Two young Australian entrepreneurs are taking on the big guns in the multi-billion dollar beverage market with an ice tea blend inspired by a year abroad.
A university exchange turned out to be so much more than an educational experience for 26-year-old Drew Bilbe. Sure, the engineering student took classes and soaked up the culture, but a trip to Rio Nexpa – a coastal town in southern Mexico – opened his eyes to the magic of fruit-infused ice tea and he decided to bring the concept back to Australia.
That’s where 23-year-old Troy Douglas comes in. Bilbe shared his idea of introducing a canned ice tea to the Australian market and together they created Nexba.
They focused on making the brand stand out in an already crowded market.
“Nexba is Australian made and owned,” says Douglas. “Nexba is also a healthy alternative to other ice teas with only 73 calories.”
So how do the pair split duties?
“Drew’s background is civil engineering, while mine is law and communications,” Douglas explains.
“It is a great balance. In the beginning it was tough but as the business grows, our strengths really compliment each other.”
“Drew manages the operations, logistics and production side of the business, while I focus on the sales and branding,” he adds.
It’s been a winning combination so far. The fruit-infused beverage has been approved by schools and is already stocked across Australia and New Zealand in outlets like BP, 7-Eleven and Toby’s Estate Cafes.
But it hasn’t all been plain sailing.
“Cash flow is actually king,” Douglas admits. “We got ourselves in an uncomfortable cash flow position early on – not because the business wasn’t growing but because we hadn’t implemented the accounting systems to ensure efficient collection of accounts receivable.”
That’s when they sought out expert advice.
“The initial stages of the business – including setting up our canning line in March 2011 and launching with 100,000 units in November 2011 – were funded entirely by Drew and myself,” Douglas says.
“In early 2012, Drew and I made the decision to forego a percentage of equity by drawing on ‘angel investment’ from two personal mentors to help guide the direction of our young and fresh brand.”
It’s a journey that has taught Douglas some important lessons about setting up a business.
“When people don’t know you or your brand, the hardest thing is securing meetings with decisionmakers. For Nexba, persistence paid off. We focused on understanding our prospects’ needs and how we could offer to reward and grow their business.”
“It is about picking the key person in charge and being bold enough to approach them directly,” he adds.
Competing with the big boys was always going to be a challenge but Nexba is already making its presence felt.
“We don’t have deep resources for marketing and advertising, however, what we do have is a strong point of difference and a story that we are now in a position to share thanks to key accounts with BP and 7-Eleven.”
It’s a matter of choosing your battles.
“The exciting thing about having a new product with a strong market differentiation is there are many opportunities, the challenge is choosing the best ones at the time with the limited resources that you have,” Douglas says.
So what’s next for the dynamic duo?
“I can’t give away all our secrets… the big boys are watching!” he quips.
“In the short term, I hope that we continue our current growth and become an iconic Australian brand. The long-term vision for Nexba is beyond ice tea… we aim to be the healthy, fresh, young and cheeky, brand that people love to engage with.”