Watching three young entrepreneurs trying to chase down some of the globe’s biggest brands is a glorious sight. There’s energy, determination, a tenacious, terrier-like underdog spirit, and beneath it all a beautifully ambitious yet perfectly rational question: Why can’t we be bigger than Heinz? The answer, as any entrepreneur will tell you, is no reason at all. In business, no one has a divine right to dominate a market forever. Brands rise, brands fall. Indeed, the next Nike, McDonald’s or Hellmann’s is being built by someone somewhere, right now. That ambition drives founders on; it’s nourishment for their restless, hungry souls.
Condiment brand Dr. Will’s could very well be the Next Big Brand. Its founders – Will Breakey, Josh Rose and Liam White – have a serious plan to make Dr. Will’s bottles eventually a more common sight in cupboards and fridges up and down the land than those sold by the current sultans of sauce.
THE KEY DIFFERENTIATOR
Their starting point is their brand’s key differentiator: Dr. Will’s ketchups, sauces and mayos contain only natural ingredients and absolutely no refined sugar. Josh explains: “Sweetness is vital – it’s a key condiment flavour – but we refuse to use chemical sweeteners or refined sugars because they’re far less healthy. Instead, we sweeten ours naturally with dates, which have a low GI and are easily digested.”
This isn’t a cynical marketing position dreamt up by opportunists. On the contrary, Dr. Will’s young founders care passionately about achieving business success but they are just as concerned about their impact on health, tastebuds and sustainability. To reflect this, the company is B Corporation certified, meaning (in B Corp’s words) it is audited to “meet the highest standards of verified social and environmental performance”. Moreover, the story of Dr. Will’s origin clearly reflects its authenticity. One-third of its launch inspiration came from Dr Will Breakey – a practising doctor – who was determined to act soon after observing parents disguise vegetables in sugary ketchup.
Another third came from Josh, who witnessed a similar scene in his restaurant: “I used to own a restaurant in Newcastle where I’d watch people cover their burgers in big-brand sauces all day,” he says. “I took a closer look at the ingredients and thought, wow, we’re serving brilliant brioche buns made by the local baker and excellent meat from the local butcher, but our customers are covering them in chemicals and refined sugar.”
The remainder of the inspiration – the final third – came from Liam, who believes that the UK condiment category is ripe for disruption. The former JP Morgan employee says: “We realised that the condiment shelves in UK supermarkets are dull, which presents us with an excellent opportunity. Other categories have been transformed recently – beer, for example, led by BrewDog, and mixers, led by Fever-Tree – yet condiments, a market worth $15bn globally and £800m in the UK, is dominated by just two old brands, Heinz and Hellmann’s. It’s rare for such a large category to see so little innovation.”
TARGET SMASHED BY 275%
The three co-founders believe that they can provide the innovation and energy to shake up UK condiments. What’s more, their enthusiasm is catching. So far, Dr. Will’s has crowdfunded £1.1m via Seedrs, smashing its target by 275%. Indeed, it is a brilliant case study on how to run a successful crowdfunding campaign. So let’s see what we can learn from their campaign.
DR. WILL’S CROWDFUNDING TIPS
- Don’t start on zero
Liam says: “You need a good amount of capital pre-committed; you don’t want to start your crowdfunding campaign on zero. So what we did was build up a base of angel investors, six initially, who pre-committed a chunk of money. Doing this is important because you want to hit the ground running. As soon as the round opens, the pre-committed cash goes in, which gets your campaign off to a flying start.”
- Carefully prepare your messaging
Josh explains: “We created a short video telling the Dr. Will’s story and designed a few campaign decks. Your video message must be clear and simple, which is challenging when you’re trying to fit four years’ worth of story into three minutes. In our view, a good video is vital to any crowdfunding campaign.”
Liam agrees: “We worked hard on the video and campaign decks, and made sure they were well shot and well designed. My old boss always used to say: ‘If it looks shit, it is shit.’ It’s a good phrase! You can create a deck and video that contain the best business proposition in the world, but if they look horrible, most people will switch off.”
- Put in your pre-registration groundwork.
Liam says: “After you’ve built up your base of angel investors [see lesson 1], you enter a pre-registration phase. That’s when you send out a link to your network and ask your close contacts to invest before your crowdfunding campaign goes fully public. You’re trying to build up as much interest as you can before going out to the wider Seedrs network. This is a vital stage, and you hope old school friends and people you haven’t spoken to for a while pop up on your investor list. It’s important to convert as many as possible, as quickly as possible, so it pays to send out personal emails.”
- Relentlessly share your story.
Josh explains: “You’ve got to put your muscle to the hustle! It can feel daunting to lay your cards on the table on LinkedIn and social media, telling people what you’re trying to achieve. You think, ‘What happens if we fail?’ But my advice is to get busy on social media telling your story, stay positive all the way through, and get every single one of your contacts involved.”
- Keep pushing till the end.
Liam: “Once the campaign is live, it becomes a bit of an endurance test. It’s not going to last that long – around 2-3 weeks – but you’re running your business at the same time, so it’s knackering. We were fundraising during the day and running the business at night. You need to remember it’s only for a few weeks so keep the energy levels up.”
Following the success of the crowdfunder, the team are now looking to the future. Having gained listings in Tesco and Waitrose, it’s all systems go in their mission to challenge the incumbent big boys. Liam says: “Over the next three to five years, we want to be everywhere that Heinz & co are on the shelves and cement ourselves as the disruptive alternative. We believe that people are sleepwalking to the big brands and it’s our job to wake them up.”
Dr. Will’s is trying to detonate a bomb in the sauce aisle and the results could be messy for the big global brands that we all know so well. By marketing itself as a young upstart that cares about flavour, health, natural ingredients and sustainability – and having an authentic story to back up this position – Dr. Will’s has the potential to ‘do a BrewDog’ to the UK’s staid condiments category. That’s undoubtedly what Will, Josh, Liam and the team are trying to do, and their entrepreneurial belief and ambition are a joy to behold. They simply don’t care that they are competing with some of the globe’s most prominent brands. On the contrary – they relish it because it gives them a larger, juicier target to aim at.