This month's Entreprenueur-spiriation blog features soft drinks duo Kerstin Robinson & Julia Kessler, co-founders of spicy soft drink brand NIX&KIX.
NIX&KIX is an exciting range of soft drinks with a unique ingredient – Cayenne chilli!
The use of this unusual ingredient, aside from its health benefits gives the range an amazing ‘kick’, and helps the team create great-tasting drink – without having to use refined sugar.
The result is a grown-up soft drink that’s less sweet than most, but with plenty of flavour to keep your taste buds happy. Cayenne Happy that is!
A perfect combination
Kerstin & Julia joined forces when they met on a plane from Germany to London 13 years ago . Both relocating to the UK to study, they immediately bonded and went on to live, study and work in the city in the banking and telecoms industries.
But after many years of successful careers, both began to get itchy feet and wanted to use their creativity, passion and drive to do something different, something unique and most importantly something on their own.
The idea came to them when they spotted a gap in the market when they were out on nights out but not drinking. The limited and rather dull selection of standard soft drinks available as alcohol alternatives sparked a seed of thought.
Their insight stemmed from the fact that there is a limited amount of soft drinks you can drink on a night out due to the amount of carbonation and sugar in the current offerings on the market.
“If you order a cranberry juice or something similar, by the time you get half way through, it is so sweet you cannot have another! But if you are drinking water on a night out, so many people comment “why are you not drinking”. We wanted to show that you can go out, have a good time and still enjoy your drink, even when you are not drinking”.
Kerstin & Julia were inspired to develop a soft drink with an adult twist that could be consumed throughout the evening and without the sugar and carbonation that limits consumption,
“We experimented and tried lots of things, different types of ingredients and flavour combinations. Finally we came across Cayenne chilli and we knew we had found it.”
NIX&KIX was born
The Cayenne kick gives the products a unique edge, and the delicious flavour combinations, Rich Mango and Zingy Ginger, Cool Cucumber & Fresh Mint and Succulent Peach & Smooth Vanilla are made even more exciting with the added Cayenne kick. This is not just another soft drink flavour combo, the uniquely different ingredient causes a stir and definitely gets your tastebuds talking.
Whether drunk as a soft drink or used to make an interesting cocktail combination with alcohol, or even just used as a mixer, the NIX&KIX range is certainly bringing something different to the drinks industry.
The journey so far
As with many entrepreneurial journeys, the product development stage takes time, and often longer than anticipated. NIX&KIX began to take shape in October 2014, and it took until September 2015 to develop and launch the current range available today.
“Product development takes so much time, it has taken ages, much longer than we thought it would take. Especially because we wanted to make the product special, we found that developing the fruit flavour and then ensuring that the cayenne kick comes later, that took a really long time to develop.”
“Coming up with an exciting range also takes time. We developed a range, but then when we tested the products and packaging by going into store or working with customers we found that there were improvements we could make. Different liquid colours, different flavours catering for different tastes, different caps …we started with crown caps but soon realised cafes and coffee shops don’t always have bottle openers, so we needed to find a manufacturer that could do a different cap. Lots of different things can take lots of time, and we have definitely learnt as we have gone on.”
At this point, both Kerstin and Julia were still working full time, but as they reached the tipping point as the work took over and their desire and need to focus on their new business outweighed the fear and insecurity quitting well paid full time jobs, they both took the plunge to focus on NIX&KIX full time. Kerstin was the first to quit.
“it was very scary, I had my notice printed out for a good few weeks but there was never a right moment to do it. But I figured there is always a way to go back if you need to, and there was so much work that it was just not possible to do both. People reacted really well, they all said they would love to do the same, and even some shared their ideas they had been working on. They gave me a lot of support and encouragement.”
Julia soon followed suit and the duo have been focusing on building the NIX&KIX brand ever since.
They have now grown from the team of two to a team of 6 with two new employees having just joined the team in February. Their focus is on continuing to build their distribution and and develop the team and company. Seasonal opportunities also beckon as do new flavours and you can see that the two are both so passionate about making this business a success and look up to other niche soft drink brands who have done the same.
“We admire brands like Vita Coco who have created something amazing in a really short amount of time. Obviously lots of big brands have done well and have been around for a long time, but it’s these new and innovative companies that we respect as we think they have really done what we aspire to and “that could be us in 5 years”.”
Learnings along the way
When I asked the two what advice they would have to other people looking to start their own business, they turn to each other and smile.
“Our biggest learning to date is persistence - you can’t get disheartened because someone doesn’t email you back straight away and says yes. We went to networking events and drinks events last year and still hear from people we met then. It sometimes isn’t the right time for them but they will keep you in their mind and when it is the right time, people do come and find you.”
“We would say our top tips would be to get out and meet as many people as possible, don’t give up and get disheartened - keep going, and finally, do it with someone else - the support gets you through the bad days. The highs feel higher with a co-founder and the lows a little less low, as you can share the pain."
Julia turns to Kerstin at this point and says “I wouldn’t be where I am now if it wasn’t for Kerstin.” But then Kerstin shakes her head and says “I wouldn’t be doing this if you hadn’t either. I wouldn’t still be doing this, it’s too much for one person on their own!”
They also believe that investors like to see a team as it gives them more confidence in the business and its potential. The amount of work and the emotional and mental clarity needed at times to take the risks needed and make the tough decisions, means that often two heads are better than one. From the closeness of these two, you can see that they make a great team and compliment each other well by focusing on different areas of the business in their roles. Yet all decisions are made together.
Approach to marketing
In terms of marketing, what have the found as the best approach that works for them so far?
“Our marketing is pretty low budget at the moment, but as the team grows we will be focusing on marketing. We use a lot of social media to drive awareness and engagement - Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and this works well. We recently bought a van and asked our fans to come up with a name for it, and that went down a storm. We had so many suggestions!”
As we are wrapping up I asked them one final question - what advice would they give their 10 year old self if they met them today? They smile.
“Mmm that’s a tough one - I’d tell my 10 year old self to worry less, definitely have fun and do everything you want to do, it will all be ok. Actually, we wouldn’t change anything, as we wouldn’t have ended up where we are today otherwise.”
Well you can’t say fairer than that, can you!
A huge thank you to both Kerstin and Julia for taking the time to share the incredible NIX&KIX journey with me. We wish them every success as they continue on the road to soft drinks domination and making the world a Cayenne Happy place!
You can find out more about the NIX&KIX story at NIX&KIX.com