Hire on Culture First — sometimes we hired people who weren’t 100% an amazing fit with our culture & we paid for it. No matter how experienced someone is or brilliant they are at their job if they aren’t the right “fit” then don’t hire or keep them.
As part of my series about “individuals and organizations making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Ben Branson, Founder of Seedlip.
Seedlip is the product of Ben Branson’s upbringing. His mother’s side has been farming in England for nine generations — over 300 years. Ben’s father, on the other hand, has been in the branding and design industry for over 40 years. Ultimately, that’s where Ben got his start — establishing a branding agency of his own, working with the likes of Nike, Unilever and Absolut Vodka, as well as smaller startups. He is truly a product of both his parents, and poured a part of each of them into the bottle.
Ben was named one of the 50 most influential people in food and drink by The Telegraph and awarded Young Achiever of the Year by The Drinks Business. More recently, he was named in Ad Age’s 40 Under 40 list.
Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I’m from a family with a strong background in farming and design, and I have a love of the natural world. In 2013, whilst researching interesting herbs I could grow at home, I came across a book written in 1651 called The Art of Distillation, which documented both alcoholic & non-alcoholic distilled herbal remedies. Out of curiosity, I began experimenting in my kitchen with homegrown herbs and a copper still.
A few months later, I was out for dinner in London and not drinking, and asked the waitress what non-alcoholic options they had, and she looked at me rather sadly. I was given a pink, sugary drink that neither fit the moment, nor paired with the meal. I began to wonder if there was a way I could combine everything I loved and continue my family’s legacy of working with nature whilst creating a truly sophisticated alternative option to alcohol.
When Seedlip, the world’s first distilled non-alcoholic spirits launched in 2015, 99.9% of bars, restaurants, hotels and retailers globally were not considering non-alcoholic options; there were only a handful of sub-standard options and the non-alcoholic category was in its infancy. Fast forward to today, there are supermarket shelves dedicated to the non-alcoholic category, bar menus dedicated to it, over 200x non-alcoholic spirits to choose from, a dynamic ecosystem of venues, communities, literature, retailers, producers, investors and societal groundswell all driving at changing what we drink. It has been incredible to be part of and it’s only just getting started.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?
When we launched in 2015, I had no idea what was going to happen. I made 1000x bottles of our distilled non-alcoholic spirits and thought they would sell in maybe 5 months. They sold out in 3 weeks. The next batch in 2.5 days and the third batch in 30 minutes online.
It takes six weeks to make a batch of Seedlip, and I was basically doing everything! Since then, there have been so many ups and downs, so many twists and turns. Like a big game of snakes & ladders. To now have Seedlip served in so many of the world’s best bars, restaurants, hotels and retailers in over 37 countries is absolutely surreal!
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
I made lots of mistakes at the beginning. I signed up for the wrong tax, I got scammed by a trademark agency, I planned for my first employee to be a part time intern… a part time intern! Mistakes I look back on and I guess just fold into these were part and parcel of doing something you’ve never done before so when we started our second business, Æcorn Aperitifs, which is launching in the US in the coming months (!) we didn’t make the same mistakes!
Can you describe how you or your organization is making a significant social impact?
We, at Seedlip, believe in protecting and celebrating the natural world. But, by no means are we claiming to be the greenest company ever. We’re determined to reduce our impact where we can because it’s just the right thing to do. There’s a climate emergency that’s an important consideration when you think of how much the natural world provides to us and specifically our products. There’s nothing quite like a necessity breeding invention.
We look to Nature as our inspiration in all that we do. Most recently that meant adapting Mycelium for our packaging, to reduce our impact there. We conducted a peer reviewed Life Cycle Analysis last year to assess where else our company can improve across our supply chain. And across the board, we partner and support environmental organizations that work to preserve nature and biodiversity, so as to leave the planet in a better place than we’ve found it. We have a lot of exciting initiatives underway to advance our cause as a Nature company.
Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?
I first met Claire Warner who is the co-founder of our sister brand, Æcorn Aperitifs, over 10 years ago and asked her 3 years ago if she’d like to help me create another aspirational non-alc brand and change the way the world drinks… she cried with happiness, which was nice and said yes, so to now be launching the UK’s best-selling non-alc aperitif in the US is so exciting. It’s great to champion this amazing liquid with Claire. Æcorn Spritzs are going to paint US towns red this summer!
Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?
Demand better non-alc options! A plain soda or juice is not great hospitality. A Seedlip highball with ginger ale in a nice glass, with ice & a garnish is!
Spend time in Nature. We need to give back to the natural world that provides so much for us. Seedlip will be a member of 1% for the Planet in the coming weeks donating 1% of our sales to environmental causes in the US. It’s the least we can do given we rely on our growers to provide wonderful ingredients to make our non-alcoholic spirits.
Allow for non-alcoholic spirits to be sold in liquor shops in states like New York where, as a hangover from prohibition, they are not allowed!
How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?
Get out the Way. My style has been to balance hiring experts and hiring brilliant humans and give them the freedom and trust to make magic happen. Having a very flat structure that empowers people to take responsibility has been key to how we’ve built the culture of our business.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
- Cash is king — for small businesses it’s make or break. We took and continue to take the financials of our business very seriously.
- Twice as long & Twice as much — plan for it. Learn from the last year. A small business is so volatile. It’s a rollercoaster and we got caught short, we under forecasted we over forecasted, we were too fast, we were too slow… but we always tried to have a plan for the “what if it doesn’t”.
- Education Education — Seedlip is a new thing and new things need to be explained, so before you tell me all about your brand, your story please tell me what it is, why it exists and what do I do with it.
- Hire on Culture First — sometimes we hired people who weren’t 100% an amazing fit with our culture & we paid for it. No matter how experienced someone is or brilliant they are at their job if they aren’t the right “fit” then don’t hire or keep them.
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
Changing the way the world drinks with a nature company that makes the world’s first and best-selling distilled non-alcoholic spirits to solve the dilemma of ‘what to drink when you’re not drinking alcohol’, and being the best husband, brother and father I can. Well. That’s definitely keeping me pretty busy, engaged and excited for now!
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Very simple. ‘say please and thank you’ — manners cost nothing and go a very long way to building great relationships in work or personally. Our work ethic at Seedlip is based on 3 P’s. Politely, properly and at pace. These are possible together and when they are in sync you can build a focused and dynamic team.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them.
Sir David Attenborough for sure. I was very fortunate to meet him last year and give him one of our Mycelium gift boxes we had grown, as well as letters my daughter and I had written to him. I think having a picnic with Sir David over a Seedlip Garden cocktail would be amazing!
How can our readers follow you on social media?
This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!