Interview with Assean Sheikh, CEO of Flavourly

We were happy to sit down with Assean Sheikh this week and talk start-ups, craft beer and the Edinburgh scene. Read on below to see what he said or watch the video at: http://live.productforge.io/2016/05/24/assean-sheikh-flavourly/


Hello I’m John and this is a Product Forge livestream and we are here with Assean, CEO of Flavourly.com.

Q.Do you want to tell us a little bit more about Flavourly? Sure, first thing cheers, thanks for the interview. Flavourly is the UK’s number 1 distributor. We work with the best independent microbreweries across the world to help consumers discover the freshest craft beer, that they have never tried and won’t find in their supermarket, all tailored to their own taste and delivered for £2 a bottle.

Q. So these beers that we are drinking now, are they all delivered in boxes such as below? Yes, so we’ve got our delicious Flavourly craft beer box where we curate a box of the 10 of the freshest craft beers from anywhere in the world, tailored to your personal preferences based on data, every single one on 40 hour track validity by the royal mail.

Q. So, is all the shipping done in house? Yes we are in our lovely warehouse where we do our pick, pack, dispatch. All the beer gets tasted.

Sounds good to me

Q. So Assean, where did it all begin, where did the craft beer club come from, what is the origin behind Flavourly? So yeah, Flavourly was originally founded in 2012 by Ryan O Rourke and it began as a food and discovery club. Ryan’s background was from the borders, his father was a honey maker, he used to traipse around to a lot of food festivals

As a bit of a foodie

Yeah, a massive foodie and one day there was a festival and he couldn’t get to the festival and was really annoyed he couldn’t discover the coolest products. He came up with the idea of curating the best products at a festival and putting them online in a box, so Flavourly was born. He had the idea then to develop a whole range of products via online discovery. So Flavourly ran for about 12 months and we decided to test craft beer because we wanted some beer in the office, an idea Ryan came up with and the craft beer really took off and about 12 months later we decided we must focus on one product. Initially, as a start up and we decided we are really passionate about craft beer, it’s a really fast growing market and we believe we can build the best club in the world so marketed exclusively into Flavourly.

Q. Sounds good, so where did the motivation come from, like what gets you up in the morning, where does your passion really come from? So both Ryan and I want to make the best craft beer, we want to make it accessible and affordable to as many beer drinkers as possible, so for us, we are really motivated to see, the consumers enjoying our product, products that they wouldn’t normally have access to, we really enjoy working with small independent microbreweries who currently struggle with a route to market, getting on parallel feedback, we launched feedback and reviews about 5 months ago and we’ve already got 30,000 reviews.

You guys have more reviews than a lot of places in the world

So yeah, for the beers that we feature generally we have got more reviews than anywhere on the web, including amazon

That’s just huge to you guys

Yeah, it’s really important because our customers get to review the beers, they get to have own tasting journal and that feedback goes straight back to the brewery, so they get to see what customers think of their products and we can then share that data with them.

Q. So, I take it then, you have a very special relationship with most of the breweries in the UK? Ya, well we work with over 200 breweries so far, we would love to work with more but we have to be more selective with the beers that are going in the box because we have only 10 slots in the box. Every single months is different, we never send the same beer twice, so for us it’s about continually finding the best breweries and finding the best beers within that brewery. Using the information our customers give us, their feedback, to continue to curate the best beers that people will like.

So shout out to any microbreweries that might want to get involved

Yeah, you guys if you’re passionate about craft beer and you want to get in touch with Flavourly, we would love to speak with you about your delicious beer, maybe get together, drink some samples and discuss how we can help grow your business.

Not only microbreweries but any potential customers out there, that might be interested in getting a box of Flavourly once a month.

Yeah or try a one off box! We try to make it as inclusive as possible, so we are getting the best value craft beer club in the world, we recently reduced our pricing to £2 a bottle. What we are really trying to do is we are trying to make it more accessible and affordable for customers to access really good small batches craft, as a regular go to beer, rather than an occasional treat. So, if anyone in our supply chain wants to make that happen, any savings we make throughout our business, we can tell you the scale, our business has grown, we have doubled the business every single year, year on year, double again this year and what we are doing with our savings is being recycled back onto our customers so it can be more accessible to grow faster.

Q. Well, I know personally that would be something I enjoy, less and less people are hitting supermarkets buying cheap drink and they want to spend a little bit extra and want to get something more crafted for themselves. But, saying that it’s not all boys, beer and banter, what have been the tough challenges that have faced Flavourly?

Yeah, I mean there’s always different challenges at different stages of business, so we originally started off in a 200sq foot garage and then we

Nothing better than a granny’s garage,

Exactly, yeah, drag the palette round a very small garage. But the business continued to grow, so we moved warehouse 4 times. So we have moved every single year as we have doubled in size, we have had to increase in warehouse. I guess the key challenge for us has been developing our product market fit, continuing to refine it and evolve it and improve our products simultaneously recruiting customers online so we are on a very comparative space, craft beer is very popular and building a really strong team. So I guess the key challenges is product, team and skill.

All challenges you are willing to face

Yeah, so we’ll always have challenges in those areas. The challenges will differ at different scales and different levels of the company as we intend to grow as we move from 10 people to 30, 30 to 100, the organisation structure changes

We have a couple of questions in..

Q. One, first question comes from Jamie McHale, what does Assean do on a daily basis, what metrics does he check and how does he prioritise what he does. Yeah, very good question, I guess no day is ever the same and what we try and do is we’ve got key metrics in the business so we can view our key metrics weekly. So we’ll look at things like our customer retention rates, we’ll look at the amount of sign ups, referral rates and we will look at our cost per acquisition, we will look at what channel our customers are coming through and we’ll try and optimise up those metrics, things like web traffic, balance rate. So once a week we sit down and run through all of our metrics, I guess in terms of prioritisation, for us it’s really about how we can build, how we can make our product more accessible and affordable and every decision is driven by that agenda.

Q. One last question from Jamie, so what beers does Assean think are best, I’m sure you believe they are all the best. Yeah, I guess so for is it changes regularly, because we get to try so many amazing beers, one of my favourite at the moment is a beer called detox by crew republic in Germany and it’s a really delicious low bb beer, very refreshing and I believe we were one of the first companies to import it into the UK and our customers this month are currently enjoying that beer and it’s got some phenomenal ratings already.

Sounds fantastic, need to try it out myself. Am so back to what I was saying before you’ve had tough challenges along the way and challenges always changing, so has there been any regrets with Flavourly, anything you guys would like to change, in the past or is it kind of each to their own.

I guess you learn a lot so knowing what we know now if we were able to start back 12 months ago, we would be able to accelerate business much faster

I guess the power of hindsight

Yeah, captain hindsight, so for us, it’s about trying to take that and learn, what we are doing day in day out for the next 6,8 or 12 months will that get us where we want to go and the key thing is, would you have done anything different in the past, so it’s all about learning for us, how can we speed up our learning cycle, how can we speed up tests as they go to customers. Yeah, so they are the key things for us. We’ve made a lot of mistakes all over the business.

So does everybody, it’s how you learn from it

Yeah so we don’t want to repeat those mistakes and so yeah there has been a lot of key learning points for us which we have kind of implemented through things like products, what beers to put in the box, the box, delivery partner, the team composition.

We’ve another question, first off, thank you Jamie McHale for your many questions. We have a question from Lisa Macareiu, I believe I’m pronouncing that right, Q. Where do the great ideas come from for your organisation, what is your creative process?

Probably when I’m in the shower in the morning, for some weird reason I always have lots of great ideas in the shower or after I go to sleep it’s weird I’ll have one or wake up in the morning after dreaming about ideas. Like one of our supply chain innovations, yeah I dreamt about that, I don’t know maybe we were thinking about it too much. I guess what we’ll do is we’ll get together as a team, probably every couple of months and have a boozy one, we’ll essentially brainstorm, there’s no bad ideas, so we’re always kind of looking for that unique idea that’s a little bit whacky, no filters and then, we’ll start to filter and go through and we’ll turn it into a plan to test. For us, it’s all about learning, it’s like nothing is a sure bet, the more tests we can run, the faster we can learn and it’s more likely we are going to get something that really works for the customer.

Try, try and try again! Thank you Lisa for that question

Q. Next question I have I suppose is how have you taken to the start up culture? Being a new business? How has that felt for you personally? Yeah, I think I’ve been involved in startups now for 5 or 6 years. After UNI, I took a grad job with Morgan Stanley. I lasted about a year

I suppose the lifestyle’s a bit different

Yeah, completely different it really wasn’t for me, I didn’t want to be like a small clog in a big wheel, so I left that and I’ve since been involved in a number of startups, so I founded a car service and MOT comparison website which is somewhere like go compare for MOT servicing. That was a great learning experience from that I went on to pilot a mobile car service centre at shopping centres and then I went to Babson college to do a fellowship.

And, that’s with entrepreneurial Scotland.

It’s really Amazing

How did you find that year long experience Oh, it was incredible. So, Babson are number one college for entrepreneurship worldwide. It’s an expediential so it’s not really about tech learnings it’s more about project after project after project.

Very hands on though

Yeah, very hands on, speaking to people that have been there and done it and gotten their viewpoints, their experience. So I guess yeah the past 5/6 years for me, it’s been incredibly full on, one startup to another but I guess it’s all gradual.

Keeps life exciting

Yeah, it’s a continual learning experience, each time it’s kind of an evolution.

So, are you still part of entrepreneurial Scotland now?

Yeah, so yeah the people from the fellowship, we’re still part of entrepreneurial Scotland network. I wish I’d more time to go to events and see more people but really..

Great organisation

Great organisation, great bunch of people, very helpful, very open and will help you in any way they can

So I suppose the next question I have, obviously the Flavourly HQ is based within Edinburgh, how do you enjoy living in Edinburgh as a city? How is it for a young business? What difference does it make? I think it’s brilliant, I love Edinburgh. I am from the west coast as you can tell with my accent. I think Edinburgh is a great place to live, it’s a lovely city. I think in terms of startup, we’re 10 minutes from the city of Edinburgh, we’ve got a warehouse affordable to a startup. We’ve got great pull of talent as well. Edinburgh’s got a very good education system. Four universities, tonnes of experienced entrepreneurs, mentors. I think Scotland, Edinburgh’s kind of centric to this has the highest level of angel investment per capital than anywhere in the world and Edinburgh’s the kind of hub of it and that’s been very useful. I guess like Ryan and I travel to London maybe once or twice every single month and from our perspective London’s great, pubs are great but it doesn’t kind of have the chilled out , at home feel . Everything is a lot less rushed, there’s a lot less competition for team. Our team would be much more expensive in London, it would be much more expensive in London, it would be much more difficult to retain talent, the type of warehousing we’ve got. Because we’re e-commerce company we deliver a niche and wide through royal mail, it really doesn’t matter where we’re based but we’re quite lucky to be in Edinburgh.

Quite Lucky and quite happy I suppose

Yeah, very, very happy

So what makes life easier for you on a day to day basis? Is there any tools/ tricks that make managing the busy lifestyle easier? I guess email, constantly emailing. A lot of people say email is dying out but it’s really popular for us. I guess key tools that we use everyday we use Trello, it helps us manage the team. Trello, would you be able to tell us a little bit more about Trello for those who are not aware of it. Yeah sure, it’s a workflow management system, it’s really like a board or number of cards and you can create different cards for different cards for different team members and you can prioritise the different projects you’re working on and keep it updated. It’s very graphical, to be able to see a snapshot of what people are working on, what progress they’re making on it, when things have been completed and any follow up information required. So we tend to use Trello, we also use Dropbox. Dropbox is like a god send for us1 It’s kind of a cloud management system, it’s absolutely perfect. So Dropbox allows you to store files online but not only to share them with your team , you can set up a entire structure on Dropbox, share files with all of our partners, managing director, marketing all that sort of stuff, so it’s really good. So they’re probably our main tools, our own e-commerce system that we’ve developed ourselves.

__ In addition to that, sort of related to that question that Lisa has asked, can you explain the impact social media has had on your organisation. So what kind of marketing do you guys use? Have you done lots of research into who buys craft beer, what they’ve responded well to, who best responds to what?__ Yeah, so we’ve recruited tens of thousands of customers through quite a lot of channels, we’re very polophic in testing. So I guess there’s two parts of the question, how do you recruit customers, second is social. So, I guess if you look at the customer recruitment funnel. There’s different stages of funnel and again it’s that we’re very heavily on direct response which means we use for example paid ads through Facebook, Twitter, Instagram etc. To push offers to customers and acquire as many customers as we can to get them to join the club, experience it and hopefully they’ll stay on because they love the product. The other stuff we do, more social engage in the community, create a community, building brand awareness. It’s less about direct sales. Our social has worked very well for us, I think we’ve just hit 7,000 followers. Yeah, I think the interesting stat for us is that we don’t follow that many people, it’ll be relatively more..

It’s all about ratio

It’s all about ration yeah, I think it’s like 1:8 or 1:9 at the moment. So, ratio is really important, we’re getting a lot of people or huge amount of engagement, I think our engagement for this month has been up 40- 50%. So we basically recruited somebody to take care of our social for us and he’s done a fantastic job of it.

Sounds great!

Really about engagement

How long do you think that took for your social to pick up? I mean, it’s taken years actually, not years of focus but years of having it there continuing to curate away. It’s all about having fun with our customers

A little bit of banter back and forth.

Yeah, like I mean some of the twitter stuff is hilarious, it gives you a giggle during the day, when the customers get their boxes, just the banter with them getting their beers. I guess what’s really interesting as well is we launched a magazine, a Mr. Stout magazine. Mr. Stout is like our mascot that kind of roams the warehouse drinking all the beers. We’ve had a huge amount of engagement from Mr. Stout because we take all of our social media aspects, whoever is retweeting us etc and we put it into print which is kind of unusual and post it out to all of our customers with their boxes, so they get to see what the rest of the Flavourly customers are up to, the dynamic, what’s happening in the community, that sort of thing.

Sounds fantastic

Q I suppose the next question I have for you is business versus lifestyle, lots of people say oh I would rather a job because I like working 9-5 and know after 5 is me time, but as a bit of an entrepreneur and CEO of a company like Flavourly, I’m sure your business and life just blend into one. How do you find that? How do you manage your free time as opposed to working time or is it all committed to the cause. Am, I guess we’re pretty much always working, always switched on, it’s a little bit crazy but I don’t really view it as work or personal, I just find it enjoyable.

I suppose when you’re happy doing what you do

Exactly yeah, I mean there’s obviously very tough days but more or less I enjoy what I’m doing everyday. We set our own direction, plot our own course and in terms of ever wanting any personal time, we just make sure everything’s prioritised. What we’re working on just now is building on our team so that If Ryan or I are not going to be about, the company will continue to develop, that’s probably our next key milestone, you know we’ve got some key responsibilities but overall, we’re always working. I think we’ve worked, we’ve tallied this, we’ve worked 45 of the past 50 days. But, I guess your doing interesting stuff and your meeting suppliers, your visiting breweries.

When you’ve got this much beer in your warehouse, you can’t really complain

Yeah, we’ve got lots of beer, we can’t really complain, I guess the only thing is that you have to say no to a lot of friends, certain family stuff as well but

I suppose they understand

Yeah, I think they understand and I think it’ll be worth it when the company is large enough when you can, free up a little bit more time and take more of a strategic role, less of a hands on role, I think it’ll be worth it. You have to get through this pain to get to the next bit and it is fun. I think the more intense it is, I think you learn.

The more rewarding it is

Yeah, the faster you learn, you’ve got intensity and momentum. But you should hit reset every now and again, every 3 or 4 weeks, hit reset, take a few days off.

Enjoy yourself a little bit

Yeah, let your brain catch up

__ Another question from Mr.McHale, If I was starting a subscription box service, what key things would I have to get right for them to work?__ I guess there would be 3 high level questions; is there a need for the product or service, do I think people will actually pay for it; if the answers yes then I would say I do believe I can win. I guess that’s just a really quick framework I would work through. But, If your really confident on all three points then what you have to look at is, what problem your solving, how you’ll solve it better than anyone else and that goes into pricing, type of product, key features all that sort of stuff but there’s quite a lot of tools, to allow you to quickly launch and test a subscription model so you’ve got some websites who saw and provide software as a service, use royal mail, lot of box manufacturers and you can probably get a hold of their products, you could probably get something going fairly quickly, the challenge is if you want to build on aggressive business and scale it, it requires a lot of capital, just invest in customer recruitment.

And stock

Yeah, the main thing is customer recruitment, you know to try scale up customer recruitment, to test and learn how to increase your retention and develop your product. It is do-able. There’s lots of successful subscription businesses.

There’s one right here

Yeah, exactly so you’ve got businesses in lots of different categories, you’ve got food delivery companies, you’ve got the shaving club and lots of different niche products that are successful.

Yeah, I suppose everyone has an interest somewhere

Yeah, exactly

Thank you Mr. Mchale for your question again and I suppose we will move onto our last sort of topic What does the future hold for Flavourly? What do you see from here on out and leaving the offices for 5 or 6 today? What do you see for tomorrow? What are the next steps? I think for us we want to continue to develop the business so we’re not looking to exit anytime soon. There’s nothing else we’d be rather be doing just now and so with that in mind, we want to build the worlds best craft beer club so for us that means continue to scale up UK business and then expand.

So where would you look to expand to? I think initially we plan to expand to Western Europe, some of the key member states you know we’ve already done some key research into the markets, craft beer is booming over there, craft beer market has grown about 20% year on year in the off trade, online sales are obviously growing year on year across those countries, we’ve got the product portfolio, we’ve got an excellent team who’ve got technology for us it’s really about deciding which markets to go in and what the entry part will be. It really makes our products more accessible and affordable. Pass the savings onto the consumer. Yeah, what we are trying to do is introduce more people to craft beer, help accelerate, we’re kind of a catalyst on, in terns of how the market will change. In the UK last year the craft beer consumption was up 80%. So when you’ve got steady growth, it helps us but fundamentally that’s what we want to do, we want to make more products really accessible and affordable and who knows one day there might be other channels that we can do that with.

Sounds fantastic.. sounds fantastic

Q. On that final sort of note, what would be the end game of Flavourly, what is a milestone of happiness for both yourself, Ryan, the rest of the team and Flavourly as a whole. I don’t think there’s any particular end game, for us it’s just about continuing to push and develop the envelope. When we get to 100,000 or 200,000 subscribers

You’ll just want to get to a million

Yeah, exactly! We’ll look at what’s next and how else can we help our customers drink better beer and I can’t see any final end point at the moment.

So do you have anything against regular beer? No, not at all

You just prefer it

Yeah, just prefer it! I mean to be honest it’s just nice to drink different styles of beer and it’s just good to have the provident. As you mentioned before, people are drinking less beer overall just the volume but their drinking better quality and more expensive beer. So for us, it’s just about trying new things. We’re the type of people that like to try new things, develop new things, then eat and drink same stuff everyday.

So almost kind of a final round up, I believe you have a voucher code you can pass on to everyone that has been viewing this, this afternoon.

Yeah, so 10 pounds off your first box, a nice little introductory, I’ll get you guys to post it on your page

Yeah, so everybody viewing this, if you look at the event page or visit productforge.live you’ll be able to get the voucher code for Flavourly and be able to get 10 pound off your box. On that note I’ll leave Assean to kind of round up, to tell you a few final notes about his business and thank you guys for watching.

Yeah, so thanks for listening hope you’ve enjoyed hearing about Flavourly, about your small batch craft beer and as these guys say we’re more than happy for you guys to have an introductory discount courtesy of our friends. Yeah look forward to hearing from you if you’ve any questions or drop us a tweet or drop me an email.

*Ok, so thank you very much, you guys for tuning in, thank you very much to Assean for the beer (Cheers) And thank you very much to Product Forge for hosting this event. *