The Dion Guagliardo Podcast

#36 James Bruce and Stafford Fox - Founders of StrangeLove

April 27, 2023 James Bruce & Stafford Fox Season 1 Episode 36
The Dion Guagliardo Podcast
#36 James Bruce and Stafford Fox - Founders of StrangeLove
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

In this episode, I interview James Bruce and Stafford Fox from boutique beverage company StrangeLove. Starting out in Byron Bay, the guys grew the business to become one of Australia’s trendiest drinks companies and have recently been acquired by Asahi.

Throughout the episode, James talks about how differentiating themselves through creative and unique branding massively helped the growth of the business by distinguishing themselves from competitors. Furthermore, Stafford talks about the importance of being relentless and learning how to tolerate hearing “No” a lot when growing a business.

If you enjoy the show feel free to share with family and friends (link below) and leave a 5 star review.


Mentioned resources:

Stafford's Favourite Business Book: Good To Great

James'  First Business Book: 4 Hour Work Week


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Stafford:

I left school at quite a young age and went straight into kind of real estate sales, which I highly recommend not doing. But it did teach me a hell of a lot about perseverance and rejection especially at a young age trying to, sell apartments to, you know, people who have, who are twice your age. I think that helps shape for, for future endeavors really.

Dion:

that resilience is a big part of what you learn in that sort of environment. isn't it?

Stafford:

Yeah, resilience. you have to have a hell of a lot of it. Because yeah, rejection is sort of, you know, 85% of, of this game.

Dion:

Welcome to the Dion Guagliardo Podcast, where I interview business people who run or have sold businesses worth a few million dollars all the way through to billions of dollars. While most of my time is spent to managing investment portfolios for people after they've had a successful exit. I've always been fascinated by the entire process and hearing the insights that successful entrepreneurs and business people have learned along their. At Fortress Family Office, we're an investment portfolio manager and we manage portfolios for ultra high net worth families. If you'd like to know more about not only the way we approach investment markets by our philosophy on life and business, feel free to subscribe to my weekly insights note. Go to www.fortressfamilyoffice.com and hit subscribe. In this episode I interview James Bruce and Stafford Fox from Boutique Beverage Company, Strange Love. Now starting out in Byron Bay, the guys grew the business to become one of Australia's most popular independent drink companies and have recently been acquired by Asahi. Throughout the episode, James talks about how differentiating themselves through creative and unique branding massively helped with the growth of the business, by distinguishing themselves from competitors. Stafford talks about the importance of being relentless and learning how to tolerate hearing no a lot, when growing a business. If you enjoy the show, feel free to share with family and friends and leave a five star review. Gents, welcome to the show. Thanks for joining us.

James:

Thanks Dion. Good to be here.

Dion:

Do you guys just wanna start by telling us a little bit about, first your company and then a little bit about your background and, and how it came to be.

James:

Yeah, so, we founded Strange Love Beverage Co, which is, Australian Boutique soft-drink company. founded it in 2012, been on the, on the journey for 10 years. And we make a range of premium mixes, sodas, waters and we were recently acquired last year by Asahi so we're now kind of in that transitional stage of helping them grow the brand essentially.

Dion:

was that a full exit or do you still own some of the business

James:

A full exit where we've got an earnout, so a three year kind of deal.

Dion:

When you started the business, was this the sort of thing that you envisaged when, when you first started, you've got the vision of what you wanna create, and then sort of 10 years later you've sold the business is that the vision you had when you first started? What did it look like

James:

look, I think it was on the radar my dad taught MBA at Macquarie. So I was exposed to, I guess, strategy and, business at a pretty early age. So I think he'd done some work for Coke along the years, and I think it wasn't kind of the primary objective, but we knew that. Beverages was a pretty good kind of industry for acquisition and m and a if, if you did it right. So it was always kind of there in the distance as a possibility, I guess.

Dion:

Yeah. and in terms of your backgrounds, you both in the drinks industry or where, where did you both come from in terms of your domain experience? Sounds like not.

James:

no, we're kind of how would I put it? Stafford delinquents?

Stafford:

I would say, yeah, juvenile delinquents, but always with a, a keen eye juvenile delinquents with a I would say a, you know, a good sense of humor and a an eye for design. And also fairly tenacious. In whatever we've pursued James, more so with the design end of things. I was in real estate when I was much younger. I left school at quite a young age and went straight into kind of real estate sales, which I highly recommend not doing. But it did teach me a hell of a lot about perseverance and rejection especially at a young age trying to, you know, sell apartments to, you know, people who have, who are twice your age. It's, it's fraught with rejection and, no, I think that helps shape for, for future endeavors really.

Dion:

Yep. So that resilience is a big part of what you learn in that sort of environment. isn't it?

Stafford:

Yeah, resilience. you have to have a hell of a lot of it. Because yeah, rejection is sort of, you know, 85% of, of this game.

Dion:

And how did the conversation go when you first started the business, what was the, a light bulb moment where you decided, this is, this is what we want to do?

James:

I mean we were both living in, in Byron up in Byron back having a kind of midlife crisis at whatever, 27 or something. So early, early balloons you know, employment options up there were fairly limited So I think it was kind of born out of necessity. It was like I was. Making coffee. I was a barista. Stafford was a arborist. Lopping trees. And we're like, well I think we've probably gotta do something significant if we wanna kind of live by the beach make some money. We need to kind of go into. On our own. So that, that was the initial thinking. And then I think being up there shaped the brand in the sense that Byron was this hub of kind of organic products and quite edgy kind of cafe culture with interesting kind of food and smoothies and different combinations. It was probably 10 years ahead of the rest of Australia in terms of, cutting edge ingredients and that kind of thing. So I think that the insight was what if we could take some of these drinks we're seeing around town and, and kind of commercialize them and challenge at that, at that stage, soft drinks were pretty bland. It was kind of dominated by the big incumbents

Dion:

Yeah.

James:

it felt like there was a real space for something different at that point,

Dion:

Which everyone, everyone gets it now, right? But go back 10 years ago that, like you say, that didn't really exist in that same way.

James:

didn't at all. No. yeah, it was a, it was an uphill battle at first,

Dion:

When you're starting a business in, in Byron Bay, 10 years ago, was that a, a help or a hindrance as you were sort of getting off the ground and then as you went to expand how did that help or, or hinder.

James:

I think it was a help so in the early days, Stafford and I were both driving around with bottles in the car. It's almost a city in a country town in a way in terms of the amount of cafes and, and grocers and, and that kind of thing. I would just drive around and I'd be getting feedback all the time and kind of winning it. It was like a microcosm of a big city almost.

Dion:

Yep.

James:

So yeah. But at some point we both had to ironically go back to the city. The idea was to create this lifestyle brand to fund our lifestyle, Byron and we both ended up back in the

Dion:

Back in the city. Was that just through necessity in terms of how the business grew?

Stafford:

We, flipped a coin as to who was gonna go to Victoria and who was gonna go to South Wales, more or less.

Dion:

really?

Stafford:

Not quite like that, but yeah, as the business kind of grew and we realized we needed to be back in, back in the big smoke James elected to go to Victoria and, and, and set up shop there. And initially we both were in New South Wales, but then it was fairly evident that one of us needed to go to Victoria. So that was when James made the move down there. So I, I've kind of ever since really You know, looking after New South Wales and, and some other states here and there. But James's focus primarily was the sales side of things, but obviously design and, branding is his bread and butter. And so that's kind of morphed into that over years.

Dion:

Yeah. And in terms of the business as you've got, you've got the sort of like the design and branding side that you've talked about, and then you've also got the distribution and, and the sales side. What do you wanna just talk about the influence of both of those because. You know, branding is so powerful in, in so many ways. But then also the importance of sales distribution and that sort of stuff as your business grows. James, do you wanna just talk about the branding and, and sort of what your primary focus was as you, as you sort of developed that side of things?

James:

Yeah, look, I think as, I think it's hard to say. If you look at our early brand examples, they were so out there and wild. I think it was more a kind of, I was trying to position the brand. Very against the kind of mainstream kind of paradigm of you know, drink advertising at that stage was kind of getting a kayak and go off a waterfall and land on a beach with a bikini and drink like 54 grams of sugar and just never put on weight. I found, I guess I found it disingenuous. And so yeah, I think the brand took on this personality of Been irreverent and honest and in terms visually it was beautiful. You know, it was always this kind of attention to detail. But I think you're right. There was a tension there with commercializing it and, and distribution. that's been the big challenge, is how do you take a premium niche brand and scale it? Yeah.

Dion:

were those challenges in the, in the early days where you go and I've read somewhere where you are sort of in terms of sales, it was sort of something along the lines of 55% was through hospitality and bars and restaurants, and 35% was. Through retail and 10% online or something along those lines. I is, was that how it always started out or was there a focus initially to go, let's sell it through, through bars or let's sell it online, or what, what, what, how did you start off from a distribution perspective?

James:

Yeah, I mean, staffer can probably, it was really a cafe cafe to start really,

Stafford:

We literally were just door to door with cafes, pounding the pavement for a number of years. And I mean, we initially launched with a very limited soda range, so soft drink range. We embarked on the kind of mixer idea a a few years into the business. But yeah, I think strategically we've always tried to build the, the business on-prem, on-premise I think E-com sort of came into it a little later in the piece. But it's been pretty exciting. yeah, there, there's never been a, an easy day in terms of sales and distribution. New South Wales itself is a bit of an interesting state when it comes to beverage distribution. I think for, for startups in particular, you've kind of, we've had to, build a, a network throughout the state in different regions and, and whatnot. It hasn't been as simple as some of the other states. So it's a, it's, it's been a bit of a complex. a slow.

Dion:

Yeah. What do you put that down to Stanford in terms of the differences in in New South Wales versus other states?

Stafford:

That's a good question. I think that the incumbents perhaps have a tighter grip, in Sydney perhaps, than other states. I mean, they've got a, you know, a tight grip everywhere, but it seems that, you know, wherever there are, some of them are well known. Commercial brands it's easy money for distributors. often we don't sit alongside the types of outlets that these guys are servicing or historically did not. So it was a matter of really finding and working with more artisanal. Distributors people that were willing to give us a go. And also people that had a decent distribution network themselves. But in, in many ways, we've had to build a category and we're going back, you know, 10 years, you know, so, 10 years ago, I mean, as James said, I mean even, even the exciting drinks. weren't particularly exciting. And yeah, and we were up against some pretty big players. So I I still sort of scratch my head as to why New South Wales in particular is, is so much more challenging than say, Victoria. And, you know, they've each got, I think, culturally they've each got their own. vibe as well. I think Melbourne's a little bit more progressive and a little bit more open to startups and more interesting things. I think Sydney's dug its hills in pretty much about who it is and, you know, it does like a, a Cola and a and a sausage roll perhaps,

Dion:

yep.

Stafford:

I think, I think it's a multifaceted kind of issue. Yeah,

Dion:

always gonna be that nuance in different markets isn't there, that you just sort of, you, you, you learn and, and find out only once you sort of dig in and, and, and get to learn the, the market. What was the biggest change you saw over that sort of 10 year period from when you started to now? Is there anything that sort of stands out in terms of the, the drinking habits or the, the way consumers are now or anything that changed dramatically over that 10?

Stafford:

for sure. I think, you know, there's definitely been a noticeable reduction in people wanting to consume sugar. Obviously, you know, there was the, the Kom butcher craze. Feel there's a part of, there's a part of me that feels, that's probably waning somewhat now. I think you can only sort of, you know, ingest so much vine. Before you question it's merits So, but yeah, definitely pallets have matured or progressed, I would say. I think people have become definitely a little considerably more open to trying more interesting and innovative products. And you see that on the shelves. I mean, if you go into a. So, you know, a, a decent grosser or even, even look, you know, I mean, I mean, look at the shelves of Woolies in the drink aisle now. I mean, you know, they've shaved the real estate off of, of many of the incumbents and you've got a huge sort of, you know, non a section now and, and a lot more infused waters and things like that. So yeah, there's definitely been a a progression in a positive way, I think with, you know, the general consumer's palettes for sure.

Dion:

Yeah. And in terms of as, as sort of co-founders of the business, what were the biggest strengths that you both brought? To the business and, and it sounds like you've got different personal and different roles within the, the, the company a as you progress. So do you wanna just tell us a little bit about that and how that worked together?

James:

we intensely dislike each other. Now, 10 years in, that's not true. It's not true. It's still actually quite close. But I was thinking about this. I think for whatever reason, I never. Had it in the back of our mind that we'd kind of fail or quit. It sounds really weird. It was just this kind of, it wasn't like a conscious thing that I can even take credit for. It was just like had this kind of grit about let's do the next thing that we need to do. And if you look at our brand, our products, we've kind of done so many iterations and, and kept changing to meet the market need. So it was just this kind of relentless pursuit of something, I guess. Success. Yeah,

Dion:

it wasn't like victory was assumed, but it was, defeat wasn't an option, is

James:

exactly.

Dion:

to describe it. Yeah.

James:

I think so. Yeah. And looking back now, I go, wow, in so many ways we shouldn't have succeeded. You know, and I can see it in hindsight parti. and debt and yeah, it was just this thing of keep going, keep going. Do the next thing. Yeah,

Dion:

you would say your biggest strength was resilience and grit, or being relentless, I think you said actually.

James:

I think relentless. Yeah.

Dion:

And is that similar to you or is there a a different

Stafford:

Yeah. I would say we both share that same thing in different ways in. Failure was just not an option really. Well, you know, only that the alternative was, know, who knows

Dion:

un palatable.

Stafford:

palatable, you know, and, and when that's on the cards, it's amazing how, how, how deep you can dig, right? And yeah, I think at times, you know, I was probably a little, not, not pessimistic, but perhaps a little bit more doubtful. I think, you know, being in sales at the coal face a lot of the time and, and experiencing firsthand a lot of the rejection, which was more common in the earlier years. you can get, get a bit of a brain worm when it comes to self-doubt and the ability of us to succeed when we're up against some pretty dirty players and, and things like that. like James. At no point, you know, even as it got really, really bad, there was, it is, it is never crossed my mind to hang up the gloves ever. never. In terms of businesses and, and whatnot. I mean, you know, if you look at it, a lot of people aren't very good at what they do and a lot of startups aren't very good startups. I mean, like your average sandwich shop or you know, people who are serving for cartridge. I mean, is that the best you can really do? but people get by doing that. we really did something quite incredible and a beautiful product. so much further above our competitors in so many ways.

Dion:

Is that belief in the product a difference maker in terms of your success and, you know, why, why you get outta bed every day to do what you do?

Stafford:

I mean, the design is unparalleled. We've won multiple awards. The products are delicious. We've never compromised on ingredients. Our brand tone is irreverent. You know, we're kind of, we try and, you know, connect and communicate. I mean, you know, I, I mean, I, I can't think of another brand, another drinks brand that. Or that does any of those things or has any of those qualities or assets, I really can't, and I'm not even being arrogant about it. It's just a fact.

Dion:

Yeah. Love it. What about the flip side? What about weaknesses and that sort of stuff, and how do you offset those as you progress? What was that?

Stafford:

So what are they?

Dion:

I've got a long list I can tell you about.

Stafford:

Yeah, no, I'm joking.

James:

I've got, I mean, I've got, yeah, I could. Talk about this all day. I think for me, I've got a kind of unwavering pursuit of being different and, and being differentiated and special. And I think at times that's not very commercial. And in many ways staffs had to deal with. Yeah, but it's, it's also what's made the brand great. But like, for instance, our initial smoked Cola product we got some pretty bad feedback. I think people were saying it tasted like a bushfire and that we kind of stuck to, I stuck to that product. I think for me, I could probably be more flexible and, and learn to take a more kind of, Commercial view or, or balance that. Cause I think it, it is an asset as well. Right. But I can really go too far with that. Yeah,

Dion:

You gotta balance that. There's, like you say, commercial and be a level of pragmatism that is sometimes difficult to bring into the equation when you've got a vision in your head or something that you, you know, how you want it to be and how it should work. not everyone always sees it that way. but sometimes, like you say, did that particular product end up working or was it.

James:

Well, it's still, well actually, it's just been discontinued because of a contract issue with Asahi

Dion:

yeah.

James:

but yeah, I would say look, I mean those products blood orange and chili, smoked cola, all those kind of outliers are kind of what builds the brand. Dna, people looking at us as being kind of different and innovative. they feed back into the more commercial products. the formulation changed several times from, from

Dion:

Right.

James:

buyer version.

Dion:

Yeah. Got it. Stafford what about yourself in terms of weaknesses and how you overcome?

Stafford:

I mean, Weakness as well. I think I can probably be a, a little bit combative and, probably, you know, at times take things a little too personally and I could probably like personal weaknesses I guess. obviously directly relates to my business, but for me it's been a bit of a process of just letting go a little bit and, Yeah, I think taking things personally is because of the pride I've had in the brand and obviously, you know, building it with James from, the ground up and that would be probably my greatest weakness is, and overcoming it. Like I said, I, I've had to learn to kind of take a bit of a step back, not take things personally, look at things a little more objectively. little bit of a simple answer, but yeah.

Dion:

No, but that these are the things, right? In terms of the issues that crop up in business often come down to our own. Views or thoughts on things. And like you say, taking something personally when, especially when it's your baby in terms of the, the product and the brand and all those things. When someone's, for whatever reason, it might be a distributor or it might be a a, a shop or any potential customer, they say they don't like it or whatever. Well, that's kind of a slap in the face, right? So you could initially, you can understand that reaction,

Stafford:

over worrying as well. I mean, I think there was a point for both James and I in both our lives for some years where, you know, you sort. Awake with a pounding heart at two 30 in the morning,

Dion:

Yeah.

Stafford:

worried about you know what to do and you're making notes and setting your alarm for 6:30 AM to get on top of it. And I, I, I now don't do those kind of things anymore, that, that's not healthy. And, and I don't believe that it ever really made a great difference anyway. Right.

Dion:

In terms of the business as you started, what was the best decision you made?

Stafford:

It was moving away from real estate sales and, and the world of real estate. I mean, I really did find that quite a soul destroying industry. I still have nightmares about it. I mean, I, I've always just thought that wearing a suit on a Saturday is for funerals.

Dion:

Yeah.

Stafford:

you know, just wearing a tie is like being strangled by a very weak person all day long. And sort of didn't you know, I, I, it was not expressive at all. And in terms of sales, I, I would put it down to about 20% sales grief. the best decision was, you know, getting involved with a great brand like Strange Love and, and helping found it and, it's been great because of how risky it has been. It's been great because it's just been terrifying. on the flip side, equally reward. You don't get the kind of reward and the kind of, you know, we, we didn't stop to smell the roses a lot of the time, to be honest. But now looking back on, on this journey, which is still going it wouldn't have been as epic as it have been if, you know, our heads weren't on the chopping block every day for 10 years.

Dion:

Yeah, it's a strong motivator.

Stafford:

Yeah, it's, I mean, it's, yeah, I mean, it's the most beautiful form of P T S D. You can have.

Dion:

Yeah. And what, what about in terms of mistakes? What was the, what's some clangers that you've made along the way that you sort of have at least lived to tell the tale about

Stafford:

Yeah, look, I don't know so much about mistakes. there have been a lot of opportunities to learn from there are things that you do for the first time that you don't repeat, you know, you only realize after the fact that they, you know, were in fact mistakes for lack of a better term. Nothing really stands out in particular, but I think we've had a few hairy moments where it's like, oh, Let us never repeat that again. Or, or, or let's learn from that. James, what do you reckon?

James:

Yeah. no, I've, I've got a few etched into my memory. I mean, obviously capital just raising, if I could go back, I, I would've raised or tried to raise more earlier I think, and. Probably always need twice what you think. But in terms of kind of, I guess physical visceral mistakes, we I remember at one point we kind of, a big part of our brand was getting custom glass bottles made which we sourced in China and. I think the Chinese manufacturer at one point decided to try and save two or$3 per pallet by changing up our pallets to balsa wood. so when I got a call I'd, I'd just gotten back from Japan on holiday. I got a call at seven in the morning and from our manufacturer and went in and the, as the pallet arm would sweep along the bottles, the whole tower would just come down and. Just broken glass and clinging. And so I was like watching, I guess this money evaporation in front of me. I just still remember, I remember everything about it. Just the noise, the broken glasses. It was like an flashback almost.

Dion:

Yeah. Right.

James:

so I think that's that'll be one of the big learnings is. You know, I ended up going over there to China and really taking that supply chain stuff pretty seriously.

Dion:

Yeah. Okay. Yeah. what about advice you were given along the way? What's, what stands out as some of the best advice you've been given?

James:

The best advice when we, when we were jumping from. A cafe brand and a really like small production. And we, we went to do our first big production run. the guy who ran it, Mark Berry, was just like the funniest, nicest guy. And he wrote me this letter before we kind of handed over the money. It was very, very funny. I've got it in front of me, but I actually just read it this morning for the first time in years. He basically just said, save your money, go home. Keep your friendship intact. Your investors can just live out, you know, into old age with their bank balances intact. But if you don't want to do that, I'm happy to take your 150 grand and you can go bankrupt, kind of thing. It was just this great moment of like I kind of framed the, the journey to follow. It was like it made it more like a conscious decision about failure and success and I often, in the, in the 10 years that followed, I'd often just think of that letter and go, I. You know, we're, we're winning, you know, like we should, we should have failed by now. So it's not really advice except he just told us we were gonna fail.

Dion:

But it's, it is insight, right? And it's, and It's motivation and it's, it's, a bit of wisdom in there as well. That you draw from it.

James:

totally. And we, yeah, we actually had a phone call we were required by Asahi and he said I was wrong,

Dion:

Yeah. Well, that's nice.

James:

yeah.

Dion:

What.

Stafford:

Yeah, I think a relative of mine who is one of the European marketing directors for Amazon, well, he said to me to fail fast, which I.

Dion:

Yep.

Stafford:

Always thought was a, you know, a fairly sound piece of advice. Just, you know, the kind of business of hanging onto something that's not working or putting your head in the sand and, you know, just pretending that, you're not losing the game is way more dangerous than trying something and it not working. So that would be definitely, yeah, the most sound piece of advice I've been given.

Dion:

I think that's great advice. And I think it's, it's easier as said, than done too. Right? And when you've come out the other side and it's, it's been successful, that's great. But sometimes just going and there's a fine line between. Failing fast and going, okay, this is it. And being relentless, right? So you've got that. There's a real a difficult one mentally to go, well, when, where do you turn that switch off and go, okay, let's cut this and, and move on. Versus isn't everything you read about in terms of success about just never giving up. So there is a really fine line between that and that. That's not easy to do cuz ego's involved as well as the, it's counterintuitive in terms of success, but it matters.

Stafford:

Ego's definitely the enemy, I think when it comes to that,

James:

In a sense we've failed lots of times within the overall success, you know, as well. and we had to kind of delete ranges and when we deleted our full sugar range to release the low Cal sodas, there was a real moment where we had to kind of say, this isn't working anymore. We need. Kind of do something differently, and it turned out to be one of the best moves we ever made. But it it took some courage and humility to kind of see that it wasn't working. We got hate actually,

Dion:

Oh.

James:

yeah,

Stafford:

yeah. People love sugar and, you know, they like flavors and, you know, we, we definitely were not popular for a, for a, significant period with some, with a, not an insignificant amount of customers actually.

James:

Wouldn't be 2014, it was early days and yeah, we made the decision to, essentially, we decreased the sugar in our range by about 70%. And rebranded them as locale sodas

Dion:

Yeah, right.

James:

they're now our bigger sellers,

Dion:

It's amazing. Pretty pretty amazing that people take the effort to write hate mail on,

James:

That's.

Stafford:

We're still witness protection actually.

Dion:

That's right. Yeah. It wouldn't have been good. Alright, well I've got four final quick to run through. Who's a business person that inspires you guys and why?

James:

Look for me, I would say I'm a flus, so I'm always looking for new inspiration. but I guess my original kind of heroes were more advertising people, so like Yeah, even the old long copy, like Joseph Sugarman Paul Arden, like those

Dion:

Yep.

James:

those guys who used words and pictures to sell things. Really?

Dion:

Okay. That's interesting. That's good.

James:

Yeah.

Stafford:

Oh, look, I mean quite a few. I mean, in, in most recent times, I've been quite amused and impressed by Elon Musk's actions around Twitter and purchasing it for shits and giggles to, you know, kind of challenge mainstream media and, what's referred to as misinformation. I have a deep appreciation for, for people not abiding by the rules. But you know, I mean, Bob Iger

Dion:

Mm-hmm.

Stafford:

Steve Disney's incredible guy. So yeah, I mean, there, there are many people.

Dion:

Yep. What about business books?

Stafford:

Good to Great by Jim Collins as an old classic I think emphasizing the concept of doing something well and not being sort of, you know, overly swayed by trends and fads and, you know, I guess the hedgehog concept.

Dion:

Mm-hmm.

Stafford:

you know, yeah. I mean, it, it's, it's, it's essential.

Dion:

Yeah. I love that concept. I think it's just one of the all time great stories.

James:

I mean, for me it was there was two books. My first business book was somewhat embarrassingly the four Hour Work Week,

Stafford:

really.

James:

yeah, that's what started this whole thing. So I've got him to thank for that. But turns out it wasn't four hour work week, so that was a.

Dion:

Yeah. I mean, the concept sounds good. It's a good lesson in marketing nonetheless,

James:

Brilliant. Brilliant. I think I was like two or three years in working, 80 hours going, I need to write that guy letter.

Stafford:

That.

James:

Yeah. the other one was purple Cow by

Dion:

Yeah. Love it. Great

James:

it. changed my whole world, that book. And I, I guess it goes back to that. I think the premise is making products that are remarkable in the sense that people remark about them and talk about them.

Dion:

There's actually a really good podcast. We, I think Tim Ferris, you've got both your authors on one podcast, I think Tim Ferris in interviews, Seth Goden. On one of his podcasts I actually had, I think he's had him on the show a couple of times, and they're actually both brilliant episodes, like really insightful. I highly recommend listening to that particular episode.

James:

Awesome.

Dion:

What about quotes on life or leadership or business? Anything that you live by or, or stands out?

Stafford:

There was a couple for me, I mean there was a, there's that classic one. Admiral McRaven, I think. It was, it was about starting off, I think he only eats once a day. I think he's a bit of a masochist, but his whole concept was about starting the day by making your bed. And, you know, and I do that every morning religiously, and I make sure it's squared away and it really does have an impact on the, you know, it's a little bit cliche, but it, it is a truism that if you do make your bed, it does really kind of, Set you up in a slightly better place than perhaps you would've been, perhaps in a, a much bigger a much better place than if you just left at a, a mess and day. But the other one, spike Milligan on his tombstone, which says, I told you I was ill,

Dion:

Yeah. Yeah. There's quite a juxtaposition between those two quotes you live by.

Stafford:

but it just makes me laugh.

Dion:

Yeah, that's a good one. But it's funny about the, the, the military guy talking about the, making the bed because it is true. And I, I, I do the same thing. when he talks about this, that the first task of the day is done, you know, whatever time you get up is done. And I think that does, that's a discipline. It goes to work. I think it goes to all those types of things. So it's, it's, it's only a small act, but it's, it's actually pretty powerful, right?

Stafford:

and you often don't want to do it,

Dion:

Mm-hmm.

Stafford:

you know, and the more frequently you do it, Kind of easier it gets to do. Right? So, metaphor there. So,

Dion:

I think that's a good, that's a good one. James, anything from your point of view?

James:

just feeling a deep sense of shame for my, the state of my bed right now. Make that mine was Woody Allen, it was, I don't wanna achieve immortality through my work. I want to achieve it through not dying.

Dion:

Yeah.

James:

Yeah.

Dion:

Common sense. Just common sense.

James:

Common.

Dion:

What about the business? What's, what's, what's the future? Hold? What's next?

James:

Well, yeah, we've got, obviously we've got a three year earn out, so I think it's a really weird kind of position to be in psychologically, cuz you kind of. Come to what you think is this end state of the business, and then it, it's just going in another kind of way. So as staff had said, we kind of haven't stopped to even smell the roses and I guess take a moment to celebrate. But yeah,

Dion:

business actually sell? When did the actual sale go through?

James:

about six months ago, so Sep yeah, October, it

Dion:

Yep.

James:

So it's really just, I think the next few years is helping kind of hand it over and, and obviously you hit sales targets and, and grow it. It's at a really interesting phase, regardless of the acquisition. It was, we were going into a really interesting kind of stage where we were becoming more commercial and, and going into woos and that kind of thing. And then after that, for me, I, I have no idea. I. I. love brand. I love kind of ideas. I think potentially kind of helping other people or, you know, even investing in other people's ideas and helping them kind of it to life and shape it from a a brand perspective, appeals to me a lot.

Dion:

It's an interesting phase, isn't it? Because then I, I see this a lot with people who have gone through that whole process from start to finish and then years later as well, and that that three years, usually three years can be one or two, but typically three is pretty standard in terms of that earn out phase and depends on how much equity, if any, is left. But it's a very, like you say, it's a very weird psychological space for founders to be in because suddenly you've gone from, it's been your whole. And all consuming to still kind of being all consuming, but you sort of know it's not or shouldn't be in some respects. And you've just got this transition period and it's just a really, and then you've also got, someone else comes in, whoever it might be, it could be a corporate, it could be private equity, could be whatever that come in and suddenly they're making some of these decisions or influencing decisions that, and so you lose that autonomy

James:

Hmm.

Dion:

bureaucracy involved that isn't, wasn't previously there. And there's all these different things that come into it. So it's a really. Weird time, transition time to, to go through, right?

James:

It is. And I, Stafford and I have had these conversations where we are like almost engaging a business problem on this deeply personal level.

Dion:

Yep.

James:

had to kind of pull back and say, hold on. It's still a problem, but it's a, it's not, it's not necessarily our problem in the sense that we should be losing sleep. And so yeah, that's hard to kind of.

Dion:

Cognitive dissonance there, right? In that, because like, yeah, the, it's, it is a weird weird space to be in, but the rewards are there and that's the reason why, you know, you, you sell the business cuz it made commercial sense and it was time to do those sorts of things and all that sort of stuff. So you gotta remind yourself of those sorts of things. And that, that, that's the sort of comments I get from people is that it is just a really Just a weird phase to go through. You've gotta be a little bit pragmatic about it sometimes because there were reasons you made those decisions, and you've gotta trust that next phase to the new owners of the business, if you like, and that sort of stuff. and then your next phase is gonna be just as exciting as, or more exciting as you go ahead because you've got all those lessons under your belt to utilize in the next years.

James:

Yeah. Maybe I'll write a book about how to survive acquisition or something.

Dion:

Yeah, I, I imagine that would sell quite well. Better. Yeah, I was gonna say better than the the bushfire Kohler.

James:

Yeah, that's right. Hope so.

Dion:

Alright guys, thanks very much for joining us and really appreciate. Hearing about your journey and and getting to know a little bit more about your background and how, how it all started.

James:

Great. Thanks for having us.

Stafford:

thanks for having us.

Dion:

Thanks guys. Thanks for listening to this episode. I hope you enjoyed the show. If you did, we would really appreciate if you would leave a five star review and share with family and friends. Thanks.

Guest Background and Introduction
What was the lightbulb moment that kick-off StrangeLOve
Was starting StrangeLove in Byron Bay a help or hinderence?
How James Bruce developed StrangeLove's signature branding
StrangeLove founders explain the drinks industry's transformation over the last 10 years
The biggest strengths of StrangeLove co-founders and how they used them to grow their drinks empire
The biggest weaknesses of StrangeLove co-founders and how they overcame them while building their drinks empire
StrangeLove co-founder's best decisions they ever made and how it helped them succeed in business
The Biggest Mistakes that StrangeLove Co-Founders made when Starting the Company
The Best Advice that led StrangeLove Co-Founders to Success
Dion's opinion on failing fast in business and how it's great for learning
StrangeLove co-founders first ever hate mail over cancelling a product
StrangeLove co-founder's biggest business inspirations
The business books that StrangeLove co-founders learnt from to build their drinks empire
StrangeLove co-founder's favourite quotes on business, leadership and life
What's next for the StrangeLove co-founders and the future with Asahi
Outtro