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30 Digital Champions: Married couple seeks enterprise bliss with help of vodka

Let’s raise a glass to the latest in our 30 Digital Champions campaign with Microsoft, as Wild Knight English Vodka becomes the newest growing enterprise using tech to help scale the operation.
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Wild Knight English Vodka is the creation of husband and wife team Matt and Steph Brown, a pair of self-confessed food and drink lovers.

On a quest to avoid the trend of flavoured blends, the duo had an aim of creating “the ultimate vodka” – one to be savoured and not downed.

As the business achieves growth with the support of technology in the operation, the Browns’ venture is the latest to be named in our 30 Digital Champions initiative with Microsoft, which highlights non-technical businesses that are using digital to strengthen operations.

(1) Please give us a brief introduction to the business?

Steph: Our vodka journey began in 2010 when Matt travelled to Mongolia to be best man at his brother’s wedding. Vodka plays a central role in Mongolian daily social life and the traditional wedding day started by sharing a bowl of vodka. The drink was even included as part of the ceremony itself, which the guests (of all ages) shared! They had to pace themselves, of course, but we’re pleased to report Matt did our nation proud in the England v Mongolia international vodka enjoyment “competition”.

We started looking into making our own vodka in 2014, but while they were very good at the drinking of alcoholic drinks, we knew we would need expert help to make it. So, we worked with a hugely experienced artisan distiller, who produces the vodka, enabling us to focus on the business of introducing it to the world.

We wanted to avoid flavoured vodkas, instead focusing on creating a product that is the very best and purest that could be made: a vodka aimed at those seeking a drink to savour rather than guzzle. The ultimate vodka.

We chose the name because we wanted to encapsulate a spirit of adventure and the heritage of England. We think Wild Knight sums up all the fun, enjoyment and traditional English spirit we sought from our vodka.

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(2) What have the significant growth milestones been in the last few years?

Matt: Ask us in twelve months’ time. Having only launched Wild Knight on 4 February this year, we need a few months of growth behind us.

(3) What inspires you as an entrepreneur, and how does that come across with your company?

Steph: Matt and I have been running our own business One Vision Ltd, marketing other people’s products and services since 1989 and this has given us a huge amount of experience and understanding of marketing.

I love the definition of entrepreneur as someone who sets up a business, taking on financial risks in the hope of profit. Well, that’s exactly what we did 27 years ago and continue to do today, but this time with our ultra-premium English vodka.

The difference now is that everything we do; we are doing for us. All the rewards are ours, when they materialise, and all the risks too – and we’ve had plenty of those – but we wouldn’t change a thing.

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(4) What kind of obstacles are you encountering as you grow your enterprise?

Matt: The obstacles for us include finding new distributors; ones who will take on our vodka and be interested in our brand of ultra-premium English vodka. One of the areas that we constantly need to address is the age-old perception of vodka as being no aroma and no flavour.

We are proud to have a created a vodka with an aroma of sweet barley, and with a delicate taste. We are also are keen to point out that with our vodka there is not the harsh burn associated with mass-produced vodkas. It’s smooth from start to finish.

This has been achieved by our master distiller distilling in small batches, removing the harsh ‘heads and tails’ of the barley and only bottling the very best of the ‘heart’ where all the flavour is found. It’s beautifully smooth and you can be sure that after a few glasses, your head will still be clear in the morning.

(5) For a company that isn’t technology based, how has a digital approach helped you to carve out a bigger market and acquire new customers?

Steph: For us, social media has been the technology that we couldn’t do without. From day one, back in November 2015, when we started to think about using social media, we have gone from a standing start with zero followers on Twitter, to a respectable 600.

We love interacting with our followers and then taking it offline to do business. Social media is also a great way of gathering industry news and insight. We talk with a lot of journalists to organise tasting samples and provide photos and articles of interest to them and their readers.

We also use social media to engage with our end customers and tell them where they can taste our vodka, at which events and times. At the moment we are promoting our involvement at the London Yacht, Jet and Prestige Car Show, which takes place from 4 to 6 May at Old Billingsgate and St Katherine Docks in London. We are providing our Wild Knight vodka for an evening cocktail event and have been using Twitter to tell our followers about the cocktails we will be serving.

(6) How is technology helping you to overcome hurdles, and what are the challenges of implementation?

Matt: Technology is helping us to overcome the hurdles of finding initial contacts to start building relations with. We use a cloud-based CRM system to record all of our leads and accounts, including contact details which make it easy for us to keep track of clients and their needs. Being cloud-based allows us flexibility as we grow.

We used technology to design our labels, which are then handmade and polished using solid pewter. But without the technology to create the designs, the labels wouldn’t look anywhere near as good as they do. Everything we do, design-wise uses technology. But when it comes to the creation of our vodka, that’s all done offline, using the amazing skills of our master distiller.

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(7) Do you employ any kind of flexible working, and how does technology fit into this?

Steph: Matt and I have a home office and as such are able to work very flexible hours. Although probably sometimes too many!

(8) What kind of technology tools can you not work without?

Matt: Our cloud-based CRM system is excellent and we would not want to be without this. Also, social media tools are invaluable.

(9) What kind of technology would help you better compete with larger rivals?

Matt: Technology such as social media allows us to compete with rivals as it allows us to reach such a wide potential audience, but being a small skilled team, we are able to react much faster and directly with potential customers. This allows us to then take the conversation offline to continue the relationship-building.

(10) Where do you want to take your business in the future?

Steph: We will be looking to increase our portfolio of drinks, all ultra-premium, but encompassing different tastes and styles. First we need to crack the vodka market and prove that the world loves a vodka with taste and character as much as we do. Cheers!

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About Author

Zen Terrelonge

Zen Terrelonge is the deputy editor of Real Business, specialising in media, innovation, technology and the digital sector. A media professional with eight years worth of experience he has worked for both startup and established publications.

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