The Value of Going Alone
How I Created a Powerful Homegrown B2B Brand without Investment.
One rainy day back in 2014, I was sitting down with a newspaper and a cup of tea. I was reading about state-funded research into the viability of building a domestic sugar factory in my neighborhood. This might not have been anything unusual, but for the fact that ten years earlier, we already had a local sugar factory here which had failed dramatically.
Here was a genuine possibility that a pile of hard-earned taxpayers’ money was about to be channeled into repeating the same mistake. So why were the powers that be entertaining the idea again at all? I can only assume that someone, somewhere was making a lot of money from the deal.
The former factory sourced sugar from neighboring countries and processed it at the plant. From my understanding, the factory rarely ran at full capacity and never reached its full potential. It certainly never happened during my lifetime, which gives you some idea of how old the sugar factory was. Where was the need for this new research? Decades of information from the former factory was available.
What we know is that the factory wasn’t profitable. Wouldn’t that imply that it simply wasn’t a good idea? Yet, here we were, considering building a new one ten years after the last one closed.
The article interviewed a couple that used to work at the factory. They were pulling out a series of imaginary numbers to paint the sugar factory as a great success. Talking about the success of the previous sugar factory must have been an essential strategy in gaining research funding.
I had to wonder if they were considering building a factory at all. The absurdness of the idea led me to think that maybe somebody just fancied a government payout to fund their research party.
If they were serious about opening a new plant, it was a sure sign that the powers behind it had no long-term vision whatsoever. Creating a new plant would be like blowing your inheritance on a party instead of investing it for the future. It didn’t work the first time, why would it work now?
The factory was unsuccessful at a time when sugar was considered a luxury and a commodity — A time when it really should have been profitable. A lot has changed since then. People’s attitudes toward sugar have changed dramatically. Even if by some miracle, it did happen to work, opening another straight competitor in a shrinking industry is not sustainable.
Why enter the market and scramble for just another piece of the pie among the vast field of competition? It seemed to me that the sugar industry was due for a dramatic change. So, as it turned out, reading this article was a catalyst that triggered a series of events that led me to start Tosla.
I decided from the beginning that rather than creating another robotic brand vying for market share; instead, Tosla would commit to providing ground-breaking research and development with a strong intent to transform the sugar industry.
Everything in Moderation
It is well known that the growth in popularity of sugar came with a tremendous amount of questionable marketing. This marketing shifted the blame of heart disease, and its compatriots away from sugar to saturated fat, thus taking the heat off the sugar market. In recent times, thanks to the internet and information sharing, people realize that the ‘eat less fat’ campaign was paid for by the sugar industry and that sugar is the primary cause of many diseases when consumed in excess.
The research on the new factory seemed to be ignoring the changing attitudes of people toward sugar. But I knew that for the sugar industry to survive, we needed to innovate. While people still wanted to eat sugar, they were trying to consume less of it due to its health restrictions.
So, I founded Tosla and began researching ways to have the full taste of sugar while consuming less of it and without relying on synthetic alternatives. From the beginning, I aimed for innovation that would help the industry adapt to the changing needs of society.
Why I chose to be Homegrown
After reading the initial article on the sugar factory and doing my research, I realized that Tosla couldn’t risk having other investors influence short term decisions such as those in the article. I decided from the beginning that Tosla would be a homegrown business without outside financial shareholders.
Diluting the company through shareholders would only increase the risk of creating too many external influencers. We couldn’t afford to become solely driven by short-term financial decisions. I knew that things would be more comfortable with the investment. But with finance, one loses control and waters down the business, thus watering down ethics in the process. It would be harder to build from scratch, but it was the only way.
The Path of Organic Branding
I was fortunate enough to have people in my life who were on the same page as me and wanted to join me on my new mission. With no outside financial help, our biggest challenge would be fundraising. For this to work, I would need to build a powerful brand organically.
There were more than a few raised eyebrows about this from the people who know me well. They were surprised because, even as a student, I was always quite outspoken about my dislike for brands and branding. At the time, it felt like a crusade. These days I understand more that it came from my upbringing in a low-income family. We could never really afford good brands, so my dislike was a way of hiding the pain I felt from not being able to get what I wanted.
As a homegrown food start-up, big marketing budgets were out of the question. Instead, I had to focus on real-world stories and word of mouth. I accomplished incredible organic marketing strategies through newspaper interviews, magazine articles, and a large amount of self-produced PR material published through social media. It was a lot of hard work. Instead of paying for promotion, I networked and found ways to get our message out there organically.
It has been ten years since the EU closed the factory. They laid off a lot of people, and the state received funds to retrain the workers and farmers. Many were to be retrained in other careers. This quickly put a stop to my plan to hire staff with knowledge from the previous sugar factory.
As it turned out, they had mostly moved on. It was not surprising that the retraining funds and ten years had diluted the legacy of the sugar factory — good for the workers, not so good for me. I had to go out and recruit my workforce from scratch and retrain them without any prior knowledge of the sugar industry.
People have no idea how much intelligence and skill it takes to produce a single syrup. Hiring unskilled staff at first seemed like an incredible risk. After a while, I realized it was one of the best decisions I made. I learned that skills could be taught quickly, but the work ethic and attitude cannot be taught as rapidly.
Instead of recruiting sugar experts, I recruited first and foremost on attitude and work ethic. This recruitment decision has had a profound effect on Tosla as a whole.
While Tosla has become a powerful B2B brand, it was always my vision to have our retail brand. But as it turned out, we never ended up moving in that direction. Through experience, I have realized the tremendous amount of work that is involved in holding up and maintaining a retail brand.
While continuing our R&D work for brands within the food industry, we did a tremendous amount of research in the health supplements industry. We now produce our supplements and sell them as white label products.
This aspect of our business has now taken over as our flagship product. As a white-label producer of supplements, we have helped ordinary people from homemakers to yoga instructors, and qualified influencers become successful entrepreneurs. Our relationship with our clients is incredibly important to us, and they know that they can always rely on us.
The world is changing, and business is continually evolving. As the Tosla brand grows, so too does the number of partners that we are working with. Our company has many aspects that need to change in reaction to the healthy growth that we are experiencing. But there is one thing that will never change. We are, and will always remain, a strong Champion of Homegrown.
Generalist that thinks broadly (not deeply).