Sebastian Beer is creating a buzz with his new energy drink Clarity/Smart energy
For many new ventures, the first entrepreneurial spark is lit by a gap in the market. Once Sebastian Beer started looking for one, it became obvious there was room–and need–for an energy drink made with only healthy ingredients.
Observation showed him that sales of various sports and “booster” drinks have been taking off around Asia in recent years. Their labels, however, revealed significant quantities of sugar, refined ingredients, and artificial colours and preservatives. These might produce the desired short-term effect, but were hardly good for long-term well-being.
The solution seemed obvious: create a brand-new all-natural shot able to provide a “smart” energy boost for people on the go. The result of those initial musings – and much subsequent planning and development work – is a new drink that goes by the name of “Clarity/smart energy”.
Launched in Hong Kong last September, the 60ml bottles, which come in two flavours, are produced in New Zealand using a formula rich in vitamins and amino acids, including fermented papaya and caffeine from only natural sources, which are high in anti-oxidants.
“I felt Hong Kong was the perfect place to launch [the drink], since a lot of challenges are taken out of the equation,” says Beer, the founder and chief executive of Clarity/smart energy. “You have a good investor base, no import duties, and a high density of potential consumers, which means you can learn quickly in terms of marketing and distribution. But we wanted to manufacture in a country with a good reputation for purity, food security and high quality standards.”
For Beer, conceiving a product to help people stay physically and mentally alert, without compromising on health and nutrition, was one thing. Actually creating it was quite another.
For that, Beer, a former banker at UBS, turned to expert nutritionists at Oxford University and sought input from natural product specialists in New Zealand. Before making approaches or scheduling exploratory visits, extensive research was necessary over the course of about two years. There was also a certain amount of tapping into contacts in the finance community, and consultation with Invest HK for advice on structure, requirements, and the obstacles and elephant traps best avoided.
“It certainly wasn’t all done in a day,” says Beer, who was mindful of the risk in giving up banking for the life of an entrepreneur. But, free of mortgage and family obligations, he felt there was no better time to take the plunge.
“An important step was to get a board of advisers, including investors, who were very helpful in opening doors and putting me in front of the right people. I used a design team for the website and packaging, but the overall intention is to be lean and frugal as we steer ourselves towards profitability.”
Once satisfied with the product and manufacturing arrangements, Beer’s next major task was to establish an effective sales and distribution network. The basic plan is to target niche markets, mainly active sports people and individuals who regularly work long hours or need to fight the effects of jet lag, for example.
As such, the focus to date has been on sales in high-end supermarkets, hotels, local sports and private membership clubs, gymnasiums and specialist sports stores, and to corporate clients who stock a pantry for staff working late.
“So far, things are on track, but building up sales has to be a staged process,” says Beer, who studied business and economics in Vienna and co-founded Austria’s biggest student consulting firm, which gave him a taste for creating something from scratch. “It can be costly to use some of the traditional distribution channels, where you may have to pay for shelf space. That can reduce margins and push back profitability.”
Rather than finding a way into Hong Kong’s mass-market retailers, the current priority is to target customers in the premium segment, maintain a reasonable price point, and not overextend the supply chain by chasing after too much too soon.
“We want to cover all the ‘verticals’ we have identified and solidify the business in Hong Kong before taking the next big step,” Beer says.
Looking ahead, he is already thinking about expansion in Singapore, Australia, South Korea and mainland China. However, since each country has different regulations, going into new markets won’t be as easy. That said, the company may consider developing new flavours and products, and is aware of the challenges of running a strong, sustainable organisation.
“I’ve learned that building a start-up from the ground up is hard,” Beer says. “There are always problems to overcome and issues to face, so you have to maintain a positive attitude. I’ve also learned that patience is a virtue. You should aim to improve every day, regard any support you can get as beneficial, but also be aware of what the other party may want in return.”
This article appeared in the Classified Post print edition as Creating a buzz.