On Rum, Old Posters and Big Ideas
Are you about to start a drinks business? The Interview London editor Rasa Jusionyte talked to Jess Swinfen, the founder of The Duppy Share, about testing small and learning the important lessons of business before taking things up a scale.
Jess took a leap and went from being project manager at Innocent Drinks, which, knowing Innocent, must be a dream place to work, to co- founding a new rum brand, The Duppy Share in 2014. Women in the spirits world are generally few and far between and female founders of spirit brands are even rarer. However, one business victory at a time, women like Jess are taking over the world.
She’s a perfect example of what happens when determination and big dreams come together. In under two years, The Duppy Share, a fine blend of premium, cask-aged, golden rums from the islands of Jamaica and Barbados has won prestigious industry awards and is on the shelves of top bars and restaurants nationwide. As for stockists,The Duppy Share launched in Selfridges and has gone from strength to strength.
Talking to Jess made us realise - fear will always accompany every journey, we tend to see it as an enemy, when really it's 'an engine': a fear of failure, a fear of a missed opportunity, a fear of not going after our dreams...it triggers creativity! As long as we don't let it read the road map, we will catch the momentum, accelerate and create our own luck.
Hey Jess, can you tell us a little about yourself? We'd like to know where's home, what did you study at uni, are you a dog person and if you were to write a book, what would it be about?
I grew up in Devon. After school, I did a bit of everything from swimming and diving to ballet, gymnastics and trampolining. To be honest, I was a bit geeky. I may also have had a large number of Brownie badges. My first day of really feeling grown up was when I went to Australia for my gap year. Ten days after leaving school, I remember saying goodbye to my Mum and Dad at the airport, knowing I was heading to the other side of the world on my own. This was long before the days of Skype, so it was a pretty daunting moment and definitely time to grow up. I always wanted a dog but sadly our childhood pets only extended to a blind tortoise and a succession of hamsters. If I were to write a book, it would have to be a collection of family stories. There’s so much history in a family that you never know about and I’d love to gather that all into one place so it’s not lost over time.
Was running a business your big dream and a life goal? Some entrepreneurs say they are 'a bit unemployable', so they never really had much to choose from apart from starting on their own.
I think I’ve always had an entrepreneurial streak. At school, I marshalled my friends into making handmade Christmas cards for Young Enterprise and then went on to launch an internship guide at University and organise our College Ball. I love making things happen and being in charge of my own destiny. I tried an internship at one of the large corporate companies and whilst I learnt a lot, I quickly realised that it wasn’t the path for me. I always want the freedom to be able to try something different and to be able to move quickly and make the most of opportunities.
Your branding is beautiful – did the creative process start from a simple sketch and you had a friend who's also a talented graphic designer or is the Duppy Share look a job of a bunch of creative people at an East London agency?
Our packaging was inspired by a 1930’s travel poster that we found to the Caribbean. We loved its timeless elegance and the vibrancy of the colours.
Can you give us a simple step-by-step guide to scaling up?
I think the key to scaling up is testing small and learning the important lessons before you take things up a scale. Although we launched the brand in London in 2014, this year we introduced The Duppy Share to Manchester. We are now ready to roll out across the country next year
How did you find your first customers? …And then more customers?
Our first customers were loyal family and friends but there are only so many bottles of rum they can buy! We were very lucky to launch in Selfridges in 2014 which is a brilliant platform for new brands. We introduced Duppy Share to new people through different tastings opportunities, from punch parties in people’s offices to events. My favourite was an experiential screening of the film ‘Cool Runnings’ held on an actual ice rink!
How do you go about social media and creating content?
I believe people are interested in products and brands with real stories and people behind them. I think social media can give people a window into what goes on behind the scenes. I love following a brand’s journey, the highs and the lows and the fun moments along the way, so I knew that was what I wanted with The Duppy Share.
What about marketing? What worked for you?
We believe there are lots of people out there who don’t think of themselves as rum drinkers, so we do lots of tastings and serve cocktails and punches at events. So often we hear people say, ‘I didn’t think I liked rum but I love this’. A rum revolution is underway…
What’s on the playlist while you’re sipping rum?
I’m rarely left in charge of the playlist to be honest. The others don’t trust me!
What's the conclusion? Trust your creativity, your guts, never look for approval and always say yes. No matter if it's jumping of a high cliff, learning how to surf or leaving a job to start a business. If it's scary, you know it's gonna be worth it.