If you’ve never been the type to go for ready made cocktails, Benson cocktails is about to change all that. The cocktail brand which is claimed to be UK’s first premium ready made cocktail will be launching early next year and is sure to cause a stir in the liquor industry.
I met Jide Cole, the CEO of the premium cocktail at a networking event some weeks ago and when we got talking, I was intrigued by his new start-up and got very interested in what he had to say about entrepreneurship and building a brand.
I was keen on talking more about his journey to building his business, so set up a meeting over coffee to learn more about the path that led to establishing his cocktail drink.
S: Please introduce yourself to the readers.
J: My name is Olajide Olukayode Junior Cole and I’m the founder and creator of Benson cocktails which is the UK’s first premium spirit, high quality cocktail.
S: What do you mean by premium? Like what’s the difference between it and other cocktails.
J: Premium means the best quality in the drinks that you create. You give the consumer the best quality taste of the drink.
S: So are you saying other competitors out there are not really hitting these points?
J: Yes, because they may use the word premium but it depends in what context they are using it. Because when I say premium, I mean the quality of the contents and everything about the brand is to a higher standard. Benson cocktail is not just a drink, but a lifestyle.
S: How was your childhood like?
J: I come from a massive family. I have 9 sisters and 2 brothers.
S: All from the same parents?
J: No, but we all grew up together. So from my mum’s side, there are 6 of us- 4 girls and 2 boys. We’re very family orientated, and growing up, I never went out or did anything. We all stayed at home and played games like monopoly and blackjack. My childhood was fun!
It wasn’t a silver spoon lifestyle but I wouldn’t say we struggled. I would say my mum raising us as a single mother did a great job.
S: Where you raised in the UK?
J: Yes, however, I was born in Lagos, Nigeria and came to London when I was about 3 years old.
S: So when did you first return to Nigeria after settling in the UK?
J: I did seven years ago when I attended Bright’s wedding (popular Nigerian comedian by the name Basketmouth). I was one of the groom’s men, so that was an opportunity for me to go back and see Nigeria.
People kept telling me that I needed to go back because it was changing, but I was skeptical because I love my comforts, but when I went back, I loved the experience and it reminded me very much of New York.
S: Really? I would never have thought that because I was in New York 2 years ago and would not have drawn a parallel..
J: The hustle! The cabs, and the environment. Like Nigerians say, if you can drive in Nigeria, then you can drive anywhere. Which is the same thing they say in New York. So it’s a similar mentality because everyone is hustling whether you’re poor or well-off.
There’s an opportunity to be prosperous in Nigeria. I always tell people that Dangote (CEO of Dangote group, net worth as of 2014, $25 billion USD, Richest in Africa) has never made his money outside of Africa but yet he’s one of the world’s top billionaires. That just shows the amount of resources Nigeria has that one man hasn’t had to expand outside of Nigeria to become a billionaire. So imagine if he took his business outside; how much would he be worth? So, the opportunity is always there, and it’s left for those willing to work hard to see it and take it with two hands and run with it. I love Nigeria and go every year. The same way I go to New York, I have to go to Nigeria. It’s just amazing, and the people I hang out with are fun.
S: Did you have any role models while growing up?
J: My older brother has been a big influence. He’s also an entrepreneur and I’m trying to jump unto his band wagon without doing exactly what he actually does. Also playing monopoly teaches a lot about business because when you are negotiating, you’re more shrewd and tactical. There are a lot of things out there in life that can be looked at that benefits you in business depending on what you want to do.
S: When did you decide to create Benson cocktails?
J: Two years ago, I used to work for a business analyst company. I used to have clients who had lots of money come in and invest their money. So I sit them down and find out what their interest were to try and build a business or give them something that was around what they liked or could be interested in. So, I gave the concept of Benson cocktails to a guy, which was this idea that you necessarily didn’t have to find something that hadn’t been done before, but rather you brand it in a way that makes it look new. But 6 months later, I found out that he didn’t use it and went to another avenue. So I thought to myself that it was actually a very good idea. I talked to my cousin Temi about it, and she was very excited about doing it, so we began our research.
We googled ready made cocktails to see what was already out there and there weren’t many companies doing it at the time. So we realised that there was a market for it. After doing research for almost a year, we found a developer who helped us develop the drinks that we wanted and formulated it so we could give to the manufacturers to get the best quality cocktails. And then we began to think of a name.
I wanted it to be something global, and Temi’s surname is Benson, so I said I’ll call it Benson as a joke. But thinking about it more, I figured Benson seemed more international and unique, and furthermore when I thought about it even more, and meditated on it, I realised Benson was the name middle class people called their butlers back in the day. So I thought the logo would be a butler.
S: Do you think that may carry some negative connotations?
J: No, not really. Being a butler wasn’t a bad thing. It wasn’t like they were slaves, it was just a job and not seemed to be demeaning. And the concept of it was that you would ask your butler to get you a cocktail, and he would come back with it already made and all you’d have to do is enjoy the drink. So having that concept in mind, it just fitted the brand.
I had a friend who does graphic design to draw the logo for me and do the branding. And this was done before we had finished producing the drinks. I wanted to make sure that the branding was right so that when we stepped out, I know that the only thing left to do is get the quality of the drink just right.
It was hard because trying to find developers that can do what you want without trying to change your concept to something that they can do easily is hard. I didn’t want to substitute by using artificial alcohol or juice, or putting fizzy water in it like other companies do. I wanted it. I wanted to make it as natural as possible and to be the same thing you get in the bar, but just ready made.
S: How long did it take to find a company that could do all this?
J: It took about 6 months. I had conversations with other companies who seemed like they could do it, but they always ended up not wanting to do it as I had hoped and I didn’t want to compromise on quality so it took time. I was actually discouraged after a while and thought that perhaps what I wanted to do was too much, but I knew that if i did what they were offering, it would have been like any other drink out there which uses artificial colouring, etc. So I stuck to my guns and did lots of research and networking.
When I finally found a company, we were able to produce a drink that is natural as possible and can have a long shelf life without using non-natural preservatives.
S: How long is the shelf life?
J: It’s a year. Some other companies have theirs for 2 years, but those ones usually have lots of preservatives in them and after a while, the consumers would be able to tell that the cocktails shouldn’t be tasting like that and would revert back to going to the bar for their cocktails. But I want Benson cocktails to be at the peak. Like even if you don’t go to a bar, but are having a house party, instead of buying so many drinks and trying to mix them yourself, Benson cocktails would be there ready to serve.
S: Do you have any secret ingredients in it?
J: Yes, but I can’t say.
S: Well obviously (laughs). So did you come up with the secret ingredient yourself?
J: While I was talking to the developers about the ingredients that would go in the drink, I accidentally mentioned something to them, and they said it was a good idea and were going to try it. So they went back and did their tests with my suggestion and said it was really good. So advised that I patent the ingredient.
S: Does the drink have to go through any approval boards?
J: Yes, because it’s going to be launched in the UK and in Nigeria, the ingredients that are in it have to be UK and Nigerian regulated because some countries ban certain alcohol. However, I don’t have to worry about that because the developers know all about the regulations and sort all that out. That’s one of the advantages of having them as I don’t have to worry about every single detail.
S: Would you want to launch in other countries too?
J: Yes, I want it to be worldwide and I have a huge vision for it. And even though it’s been replicated, the way that I’m delivering it to the market, is different and unique to any other person that would try to do it.
I’m not worried about having competitors. I just want to focus on being the brand leader. Like when you think of soft drinks, you think coke. When you think of energy drinks, you think Red Bull. So I want to make my stamp as a brand leader for ready made cocktails.
S: How long was the process from you birthing the idea to now being ready to launch?
J: It took two years. It could have been quicker, but mid last year, I invested a lot of money into something that didn’t go well , so I lost a lot of money and this slowed down the process. So I had to recuperate to get myself going, and after another 6 months, I was financially stable again to carry on.
One thing I learned is that if you’re going to invest in something, invest in it all the way and don’t try to multitask by investing in something else. I mean if you’re good at that then good. But if you have a passion for something and want to see it come to life, focus on it until its achieved before moving on to the next thing. I was trying to multitask because I thought I was there, even though I really wasn’t.
S: What would you say was the most challenging during the whole process?
J: Finding the developers that could develop the best quality drink that I wanted.
S: Are your drinks being retailed already?
J: Yes, they are in a few selected bars and restaurants in London. I’ll be launching in Nigeria first around March of 2015 before having another launch in the UK later on.
S: What would be your advise to someone who wants to go into business?
J: The first step is research. Research the market for whatever business you want to go into. Find out what other people in the market are doing or not doing. Try to find the gap in the market, so that way, you’re not pumping money into something that you’ll eventually find out is being done already.
When you finally find your niche market, then you can start looking into developing the product.
S: How would you advise budding entrepreneurs to go about getting contacts? Like how do they approach these developers, etc.
J: Well, there are a lot of networking events. So go out there and speak to people that are already in business and pick their brains. People that are already in business, already have an in depth understanding of how it runs. Also read business books. You learn about what people have already faced and it opens your mind and you wouldn’t end up falling because you didn’t know. The Bible says, “My people perish for the lack of knowledge.” So the key thing is knowledge.
S: How would you sell your cocktail to me in a sentence?
J: Benson cocktail is the UK’s finest, quality premium drink for ready made cocktails.
S: What is your philosophy on life?
J: Live in the moment, prepare for the future, no regrets. There’s a saying that goes- “Whatever you do today paves the way for tomorrow.” So whatever you are doing today, or investing in is preparing the path for tomorrow so that the doors are opened for you to walk through.
So live in the moment and enjoy it and have no regret because life is a lesson in itself. And prepare for the future whether it’s ten minutes away or ten years away.