The drinks market is undeniably huge which is why it is all the more exciting when there is new product at the table; Long Shot. Inspired by the latest drinks trend to sweep the US, Long Shot is a humble blend of fruit juice, alcohol and sparkling water – bringing drinkers a simpler, lighter way to drink. We caught up with one half of Long Shot Hugo Hodgson, who shares the Long Shot story, with great tips on seeking investment, working on a shoestring budget and launching in the middle of the pandemic and still winning a Great Taste Award last October. 

Name:

Hugo Hodgson

Where’s home?

Shropshire

Profession:

Entrepreneur and co-founder, Long Shot Drinks

Company Name:

Long Shot Drinks

On finishing school/university (which ever is applicable) was it a clear-cut path what you were going to do afterwards?

Well I never thought I’d be starting my own drinks business 5 years after leaving university, with no experience in Food & Drink- put it that way! I had a solid stint in the corporate world as a chartered surveyor after university, which helped give me my start in the business world, but also taught me just as much about myself and how I would like to run my own company one day.

What is Long Shot Drinks and when did you launch?

Inspired by the latest drinks trend to sweep the US, Long Shot is a humble blend of fruit juice, alcohol and sparkling water – bringing drinkers a simpler, lighter way to drink. We launched in May 2020, slap bang in the middle of Lockdown which was great fun! But seriously, with all that spare time suddenly on our hands (and not being avid fans of baking banana bread and Joe Wicks workouts) we felt this was the best chance we were ever going to get to double-down on this new business idea and make it a reality.

How did the idea for Long Shot Drinks come about?

Long Shot is a British take on the American ‘hard seltzer’ craze – which unlike other seltzers only uses real fruit juices, never anything artificial. We discovered hard seltzers on a chance trip to the US in 2019, when we saw first-hand how huge this new trend had become, and how it was converting a younger generation of health-conscious drinkers to lower calorie / carb options. We loved what we found but couldn’t quite find any options that weren’t crammed full of artificial sugars and ingredients, so we decided to head home and start making our own version fit for the UK market.

What was the first thing you did to set the wheels in motion for Long Shot Drinks?

I resisted the urge to quit my full-time job straight away, and instead dedicated as much time as possible to the new business, until it reached a stage where it just became too big to handle, and then decided to pull the plug on my 9-5 job when the time felt right.

The first stage in seeing if Long Shot had a future was playing around with different flavour combinations and ingredients on my Soda Stream at home – trying to find flavours that weren’t readily available on the market, and that also tasted great.

Once we’d perfected our recipe (albeit on a tiny scale) we set out to create the branding that would define Long Shot. We wanted to make sure our cans would stand out amongst an increasingly colourful drinks line-up in store, and also have something that represented our journey of ‘taking a Long Shot’ on a completely new drinks concept.

What were the initial challenges in getting started?

Finding the money to get the operation off the ground! There’s only so much you can do on a shoestring budget, and getting to the stage where we can run production runs of 30,000 cans at a time was never going to be possible without some kind of investment. Luckily we managed to secure some initial funding from private investment, which allowed us to start scaling the business, to a stage where we can hopefully become self-sufficient in the not too distant future.

How did you go about finding a manufacturer? Any tips…

Lots of trial and error! Ultimately we found a manufacturer local to our main fruit juice supplier, which helped give the whole thing a lot more of a local feel to it, but also has the capacity to scale as quickly as we do. What was more difficult, actually, was learning to let go of the production, and leave it to the experts! We wanted to constantly be in-the-know on how our product was being made, but ultimately I think we were just getting in the way!

Have you raised investment, if so how much investment did you raise and where did you look first?

We’re still in the process of finalising our first round of investment. We’ve been getting creative, and have tried to explore all avenues – as more capital is crucial in being able to bring our CPU down.

Any 3 pieces of advice would you give others looking for investment?

Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there on social media channels – explaining why you’re raising money – it’s free, and you never know who your network might be able to introduce you to. These personal introductions are always 100 times more effective than a cold email.

LinkedIn. Specifically LinkedIn Sales Navigator has massively helped put us in front of the right people.

Finally, I think you’ve got to have some form of skin in the game. A fair chunk of the launch capital for Long Shot came from my own savings. It makes it feel real, and gives you that added motivation to get out and do something about your business, rather than waiting around for something good to happen.

Have you ever had to deal with self-doubt with Long Shot Drinks?

I think it’s only natural to be nervous at points along the way with any start-up, and sometimes it can be frustrating when others don’t see the value in your concept. In these scenarios, it’s always worth empathising with the other side – understanding why they feel differently to you, and their concerns – and then working backwards from there to explain your proposition, rather than getting offended and doubting yourself. If you believe in your business 100%, you’ll make it work.

How big is the Long Shot Drinks team currently and how much bigger do you expect the team to grow in the next 12 months?

There’s currently only 2 of us full-time in the team – myself and my co-founder George. However, we work with a wide array of specialists and freelancers – filling in the gaps which we know nothing about (website coding, product designs to name a few!) We want to keep things as lean as possible for now, and not just hire for the sake of it – but if all goes well we do have some big plans for 2021, and would love to bring in some of those areas in-house when we can.

What 2 tools/resources have you used that other aspiring entrepreneurs might find helpful? *Include them with their hyperlinks

Monday.com has been a great way to manage our workload remotely and stay on top of what everyone’s up to – especially when you’re not seeing as much of each other as you normally might!

The Screw it Just Do It podcast is always a good thing to chuck on in those down-time moments or when you’re heading to the shops. Hearing about how some of the most recognisable brands got their start is fascinating, and a reminder that even the most successful businesses have to start from nothing but an idea.

How do you think Long Shot Drinks differs from the competition out there?

To our knowledge, we’re the only UK hard seltzer that only uses real fruit juices to flavour our drinks – never anything artificial – which gives our drinks a unique taste and appearance. The idea of drinking a fruity hard seltzer that is completely clear seemed weird to us, and raised concerns about what goes into them – so we wanted to strip it back to basics and only use all-natural ingredients, and remind our drinkers exactly what goes into them.

We won a Great Taste Award for our drinks in Oct 2020 – which was a real game-changing moment for us, and brought some great credibility to our line-up.

What’s a typical day for you working on Long Shot Drinks?

There are no ‘typical’ days to be honest, as each one is completely different! Being a team of two means there’s always a huge variety of things to get done: From simple things like organising social media and sending out deliveries, to forecasting stock levels and setting financial targets. Having a hand in all areas of the business is the nature of running a start-up though, and was one of the key reasons we wanted to give it a go!

What future excitements can you share with us that are in the pipeline for Long Shot Drinks?

We always love playing around with different flavour ideas for our next release, and love hearing suggestions from our drinkers on what they’d look for. We don’t want to give away too much yet, but watch this space for 2021!

Any monumental mishaps along the way that you can laugh about now?

More than you’d expect! The one that sticks in my mind was having to hand-label our entire first batch of 5000 cans for our initial release in our kitchen, after a supplier issue meant we couldn’t apply them at the manufacture. Not the best way to spend a weekend!

What has been your best moment so far as a result of setting up Long Shot Drinks?

Getting to see our drinks in an ad break on Sky One before Christmas was a pretty cool and surreal moment. That’ll probably take some beating.

For fun…

Three startups I admire are…

Koy Clothing. Combining funky and unique clothing, whilst donating 50% of profits to the Kenyan communities that inspire their designs. What’s not to love?

Tony’s Chocolonely. Like most others, I had no idea about the shocking slave-trade that backs up world’s chocolate industry. The team at Tony’s are single-handedly starting a delicious revolution in what we buy, and why we should question the provenance of our ingredients.

Innocent. Those guys wrote the book on how to take a simple, healthy idea and turn it into a brilliant product for every age-group. Their social media is also hilarious as well!

A useful book I read that has helped me with my startup…

Written by the founder of Nike, Shoe Dog, really helped show that even the most successful entrepreneurs have to get a hundred things wrong before they get it right.

The Twenty Mile Club is…

A warts-and-all guide to the highs and lows of entrepreneurship

Please include links to all social handles

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/longshotdrink/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/LongShotDrink/

Website: https://longshotdrinks.co.uk/