Oppo: Harry and Charlie Thuillier
Fresh from breaking crowdfunding records, the ice-cream start-up talk funding, challenging the big brands, and why the customer is at the core of their business
Name: Harry and Charlie Thuillier
Company name: Oppo
Location: Greater London
Date launched: 20th October 2014
Number of Employees: 4
Tell us what your business does:
In short we make ice-cream that is both healthy and indulgent! We’ve replaced cream and sugar with virgin coconut oil and stevia leaf (sweet, natural, no calories), and have boosted each flavour with delicious super-ingredients to make a premium ice-cream that is better for you and contains fewer calories in two scoops than an apple per portion.
Where did the idea for your business come from?
The idea was born during a record breaking expedition we completed in Brazil – travelling a thousand kilometers along the coast using kites. They ran out of supplies so started eating coconuts and açaí berries. This sparked a love for using natural ingredients to make the most indulgent foods healthy.
How did you know there was a market for it?
There is an increasing trend towards healthy foods and Oppo lets you give in to your cravings while staying healthy. Plus the premium category of the ice-cream market has increased in value and is now worth £275m.
What were you doing before starting up?
Charlie worked for Diageo before leaving to found Oppo and I was head of marketing for a digital marketing course called Squared, which was backed by Google.
Have you always wanted to run your own business?
Absolutely, we both wanted to build a beacon business that people wanted to work for and that our customers love and want to be affiliated with. Charlie started early, selling Pokemon cards when he was seven years old and then going on to found his own profitable tuck shop at school!
It is also fantastic to have the opportunity to work with your brother. When doing business it is fundamental that you do business with someone you can trust and there is no one that you can trust more than a member of your family. We understand one another's strengths and weaknesses and know each other inside out so we can use that to our advantage.
How did you raise the money?
It is fantastic that there are now so many different ways for start-ups to raise capital – the whole process has been democratised.
We rejected an offer from a Venture Capitalist firm and opted for crowdfunding – Oppo reached £100,000 target in minutes and to date have raised over £300,000 on Seedrs – because we really wanted to give our customers the chance to own a part of this exciting new healthy ice-cream. We hope that they will in turn be a part of the story rather than passive consumers.
Describe your business model and how you make money:
Essentially we make ice-cream and then sell it! We are currently stocked in 117 Waitrose stores nationwide and on Ocado.
What challenges have you faced and how have you overcome them?
There have been many! One of the biggest ones was simply getting it to taste good. Six months in Charlie thought that he’d cracked it. Oppo tasted fantastic so he started pitching to the major retailers.
One immediately loved it so they made up the first 750 litre batch of Oppo to test the processing. Disaster struck. The product failed stability tests meaning that its shelf life was too short – Oppo was back to square one.
Challenges come up every day but we always look to overcome them by keeping positive – to succeed and enjoy your inevitably tough journey we believe you need to see opportunities where others see challenges and reward where others see risk.
What was your first big breakthrough
Making the product – creating Oppo took 25 months of research, three different factories, two specialized food research centres and four grants from Santander, York University and the British government.
Once we had the product we could then start to build the brand, team, strategy, route to market and begin selling it.
What advice would you give to budding entrepreneurs?
Always remember that product is king. Customer needs are at the core of any product or service you create – if it doesn't serve the market there's little chance of success and growth. It is essential to not get carried away with new ideas and innovations without ensuring there's market demand.
Know what you're good at and hire for everything else. It's fundamental to recognise your personal strengths and weaknesses, only at that point can you hire the right team to compliment your skill set.
Also seek advice and mentors. These people are gold-dust and experienced people are often very generous in passing on their knowledge to get the excitement of start-ups without the stress.
And finally to take on the established names it's fundamental to think and be different. Don't conform to the norm but excite and surprise.
Where do you want to be in five years' time?
Our mission is to make the Oppo brand synonymous with healthy indulgence. In doing this we want to continue developing our relationship with Waitrose and Ocado and hope to increase the number of Waitrose stores we are stocked in.
We are also keen to get listings in other premium independent stores, grow the brand, increase the team by 50% whilst continuing to challenge and innovate.