Learnt It The Hard Way

Learnt It The Hard Way

Founded in 2014, Sandows is a deceptively small business. An East London cold brew coffee company, we have nationwide distribution and a decent reputation which can, at times, precede us. In reality, the team pulls the phone-fumble-voice-change “let me just pass you to Marketing” trick on a daily basis! As a startup, we’ve learnt that it’s in failure where the street-smart lessons lie so we sat down with co-founder Hugh, to discuss what he’s learnt the hard way.

The curse of not having enough competition – carving out a market and staying true to your product.

Starting in 2014, Sandows was the first British cold brew coffee. But as we found out, little competition isn’t necessarily as great as it may appear.

As the first people to bring cold brew coffee to the UK, the Sandows team pitched cold brew to a fresh market. Converting something from trendy to mainstream is difficult to pull off on your own and we’re still working on carving out our niche. Plus, when people have nothing to compare you to, how do they decide you’re the taste they like the best?

Losing focus can also be a slippery slope. In pursuit of trying to develop our nascent category, Sandows has looked to new product development to have a bigger presence in the wider drinks market. This meant that, at times, we’ve risked losing focus on our original product. We realised that people see us first and foremost as Sandows cold brew, so nowadays we prefer to stay true our roots and push cold brew 100%.

The lesson? There’s huge value in having other people who are helping you carve out a new market, just stay focused on your main thing and make sure your product is better.

All that glitters is not gold - don’t jump the gun.

Sandows was lucky to get picked up by some big retailers early on. Within our first year, we were picked up by M&S and more recently, Sainsbury’s. However, this didn’t change the fact that we were still a team of three/ four with no experience managing national grocery listings. Without the know-how on how to mobilise our limited marketing budget and little in-store influence, you could say that maintaining our rate of sale was always going to be tricky. Now we think harder about what our business can realistically support before chasing shiny opportunities, especially in new channels.

The lesson? Know your business and what it’s ready for, not every opportunity comes at the perfect time.


Love your haters: listen carefully to those who don’t like you.

It’s easy to listen to those who love your product. But take a tip from us and pay much closer attention to those who are passing you up. You’ll learn a lot more about how to improve from someone who isn’t interested in your product, than fans who gas you up with tweets and appreciation. Even more difficult is to observe what people aren’t telling you and the signals they give off – super important when it comes to packaging on the shelf. People won’t always know why something doesn’t jump out at them, but they’ll know when it’s been improved.

The lesson? Put aside your ego and really try to understand what people want.



Becoming an entrepreneur and running your own business is about freedom: you get to play by your own rules. But, as opportunities come along its easy to get distracted. Ego, money, and shiny opportunities for social validation can steer you off course. At the end of the day, freedom comes from a business which is financially stable and this can be achieved through a multitude of routes. So know your business, remember your main aim, and never lose sight of the freedom that makes it all worth it!


Leave a comment: