Lucy Cunial is the Co-Founder and Communications Manager for Rogue Beverages Pty Ltd, an Australian health and wellness company that is leading the charge in the emerging nutri-tonics category in Australia with the launch of SHOJO, a series of products containing scientifically-proven functional ingredients high in anti-oxidants and anti-inflammatory properties that support healthy body function including energy, liver health, cognitive performance, gut health, skin health and more.
It was during her time in Japan that Lucy and her husband, Sean Cunial, were intrigued by Japanese nutri-tonics, not only for their own health reasons and enjoyment but also because these tonics were significantly infiltrating Asian markets, as well as experiencing explosive growth of the category in the US and Europe.
We chatted to Lucy about her journey so far…
Was there a significant turning point when you decided to become an entrepreneur?
Not really, it was actually unexpected! When we repatriated after 14 years overseas, I was considering a return to some communication related work. When my husband decided one start-up business was not enough, it made sense to put my time and skills into one of them. SHOJO was the obvious choice as I’d been part of the journey from the beginning, and was familiar with the concept and the culture that inspired it.
Initially, what difficulties did you face?
Self-belief (and managing priorities). One of the hardest aspects of building your own business is that there’s no boss to tell you that you’re doing a good job or that they value your skills, and no team to soundboard ideas with. You absolutely have to back yourself – and have the capacity to be objective about your work – allow yourself to accept that mistakes are part of the process.
It’s also been hard to have to balance a looming deadline with a child that needs some serious TLC. I’ve lost that battle more than once.
Who or what was integral to you overcoming these hurdles?
My husband, to a large extent. We’re fortunate to have different strengths so really appreciate each other’s skills, and nothing increases your confidence like nailing something others can’t! What was important, though, was having watched him operate in an intense corporate environment over the years, knowing that he doesn’t give false praise.
The business concept originated in Japan, was it something you knew would translate to the Australian market?
Yes. For me, the big hint was that many of our non-Japanese friends were regular consumers, using it around long distance running, late night events, when they were feeling run down, etc. We knew the western palette would need a different flavour but the belief in the product functionality was evident.
What was your initial marketing strategy?
Social media and product sampling. With the sampling, we literally set up a table in our local plaza, roped in the kids, and went from there. We ventured further out to one or two markets and added in-store sampling once we were in a few outlets.
Insta and Facebook have been great tools to highlight SHOJO’s health benefits and history, and the perfect stage for SHOJO to reveal it’s cheeky, fun-loving character.
Looking back is there a piece of advice you wish to pass onto someone starting out their entrepreneurial journey?
Get a big desk and organise your regular life. I’m big on being organised so it was important for me to get all my daily life ducks in a row first. Having things like banking, groceries, school work already organised frees up time (and head space) for SHOJO.
Your background is in corporate communications, how did that assist you when making the switch to entrepreneurship?
I think the main benefit was having that understanding that, in any communication – be it internal, corporate, marketing, branding – you are not the starting point. Your audience / customer is. If you don’t first understand their perspective, you’re probably wasting your time.
What was the best advice that you have been given?
This ties into the previous question; a wise man once told me: “To sell John Smith what John Smith buys, see John Smith through John Smith’s eyes. I’ve changed that to Jo Smith, but the sentiment stands!
What do you think your key to success has been?
A cliche, but hard work. And a hard working partner. Two start-ups and two kids means there is literally always something that needs to be done, so we’re both constantly working on one level or another.
How have you personally measured your success?
Three years ago, SHOJO nutritonics didn’t exist. Now there are people buying SHOJO Turmeric Tonic in over 50 outlets, Red Ginseng Tonic is about to hit the shelves and we’re in talks with major retailers to about ranging more flavours as they are launched. That’s a success. Having said that, I’m also very happy to be writing and editing at a professional level again, I count that as a win.
Excluding yours, what company or business do you admire the most?
Small businesses where I see hard work and integrity every day. One example is my gym; it’s small, doesn’t have the glitz and glamour of some of the big name gyms, but with hard work, dedication and integrity, the owner has built a really strong gym community that extends beyond the gym itself. He’s constantly evolving and improving the service, makes tough decisions with the customer at heart and is smart enough to seek out advice.
What are your growth areas for 2020?
Product range. We’re launching three more flavours in 2020, starting with energy boosting SHOJO Red Ginseng and, later in the year, introducing our Australian and New Zealand botanicals range with Kakadu Plum and NZ Boysenberry & Kawa Kawa. We’re also looking for more distributors, especially outside of Sydney. And sleep, definitely planning more sleep.
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