#Sober. A fresh young drinks brand with a growing student following.
Recently, we caught up with Richard Pollentine, founder of #Sober. #Sober are an exciting young non-alcoholic drinks brand that is already gaining ground. . After two years of research, Richard launched the business early in 2019. Since then, he’s been accepted on the Natwest Accelerator Scheme, and is a finalist in two entrepreneurial award programs. With several stockists already signed up, #Sober looks like a growth story in the making. Richard kindly agreed to share the story of #Sober so far.
Tell us a bit about yourself…
I left school at 16 with particularly average GCSE’s, I wanted to train as a chef, probably because I had seen the Naked Chef and Gordon Ramsey a bit too much on TV. After a spell at a 5 star resort and a short stint at a Michelin starred restaurant I realised it wasn’t for me but had no real clue what I wanted to do. I drifted for a few years in various jobs and somewhere along the line decided I wanted to be an actor, I’d spend my evenings going to classes and weekends travelling to London for classes at a drama school. I think I realised that whilst I liked the idea of being an actor, like being a chef, the reality was very different and ultimately I could not afford to attend drama school.
So there I was, a bit lost with what to do, and so I thought I would spend my savings travelling, back in 2007. As many do, I wanted something different and hoped that being away would help me have some sort of epiphany. I spent my time travelling, basically partying until I had no clue what day it was and almost no money left.
When I returned It was almost impossible to get a job, and it took me 9 months to get one washing dishes and making tea and coffee in the local hospital, I then enrolled in university to complete a foundation degree, and then my honours degree. This is where I started working towards a career. Deep down I knew I wanted to work for myself but just had no idea what in or how to go about it. I gained a 2:1 at the University of South Wales in Business and Marketing, and following this, worked in aerospace, engineering, hospitality and for a steel manufacturer, but did not really enjoy what I was doing.
Can you describe Sober Drinks in one sentence?
The first to market, non-alcoholic drink aimed at fun loving, laid back consumers who want something different.
How did you come up with the idea for Sober Drinks?
In 2015, I had a holiday in Spain and had a mocktail; I thought why not try to create my own brand? I hadn’t drunk since travelling and never liked alcohol so it seemed like the natural way to go, plus I always enjoyed trying different drinks so why not make my own?!
I spent a couple of years coming up with ideas and deciding whether to go for it. In early 2019, I exhibited at my first trade show with support from the Welsh Government. From then on, I started gaining interest from several universities and other outlets wanting to stock my drinks. Since then, I have been accepted on the Natwest Accelerator, and am a finalist for the Wales Start Up Awards plus the Natwest Great British Entrepreneur of the Year in the food and drink category.
Tell us about the process of making Sober Drinks from a concept to an actual product...
I had the initial idea in 2015, however it took maybe 18 months of trying out some ideas on flavours before deciding to formulate a recipe. So far, everything put into the business has come from my personal savings although I am now looking for investment to get it to the next level.
The initial feedback was great, people love the concept, and universities wanted to speak to me as there now are so many students not drinking, and we’re a fun non-serious brand so we’re perfect for them.
How has Sober Drinks grown since you founded it?
I've gained a lot of interest and had a number or online stockists and independents wanting to stock them. A couple of universities agreed early on, with a number of others expressing interest. In addition, I am now in discussions with some national distributors. We are currently changing the recipe and will be going back to market with the new improved products very soon, plus a new flavour hopefully.
How are you raising awareness of Sober Drinks?
As I already mentioned, I’m a finalist for a couple of national awards and have exhibited at some trade shows and consumer shows, including Tom Kerridge’s Pub in the Park, with the support of the Welsh Government’s Cywain programme. I’m not the best on social media unfortunately but we do have a couple of thousand likes on Facebook with very little effort. I think it shows the interest in the brand is there!
Do you manufacture your own products or outsource? And why?
I outsource manufacturing, it's such a huge process and it would cost too much to build my own manufacturing facility, without major investment. Plus outsourcing means we're working with experts who already know what to do. They can create the products at a consistently high level and on a much larger scale.
What have been the biggest challenges in growing Sober Drinks?
Funding has been a huge issue, weighing up where to spend, and sometimes it’s a challenge with finance as I have to be patient and wait before I can do something. With more investment, the brand would grow much quicker.
There are things you don’t realise when you start a business, especially a food and drinks business. You intend to be nothing other than a grow large brand. I’m not an accountant and I’m not a legal expert but I have to remember to consider everything, otherwise you can make mistakes.
Where do you see Sober Drinks in five years?
Within 3 years I want #Sober to be in 35+ universities in the UK plus a host of other outlets from entertainment and sports venues to bars and restaurants. In 5 years I would like to take the brand global, targeting the Middle East, North America and South East Asia.
What’s been the best thing that’s happened since you started Sober Drinks?
I have found what I love to do, I never really had any passion in my previous careers/jobs but creating and building #Sober is my absolute passion. It's not a 9 to 5, it's on my mind every minute of every day, and I love it.
Have you got any advice for someone thinking about starting their own food and drink business?
Be patient, it's something I struggle with but it is vital. Do your research first and then go for it. The highs are very high and the lows really can get you down, try to find some balance, and when you do, let me know how.
Is there an entrepreneur that you find particularly inspiring?
In particular David Buttress, he’s from my local area and Co-founded Just Eat. It’s a huge success, and he now is the Chairman of the Dragons, the welsh rugby team, who are my other passion outside of #Sober. One day, I would love to be able to invest in them.
I am inspired by those who are self made and are supporting others who are on a similar path. David’s story is hugely inspirational. Plus, I hope he can put the Dragons back at the top table one day.
Finally, can you give us a rundown of a typical day at Sober Drinks HQ?
There is no real typical day, I am often meeting people, whether it be networking or meeting with potential clients or suppliers. I could be up at midnight writing emails or typing something up, and I often wake up really early these days as there's always something I want to do each day.