The Incrediball(ly) Audacious Plan: Shaking Up the Beverage Industry

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In this second episode of 'Now, That's What I Call Business,' it's me, Brianne West, founder of Ethique, Business, but Better and Incrediballs! I'll be fumbling my way through the origin story and grand ambitions of my latest venture - Incrediballs. Strap in as I give a frank and funny (I hope...) exploration of my past business adventures (and misadventures), and how they've influenced my mission to change up the drinks industry.

Come with me on this whirlwind journey through the wild world of bottled beverages and share my dreams of making plastic a thing of the past. With my trademark mix of straight talk and head-in-the-clouds idealism, I'm gearing up to take on the world... again. Impossible? Maybe. But hey, many thought Ethique was just a fantasy, and look how that turned out!

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Kia ora and welcome to Now That's What I Call Business. I am your host, Brianne West. You may know me as the founder and former CEO of Ethique or more recently as the founder and CEO of Incrediballs, which is, of course, what this podcast is all about. What is Incrediballs? Well, we're changing the way you drink. Do you know that the beverage industry produces 480 billion plastic bottles every single year? And obviously, of course, we know that 9% of all plastic ever made has ever been recycled.

So that's an insane amount of plastic that is simply entering our landfills, our oceans, our waterways. And that is what Incrediballs is here to stop. I want to disrupt Coca-Cola. Can I say that? I've said it now. Incrediballs is concentrated drink tablets. Yes, there's nothing new about concentrated drink tablets.

They're just like a Barocca. But what is new is the packaging. As it stands today, it is impossible to package effervescent tablets in a home compostable package because effervescent tablets react with the moisture in the environment and if you package them in a box or something, well, they'll just gradually dissolve and you'll be left with ick when you buy your stuff in the supermarket. Obviously, you want to avoid that. That's why I'm off to the UK today.

I'll talk about that more shortly, because we're going to resolve this packaging issue and get started, because I want to launch this product by the end of this year. So stay tuned, because we will be putting a call out for testers, let's say, in a few weeks. A lot of people have asked me about my Eureka moment for Incrediballs and they did about a teak too, but I don't believe there was one. To me it has always seemed completely bonkers that we have packaged stuff that's like 95% water, whether this is shampoo, whether it's a spray and wipe, or whether this is a drink.

We package it in plastic, we ship it around the world. Think of the carpet footprint alone associated with the freight, less alone with the plastic. I mean, what sense does that make? Obviously these decisions would be made entirely on profit alone, but that is no longer enough for businesses. We need to consider so much more than just money when we are building businesses. Not only because it's the right thing to do for people and planet, because it's what our consumers want us to do. And if I hear one more person tell me that you can't have a profitable, purpose-led company, I will go mad.

Ethique is a perfect example of how untrue that is. Ethique first made a profit in 2017, back when we were definitely still a startup. So there you go. It is totally possible. I don't want to discuss a ticket an awful lot in this podcast, but it is impossible to talk about where I'm going without talking about where I've been. A lot of people ask me how to embed mission and vision into a business. Now, if you're starting from a purpose-led place, this is nice and easy.

You know what your mission and vision is, or if you don't, well, you should. This is one of the most important things you need to do at the very beginning of your business, particularly for a purpose-led business. And if you want to know how to go and do that, I actually have a module on businessbutbetter.co which will walk you through. It is a free education hub. It is not a sales pitch. I am not trying to sell you anything.

It's not even a scam, I promise. It's just an easy-to-use education hub that will walk you through these basic business foundations. So picture a vision as the world you want to see in five to 10 years if your business is successful beyond your wildest dreams. The mission is how you're going to do that. And the purpose is why you are doing that. Why does that matter to you?

A lot of people get those three things mixed up. So if I was talking Incrediballs, what's our vision? Our vision is a world where there is a multitude of plastic-free options for all products, and we're starting with the drinks industry. Our mission is to unleash the power of delicious and protect our planet through the creation of plastic-free, taste-rich, health-boosting drink concentrate tablets. We're committed to transforming the beverage industry one sip at a time and leaving a positive impact on our planet for future generations to enjoy.

Our purpose is to protect the planet by revolutionising the way people consume their favourite drinks. By offering plastic free concentrate tablets that taste amazing and promote well-being, we reduce plastic waste and create a more sustainable future for all. We are passionate about making a positive impact on the environment and dedicated to leaving the world in a better state for future generations. That is an example of a mission and vision statement.

It's one of the first things I did for Incrediballs because, well, it is important, particularly as you build a team, these are the kind of things you need to embed in people. And I'll tell you why. Years and years ago, probably 2019-ish, pre-COVID anyway, which is how I judge time now, pre and post, we were offered a really big deal with a retailer in the US. Now, to give you context, we were doing about half a million dollars a month on Amazon, but we weren't really big in the States yet We certainly weren't any retail.

So this was a big deal and it was very exciting I don't know. I had this weird bad feeling about it the whole way through we were working through the contract and then finally they sent us the sort of terms of trade and Hidden in there. Well, not necessarily hidden but right embedded in one of the terms of trade was that every product had to be packaged in a poly bag or a plastic bag. And I remember flagging that and I said to them, this isn't something we'll do, what are the alternatives? And they said, oh, well, no, this needs to be done for our machinery, our setup. It will go through a scanner and we need to ensure that it doesn't leak. And I said, well, these are solid bars.

I appreciate you normally deal with liquids, but bars don't leak. And they said, it doesn't matter. This is our process, this is our procedure. This is what you need to do. And so we turned it down. And that was a multimillion dollar deal. Now, a lot of people say, oh gosh, was that decision hard to make?

No, it wasn't because our values, our mission, our vision is embedded so strongly into the very foundation of a teak that every single person was on board with that decision. It wasn't a decision I made on my own and it wasn't one I got mocked for. And even the board was stoked about it and helped me make those decisions because vision and mission is how you lead your business to long-term success. And that is why I go on about it a lot, because I used to believe that those companies that splashed that shit up on their walls were just kind of nonsense.

But it is really important as you grow and as you build a team, they need to understand what it is you're trying to do with your company. Get on board with that. And I promise you when they do, not only will they help you build that company, because the business is nothing without people, but they will be so much more engaged, excited, and you will have a much happier team if they had their purpose beyond making money.

Which brings me to what my actual goal is for Incrediballs. So back in my kitchen in 2012 when I started a teak, I said I want to save a million plastic bottles by 2020. And that seemed bonkers at the time. We hit 10 million in 2020, so we smashed out of the park. But at the time, a million just seems ridiculous. Now I'm starting Incrediballs with a completely different place, right? Thankfully, I have more money to invest in this venture. I have a lot more skills, experience, and network, so theoretically, this should grow faster, but I am not banking on any of it. So I need your feedback on what my goal should be.

Should it be the same? Should it be that in the next five years, I want to save a million plastic bottles, or should it be bigger? The thing you want to balance when you're creating some kind of quantitative goal like this is it needs to be ambitious and exciting for people to get behind, but it needs to be achievable, otherwise you kind of look weak. Did you know that 78% of corporate claims, like being carbon neutral by 2030, are missed? So these companies get all this press and this excitement about creating these ambitious goals and targets, and they very rarely achieve them. Man, you don't hear about that, do you?

So when you're building a goal like this, you want to ensure that it's something that's a stretch, but it's definitely within the realms of possibility. And hey, if you don't hit it, that's okay as long as you're transparent about it and you talk about how you're going to address that and what your next goal is. The TEC's next goal is half a billion by 2030 and that goal makes me feel a little bit sick. But I truly believe we'll achieve it and if we don't, that's okay because we will tell you about it. And that's kind of the difference. So, what do you reckon? A million bottles by, what are we, we're 2023. Million bottles by 2026? 10 million bottles by 2030? I'm going to have to have a really good think about this, but what do you think? Let me know.

I learned a lot of lessons. Prior to Ethique, I actually started a couple of companies, one called Pure, one called Tubb.They were bog-standing companies, and by that I mean companies that really are only looking for a profit, because I didn't really know about this idea of social enterprise that business could do so much more than just making money. Now Pure was a cosmetics company, Tubb was a fudge company, and whilst you could probably categorise them both as kind of like a failure, I reject that premise because they taught me an insane amount, and that's some of the things I'm going to pass on to you through this podcast. A good example is don't ignore the IRD.

Yep, I learned that one the hard way. The IRD are wonderful when you work with them, but if you forget to file tax returns because you don't think accounting and finance is important, like I did at 19 because I was an idiot, well, they're less friendly. Now, as I mentioned, I am off to the UK today. 17 hours are flying ahead of me just to get to Dubai. And obviously there is a fair point. Travelling for business is inherently unsustainable.

Yes, it is. And how I make these decisions is weighing up net good versus net bad. I truly believe that if Incrediballs succeeds and grows and disrupts the industry, although I hate the term disrupt, it's so overused, then that's going to be a massive net good for the company no matter how much, well, within reason, even if I have to travel a bit to do that. I always double offset my travel. Offsetting is not a silver bullet, but at least it's something in the meantime whilst we're doing something that I can't avoid.

So I've gone to the UK to sort out packaging. So packaging effervescent products in a home compostable package has not been done before and there's a very fair reason, which is effervescent tablets react with the water in the environment, right? When you use a compostable package, home compostable packaging does not have the barrier that a plastic bottle or a plastic tube does, which is why you see Baroccas in a plastic tube. Because if you were to put effervescent tablets as they currently stand inside a cardboard box, you would have a box of fluffy goo.

Have you ever seen a bath bomb that's been exposed to a humid environment? It's the same thing. I can't have that on shelves. That's really not gonna help in the goal to save 10 million bottles by 2030. Hmm, how are we feeling about that one? Yeah, I think that's doable.

Anyway, so we need some technology that we have found in the UK that is going to resolve this issue. I'm not gonna tell you too much about it yet because, you know, I'm gonna maintain a little bit of the mystique and I'll tell you all about how the meeting went in next week's podcast. But suffice to say, this has been a lot harder than I anticipated.

I went into this quite naive, and despite being a biochemist and knowing how this thing works, how bath bombs work, I used to make bath bombs for God's sake, I am surprised at how difficult it has been to find a compostable packaging. In fact, I've had numerous people and numerous manufacturers say it's not possible, which I reject. Of course it's possible. Anything is possible if you just keep trying. And that is a really good takeaway for entrepreneurs.

You will be told no probably a million more times than you'll ever be told yes, particularly in the beginning. And just remember, it's a no now. It's not a no forever. And that goes for everything, whether it be trying to get it in stores or trying to find home compostable packaging. I know a lot of people who embark on this journey, try and find out how to compostable and they end up using plastic.

And for the life of me, I don't understand. I get that you fall so far in love with your own company that you can't say no, this isn't a good idea because I can't do what I want just yet. I'm going to launch half-assed. If I can't do Incrediballs and home compostable packaging, I won't be doing it because in my mind it won't be a net positive. And yet I see businesses who start out with these grand goals of being totally compostable and because it's difficult, they give up and they just launch in plastic or metal and for the life of me, I don't understand it. But anyway, business is complicated. I think the question that's come up a bit is why am I talking about Incrediballs months and months before they're even available?

Well, I call this an experiment. One of my life goals is to encourage as many entrepreneurs as possible and equip them and educate them. Start businesses that solve meaningful problems, right? That solve social and environmental problems. And once I've put together a business, but better as like an education hub, you know, loads of videos and stuff on how to do that. I think the best way you can learn is by doing it and by diarising this journey of Incrediballs, well, I'm going to be showing other people how to create a niche in their business, but I'm also going to be building a community.

A Teek was so successful in the early days because from day one, I built a community. I didn't even know what I was doing. I was simply asking questions of my social media audience because I didn't know the answers. I was a 24-year-old naive businesswoman, and I was asking questions as simple as what flavour do you want your shampoo bar to be? What colour, what shape, blah, blah, blah. And all those questions created a community, and that's what I want to do with Incrediballs, is to bring you along this journey. Ethique did two equity crowdfunding rounds, right? So we raised $200,000 in our first round in 10 days, and then we raised $500,000 in our second round a couple of years later, in just 90 minutes, those early investors exited with a massive return of 4,800%. And that is amazing.

But the reason they invested in the first place is because of the community I had unintentionally built around a teak. I'm going to do exactly the same thing. And yes, there is a little bit more risk that, hey, someone might copy me. But that's okay, because this is the logical direction for the Boofer Agenda to really go. But as I said, this shit's hard. I just can't see anybody getting this off the ground faster than I would anyway because I've been working on a fair bit in the background.

Next week I'm going to share some of our design work with you. It's very early stage. You will have seen it if you've gone along to incrediballs.com. You'll have seen the gorgeous logo, the beautiful bright colours. Don't know how I feel about orange. It's probably not a surprise to you that orange is the single most consumed juice and yet it's probably my least favourite juice. There are no situations in which I would drink a glass of orange juice.

So pick bright fruity colours as our branding colours and orange is our lead colour. Should I lead that way? I don't know. What do you reckon? That's two questions for you. What should be our goal and what should be our main brand colour? How do we feel about orange? Obviously my favourite colour is pink, Ethique's pink, my personal brand is pink. I probably can't create another pink brand at this stage. Right, well I'm off to the UK. I will take you along with me. Next week I'll tell you all about how our first meeting went and how very excited I am.

Thank you for joining me on this journey. I really appreciate the feedback. Please let me know what you think. These are short, sharp, snappy episodes because you're like a journal, you don't need to hear me rambling on forever. If you've listened to this on the way to work, I hope it's been interesting. If you're listening to this on the way home, I hope it's been entertaining. Wherever you are, whatever you're doing, I'm Brianne West signing off from now.

That's what I call business. We're not just talking business, we're changing the world. How do we feel about that sign off? It feels a bit twee. It feels a bit twee. Anyway, see you next week.

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