National Business Awards SME finalist Focus: Giles Brook, CEO, All Market Europe

How did you fund your business?
When we first started Vita Coco in Europe we funded the business from within, we have grown at such a substantial rate (doubled every year for 4 years) that we then decided to use external funding so that we could maintain the growth of Vita Coco both within the UK but also to fund expansion into Europe where we now have representation across, UK, Ireland, France, Germany, Belgium, Netherlands, Switzerland, Sweden. Today we also utilise facilities available through our bank as well as early settlement discounts available through our debtors.

What is the biggest challenge SMEs are currently facing?
There are a number of challenges; firstly there is a misconception that ‘being profitable’ is the number one priority, to me, there are two more important words ‘cash flow’, for any SME funding the business is the most important consideration.

Personally, I also believe there is a misconception that you need to have huge backing from day one & the day of seeding start-ups are over, we grew Vita Coco to £2m in our first year with a £30,000 marketing budget, comes down to having a strategy where you can seriously amplify your brand and business through effective use of spend.

All this being said, I think it is much more difficult today to get support from some of the bigger retailers, the landscape has changed, growth is more difficult to come by, buyers are under more pressure than ever but with Vita Coco, we’ve managed to partner with customers to make Vita Coco and Coconut Water the biggest growing brand & category respectively across entire non-alcoholic beverages.

Can you give any advice to others starting up businesses?
Get to understand your target market better than you ever thought possible, make sure your business is viable from day one, keep your strategy simple (ours sits on one page of A4), get the balance right between leadership & management of the business; sometimes rolling your sleeves up and executing on a daily basis is critical, other times (re)setting the compass in the right direction is equally important.

Challenge yourself and those around you every day, there is always something better out there for the business and individuals, the best leaders and businesses adapt and evolve. Talk to others, I always talk to my co-leaders in business and it is amazing what comes from those conversations, different perspectives, new ideas or simply sharing of challenges that eases the burden. Make sure you go into business with someone you can share the burden with & importantly, remember to have some fun, the intensity of it can be all consuming but it is possible & important to have fun along the way.

How do you foster innovation throughout your business?
You need to create an environment that fosters innovation in the first place. At Vita Coco, we promote leadership through the business, we want everyone in the business to lead their own areas and create positive change, if you stand still or think you can do what you’re already doing a little better to be successful, think again, you need to innovate & evolve to stay ahead.

We always believe there is something better or different out there, at the core of our values and we’re pretty tough on ourselves when it comes to evaluating what we’ve achieved and the strength of our forward looking plans.