Ugly Drinks: Hugh Thomas

Following Osborne's announcement of a sugar tax in Budget 2016, this start-up wants to upset the drinks market with its zero sugar sparkling water

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Name: Hugh Thomas
Company name: Ugly Drinks
Location: Greater London
Date launched: 07/01/16
No. of employees: 4

Tell us what your business does:

Ugly Drinks is a brand new company launched into market in early 2016. We produce a range of 100% natural, fruit-infused sparkling waters.

There are two flavours; Lemon & Lime and Grapefruit & Pineapple.

What’s unique about Ugly Drinks is that our drinks contain no sugars, no sweeteners and no artificial ingredients.

Where did the idea for your business come from?

We began to learn more and more about the impact of sugar and sweetener on the UK.

Not only do these ingredients impact the health of the nation (increased obesity and cases of diabetes) but also on the happiness and productivity of the country.

The sugar slump is something that should be avoidable, and so we set out to create something that tasted great, but without the sugars and sweeteners found in traditional fizzy drinks.

How did you know there was a market for it?

We noticed a general shift in public perception of, and conversation, around sugar and sweeteners.

There has been a lot of public debate around the topic and we wanted to create something healthy (and without sugar and sweetener) but something that also retained a sense of fun whilst tasting great.

What were you doing before starting up?

We both worked at Vita Coco Coconut Water from a very early stage and spent the last four years helping to build that brand in the UK.

We met on the job and it was never in question that we would leave to start our own thing.

Have you always wanted to run your own business?

We’ve both wanted to start businesses from a young age.

There is something magical about the ability to put something from your imagination out into the world, it’s a feeling that can’t be replicated and something we both needed to do.

How did you raise the money?

It took us a few months to line up investment but in the end it came from a very supportive group of family and friends (more than 10 individuals) who really got behind the Ugly mission and the team’s drive to make it happen.

It’s been great to have an investor group fully behind the product and they couldn’t be more supportive of what we are trying to do.

Describe your business model and how you make money:

Ugly Drinks are suitable for sale in any retail outlet across the UK.

We will build sustainably and make sure things happen at the right pace, but we want to make sure our healthy drinks are as accessible to as many people as possible in terms of geography and price point in the coming months and years.

What challenges have you faced and how have you overcome them?

The whole entrepreneurial journey has been a rollercoaster. There are ecstatic highs and low lows but its all part of the ride.

Early on, we faced some production challenges (due to the uniqueness of our product) and had to be both patient and relentless in our approach to overcoming them. Having a clear North Star and vision for the future was very important and we were unwavering in our drive to bring Ugly Drinks to market.

What was your first big breakthrough?

We launched with Selfridges and the team there couldn’t have been more supportive in the lead-up and throughout. They clearly see the vision and what we are trying to achieve with Ugly and it’s been a lot of fun to work with them.

They should take a lot of credit for being open minded and considering new entrepreneurial products that are made in the UK.

What advice would you give to budding entrepreneurs?

Being an entrepreneur really is about being eternally optimistic.

When things go wrong, you need to see these moments as opportunities to grow and be creative.

There is a great book by Ryan Holiday called ‘The Obstacle Is The Way’ and we really believe this.

What often feels like set-back can often be a moment to grow and an opportunity to flex your entrepreneurial muscle. If you can withstand the lows and learn from them, then you’re set for success.

Where do you want to be in five years’ time?

We think the UK is sweet enough already and are driven to take our products across the UK. With time we will look to launch new flavours and formats, and maybe one day take our Ugly brand to markets overseas.

Alongside this, we really want to make Ugly a fun place to work and build a team that puts awesome ideas and products into the world.

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