Natasha Fagri and Jon-Marc De Carvalho didn’t draw an income for just two years while they self-funded their startup. They’ve learnt tough lessons and pivoted their operational models, but it’s all been worthwhile. Listed below are their top startup lessons.
- Players: Natasha Fagri and Jon-Marc De Carvalho
- Company: Frost Popsicles
- Established: 2016
- Visit: Frostpopsicles.com
On the very first of September 2016, Natasha Fagri and Jon-Marc De Carvalho launched their alcoholic popsicle range, Frost Popsicles, with two flavours: Pierre Jourdan Tranquille and a Brut Cape Classique. In the last two years, the number is continuing to grow to a current total of seven alcoholic popsicle flavours and the entrepreneurs have recently launched reduced non-alcoholic range aswell in response to consumer trends and demands.
The business enterprise has enjoyed growth of 25% yearly since launch, and things look set to keep growing because they aggressively pursue strong overseas and local opportunities.
Natasha and Jon-Marc’s success has been inspirational – however the journey hasn’t been without significant bumps in the street.
Listed below are the startup lessons that two entrepreneurs have learnt the hard way, from tinkering with flavours in Natasha’s kitchen to spending R1 million on freezer trucks after repeatedly being disappointed by cold-chain distribution operators:
Natasha and Jon-Marc developed the initial Popsicles on Natasha’s stove in the home, experimenting until that they had what they believed was an absolute flavour profile. But that was just the start of the journey. It took an additional 13 months to locate a food science lab to commercially stabilise the formulation, also to source and import an expert machine.
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Once this is in place, packaging would have to be designed and produced, which brought another group of challenges: Special linings are necessary for alcoholic beverages, which also took a year of research and development, particularly as the entrepreneurs wanted their perfect packaging to be fully recyclable.
“The next phase was obtaining the correct licensing along with other legalities set up,” says Natasha. “We also had a need to know how the cold chain logistics and storage process works and we had a need to secure retail distribution channels, which wasn’t easy considering that this is a totally unique product and no-one had come before to pave just how.”
Overall, it was an extended, expensive process entirely self-funded by Jon-Marc and Natasha who also didn’t draw an income for just two years.
“You have to be prepared for the actual fact that nothing is likely to happen overnight,” says Jon-Marc. “Make an effort you expect to access market and double it. That’s a far more realistic projection, and may still not be adequate time.”
Today, Frost Popsicles are available in slightly below 60 liquor shops in three provinces (Pick n Pay, Spar Tops! and independent retailers), and the non-alcoholic lines can be purchased in select Wellness Warehouse and Dischem stores in Johannesburg, Pretoria and Cape Town.
Natasha and Jon-Marc also have exported to Botswana, Mauritius and Singapore, with further exciting international growth plans in the offing, and also have launched a full-service eCommerce store on the Frost website to appeal to direct to customer demand.
However, with success comes challenges, and Natasha and Jon-Marc will be the first to admit that these were almost victims of their own success.
“We’d huge – and unforeseen – issues with alternative party cold-chain distribution operators,” says Jon-Marc. “Despite the fact that we really did our homework and planned well before launch, screening alternative party suppliers over an interval of months before trusting them, we were disappointed.
“Not merely did this cost our fledgling business lots of money, nonetheless it put us under a substantial amount of pressure unnecessarily.”
To have the business back on the right track, Natasha and Jon-Marc did deliveries themselves with poly boxes of dry ice to keep the cold chain, sometimes delivering to the same stores twice in a single day to maintain with the rate of sale and demand. They even pulled members of the family directly into help them obtain deliveries done promptly (and on ice).
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“We weren’t only disappointed by our cold-chain suppliers,” says Natasha. “We initially hired alternative party merchandisers for the stores which also became a challenge. No-one will value your product around you do – even if indeed they promise you the world. The merchandisers didn’t do their jobs properly, which result in below-par store displays and poorly kept stock of their freezer assets.”
“Particularly as a startup, you have to be as involved as possible atlanta divorce attorneys facet of your business when you build the brand, customer expectations and relationships together with your suppliers and customers.”
The cold-chain supply issues eventually led Natasha and Jon-Marc to your choice to get their own freezer truck, an investment that added R1 million with their startup costs – an urgent expense that was nevertheless necessary to the business’s overall success.
“When you face unexpected challenges, you learn what you’re ready to put into the business enterprise to make it successful,” says Jon-Marc. “We’re wholly focused on controlling the end-to-end quality of our products for the buyer.”
“We thought we’d found partners that valued our business. They caused big brands and clearly wished to impress us, however the reality wasn’t what we were promised.”
“We learnt that others will never value our products and processes around we do, therefore we had a need to carefully evaluate where our tips of failure were and how exactly we could mitigate them. Oftentimes, it meant investing in to the problem and taking control of it ourselves.”
One of the primary lessons Natasha and Jon-Marc learnt immediately after they started their business was how little sleep they might get. “We survived on 3 to 4 hours of sleep a night for months post launch,” says Natasha.
“There are days when you are feeling like you’re likely to lose your mind, but you remind yourself why you started, everything you created and what this business methods to you and despite innumerable hours of effort, you wouldn’t cease for the world.”
“Looking at where we are actually and how exactly we operate versus whenever we first started, we’ve learnt numerous tough lessons, but we also understand that we had a need to learn them,” adds Jon-Marc.
“We’re glad we learnt them right initially. We also wouldn’t change anything from those start. When you’re creating and launching a thing that nobody has ever done before, you always feel just like more time could be allocated to certain things, particularly when large portions of the procedure haven’t been done before, but there are just so many hours per day.”
“We think the main element here is to shoot for excellence, however, not to get overly enthusiastic about perfection. There is nothing ever likely to be totally perfect and in the event that you make an effort to make it that way, you run the chance of your idea and vision never leaving incubation phase, because you’re never likely to believe it’s ready. We also would have to be burnt to regulate some perceptions and regions of our operational model, and the effect has been growth.”
Running a business is often glamourized, however the truth is commonly long days (and nights), failures and disappointments. “If you’re afraid of effort and you want overnight success, the entrepreneurial life isn’t for you personally,” says Natasha.
“As an entrepreneur has been glamourized through social media, movies and the media, and that’s frustrating to see.”
“It is advisable to decrease this road with both eyes widely open and a clear knowing that it’s likely to be the toughest, scariest thing you’ve ever done, but also the most exhilarating and rewarding. Thrilled fear is how exactly we describe it best – you’re terrified but completely and totally excited usually. Anything can occur, no two days will be the same, and it will be won’t be boring.”
Natasha and Jon-Marc’s Top 3 Startup Lessons
Don’t hesitate to become a little tough when needed. There’s a notable difference between being firm and being rude. You need to be fiercely protective of your ‘business baby’ and if there’s something or a person who is putting that under threat, know when and how exactly to remove that risk.
It’s not really a sign of weakness to require insight – it’s an indicator of strength. You should never be, ever likely to know everything and that’s okay. You don’t always have to have all of the answers yourself; you merely need to know where you can go and who to ask when you’re struggling to solve something alone.
Things will fail, it’s an unavoidable fact of life. You’re never likely to manage to completely avoid that. Things will go wrong, plans are likely to change and you will need to understand to roll with the punches. Fix what should be fixed, always search for regions of improvement and do not automatically associate a blunder or a change with failure. Plot twists are inevitable and the best success of your business rests in how you handle the pro