UK’s number one matcha brand set to double this year

James Shillcock, founder of Vivid Matcha

Source: Matcha

One to watch

What problem are you trying to solve?

We are committed to developing natural products that promote and support mental performance and productivity.

In 2013, matcha was unheard of in the UK, despite being a huge part of Japanese culture thanks to its potent health benefits for brain and body.

Matcha is a high grade green tea powder sourced from Japan packed with antioxidants, natural caffeine and L-theanine - an amino acid that stimulates alpha waves in the brain to promote concentration. 

My belief is that the mind is our most important asset. My commitment to improving mental performance and wellbeing extends well beyond drinks and you should expect to hear exciting new developments from me in the near future in this space! 

How big is the market – and how much of it do you think you can own?

A recent report valued the fast growing matcha market at $2.62bn in 2016.

The launch of our range in 2013 was a UK first and has sparked the creation of all a whole new category; since our launch ‘matcha mania’ has well and truly swept the UK with Starbucks, Pret, Nestle and many more jumping on the band-wagon. We’re now officially the UK’s number one matcha brand having sold over two million servings of matcha and the size of business will more than double this year.

How do you make money?

We grow matcha in Japan, import it to the UK and create a range of matcha drinks which we sell to retailers including Wholefoods, Selfridges, Waitrose, Holland & Barrett and we are now also available in over 600 Tesco stores nationwide. 

Who’s on your team that makes you think you can do this?  

We have a very small but ambitious, commercial and passionate team. Day to day there is only 4 of us full time but we’ve proven that with consistent hard work a small team can achieve great things!

Who’s bankrolling you? 

We got to our first production run having spent a tiny sum of money but at that point, we raised a small amount from friends and family and a slightly larger chunk from some high-profile angel investors to fund the production of our first batch. 

I didn’t know these investors personally; I had read about them and targeted them specifically as added value people I wanted to be involved in my business. Landing our first major external investor is one of my proudest moments so far. 

We have ambitious growth plans so naturally it’s highly likely that we will need to raise funds to help us deliver on our goals in the timescales that we set ourselves.

What advice would you give other entrepreneurs trying to secure that kind of finance?

Make sure you are always seeking to tweak and improve your products and remain flexible about the direction of your business. Over time we’ve developed products and evolved our brand in ways I would never have thought about at the start and if we hadn’t have made those changes and introduced new products we’d be dead. Keep getting as much customer feedback as possible and make sure you act on it.

When you’re starting out it’s the unknown that seems daunting, but actually I think having gaps in your knowledge is sometimes helpful; if you know too much it’s easy to build reasons (excuses) why things shouldn’t work, whereas naive optimism helps you get the ball rolling. 

What do you believe the key to growing this business is?

Focusing on the end consumer is key. I’ve made loads of mistakes along the way and the biggest have been where we’ve tried to do things without testing them or getting enough feedback. We will continue to create innovative products and trial new things, but we will test each of them extensively with our consumers first.

What metrics do you look at every day?

I don’t look at any metrics on daily basis but we do a brief sales review every Monday morning and then once a month we have a more detailed sales meeting where we look closely at how each of our products are performing and whether sales are rising or falling with existing customers – this is one of the most important things to track; it’s no good winning new customers if sales are disappearing in existing accounts!

What’s been the most unexpectedly valuable lesson you’ve learnt so far?  

Keep moving and keep evolving. When we started we were convinced that our product range was perfect (of course it wasn’t) and we would never have thought we would launch some of the products we have. By being open minded and giving new products a shot we have kept the business alive and growing – our biggest selling product is something we hadn’t even considered when we first launched!

What’s been your biggest mistake so far?  

We’ve had loads - we’ve had trademark disputes, production problems, cash-flow challenges and issues with retailers who have placed orders and then cancelled them after we’d produced the stock! Tiny things stressed me out initially but over time you come to realise that problems are not an inconvenience, they are part of the journey - issues arising comes with the territory, solving them is what makes you successful and keeps you ahead of the competition.

What do you think is on the horizon for your industry in the year ahead?  

We are very focused on building our brand in the UK, growing the matcha category and making sure that matcha is available across all of the major retailers. Slightly longer term we will look to international expansion starting with key territories such as Benelux and Scandinavia.

Which London start-up/s are you watching, and why?

Keep your eye out for Forest Road Brewery (@forestroadbrew). Pete the founder and head brewer is about to take over the London (and ultimately UK) beer scene. It’s an incredible product.

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