It seems like being healthy is the ‘in’ thing these days. Everyone is obsessed with the latest superfoods and lotions and potions that they believe will bring them optimum health and longevity.
Taking advantage of this craze is a start-up called Vivid Matcha, a green tea brand that promises customers mental performance and productivity thanks to its ingredients that are said to be bursting with antioxidants, natural caffeine and a chemical called L-theanine – an amino acid that stimulates alpha waves in the brain.
Here to tell us more is the company’s founder, James Shillcock.
James, can kick us off by telling us what your company is exactly and what it does?
Vivid Matcha is the UK’s number one matcha green tea brand. Matcha is a high grade green tea powder sourced from Japan packed with antioxidants, natural caffeine and L-theanine – an amino acid that stimulates alpha waves in the brain to promote concentration. My belief is that the mind is our most important asset. My commitment to improving mental performance and wellbeing extends well beyond drinks and you should expect to hear exciting new developments from me in the near future in this space!
What do you think makes it distinct to any other companies – what’s its USP?
We source organic ceremonial grade matcha from Japan and we’re now officially the UK’s number one matcha brand having sold over two million servings of matcha.
Our products are all natural but our major point of difference is our commitment to mental performance and productivity. Whereas most health brands focus on physical wellbeing or performance, we focus on the mind. Whether you’re Lewis Hamilton, Serena Williams or a lawyer sat behind a screen, your performance will always be dictated by your mental state and capabilities, both in the short and long term. Matcha helps people perform because unlike coffee and other energy drinks it provides a slow, sustained release of caffeine for a continued boost.
What is your personal background?
I studied Economics at Manchester University and loved every minute of it. Before Uni and during my holidays I spent some time working for Deloitte on a placement scheme they run. My time at Deloitte taught me loads, I worked with some incredibly smart people but more than anything it made me realise that that environment wasn’t for me in the long term and re-enforced my determination to set up my own business one day. When I graduated I turned down a place on the Deloitte grad scheme and an offer with an investment bank and did the obvious thing – went and joined a start up tea business. Working for a a much smaller business (I was the first full time employee) gave me an overview and insight to all of the workings of a small business and gave me the confidence to believe that I could also run my own business one day. On top of that I learnt tons about tea and had a constant supply of matcha on hand to feed my addiction!
What inspired you to start the company?
There was a combination of things that came together; I could see the growth of matcha in Asia and the US and knew there was an opportunity here to take matcha mainstream, I was drinking matcha regularly myself but couldn’t find it anywhere, I was getting frustrated in my current role and knew I wanted to do my own thing. At the same time a number of my friends were about to start their own businesses as well – they inspired me to get cracking!
What is the story of the company from launch until now? How big is the company now?
In 2013, matcha was unheard of in the UK, despite being a huge part of Japanese culture thanks to its potent health benefits. The launch of our range in 2013 was a UK first and has sparked the creation of all a whole new category; since our launch ‘matcha mania’ has well and truly swept the UK with Starbucks, Pret, Nestle and many more jumping on the band-wagon.
Our very first customer was Wholefoods – I hunted down the buyer at a food show, forced him to give me 5 minutes of his time to explain what I was trying to do and he said it was a great idea – that gave me confidence to keep progressing. Wholefoods is still one of our key customers to this day alongside other major retailers like Waitrose and Holland & Barrett and loads of great independent stores.
What is the biggest challenge you’ve faced so far in your company?
We’ve had trademark disputes, production problems, cash-flow challenges and issues with retailers who have placed orders and then cancelled them after we’d produced the stock! Tiny things stressed me out initially but over time you come to realise that problems are not an inconvenience, they are part of the journey – issues arising comes with the territory, solving them is what makes you successful and keeps you ahead of the competition.
What’s your biggest milestone/ which are you most proud of?
Starting the business! Starting is the hardest element of building a business – don’t get me wrong there are unique challenges every day, some minor and some that can kill the business and all the work and finance built into it but that’s what makes it fun.
We’ve also recently secured a major contract with Tesco, the UK’s largest retailer. That was a huge moment for us as a business and for me personally – the fact that the UKs largest retailer is launching matcha says a huge amount about how far the matcha category has come since we launched,
What is your business model? How have you monetised your product?
We grow matcha in Japan, import it to the UK and create a range of matcha drinks which we sell to retailers including Wholefoods, Selfridges, Waitrose, Holland & Barrett and from the end of July 2017 we’ll also be available in over 500 Tesco stores across the UK and Ireland.
What’s the next step for growth – is the intention to grow the business independently, or look for an exit via acquisition or similar?
We are very focused on building our brand in the UK, growing the matcha category and making sure that matcha is available across all of the major retailers. Slightly longer term we will look to international expansion starting with key territories such as Benelux and Scandinavia. I’m having a lot of fun growing the business right now so we have no intention to sell.
Will you be looking for more funding?
We have ambitious growth plans so naturally it’s highly likely that we will need to raise funds to help us deliver on our goals in the timescales that we set ourselves.