When Jon Hulme and John Burke appeared on BBC’s ‘Dragons’ Den’ – the programme that gives budding entrepreneurs the chance to pitch their business ideas to a panel of potential investors – in 2016, Craft Gin Club was already an established subscription service. The £75,000 investment the pair walked away with, however, provided their small startup some big-business acumen. Their TV appearance also gave Craft Gin Club a membership boost that has been on the rise ever since. Hulme, one of the man at the helm, spoke to RSNG about tough decisions, business lessons and why he’ll never get sick of gin.
RSNG How did you spot the gap in the market to set up Craft Gin Club?
JON HULME, CO-FOUNDER ‘The rapidly growing number of craft gins was becoming daunting from a consumer perspective. We set out to cut through the clutter, acting as a curation platform for consumers looking to discover the very best craft gins on the market. Along with the gin, we saw an opportunity to provide a complete experience for our club members: combining the gin with different tonics, mixers, snacks and our monthly magazine that gives all of the information about the gin, its producers, cocktail recipes, and much more.’
RSNG How has the business grown since your appearance on Dragons’ Den, and what goals do you have for it moving forwards?
JH ‘We were very happy with our growth before the appearance on Dragons’ Den, although the Den appearance certainly raised the profile of the company and contributed to a boost in club membership. Our goals moving forward continue to be the same goals we set out with: to provide our club members with the best experience possible with their monthly gin boxes, helping them discover products that we, as curators, absolutely love.’
‘A business is only as successful as the people behind it’
RSNG What do you attribute your success to?
JH ‘There is certainly a lot that goes on behind the scenes at Craft Gin Club and we’ve executed well on the various elements that make the club work for our club members. We couldn’t make those elements work without the best people so a lot of our success comes down to building the best team possible and instilling in them a sense of pride in providing the best service we can for club members.’
RSNG What are the three main business lessons you've learned since Craft Gin Club was founded?
‘Getting on the pitch is the best way to learn. You can spend weeks and months planning so that every new part of your business you launch is as perfect as you think it can be, but, really, you don’t learn whether it’s right for your market until you actually launch it, test it, gather feedback and continually tweak it.’
‘Focus is crucial. Early on in the company we launched a second club for sparkling wine lovers called Bubble Club. We were on the way to building a great club member base and our customers were very happy with the product they were receiving. But internally, what we realised we’d done was start an entirely new company with the same resources. Ultimately we decided to close Bubble Club because we couldn’t handle both clubs at the same time with the resources we had.’
- ‘A business is only as successful as the people behind it. Putting together the best team of ambitious individuals with similar, customer-led values is the only way to build a sustainable company.’
RSNG Have you had to learn anything the hard way, or has it all been plain sailing?
JH ‘The hardest thing we’ve learned is that we can’t do everything, the Bubble Club example from above being a case in point. Learning to say no to perceived opportunities keeps you focused on the primary opportunities at hand.’
RSNG How do you select the gins you send out?
JH ‘We receive loads of bottles at the office for consideration by our tasting team. Every week we blind taste a cohort of gins. After the tasting we consider the branding and story. All this gets factored into a point system that we have to score the gins. The best scores get shortlisted for future tastings with different cohorts and ultimately the best of those cohorts are chosen. We are currently tasting 20 gins for every selected Gin of the Month.’
RSNG What are the benefits of being a start-up in the alcohol industry?
JH ‘Although there are pockets of innovation and larger companies have recently become more aware of this innovation, the industry is relatively traditional, particularly sales channels. Online alcohol sales are growing significantly as consumers become used to receiving bottles through the post. We’re capturing a portion of that growth.’
RSNG How do you keep your customers happy?
JH ‘With the best and most exclusive craft gins, mixers and snacks. We’re working more and more with talented distillers with whom we create special recipes just for our club members – gins that will never be seen again!’
RSNG Do you still like gin, or are you sick of it by now?
JH ‘The glorious thing about gin is that there is an endless array of recipes. You can’t get bored by it because there is always something new to taste!’
‘Don’t overthink it – just do it, as Nike would say’
RSNG Do you have any general advice for someone who might be considering founding their own start-up?
JH ‘Outside of general practicalities such as making sure you’ll have enough savings to get you through a couple of salary-less years and preparing yourself for a few years in which you live and breathe your company, the main advice would be to not overthink it – just do it, as Nike would say. You’ll never know if the seed of the company – your idea – is even viable in the marketplace until you start growing that seed through concrete action and execution, not fuzzy strategy and assumptions.’
WHAT NEXT? Sharpen your taste buds with this ‘Bramble Cocktail’ recipe from Craft Gin Club