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There is probably no perfect time to start a business. But starting-up in lockdown against a global pandemic? Surely this is madness? Or could it be a perversely good idea?
As I write this, eight weeks into the life of my brand Basic Booch, I certainly don’t know the answer to this question. Basic Booch is a naturally booze free brew; a refreshing ‘session kombucha’ that is as satisfying, sippable and sociable as a well-earned beer for people who aren’t choosing alcohol.
Basic Booch is still wet behind the ears, but I’m starting to get a sense that, despite the awful struggles faced by pubs and restaurants at the moment, for a small ‘no and low’ alcohol brand starting up, a lockdown launch could be a gift in disguise.
1. Time to plan
The road from having ‘a good idea’ to having a business that is ready to launch is rocky for any budding founder. One of the major stumbling blocks is that life just gets in the way. We’ve all been there – I certainly have. It was frustration with the constant ‘what if’ of ideas I had done nothing about that made me put pen to paper on my first Basic Booch business plan a year ago, in the pre-Covid times.
With little else to do in lockdown other than work (thankfully my job remained busy throughout 2020), time was something I had a lot of. It allowed me to plan exactly what it would take to make Basic Booch come to life.
2. Motivation to act
In the pub-psychology of lockdown (if only there were pubs!) it is easy to identify the motivation to start a business. When you’re not allowed to even go for a jog for more than 30 minutes, the idea of doing something for yourself, that you can control at least to some extent, becomes hugely attractive.
Last year, this craving to create something was evident everywhere you looked: just ask anyone with a sourdough starter. It created a nudge to action, and for may fledgling businesses, this is just what you need.
3. All eyes online
With real-life fun banned, people went online. In fact, 2020 was the biggest year for internet use on record, with UK adults spending over a quarter of their waking hours connected.
When it comes to brands and businesses, this shift in attention gives a boost to the little guys. In normal life, people spend their day bombarded with messages and advertising from big spenders from every industry. And while the internet also provides plenty of opportunity for multinationals to buy your attention, it also creates spaces for genuine interest to thrive.
In the few weeks of running Basic Booch I have already been amazed by the incredible online communities of people online who have noticed, embraced and started buying our booch. In the last year, as smaller businesses have built virtual shopfronts, people have done an amazing job supporting them by ordering more indie food and drink online, often directly from the producer. The ‘big shop’ from supermarkets isn’t so enticing digitally, particularly for anything beyond the basics. So bigger brands lost just a little bit of that grip on people’s fridges.
4. Growing interest in no and low alcohol
Quite specifically to what we do at Basic Booch, the continued rise of non-alcoholic alternatives has been a lockdown wave that I hope we can ride. Even pre-lockdown, The Pub Trends Report 2020 was calling no and low alcohol drinks “the biggest trend in the beverage business right now”. Changing lifestyles in a pandemic world supercharged it.
Yes, alcohol sales went up during lockdown as, understandably, people craved normality and release. But at the same time many focused on their health, tried to make positive lifestyle choices and looked for ways to treat themselves without repercussions. After all, is there anything worse than a lockdown hangover?
But there are downsides
Of course, lockdown launch has huge downsides too. Pubs, bars, venues, cafes and restaurants are the heart and soul of drinking and socialising, and it’s devastating to see them closed and under such immense pressure. Trying to launch a drinks brand without the opportunity to see it, at least for now, in its natural environment is pretty demoralising.
There are other Covid barriers too. Building relationships virtually is difficult. Supply chains that deliver the goods you need to run a business are a challenge even for a company the size of Basic Booch. And, quite understandably, many partners and customers have things on their minds at the moment other than taking a punt on a new micro-brand.
But, whether it is a good idea or not to start a business in lockdown, here we are. It’s early days for Basic Booch, but I think the business is stronger, more single-minded and better-connected for having started-up in the middle of such volatility and crisis. And, personally speaking, I think I’m stronger for it too.