Table of contents
- Yes You Can Drinks
- Founders - Tyler Martin & Sophie Heatley
- Based in Bondi, New South Wales, Australia
- Started in 2021
- 2 founders, 4 employees
Tyler and Sophie, what's your backstory?
Tyler: I was born in Canada before moving to Australia when I was three. I have little recollection of anything before getting here to Australia. I went to North Sydney Boys High School before studying Commerce Marketing at Macquarie University. I stretched my three-year degree over about 6.5 years 🤣 as I lived in Italy, France and Hungary playing professional water polo.
I competed in the 2016 Rio Olympics for Australia in Water Polo and brought up my 100th International Match at the Games. Unfortunately, water polo is not the most lucrative career choice, so I worked part-time at the Commonwealth Bank while studying. While playing in Italy, I met the founder of a prominent American Swimwear brand I got his information and started importing swimwear to Australia on my return.
That was the start of an entrepreneurial journey that I have yet to escape, haha! I rebranded and ran the swimwear and sportswear business for about six years before exiting just after the Olympics. We built it into a solid company, and I was ready for the next chapter.
Sophie: I was born in Auckland, but my youth was scattered across the world. I lived in Canada and New Zealand and spent time in several countries as my parents travelled a lot in my younger years. I went to High School in New Zealand and studied at Auckland University, completing a Business degree.
After graduating, I interned at Google in Sydney and was about to interview for a job in Communications in LA when I found out I had landed my then-dream role at Google in a full-time capacity.
I was an account and sales executive there for four years and loved my time in such a fast-paced, challenging and stimulating environment.
After four years at Google, I felt compelled to follow my passion and left the corporate world to pursue psychology. I had a work break before picking up psychology at Monash University. I was halfway through the when we started Yes You Can Drinks, and thankfully can now say I’m finished my undergraduate degree.
Tell us what your company does?
We take the piss out of drinking! Literally :P We have created exceptional alcohol-free alternative drinks so that you can say YES to more.
Whether you are cutting back, cutting out or just drinking between drinks - we are the can for any plan.
We’ve done the hard part. We used world-leading mixologists and good scientists to create Internationally award-winning alcohol-free drinks that replicate your favourite cocktails right down the warmth at the back of your throat. All you need to do is crack and pour.. Or sip straight from the can!
Yes You Can exists to give you a choice on your next night out, sunny afternoon by the pool, BBQ with friends, a day at the beach or simply after a long day of work.
Whatever your reason for going alcohol-free, Yes You Can offers a way to master your morning afters or find the right balance on a big night out.
Even though we’re taking the piss out of drinking, we’re not sober evangelists, and we’re not here to preach. We've had our share of wild times, morning regrets and apocalyptic hangovers.
Alcohol isn't our nemesis. It doesn’t have to be the only option on the table, at the bar, or the party. Having our non-alcoholic drinks mistaken for the real deal is more than a nice compliment. It’s part of our mission.
How did you come up with the idea?
We brainstormed internally and with a fantastic agency that specialises in FMCG. We wanted something positive but witty. Irreverent but sharp. We believed that Yes You Can, as a statement of intent AND a pun, was perfect! Yes You Can drive your car to the bar. And Yes You in a Can! We workshopped a few tag lines and settled on two (we just couldn’t split them!) 1. Taking the piss out of drinking - speak to our irreverence and cheek. 2. Memories made, not wasted - again, another play on words speak to the social occasion we want to exist within. Making memories that you’ll actually remember!
The actual Ah-ha moment came when Soph and I were at lunch with friends at a restaurant. We were all ordering Spritz cocktails, but then-pregnant Sophie felt left out when sugary soda was the only suitable option. She asked, ‘Could you do a non-alcoholic spritz?’ They declined.
In my former athlete life, there were many times with a game, training or flight ensuing that I would pretend to drink a ‘vodka soda’ when out with friends. Too afraid to be stigmatised for not drinking, I would ask the bartender for a soda with lime and pretend it was alcoholic. So this latent need developed, and the light bulb moment activated with Sophie at that lunch.
How did you go about building and launching the business?
We had zero experience in food, beverage or consumer goods. So looking back, it is a minor miracle we are still around after 12 months in the market and only 24 months since ideation!
The development stage was separated into two projects: 1) the brand design and 2) the flavour design.
With nowhere to start, we scrambled around to anyone who knew. We reached out to a contact from my childhood who had climbed the ranks of international bartending. She was happy to provide best-in-class recipes for a range of popular cocktails.
So after much trialling, tinkering and a few beroccas along the way - we landed on a perfect alcoholic cocktail that would suit our pack format. We wanted 250ml slimline cans, so the drinks needed to be carbonated, light yet complex in flavour and needed to be just as enjoyable out of a can as if poured into a garnished glass—the only problem. Our little masterpieces contained alcohol!
Now we had to find a way to replicate these perfect serves in a non-alcoholic form - so we tasked our food scientists (who we had contacted through a friend of a friend of a friend!) with that, at the time, impossible task.
After more than six months of iterations, we deconstructed the complex flavour profiles and mouth feel, and notably our proprietary Flashback™ - the pleasant warmth on the back of your throat/back palate - and could effectively reconstruct the flavours without the alcohol. And most importantly, without anyone noticing!
We had simultaneously built the brand and decided to launch with three classic flavours - a bitter dry G&T, a smoked ginger Dark & Stormy and a bittersweet rhubarb spritz.
We launched just before last Christmas with zero go-to-market strategies other than building a great product and brand and hope for the best! Not our finest business moment and something I would advise against! Haha. COVID then hit again, so we quickly pivoted to online sales, which have been a really strong channel for us ever since.
At the beginning our naivete was a blessing. The intricacies and challenges of an omnichannel distribution model was not even on our radar at that stage.
How have you grown the business?
The business has gone from strength to strength on the whole but has everyday challenges. From distribution deals falling over to supply chain issues to hiring, there is always an endless to-do list.
We have been fortunate that our brand has struck a chord with a community of people who relate to our key messaging and tone of voice. Because of our design and tone, we regularly get tagged in social media posts, boosting our organic brand awareness.
In addition, several key venues, including the Opera Bar, Dan Murphys and Woolies metro, have helped get the Yes You Can name out there.
What's your biggest selling product/service?
Our Spritz has been a big winner, but our new Yuzu Sake is currently outselling it. The Dark & Stormy is a dark horse of the range, scarcely the first chosen but the most reordered product of our range!
What have been some of your biggest failures along the way?
We have had more setbacks in 12 months than I can even remember!
Some big ones include:
- A week before going into production, our manufacturing facility told us our cans could explode with the pressure. As a result, we’d have to be processed without carbonation. We could not proceed and had to ship tens of thousands of cans and pallets of raw ingredients from Brisbane to Melbourne (a new production facility) in a matter of hours!
- We spent significant money on gold foil for our outer cardboard four-pack wraps only to find that on the shelf, you couldn’t read the flavours properly as the gold didn't contrast with the base colours.
- We have started with and since left two major distributors (which I am told is not abnormal in the space!), but it felt crippling at the time.
- We changed our formula to be preservative-free and all-natural (which is fantastic, and we are super proud. This is incredibly challenging to do this in the non-alc space), but that meant doubling up on set-up fees for ALL of our products and packaging, which was a massive amount of money for us
- We spent all of Dry July running ineffective digital advertising because we needed to optimise our set-up - we straight-up wasted around 30% of our budget.
There is more I can’t recall, and there will no doubt be plenty more to come!!
What's next for you and your business?
We are looking to expand our distribution both here and in New Zealand (we are currently located in several retail liquor and grocery outlets in New Zealand) and launch into around five new regions by the end of next year.
We have a massive pipeline of new business, including exciting collaborations with household name consumer brands, and we’re also exploring some influencer/creator collabs!
What digital tools do you use regularly?
We use the entire Google suite, Slack, Zoom, Google Analytics, Facebook Ads Manager, and are just pressing go on Tiktok (which we are really excited and bullish about!)
What books have been a great inspiration to you as a founder?
I love Shoe Dog by Phil Knight! I have read many inspirational books, but I am reading a book called 4000 weeks, which is the perfect book for me right now! It is the antithesis of several books I had previously deified - and I feel good about it. It talks about the misnomer of life hacking and productivity chasing. And to just settle into the moment and the inevitable limitations of time and life. It has been quite therapeutic in many ways so far.
I do like to listen to ‘How I built this’ by Guy Raz though I think I went through a period of listening to and reading too many business building/inspirational/rags to riches-themes media that I kind of needed a break from it all! I am much more selective and diverse in my media consumption these days. I also skim through the AFR (Australian Financial Review) for anything that catches my eye.
Any quotes you live by?
I love the ‘Man in the Arena by Theodore Roosevelt. For me, it is very grounding.
“Luck Is What Happens When Preparation Meets Opportunity". (Roman philosopher Seneca)
“Pressure is a Privilege”
What do you love and hate about being a founder?
Love: The freedom, autonomy, the disproportional effect (both positive or negative)I can personally have on the business vs if I was a cog in the machine of a big corporate, creating, impacting at a real level, bringing something to life in reality
Hate (at times): the 24/7 365 slog, sleepless nights, stress, financial pressure, loneliness, pressure, the conveyor belt of tasks, the spectrum of responsibility, the ultimate accountability.
What do you do to look after your mental health as a founder?
I strive for a decent routine. I often fail but when I don’t, when I am physically active, up at a reasonable hour and eating well - I am at my best physically and mentally.
For me, there is a strong codependency between my physical and mental health that can be a vicious or virtuous cycle. The key for me is starting with the small controllable wins and getting on the virtues of both.
How's your morning routine going as a new Dad?
My morning routine has changed so much since stopping professional sport. I used to be up at 4.20am three times a week and in the water by 5am, and on the other day up at 5.45am for gym.
Nowadays I have lost that structure and with a two year old and one on the way, it is far more 'fluid'. Somedays my alarm wakes me but more often our toddler beats it :) My partner and I have recently sat down again to try and plan our mornings and weeks better.
I am a big believe in getting started on the right foot of a morning and I feel as a founder and new dad, that I have regressed a little bit in this phase of my life.
In a few words, sum up what it means to be the founder of a business
"A delicate balance between excitement, terror, and overwhelm! Haha. You are creating something out of literally nothing!"
What are the biggest pieces of advice you’d give to other founders?
"Look for a co-founder or mentor because it can be a challenging, arduous journey alone. I have Soph, but as she transitioned into full-time student and motherhood, it can quickly become an isolated environment."