then you came from a background Vita Coco. And so you've been in the industry a little while. What did you take from that experience and how did you kind of use that to mould into the first couple of years? And obviously your co-founder, Joe, both worked together. So I guess you met each other there?


Hugh [00:02:57] Yeah, so. So Joe and I were lucky enough to join that business when it just launched in the UK. So despite it being a big American company, I mean a big global company, which is now that business unit was run like a Start-Up. So, you know, we were both in our very early 20s, thrown in the deep end myself on the marketing side. And Joe on the sales side, he won't mind me saying this, but we became best mates during the process. And when you work somewhere that you become so in tune with, I mean, the whole team still remain my best friends now, right. We became so close like a family. And I think what we really caught was the beverage bug. And so there's just something special about it and something special about the super velocity, the speed at which drinks sell and also the way people identify with beverage companies. It's almost like the brands in your hands says so much about you. First of similar, how the category. Certainly. And once you've worked somewhere like that where you can wear flip flops to the office, they have palm trees in the hammock in the office space. The idea of going back to a corporate job is less exciting. And so we both knew we wanted to style a beverage company. And we also were frustrated with the sugary sweetened beverages on the shelf. I guess going to your question, what do we learn now? I mean, so many different lessons. But I think the big one was when there's a shared purpose within the team, when you have a group of people that join in together on that purpose and you're all going off to the same mission. It's so powerful there. No office politics, nobody kind of trying to climb over each other for promotions. And also, you just end up with a team that's so passionate. Joe and I were spending our weekends walking into Whole Foods stores and checking on Vita Coco and looking at the products. And it becomes an obsession. And when something's an obsession, there's no work life balance. And I'm sure you can relate to this, too. It's just what you do. And Joe and I came to visit New York. We spent pretty much the whole of the time we were here walking around stores and looking at products. I think when you meet someone like you, you understand like that and have the same passion for then starting a business became like a no brainer for us. And so whenever there's tough times, which we're living through right now, this is in our DNA. This isn't like a quick project to do. And the team does the same, and I think that just means you're able to weather the storm a bit more. We definitely love that advice, Coco, because the culture is so strong. Certainly when we were that. 


Harvey [00:05:20] Sure. So you really took along that kind of start up mentality, that brick by brick ethos cause I guess you are right in there when there was the coconut water war really right with all the brands being created from scratch. 


Hugh [00:05:36] Yeah, it's like a team sport in some ways, running a Start-Up. And one of the interesting things about beverages that you kind of have to have a mixture of people with different skill sets and different psychological assets. I guess in the sense of there's a balance of IQ and EQ within the company, some of our teams out there going into stores, pitching store owners are the members of our team are running finance or the operations part of the business, which require totally different skill sets and ways of working to kind of like a sports team. You need people in different positions with different skill sets that you need everyone to work together. That's what Vita Coco did. Well, certainly. 


Harvey [00:06:10] Yeah and like I guess you took that on as CEO. Now, of Ugly, like, you're very much that manager row, right? Like you alluded to that playing the team in the best positions. 


Hugh [00:06:20] Yeah. Which has definitely taken some adjustment for me because I'm also somebody that loves to execute and get involved with stuff. I think for me, the adjustment to then being in that position where you have to trust the team to do stuff on your behalf or be, actually hire people who are better than you, everything, which is what we have now. I think that takes adjustment and not, you know, being a young entrepreneur. And I guess growing up as an entrepreneur, it's been an adjustment for me. And I still don't get that right all the time. But I think that's kind of the role I have to play, like a conductor of an orchestra making sure some sort of tune comes out of it. Whether that may sound terrible, sometimes it may do, but at least the band keeps playing. 


Harvey [00:07:02] Yeah, I know. Of course, of course. I guess you had that kind of education through Vita Coco coming through as well as your position there in marketing. 


Hugh [00:07:11] Yeah, I mean, I, I can't remember my job title was what. Or even the job I applied for was essentially anything marketing wise in the industry in Europe. Yeah. I started as the guy set up the Instagram account set up a social media. I drove the van, I did demos and then, you know, at the end I was doing the team of ten plus people maybe that we were working together to do ad campaigns. And yeah, the business grew from less than a million revenue, so much 50 million revenue. And in my four years that Joe and I were there. So when you saw at a young age in an environment like that and kind of rise with the tide like you just put into situations, you'd never experience a big company. And so we started ugly with some battle scars. But certainly there's nothing like jumping in the deep end yourself on a start-up. And the learning curve gets even steeper when you're on your own. You think you know everything working a Start-Up, but you don't until you're a founder and you really get into the deep end. 


Harvey [00:08:06] Yeah. 100% man and I guess like you touched on that, taking Vita Coco from that small, I guess, player to a household brand in the UK I guess then also having huge presence in the US. Is that something that because of that presence and because you as your mentioned earlier experience that across the pond? Was that a big driver for you to be? Like from day one? You were like Ugly are gonna be over there. We're going to follow in their footsteps because well, you saw the disruption there. 


[00:08:36] Yeah. There's probably a weird thing with Joe and I that we always set out to build a global brand. I know sometimes maybe in the UK we can suffer from saying out-loud ambitions like that. And I know you're similar to me in that sense. I'm very ambitious and I think Joe and I try to not be shy about having my ambition. And we pushed ourselves really hard to try and build a brand that we think can resonate globally. It's definitely not an easy thing to do, but the opportunity in the US and certainly the problem that we set out to solve, which was people drinking too much sugar and sweetener, if anything, is at stake here. I think a third of Americans are prediabetic. So that's a big soon army of health issues on the way. And we wanted to create a brand that was affordable for all Americans and all Brits and could be available in a store, not just in New York, California or central London, but also in markets like Tennessee, where we're really strong now, where people are used to maybe spending ten dollars on a green juice, they are able to make a healthier switch with Ugly. So, it was always an ambition for us. And then we took the steps over like the last two, three years to start that and we'd have no idea how to do it. So we've just worked out as we've gone. But now our US business is definitely bigger than the UK business now. Eighteen months after we launched here, the size of this country is so big. I'd work for two American companies. I worked for Heinz Ketchup and Vita Coco and that was just something that Joe and I wanted to go back the other way. Just because we wanted to show UK entrepreneurs that it is possible. And I think the UK can punch above its weight in so many of these areas. And why, you know, you're in the same boat as me. I think the UK has got a lot of amazing brands and businesses that could be popular elsewhere as well. So that's kind of my personal ambition. 


[00:10:20] Yeah, I know. Of course. I mean, you touched on a couple of important points that I guess in terms of one, like it's a real global ambition, slightly like this. This issue is, well, it's everywhere. Sugar in sweetened soda has proliferated, obviously everywhere. So having that foresight, I guess, is important. But then at the same stage with the US, with obviously the kind of understanding and consumption of seltzer being far more of a category, I guess from day one. Do you reckon that propelled you and like gave Ugly like acceleration from day one because of just the awareness, or was it difficult to kind of break through the noise? Because there's obviously a few more methods? 


[00:10:58] I think it's a bit of both. Certainly flavoured sparkling water in the US it's something that people have consumed more and more of over the last few years. Now, a three billion dollar category. Soda is an 80 billion dollar category. So you can see that there's still a lot of growth potential for flavoured sparkling water to go. But that being said, even like three, four years ago, it was five hundred million dollar category here, which is still big. But in the grand scheme of American beverages, it's small. So it's grown a lot here, too. And now it's become more of a household staple, which means the consumer palate is more adjusted in terms of expectation. But as you say, there are lots of competition, lots of competitors here, we think only to give us something different. And I think that's what we've always tried to do, is look different, be authentic. We speak as ourselves. And that is hard to copy when you speak as yourself and you are yourself. Yeah, that's a big thing. And and also where we are online too, which our competitors aren't. So from day one, we were available in every market, in every major city which, you know, traditional retail brand would probably have to go step by step. And last year or so we sold over, what, 40000 deliveries of ugly in the US, every major metropolitan city, every major state, which is pretty crazy when we started this in Joe and my's apartments, in London like three, four years ago. So we have people in like Idaho getting cases of ugly delivered. So we try to differentiate ourselves and we think there's room for a lot of different brands in this space. And then in the UK, the job has been educating consumers on why they should maybe put down the can of soda and switch to something without like 40 grams of sugar, which is still the mission there in the UK. And we're beginning to win in that space as well. 


[00:12:36] Yeah. Of course. I guess, with you saying about ecom there being a key differentiator for Ugly from day one, especially even in the US. I know that was kind of the day one strategy to disrupt the heart those modern humans were purchasing. Do you think there was a different mindset of how you approach ecom to the US versus the UK in terms of different consumer understanding or different consumer tastes like I guess also as a product that's inherently built in retail. So you had to kind of take that nice legacy and then try and turn it into a modern domain, I guess. 


[00:13:12] It's a really good question. I think the differences between the two markets are probably less on the e-commerce front for our product than we may be considered. The biggest differentiator for us is the shipping process in the US market from a physical point of view. It's a bigger country and kind of shipping product cost effectively is definitely more challenging to navigate. There are also a lot more consumers here. So with that being said, there's there's also a lot of spend online here as well. So there's a lot of direct to consumer brands spending money. So the aim for us has been to cost effectively balance those economics and find different ways of engaging with consumers that can bring them in cost effectively. I know you mentioned that the retail side, too. So, yes, obviously when people are thirsty, they still want to grab a beverage. And so for us, you know, that's never going to go away because as much as we can do next day delivery, same day delivery two day delivery, there's nothing quite like being first in grabbing a drink instantly in a store. We need to complement both. And you know what direct to consumers has been great for us is building an engaged community of followers in the US because we have some slightly more scale just because the size of the country, we've been able to test a few different things differently. We crowd sourced the watermelon flavour and the pina colada flavour and the pink grapefruit flavour that we launched last year were all from our direct to consumer customers asking for those flavours. The energy water product we launch was as a result of our direct to consumer community saying, when are you putting caffeine in this? When can you give me one that wakes me up? Yeah. Then we'll continue to test different things. And what's great is because we have two markets, we can test things in different countries and then roll them out to the others. So once we saw our peach flavour was performing really well in the US, we actually decided to test that in the UK, performed really well. And that was one of our best sellers in the UK. So we're trying to share ideas between the two. And then, you know, test different things out. It's definitely added complexity, adding having managing two B2C business. This is maybe harder than running one, but there are some benefits as well. But generally, both markets are kind of similar in terms of consumer behaviours that we're seeing so far, similar things like free shipping as an expectation. Having a great customer service approach, getting product to people quickly being contactable. Those things the same between the two countries. And so setting yourself a high bar, the expectations and what you should expect to deliver consumers in terms of customer service should be the same globally. From my point of view. So we don't have a worse operation in the U.K. because people can accept it better if that makes sense. We always try and deliver the best we can at that moment. 


[00:15:50] Yeah. No, of course. I think one really interesting point to kind of distract from that was when you said about the crowd sourcing of the flavours and the feedbacks there and especially with the caffeine and the energy play like I guess with traditional retail, that kind of feedback loop, that kind of consumer understanding and touch point just wouldn't be available. So I guess for kind of a legacy based player, the whole relationship just would never be touched. 


[00:16:16] Yeah, it's exactly why we do what we do. And our energy product that we launched, we did a very small run off to begin with and had a lot of feedback online almost instantly. As you say from consumers, from the people who've been asking for it, they told us that they liked or they didn't. And what they want to change. Got some great feedback. Also got some very valuable improvements to be made to the packaging, the design, putting stuff out into the world. And so actually the next version of that drink. So you could say the Energy Water 2.0 or 1.0 or whatever has all those improvements built into it probably within a three month cycle, whereas I think previously we would have had the cycle running six to 12 months out. And so just having online feedback because we're also writing about product into retail. So actually the improvements get played out into stores faster as well. And that's been a great part of it that can only get better as well. 


[00:17:09] So to be honest, you're almost running your product like a software in so many ways. It's always in beta mentality. This iteration of product and that feedback loop, I guess we kind of break it down is really just put in a customer at the forefront of everything. I know you also have a private Facebook group where kind of some of the best customers can chat and discuss and just kind of add their points. And I guess that's very rare to be able to get through to like a CEO and founder of a now global business. 


[00:17:38] Yes, I'm in multiple of these Facebook group as well. 


[00:17:42] And, you know, you have to listen to what people want, what people say. And we made ugly for as many people as possible ultimately. Yeah. We're still learning and improving all the time. And I do think you reference us as a software company. We're definitely not we'll never be at that point of being able to raise rates that fast because we're making a physical product in terms of as a beverage company, because we have this direct to consumer business, we're almost forced. It's right. It almost holds us accountable faster than retail. And so because we have that internally, it impacts every department. And that's why I think it's been such a valuable thing for us, because it's changed the mentality of the business. We have more of a test and learn approach and we are less perfectionist. We're putting stuff out into the world that maybe we would have been. And that's what makes me excited, because my favourite thing is launching stuff and putting out there and getting the feedback. And with digital and with direct to consumer, we can test stuff really easily without the pressure of retailer expectations and things like that. So actually, from next month in the US, we're launching a new flavour every month that are being crowdsource. 


[00:18:47] That's a world exclusive, probably so that launches April 6th. 


[00:18:52] And we've worked with our consumers to develop some crazy flavours, but they'll have access to online only so they won't be available in stores. And so there's another reason to sign up. And there's just lots of fun things like that and our merchandise range coming. I know you'll buy some ugly socks, right, Harvey? When I launch those. But yeah, we we've got really exciting plans and direct to consumer is such an exciting funnel for us. It's just just the beginning. And it supports retail, which is just the amazing part about it. 


[00:19:20] Yeah. And like I guess right now you're spinning across subscription and just generally single orders, I guess, like for you. Why is the behaviour change there for lack of consumer. I guess you see single is being purchased are being made. And then because that kind of trial the product almost, then it becomes a mainstay within their lifestyles or is there at other points? Because I know obviously for a consumer subscription is a fairly big deal, having a recurring payment. So, yeah, it be interesting to see how that splits for you as a business in terms of ecom. Like what is the structure around differences between say. 


[00:19:58] Yeah, it's interesting and it's actually been changing quite a lot for us as well as we learn and evolve as well. One of the things we've learnt about flavoured sparkling water is that there are again, different flavours that people prefer. We don't necessarily have like a flavour that. It's like head and shoulders above anything else. Like you imagine the cola brands have cola and then they have various flavoured versions of cola but it's still cola. Flavoured Sparkling water can essentially be any flavour you'd imagine. And so some of our fans loved Lemon and lime, and that's all they order. Some of our fans love the peach. Some of our fans love the cherry. But actually launching what's been very successful for us is launching a variety packs. And so we've seen a lot of consumers buy into the variety packs at the beginning, get almost a taste for everything. See what everybody in their household likes or in the office. And then we see them come back and placing bigger subscriptions of single skewes. And so playing around with that, I think, is something that we're going to be testing more over the next 12 months. Like, how do you bring that cycle round quicker? Because, you know, people do want to try. See what you've got, see which products they like. Test that. And then also then maybe lock into biggest subscription. In the U.S we actually started subscription only just to see how that would perform. I was going to I was going to say, I think what we learnt is the beverage is an interesting one. And 10 percent of the consumption patterns say something like, if you have a daily vitamin business, people are only really probably taking one set of vitamins a day. Maybe right now they might be taking two lots of vitamin C a day. But I think really you're having your daily vitamin usage. And so it's quite easy for them to predict that a month is this much supply, whereas what we noticed with some of our subscribers is that have family over for the weekend and all that seltzer would go and then they'd want to bring that order forward. And so finding ways where they can order quickly and bring subscriptions forward and things like that has been what we've been focussing on. And also showed us that people placing one off orders for events for their offices to test things out. And also, you know, we've seen some people place like 30, 40 case orders of sku's just for a party or something like that, which is harder on a subscription only model. So we introduced the regular purchase to the both models, worked really well for us. And I think what we see is when people try Ugly. They love it and luckily for us, I think what our consumers tell us is we have a liquid in a product where people love. And I think that's the most important thing. If they really love your products and love your brand and love the way you interact and keeping people buying into you becomes a lot easier. And so we actually just focus on making that liquid better as a core part of making the direct to consumer thing work for us as well. 


[00:22:32] Yeah. No, of course, I'd like, I guess, take you right back to the start when we were touching on the brand and the focus on the brand as Ugly versus just a traditional product. Does that brand play a huge focus within the acquisition around DTC around your strategy of storytelling and like you touched on that but I guess that first order is really the initial stage of that long story and that relationship with that customer and I guess the Ugly Brand plays a huge role in that.


[00:23:03] Yeah, I think we have a lot of work to do and to improve that and to get that story out in a more effective way. But I think it's a huge focus for us in terms of building a brand that people really connect to. Certainly the storytelling about our give back initiatives is massive and we see people really engage with us because we are actually doing it. This isn't a percentage of profit. There's no percentage of profits that we don't make. This is actual cash for every time we sell that, we wire and a donation to charity every few weeks. So we feel really passionate about that. And I think that's something people engage with. And we're a water business trying to do a bit more. And so that's something people love as well. But also just our tone of voice, speaking to consumers, even the way we write our emails and just being a little light-hearted, I think certainly at times like this as well. You know, it's obviously sad what's happening in the world, but, you know, ugly can control what it can control. And right now we are cans of flavoured sparkling water that if you're working from home and you open the fridge and you grab a can is a moment of refreshment. It's a moment of fun, doesn't cost the earth. And so just focussing on making sure ugly is a brand that lift people up, gives people a little lift during the day. That's what we can do right now in terms of the big issues at hand. And so it's consumer, again, as played out, a massive part of that strategy this week. And we think our brand can touch on serious issues. But we've tried to in a light-hearted way. So the can can the whole brand world is actually saying quite something quite serious about the world. We try and do it in a fun way that doesn't not too serious. Again, this week has proven that drives consumer can be really valuable in that sense, as well as as well as our retail business as well. So there's so much more Ugly to do in terms of telling our story. I think we're just at the beginning, hopefully. 


[00:24:42] Yeah, I know. I totally agree, I was going to touch on how the recent events, I guess, and unfolded, to be honest probably the last kind of only two or three weeks in like I guess across the UK, in U.S. and I guess whilst a chunk of your business is difficult now because it's certain closures and restrictions. But is that now so ecom is just becoming kind of even more of a pillar of your business, because I guess it has to in this time.


[00:25:11] Crazy demand over the last couple of weeks, I think, for a couple of reasons, really, is that, one, that obviously people are homes are getting delivery is a great benefit. And we're still running all systems go on that front. But also, like I say, I mean, having tons of water at affordable price point in your fridge is just one of those nice things that keeps you going. I've even because I'm working from home, even subscribe to the company myself. 


[00:25:36] Maybe I used a discount card that was on a map. I think I went through the funnel myself because I was missing it. 


[00:25:41] I think there's a lot of people out there who maybe feel the same now. They can't get in their office or their workplace and have subscribed themselves to Ugly at the moment. And so, you know, it's a behaviour and I'm sure you feel the same, that it's a behaviour of getting stuff delivered to your door. That is only began to become bigger and this may push more people to check out different DTC businesses they haven't before. Getting drinks delivered to your home is maybe one of them. Ugly is one of those businesses that has been doing it for a few years. And so we've got things pretty swiftly moving now and I'm just thankful we're not trying to set that up last week. But we kind of had a bit more foresight. Some other things we are probably setting out last week, least on that front, we're pretty organised. 


Harvey [00:26:20] Yeah, I know. And I guess I do know what you're saying, though, about consumers being at home and the behaviour is changing. 


Harvey [00:26:27] I guess in many ways that rewrites some of your marketing strategies and things like that. 


Harvey [00:26:32] Have you kind of doubled down or kind of edited some of the messaging you touched on previously in terms of the ads and the acquisition? And just generally like the you're gonna be super tasteful now in many ways, right?Cause it is just a difficult time. 


[00:26:47] Yeah, we're trying to be sensible. We're not trying to profiteer off this. We're creative solution that solves the problem for people right now. So what people are being told and should be isolating themselves and and staying at home. So, yeah, we want to do it in a tasteful way, it's obviously a very challenging time as a human, which we all are feeling. So when you receive communication, from Ugly it is respectful of that and yet is not hiding away from the fact that we're just a water company. We've always said that's what we are. We're not promising to change the world or give you added energy that keeps you awake all night or whatever. All these crazy claims, just a drinking company trying to do our bit in a challenging time. And so our comms aims to be a little light-hearted whilst understanding there is a very serious issue happening in the world at the moment that we need to be respectful of as well. 


[00:27:39] Yeah, of course and like you said, it's difficult, but at the same time in so many ways provides an incredible opportunity for D2C as a whole and various other companies.


[00:27:51] And then over the next, I don't know, three, six and 12 months. Do you see the whole country's ecosystem being permanently altered where there's these behaviours now of not that it wasn't before, but e-commerce being almost this channel is parallel with retail. Like it's been this up and coming force for so many years and now almost all generations are having to adapt and use it and becoming a mainstay. 


[00:28:17] Yeah, I think that's it. I think I'm still very bullish that retail will continue. And you can see they've had an amazingly strong couple of weeks as well and almost show how relevant they are and how amazing their supply chains are. The food and beverage supply chain in the U.K., the U.S. is kind of phenomenal. The demand has been able to be satisfied and shelves are full and people are working in those stores is amazing still. But I do think e-commerce as an option, if anything, was always trending this way and will if anything, that rate of adoption to it will speed up. What I'm hoping is that it improves the whole ecosystem. It improves the way things are shipped, improves maybe the economics on that from, you know, even things like packages being left for people, then maybe easier ways to do that. There's maybe easier ways to order those new technologies that will emerge. So I'm only going to make this more frictionless. 


[00:29:11] Because I think that there has been more friction, maybe, as you say, to older consumers or people, a little bit scared maybe of using direct to consumer. I think this period, this period will show how good it is when you get something delivered to your door and how far some direct to consumer experiences have come. And so for Ugly, we've always tried to be on that wave. And I think we're doubling down right now to improve our experience for customers as much as possible over this period. And it's pushing us to test different things that we might have maybe not tested earlier. So that means we're going to improve faster. And I'm sure we're not alone in that. Other companies will do the same. And as consumers give more and more feedback, it will just improve. So, yeah, I don't know whether it'll become a parallel, but certainly e-commerce is only heading in one direction. So that's exciting, I think, for everyone. 


[00:29:54] Yeah, I know. I agree. And I think when you said about the current crisis being the catalyst for innovation, I totally agree. You're seeing legacy brands, I guess not all legacy brands that guys like with this kind of restriction and constraint that is breeding creativity. 


[00:30:10]   So. They're very much thinking just in a different frame of mind, while the box like Brewdog. Having like being forced to shuttering their stores and moving to a mobile bars. And there's still that camaraderie and you're seeing many gyms and and studios doing the same. And just this whole kind of community feel and customer base moving to a virtual setting. And I think it's just a really interesting time to be within eCom as that kind of proliferates across, I guess, globally. 


Hugh [00:30:41] Yeah, it's super interesting. We'll see what happens when the world goes back to normal, too. But I think it will be changed forever. So this is what's definitely one key part of that. Yes. It's going to be fascinating to see plays out. 


Harvey [00:30:54] Yeah. No, I agree man.


Harvey [00:30:56] And then so we touched on briefly on the complexities of obviously starting in your background and then the functions of the U.S. a little on managing things, both sides of the pond and across retail and DTC. And then I guess with this objective view now, what would you have maybe looked at slightly differently or kind of learnt from if you were looking back a couple of years too your younger self. Like what would you taking on board or the challenges? What would you have kind of taken from that if there was like one or two key points? Obviously, there's a tonne. 


Hugh [00:31:39] There is a very long list of mistakes, Harvey. We don't have long enough on any sort of podcast that's an audio book, probably. 


Hugh [00:31:47] I mean, I don't regret anything. The first thing say, I think the mistakes Joe and I have made and as founders and as a business were natural parts of learning how to grow a business. So, you know, if you could turn back time and probably change lots of stuff right there, maybe it would look different. Maybe the results would be different. It's a butterfly effect. But I think iterating your product when you're small and when your fast is the time to do it. And I know that it's something you read a lot and you read it in books. And if you read business books like that, I mean, you might read those concepts and theories. You can read it. But she's nothing like putting into practise the lean Start-Up, the MVP is totally different to doing it. And there's always more tests you could do, probably. And so I think pushing stuff for any Start-Up, it's maybe slightly harder on CPG than software, but putting any anything out into the world faster and start and being smaller and learning when you're small only helps you down the line when you get bigger. The lessons you learn when you're small speed you up when you're bigger. And I think if Joe and I could do it again, we're probably force ourselves into positions where we learn lessons even faster, although we have learnt some stuff quickly in terms of product, iteration, formulation, iteration, branding and packaging. The list goes on right of where there were lessons we could have learnt without, you know, making some of the big leaps we met and improving that feedback loop. That's one of the things that if I were in another Start-Up after this, I'll take that into it. Like, what can you learn in the early days? Quickly? Yeah, we're still small relative, right? We are learning fast and faster and faster, but I think that's what I would do. 


Hugh [00:33:24] That being said, we have got in many ways to where we wanted to get to. By hook or by crook. Right. We still have that drive to get us there. 


Hugh [00:33:31] Yeah. I think a challenge for some start-ups is certainly you raise money, hire a lot of people, you scale, you try, you think you found product market fit, but actually product market fit is maybe another iteration away. And I think that's maybe where start-ups get themselves into tricky positions is when they don't quite have something that stick with the customer at that point. And yet they have a heavy team weighing them down. Not that Ugly necessarily maybe fall into that too deeply but, you know, certain points from we've maybe raised money in the past. You go, well, we can afford that. We can afford that. We can hire that person. But actually keeping it lean and focussing on the learning would have been better for everyone. 


[00:34:07] Sure. No, I totally agree. I think they're super valuable. I just think for us over the last couple years, I reflect that completely. Do you think the idea of like perfection is actually the enemy in any race? It's like you never really going to get there and it's far better I guess that poor Facebook analogy of move fast and break things. I guess in many ways that's been a launch at 80 percent, like twice as great. 


[00:34:33] That's it. And I think that's where maybe starting the company certainly is a really brand and design, ultimately focussed marketer like me as a founder, you have the vision in your head and it's still important to have that North Star vision and be very clear on it. But one thing I've learnt is that it will adjust and adapt. Almost the perfect example of solving you kind of pivoting and learning and adjusting, but you still have the same core mission. But I think being attached to what it should look like, how it should taste, and not listening to customers is a stubbornness that can harm you rather than help you. That being said. Sometimes the stubbornness that we have is useful because you just go through brick walls I families, isn't it? Yeah, I do think, as you said, letting go of perfectionism and then, you know, staying focussed and getting towards that, it is a big thing. So, yeah. That's great advice as well. And knowing as soon as you put your first product life, it will change. You will learn stuff instantly. We launched our plain Ugly product last week and I've already got a list of stuff I would change on. It's just funny how it happens. And you can't see these things, you can't see them. I looked at that. I looked at that design. I looked at that liquid the way we make it with our team, obviously thousand times, thousands of times, you know, and then it gets into market and you immediately spot stuff. And it was the same when we launched our first products and put that on shelves. And you do a demo, you immediately get the feedback and every starter will tell you the same. So anyone that's like looking at starting a business, I just aim to get it live as cheaply as possible to learn as much as you can quickly, because it will pay off into your time for your time in five years time. And that mentality certainly will as well. 


[00:36:15] No, of course, of course. And then as an overview from you, if you were kind of looking back and you can extract information from the best person you could think of and inadvertently somehow we're to get them on the podcast. 


[00:36:28] Who would you want to want to chat to. Who'd you want to kind of dive deep into and understand the drivers behind that business? 


[00:36:36] Wow. This. I mean, there's so many phenomenal founders out there.


[00:36:41] I mean, for us, from a beverage point of view, like in the UK, Joe and I were always massive fans of the Brewdog brand, which I know you've mentioned here already. And we're actually lucky enough. Martyn's one of the co-founders is an investor in our business now. It's kind of crazy that that's come full circle. But the way that they built their brand and the rebellious nature of it and the brute strength of founders that they had to innovate and create and market always was hugely inspirational to Joe and I. And so I always thought that was exciting. Again, the way Vita Coco built itself consistently inspired Joe and myself. But there's so many amazing founders out there who are building fascinating businesses. I'm reading Bobby Hundreds book, not just the T-shirt at the moment. And I think learning about how he built a streetwear brand in the streetwear community has been fascinating in terms of what we're talking about community. So, you know, even some of the Supreme as a brand, that guy's behind that like and the way that's been built and the phenomenon it is now and the way they've done it. And again, some of those other streetwear brands fascinates me. I would love to take even a pinch of what they have in terms of brand credit. It's just incredible. I look up to so many different entrepreneurs and brands, and I'm sure if you interview them, they probably didn't say the same. Right. 


[00:38:02] Everybody's got their own paranoia. I think they're the things I am fascinated by at the moment. 


[00:38:10] Certainly streetwear in the community around streetwear I walk past the Supremes store in New York every day when I go to the office. So I often see the line of people and everyday I am just staggered that people will stand in the rain for four hours to buy something with a logo on it. That is the power of what they feel. Yeah, if you can get them on, I'll, I'll definitely listen to that. 


[00:38:32] I'm sure a lot of other people would as well.


[00:38:43] That might be harder. Well, I know you're obviously building on the other side of the phone right now, so I know you're a busy man, so I'll let you roll. Thank you very much for your time and kind of the story behind the last four five years of your journey. 


[00:39:01] Of course, at any time. And if anybody wants to get in touch with me. I'm hugh@uglydrinks.com


[00:39:07] If you want to reach out, I'm here.