Tell us about how Avallen Spirits started? Where has your vision taken you so far?
My co-founder Tim and I started our careers in the corporate beverage world — we met working at Diageo, one of the biggest players in the drinks industry. We were both Global Brand Ambassadors, which gave us the opportunity to fly around the world representing our brands. A key element of the role was to represent the brand values, and that didn’t always match up with our personal values.
There is a big disconnect between the big corporates and the agricultural process behind the product. Tim and I saw an opportunity to turn the industry upside down and do things right. We wanted to launch the most sustainable drinks brand, and that’s where Avallen was born. The environmental impact needed to happen at the agricultural level, which led us to investigate which spirits and products could be produced in a more sustainable way, eventually leading us to apples. Apples grow on trees, which are carbon sinks, so you’ve already got benefits integrated in the supply chain.
Our production facility is in Normandy, and we’ve been looking at Calvados as a category. Calvados is perceived as a very old, dusty and forgotten drink — and with that we saw an opportunity to innovate and create a truly sustainable product.
When we started in 2019, the most common and simple format to ship product in glass bottles. Being single use, this is something else we’re looking to change.
The bottle really stands out without using harmful products and by using the verticality of the bottle. You’ll notice that when you’re looking at spirits, everyone designs their branding horizontally. By elongating the wordmark using a black and white contrast we were able to create a smarter design.
Tell us about your fundraising journey before Seedrs?
We didn’t raise any money before coming to Seedrs. We bootstrapped the initial phases by ourselves and worked smart with the little cash that we had. Just before Seedrs in March 2020 we also borrowed some money from my co-founder’s dad, but Seedrs was the first investment that we took.
When you came to Seedrs, why did you decide it was the right time to raise a round?
The brand was just a year old, we launched in May 2019 and by January 2020 we had a really strong forecast and we were already listed on Ocado in the UK. We spoke to our importer who told us not to raise funds yet, and he was willing to buy stock upfront so we had the cash to grow and start driving revenues. But then, the next week and thanks to COVID, every single bar and restaurant across Europe closed. So we knew we had to fundraise as soon as possible.
We hadn’t considered crowdfunding at that point, but we were having conversations with traditional investors. Very quickly Tim and I felt a disconnect and we really liked the idea of people having skin in the game. Shared ownership is really important for a sustainability focused business. A huge part of sustainability is redistribution of wealth and getting behind communities; one of the people on our board is in the green investment space and that’s how we landed with Seedrs. What we really loved about Seedrs was that people can come on board, take equity and be involved as much as they want to be.
We were really active in building a community through our round and had incentives for people to invest. After the fundraise we did a questionnaire to ask who wanted to be involved and who had marketing and commercial skills to help build the brand. So we have a smaller group with whom we still have sessions and share ideas. That has made our growth feel really organic and authentic.
Also, a lot of people that invested in our business were bartenders. We started hosting weekly online sessions to everyone who wanted to join on the concept of shares, investment and equity and we really wanted to take on a role of mentoring the hospitality industry.
What are your thoughts on the popularity of crowdfunding in Europe as a way of raising funds?
I think for the right projects the power of building a community or a really clear model of business for good, it’s a really powerful tool. Within our industry everyone is still going to traditional angel investors, VCs, private investors and corporates. Which is unfortunate, because the power dynamic is not going to shift. We need to start taking back control as business operators.
I think there is a naivety around crowdfunding in that people think it is very easy, and that the money will come just like that. But for me it was one of the most challenging things I’ve ever gone through because you don’t really know whether the money will come in. Our network was really important in the raise, and if you have been really genuine and kind along the way it helps! My ten years of building connections in the industry had people popping up and investing in the round. So it wasn’t just what we were doing at that point, but also the social currency that we had built up prior to the launch of Avallen.
Would you consider running another campaign on Seedrs?
We would. A lot of people that didn’t manage to get in our first round are reaching out that and wanting to get involved in a second one, as do our distributors.
What were some of the aspects of crowdfunding you weren’t aware of that turned out to be essential for a successful round?
Crowdfunding is a very powerful awareness tool when done right. One thing that we managed really well was the online session about our round. Giving people access to you as a founder and having 1-1 phone calls was something that worked really well and helped the success of our campaign. You really have to be all in otherwise it’s not going to work. Our commitment was beyond just financing our company, but it was about our commitment to sustainability and sustainable finance.
I’m very proud of what we’ve achieved. We were only a year old, it was the beginning of the pandemic and everyone thinks Calvados is for old people and we’re actually proving them wrong!
What have the proceeds from crowdfunding/your Seedrs round helped you achieve so far, and what plans do you have in the pipeline for the upcoming months?
The majority of the cash went into marketing, PR and content, to tell our story at scale and amplify our reach. The rest went into sustainability which allowed us to do our lifecycle carbon analysis. We were able to prove something really unique; that the liquid gives back more than it takes. Because of the sequestration of the apple trees, every bottle of Avallen actively removes 2.7kg of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, so if we were being really cheeky we could say that you were actively combating global climate change with every bottle you drink. By doing all that work, we also landed our Bcorp certification.
There’s also been a big focus on innovation. We’ve started to work on a bulk format, we ship litters instead of bottles which is more sustainable and we’ve also launched a paper bottle instead of glass bottle, which is 1/5 of the carbon of a glass bottle and fully recyclable. This is our low carbon, e-commerce solution.
Have you seen your customer base increase during or shortly after your campaign?
Our revenues have gone up 3x since our campaign on Seedrs.
Interested in learning more from startups who have raised with us? Check out these articles:
- THIS™: THIS™ Isn’t Just Another Case Study
- Harvest London: Crowdfunding a Sustainable Future for Food
- Wild and Stone
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