James Ajaka has experienced the growth of a business from scratch. In 2003 he signed on with nudie in its earliest stages; and he spent late nights blending fruit and long days convincing distributors. Now, in 2015, he is CEO and Chief nudie, and he shares some advice here for entrepreneurs, which he has gleaned along the way.
Here are some golden rules that come to mind when I think about starting a business:
Road test your idea. Find as many people around you as you can and ask them what they think. Ask people who are going to be honest with you, not just yes-men who are going to say, “That’s effing awesome, do it, bet the house, you’ll be all right.”
Be very clear and realistic. This means being clear on what the first one, two and three years are going to look like. It’s going to be hard. Weekends, seven days a week, late nights, that’s what it’s going to be. Also be very clear with the people around you. You have to make sure they have an appetite for it. You don’t want to come out the other end with a successful business but no life.
Bring the right people along the way. When I first started at nudie I had no beverage/manufacturing experience but Tim Pethick (nudie founder) was amazing at articulating to me the vision of the business and the value we would be adding to the category and consumers, so I bought in. This was a very important lesson for me, and one that I have never forgotten when running the business for the past six years.
Based on this, my experience tells me that attitude and enthusiasm are more important than experience and skillset. If you look at the people in our business, almost none of them have beverage experience, but they’ve been unbelievably good because of their attitude and their willingness to get involved. They’ve bought into the purpose and the vision and they’re prepared to get their hands dirty. That’s what you want.
There’s the reward that comes from feeling like you are all directly involved together as a team and have made a difference, but some people don’t want that reward. They just want to sit in an enormous business and watch the world go by and not really measure their impact on a daily basis. Over at nudie we have people who make a real difference and they appreciate that. They know it and feel it and measure it.
The final rule is, of course, you have to pivot and adjust. Over time you get a sense for this. You get to understand quickly whether a product is going to be successful or not. We always watch the first three months of sales very closely. If sales are totally off, you need to adjust very quickly; persevering with a product where consumers are telling you that they don’t really want it can be a very costly and emotionally exhausting exercise.
Six years ago I would have persevered with a new product that no consumers like. Now my rule is twelve weeks. Twelve weeks and we tend to know whether the market values the product.
You need to be real and realistic. And you need a thick skin. You need to be prepared that not everything you do will be great. You need to have enough bravery to take risks and create products and services that you truly believe the consumers need and that the market tells you it needs.
And finally, you need to have a small enough ego to make sure that if it’s a failure then you call it a failure and you bury it. Then you move on quickly, never forget the experience but don’t necessarily dwell on the failure too long either.
nudie is an Australian juice company that prides itself on providing drinks made with the best natural ingredients – with no nasties. By keeping things simple, the much-loved brand has learnt to trust its instincts and value its identity. The aim? To taste good, have some fun and do some good.