How We Started an Alcoholic
Fruit-Infused Sparkling Water Brand
Hi! Who are you and what business did you start?
Hugo Hodgson and George Blurton, Co-Founders of Long Shot Drinks. Our business makes all-natural hard Seltzers. You may or may not know what this is – if not, it’s an alcoholic fruit-infused sparkling water made with all-natural ingredients in a 250 ml ready to drink can. It’s also low sugar, vegan, gluten-free, under 70 calories and 4% ABV.
What is your personal story and how did you come up with the idea?
We have been friends for a number of years, having met at University. I don’t think we would have ever imagined that we would end up in business together.
Hugo doesn’t stem from a drinks-industry background. Having spent 3.5 years working for a “corporate” as a Chartered Surveyor in London, he wanted to experience what it was like working in a start-up. Whilst on a trip to the USA, Hugo noticed that there was a new type of drink called Hard Seltzer. He liked it for its refreshing qualities but still felt it had too many artificial ingredients.
George, on the other hand, does come from a drinks-industry background, having spent the past 2.5 years working at two different London-based breweries. Prior to this, George worked in marketing. George joined Hugo in early 2020 to help with Long Shot.
Upon returning to the UK, Hugo decided that it was time to start his own business and therefore went about researching how to make an all-natural Hard Seltzer. There has been a huge boom in the ‘low and no’ categories, however all drinks still contained huge numbers of artificial ingredients. Recent food industry trends have mainly focussed on vegan, gluten free, lower calories and lower sugar. Hugo and George therefore decided to make an alcoholic drink that would fit this criteria while using as few ingredients as possible.
The business was started with blind optimism. We knew nothing about starting a business but it was our dream to do so, hence we called it Long Shot. Our previous jobs had shown us first hand that humans are creatures of habit, and we all sometimes make excuses not to do things slightly different – even if it’s just changing jobs, travelling somewhere new or learning a new skill.
We believe everyone should do something different; for us, it was taking a punt on a new drink that nobody had heard of. It was a bit of a risk, but we believe everyone should have their own Long Shot moment – whatever that might be. It’s also a long can with a shot of alcohol, so a double entendre.
What challenges did you face when creating your product/service?
We knew that as hard seltzer had been a huge trend in the US, it was also likely that there were going to be a number of competitors in the UK as well. Initially when Hugo started, blind optimism got him through – he had no knowledge of how to make an alcoholic drink. Therefore, he bought on board a technical consultant who helped to source suppliers and manufacturers as well as the product recipe itself.
In terms of research, we looked at the US market which has seen phenomenal growth over the past few years. Often trends in the USA are replicated over here with substantial differentiation to fit the UK market. To us, it seemed a natural evolution that drinks will incorporate the trends seen in the food sector.
Initially, to finance the business Hugo put in his own savings whilst working part time in order to make a financially viable business model. We raised our first round in February 2020 and we are currently in the middle of raising more money.
Who is your target market?
Our target market is 50:50 male to female, aged between 25 and 35. We believe that this trend, initially, will most likely be more concentrated in the South of the UK and particularly the South East.
The Long Shot community are a fun-loving group of young, working professionals. They work hard, play hard and live for going out on the weekends. They are health conscious and are aware of the high amount of calories in alcohol, but still love to drink and have fun.
Having said all that, we don’t believe you have to fit within the above category to be a Long Shotter. We believe that anyone can drink and enjoy our product but that it is most likely to be enjoyed by those aforementioned. In theory, maybe you are looking to swap your sugary evening G&T for something a bit cleaner, or perhaps that red wine is just having too much of a negative impact and something a bit lighter and more refreshing will suit your palate and lifestyle better?
How do you market your business and which approaches have been the most successful?
It’s early days for us at present so we haven’t focussed on one particular area of marketing. Social media is a given – you really can’t afford not to use it. We have also experimented with some paid advertising – this can be quite expensive for a start-up so it does need to be approached with caution as it requires a lot of A/B testing as to what works.
As for more unconventional methods of marketing, they can be high risk but if successful then are certainly worth it – we have some planned but can’t reveal any more information for now!
Regardless of how we market our product, we believe the customer is always right – they represent our brand as much as we do. You can spend as much as you want on marketing but the success of a brand is down to its customers.
What kind of culture exists in your company, and how did you establish it?
Building on our name, we believe that everything is about living the “Long Shot” moment and we embrace this in everything we do. We must all be super adaptable and if that means helping someone else outside your remit then that’s just what has to be done. Life is what you make of it and everything can be fun if you want to make it fun.
What software, services or tools do you use within your business?
There are hundreds of different software programmes out there. At present we use Shopify, Xero and a stock control programme. We are looking to bring on board a CRM. The truth is that whilst programmes do help to save time, they rely on everyone buying into them in order to make them worth their cost.
What are the most important lessons have you learned on your business journey?
The list is long, but like all start-ups the learning curve is steep. I think launching in the middle of a global pandemic has taught us to be as flexible as possible.
What is your favourite aspect of being an entrepreneur?
The people you meet. Whether it’s people we work with or hearing another entrepreneur’s story, it really is amazing meeting so many people and listening to their stories.
What is your LEAST favourite aspect of being an entrepreneur?
Feedback – sometimes you get feedback that you just don’t want. It’s also usually the feedback you have to listen to most. Taking on board negative feedback can feel very personal but you have to listen and overcome the problem.
Covering all bases at all times – normal organisations everyone has a role, for us, you have to do everything. This is definitely a double-edged sword as we both felt that our previous jobs lacked variety, however, sometimes it feels like there’s just not enough hours in the day.
We have lots of vision and lots of goals but often find ourselves having to spend large amounts of time following up on emails on things such as accounting and finance. Whilst numbers are essential, we gave up maths at GCSE for a reason – luckily we have a fantastic finance and strategy team who take the weight off our shoulders.
What books, podcasts or other resources have inspired and influenced your business journey?
There is a wealth of information out there: people, podcasts, news articles, books etc. The truth is there is so much information, it’s hard to find the right information. Our advice is, be open minded and always be learning. We learn new things every day but we must be open minded and take on board what we learn.
There are hundreds of books out there to read and it really depends on what you are trying to learn. Try Patagonia by Yvon Chouinard – we promise we aren’t sponsored! But, it has helped to shape our long term vision of where we want to go.
Where do you see your business 2-3 years from now?
Long Shot is not just a brand, it’s a way of being. We hope to have encouraged over 1 million people to have their “Long Shot.” Of course we also hope to have a broad reach, both in terms of the products and geography of the brand.