This interview series features inspiring female entrepreneurs who have launched and run successful businesses. Through our peers’ experiences, we can learn practical lessons and insights to empower us on our entrepreneurial paths. Crucially, storytelling de-risks entrepreneurship so we believe it is an essential pillar in closing the opportunity gap for female founders.
Firstly, tell us a bit about you?
I’m the founder of INTUNE, a CBD drinks business that launched last year – just before the pandemic hit. I spent my early twenties working in fashion and then moved to food & drink when my sister Ailana and I setup food & drink comms agency The Story. Throughout my career, I’ve loved working with innovators in their fields and am fascinated by trends and cultural behaviours. It’s energising to be part of an emerging category with INTUNE and seeing feedback from people who love the way our drinks taste and make them feel. Within the business, my small team and I have a lot of creative freedom and that’s important to me. I live in Crystal Palace with my husband James and 2 kids, Benji & Mila.
Tell us about your business, how did you come up with the idea?
Inspired by the entrepreneurs we’ve worked with throughout our careers (the likes of Sipsmith & Riverford Organic), Ailana and I always knew we’d like to launch a product as our side hustle to the agency. The right time came when I had treatment for breast cancer when my daughter Mila was 6 months old. I took CBD throughout treatment (I had the works), inspired by James who is an ex-sportsman and had used it for recovery. I strongly felt its benefit of helping with focus and found that enabled me to work throughout that time. I started shouting about CBD to friends and family and other people shared this benefit of getting more shit done in they daily lives with CBD. So I galvanised a small team and we set out to make CBD taste delicious in a way that fits in easily to daily routines. Today, the side hustle is the main hustle and a year on from launching we’re Great Taste Award winners, have a brilliant small team, exciting stockists, two CBD drinks ranges out there, investment behind us, a little yellow fronted workshop in Shoreditch and a futuristic CBD float on the road.
What was the moment that everything changed for you? Describe that moment when you decided to fully commit to your idea and the first few steps you took to make it possible.
My friend Camille Hobby Limon, who has owned top bars & pubs – she has great taste in all areas of life but particularly when it comes to flavour – explored the CBD world and what to do within it. It made sense for us to bring something new to CBD drinks based on our background. On my 36th Birthday on the 27th February 2019, we proposed the idea to Ailana, James and my friend Alex who is also the MD of The Story. I was on my 3rd chemo cycle, we all dressed up and went to my favourite restaurant Luca in Clerkenwell for Camille and me to share the idea and what it’d take to get going. Needless to say, everyone went for it and we celebrated with a lot of pasta and some Franciacorta Italian fizz, which has become our go-to drink to toast any big moments in the business.
What were the initial challenges you came up against and how did you overcome them?
CBD sourcing was the big challenge through development, as we were looking for a CBD source that delivered on transparency, quality and could be worked with from a flavour point of view. We spent a lot of time seeking advice from industry folks and researching the category before landing on a top quality hemp CBD.
What was the first win that made you feel you were onto something?
The first listing we landed was Fortnum & Mason. Ailana and I met with the buyer in the tasting vault and it was a real pinch me moment when he told us he loved what we were doing and would champion CBD and INTUNE within the business.
Did you take the investment route for your business or are you self-funded? Can you share some insights on your decision and the process?
We self-funded at first and have recently completed a friends and family investment round. The number 1 piece of advice I can give here is understand the tax benefits of investment to investors before you start speaking to them. Yes, in the long term they may do very well if the business sells, but in the short term they can get amazing tax breaks of up to 40% of their investment through SEIS/EIS. As soon as we understood that properly, our pitches to friends & family were much more direct and less apologetic, which led to our £200k investment round being oversubscribed.
What has been your best investment?
Product development – working with Camille and a team of talented bartenders at Crucible to create something exceptional.
Have you made any mistakes or faux pas? If so, can you share with us?
The first is going down the wrong investment route, pitching to people who were not relatable. There is a world in which investment can come from people who you have a great rapport with and it’s a genuine partnership. The second is quite practical around triple checking supplier lead times haven’t moved – the 2 week lead time we usually get on boxes became 3 months due to a global cardboard shortage and meant that right before launching a new range I had no boxes to put them in. I managed to find one company with a shorter lead time in the end but the whole experience was costly and nail biting.
What’s your experience of being a woman in the start-up ecosystem and what in your mind needs to change?
We tried a few different paths before taking the friends & family investment route for our first round. On one occasion I pitched to a room of mostly men from the finance world. When I mentioned the breast cancer part of the story the man I happened to be looking at looked straight down to my chest… to see what was missing I guess, which felt really intrusive. Our board is split 50/50 men and women and we have a good dynamic so I’ve found working with both men and women energising. When we go for our next round of investment we’ll be looking to make sure that whoever comes in is someone we feel energised by bringing into the business and may go for one of the female focused Angel investor groups.
What’s been the greatest lesson you’ve learnt since starting your own business?
Be interesting, true to yourself and good things will come.
Have you had any role models or mentors along the way?
I have a lifelong admiration of Sipsmith, as I worked with the founders when they first setup the distillery and started a gin renaissance. I also have an incredible entrepreneur coach who I’ve worked with for a few years called Nancy Wilde and has always helped me to find success through leaning towards my natural talents.
With the future in mind, where would you like to be/where do you see yourself in the next five years?
Bringing the benefits of CBD to more people around the world with a bigger tribe.
What can our community do to support your business?
I’m longing to spend time with other founders and learn from each other’s experiences. It’s such an important part of business/life and one I’ve really missed by launching a business just before a global pandemic hit!
What books, podcasts or resources would you recommend?
What advice would you give anyone about to start a business?
Understand the problem you’re solving. Know your audience. Be obsessed with quality. Be authentic. Do less brilliantly.
Where can we find you?
About your author
Leah Williams is the Blog Editor for Found & Flourish, working with Founder Lara Sheldrake to ensure every piece of published content is empowering, inspiring and well presented, just like the women we work with.
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