How we tested and developed our idea for a business

Naomi Kibble and Helen McAvoyNaomi Kibble (left) and Helen McAvoy (right) enjoyed drinking cocktails on nights out in London, but struggled to recreate them when entertaining friends at home. Realising this was a common problem, they started out on a journey that would lead them to form their Cardiff-based frozen cocktail business Rocktails in 2010. So how do you turn an idea into a successful business?

"Helen and I met through youth leadership development organisation AIESEC UK. Soon we formed a social enterprise in Cardiff while studying at the University Business School. After graduating, I went to work for a FTSE 250 company in London, while Helen became vice president of business development for AIESEC UK.

"My passion and energy was stifled in the corporate world. Thankfully, I was offered voluntary redundancy after one year. Helen's year-long sabbatical with AIESEC was also coming to an end, and she didn't want to end up in a corporate job either.

Birth of a business idea

"We both enjoyed busy social lives in London and spent a lot of time in cocktail bars. However, whenever we tried to make cocktails at home for friends it was time-consuming, the ingredients were expensive and crushing ice was messy.

"Some time later, while planning a summer cash-spinner – selling alcoholic slush puppies from an ice-cream van on the beach in Cornwall – it occurred to me that I should seriously look into creating a product that enabled people to enjoy bar-quality cocktails at home.

"Helen and I spent several months researching the market, analysing trends and brainstorming ideas. We were regulars at the Business IP Centre at The British Library, in the evenings and at weekends, while holding down full-time jobs.

"However, with no research budget and reports costing around £2,000, we had to find another way to access key industry information. Friends with university logins solved our problem – and we saved thousands of pounds as a result.

Matter of taste

"Armed with a much better understanding of the market and a more definite idea of the business we wanted to create, we called up two award-winning mixologists, both known for mixing fantastic cocktails and developing new flavours.

Three to launch"Several weeks were spent developing various flavours until we decided on three to launch our business – Frostberry, Arctic Passion and Cool Cucumber. After much trial and error testing freezing points and consistencies, we concluded that our GCSE chemistry wasn't going to be enough, so we contracted an international food research company to look at the behaviours of the fruit and the science behind the product. This involved investing a lot of our own money.

"We knew we really had to commit ourselves fully if our business idea was to succeed, so we moved out of London and opened an office in Cardiff in September 2010. The next few months were a blur of calculating cashflows, writing our business plan, applying for grants, tasting samples and many other tasks.

"In December, we secured funding for product development from the Wales Innovation Network, as well as attracting other Welsh Assembly funding. Then in January we won a £1,000 Grand Ideas award from Shell LiveWIRE. Since then, we've won other non-cash prizes that have really helped our business to develop.

Product testing

"To compete on a global scale, we knew we needed a striking brand, so we brought in an agency to develop the brand and packaging artwork. Once completed, we made prototype samples that we used to host focus groups up and down the country, gathering feedback on the product, concept, flavours, branding, etc.

"We gained fantastic insight and discovered a few things we'd overlooked, such as adding soft drinks to our products to make pitchers. Gathering consumer feedback at that stage really helped us mould our final product into what it is today. We were staggered by the reactions of everyone who tasted them and the response we received has been really encouraging. It has certainly given us the confidence and motivation to push forward with the business."

Naomi's three key lessons

  • Make sure you have the time and the money to launch your business. You can't have one without the other – and one can't be substituted for the other.
  • Plan, plan and plan some more. Make sure you plan every step of your start-up journey. If you miss a stage or go about things in the wrong order it could cost you dearly. And remember – a plan is useless without action.
  • Have fun. It'll be harder work than you imagined, so make sure you're enjoying it or you'll never survive.

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