Interested in starting your own entrepreneurial journey in food and beverage but unsure what to expect? Then read up on our interview with Elaine Van, CEO of Not Too Sweet, located in Vancouver, BC, Canada.
What's your business, and who are your customers?
We make craft sodas that are Not Too Sweet, by reducing the amount of cane sugar by 35% compared to the average soda. We currently have four flavours fizzy lemonade, ginger beer, root beer, and cola. Each can clock in at 100 calories and is perfect for anyone looking for a sensible indulgence.
Tell us about yourself
I fell into this business by chance! My business partner Cam Hoffmann and I were on a trip to Germany, and we tried a local craft cola. Realizing that we didn't really have anything like it in Vancouver, we set about putting together our own craft soda recipe. Neither of us has any food background, and the first batch we made actually turned into a solid! We kept at it and eventually produced our first drinkable recipe, which we started selling at farmer's markets. It was an insanely steep learning curve to make the jump from the farmers market to being commercially scalable. Lucky for us, making pop is fun, and we enjoy the challenge!
What's your biggest accomplishment as a business owner?
I just think it’s cool that I’ve made something that people enjoy!
What's one of the hardest things that come with being a business owner?
When you have a regular job, you wear one hat all day. When you own the business, especially at the beginning, you wear all the hats 24/7, and it's a lot to juggle.
What are the top tips you'd give to anyone looking to start, run and grow a business today?
Start - A book that has been invaluable to me is The Lean Startup by Eric Ries. I learned to validate my idea with the minimum viable product. If you’re not familiar with an MVP, it’s a barebones version of your product that you put in the market to see if people will pay real money for it. Many people will want to wait until they have the ‘perfect’ product before they launch. They then find out too late that all the money they spent on fancy packaging or beautiful product photography is a waste because they need to revise their offering. Our original lemonade recipe had some separation occur that looked gross through a glass bottle. We contacted a food scientist to address the problem and were quoted $3000 for the work. It didn’t make sense to spend this money when we hadn’t made a single sale, so we decided to use a neck label to hide the issue temporarily. We were able to sell our drink and even won an award for it (https://www.vanmag.com/Announcing-the-Winners-of-Our-2020-Made-in-Vancouver-Awards). As we continued to learn with each batch, we were eventually able to resolve the separation issue ourselves. Save your money! Your product doesn’t need to be perfect to launch; if I can save one person money with my story then I’ll be happy!
Run - If your goal is to scale, you have to streamline and automate your processes as much as possible. Make it easy for yourself and your customers.
Grow - You’re going to have to pick up the phone and knock on doors, it’s scary and awkward, but you can do it!
Is there anything else you'd like to share?
Don't give up! Pivot if you have to, but don't ever give up.
Where can people find you and your business?
If you like what you've read here and have your own story as a solopreneur that you'd like to share, then email firstname.lastname@example.org; we'd love to feature your journey on these pages.
Feel inspired to start, run or grow your own subscription business? Check out subkit.com and learn how you can turn "one day" into day one.