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Ugly Drinks Co-founder Joe Benn was a guest speaker at our event ‘The Disruptors Vs. The Disrupted’. Here are the questions our audience asked him that night…

“There are so many different ways to be a disruptor brand. One thing I definitely stress is there’s being a disruptive brand as such and having a brand identity and brand attitude that is disruptive, but you can also be a disruptive business. I think the best businesses do exactly that.” Joe Benn, Ugly Drinks Co-Founder
WB: Is every goal of a challenger brand to eventually become an established brand?

Joe: “I think you can still be a disruptor brand if you’re the biggest brand in the world and I think it’s all about mentality and mindset. Amazon, for example, is really disruptive in the way they do things and as long as they are they will continue to grow.

Then, of course, there are people that will come in to disrupt those brands. There are craft breweries that look at Brewdog and accuse them of being mainstream but you can’t deny that Brewdog sees the world through a disruptive mindset so, in my opinion, that will always help them survive and prosper.”
WB: How did Ugly engage the retailers with their challenging tone of voice and get their buy-in? Did you do anything unique to stand out in your emails or samples?

Joe: “That’s a great question because we definitely had some challenges. I’ll be honest we had certain retailers like Waitrose in the UK that just couldn’t get their head around our positioning and deemed it to be very ‘un-Waitrose’. It was interesting because there are so many examples of brands that have very strong positioning but have been able to transcend into the mainstream. Any good buyer will think about consumers above their own opinion.

The great thing about being a digitally native brand is we have a ton of data. We can show buyers and retailers how people interact with our brand, what they buy, and when they buy it. So fundamentally we believe that we can back up anything we do and we know who our consumers are and how we need to speak to them. We welcome the challenges and we have quite a lot of fun with them as well.”
WB: How did you work the logistics in the early days with scaling up?

Joe: “Honestly, it was just really hard. We made a ton of mistakes and wasted a ton of money doing the wrong things loads of times. I guess one of the most important things about our business has been the idea of proof of concept. Test and learn, test and learn over and over and over again. We’ve done things at times that make no sense and that big brands definitely would not do.

For example, we’ve launched a limited-edition flavour concept in the US where we will do exclusive drops of flavours like Cherry Cola, Sour Apple, there’s a Marshmallow that’s launching this week. We do small runs of about one thousand cases. We sell them online and it’s like a sneaker drop. We put them online and we sell out within 24 hours. People go crazy for them and we get loads of messages saying ‘I need to get my hands on Cherry Cola’.

For us, it’s about proving our concept. We believe that people would love those flavours so we test it at a small scale and actually it’s become so successful that we’re now taking that concept to mainstream retailers in the US. There’s a bit of work to be done but hopefully, we’ll be taking that data and actually launching some of those flavours like Cherry Cola in mainstream retail. So I guess my advice to that question is to try to de-risk and start small-ish if you can.”
WB: We’ve had bigger brands try to take our ideas, how have the bigger brands reacted to you guys and have you faced any of this?

Joe: “In any which way, any brand that sees some sort of success will be pushed and bullied and other brands, particularly big brands, will try to steal your space or block you from retailers. To be honest, if you have disruptive positioning it really helps. If you have a true fan base that you’ve been able to build, it helps because authenticity is everything.

If you have a legitimate claim to some IP, it just makes the other brand or business look bad in most cases. We’ve had a couple of examples where brands have so unbelievably blatantly copied our aesthetic, it’s insane. The first time it happened we got over angry and excited but you actually realise it doesn’t really matter. Those brands will never prosper because they don’t own a personality.

They’ve just simply stolen someone else’s We just in the end decided to ignore it and 12 months later we look back and see that both of those brands don’t really exist anymore.”
WB: What’s been the toughest thing to date?

Joe: “So many, honestly. Hugh and I have been so ambitious with this brand and I don’t mean in such a way we want to be billionaires or anything like that, it’s more just that we love this brand and we believe it has the potential to a global brand and therefore we push ourselves to not stay in the comfort zone of the UK.

Launching this in the US at the same time has been incredibly challenging. Splitting our team between the US and the UK and just managing essentially two different businesses at the same time while trying to keep them consistent and globally aligned is incredibly difficult. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it to anyone.”
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Enjoyed this conversation? Then please check out our conversation with What3Words CMO, Giles Rhys Jones.
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