Karis Gesua, Lickalix

Karis Gesua, Lickalix

James Sandrini 10th July 2018

What’s it really like to start a business in hospitality? We started an interview series to find out.

This week, we talked with Karis Gesua, Co-founder of LICKALIX, about how to win at Crowdcube, how to prosper on Ocado, and how wholesome, family brands can build a following.

Q

Number 1 with an icy bullet: Why ice lollies?

Good question. It’s really sunny and lovely now so…

Q

Fair point.

So, I suppose it all started in 2013. Dom, who is both LICKALIX’s and my other half, and I were unhappy in our jobs, overworked and overstressed, and we’d both wanted to launch our own company together – that was always our goal.

We were on holiday and we just decided to take the leap. We told ourselves ‘we’re going to start, let’s do it.’ We already knew the ethos and the principles that we wanted the business to be based on, but we didn’t have the idea.

We were meant to take a few months to figure that bit out but as soon as we returned, Dom resigned. And I quickly followed suit. It might sound silly, but we had little non-work headspace and we felt we knew roughly what we wanted to do. My background was in branding, marketing and design with top agencies – think Mars, Diageo – while Dom worked in sales, advertising and media. If you’ve seen a billboard in central London for Nike, Apple – that’s Dom.

Nothing to do with food of course. But I love food. I’d been making ice lollies for fun for our friends and family and, one day, we went looking for lollies in a supermarket and figured out that there was a fun, cool idea that nobody was doing.

Ice cream and frozen yoghurt had already been through a revival, using more premium ingredients with real provenance, and providing people with a healthier alternative to the mainstream, whereas ice lollies were all sugar and E numbers.

We launched the business in April 2014. We bought Kenny, our vintage VW ice lolly van – who is still with us today – and took him around the country with our lollies, trying out different flavours and narrowing the range down to our original 4.

"We wanted to run our business, to work for ourselves, to make a difference and do something in the right way in order to help people live better lives. These things came first"
Q

You started values-first. In hindsight, could this have been a business in another vertical?

Maybe, yes. We did have another idea originally along the lines of glamping, which would have obviously been very different, not least from a lifestyle perspective. But we saw challenges in that model that sent us in another direction.

The ethos came first and, this is really corny, the dream came first. We wanted to run our business, to work for ourselves, to make a difference and do something in the right way in order to help people live better lives. These things came first.

Maybe, yes. We did have another idea originally along the lines of glamping, which would have obviously been very different, not least from a lifestyle perspective. But we saw challenges in that model that sent us in another direction.

The ethos came first and, this is really corny, the dream came first. We wanted to run our business, to work for ourselves, to make a difference and do something in the right way in order to help people live better lives. These things came first.

Q

Did the seasonality of ice lollies bother you? And what do you do in the winter months?

We knew it would be an issue but we’re not the only business faced with that challenge.

Seasonality is incredibly challenging – you need to make money in the summer to sustain yourself through the winter – but the plan was always to diversify.

We’ve just launched a baby food brand called Baby Cübes, which is all about helping people feed their little ones more fruit and veg. They’re basically frozen ice cubes of pure fruit and veg; less food waste, less packaging waste, all organic and a real time saver for parents.

That took a while to launch but we’d always worked towards developing non-seasonal products, and there are more on the way.

Supermarket sales will always be there too. We’ve been with Ocado for a few years and that length of tenure has a cumulative sales effect. And for our particular business, there’s an awful lot of work to do in the downtime to prep for peak periods.

Karis Gesua Lickalix
Q

Let’s talk about Ocado. For many FMCG start-ups, an Ocado *is* the goal. What does it take to make a listing work?

Oh, that’s tough. Many things. Ocado is often the initial stepping stone, as you said.

I personally love shopping with Ocado because I can find so many great brands that just aren’t listed together elsewhere. They don’t have the bricks & mortar constraints that other ‘supermarkets’ do so they can simply carry more lines.

I’d say that you have to be different. You have to stand out. And you have to develop something that appeals to their target market in particular. The Waitrose demographic & profile that want high welfare food with provenance and don’t mind paying for it.

And there’s a strong family market on Ocado too. Consumers are happier to spend their money on the people they care than themselves. They want to make sure their loved ones eat nutritious, quality food. Our products are perfect for that.

Q

Looking ahead, could Baby Cübes be the core product eventually? Or do you see it as part of a suite of products?

Both. I’d like it to be both. Everything will come back to the core values of the business; to help people lead healthy lives more easily. We’ve asked ourselves this question a few times.

We only launched Baby Cübes about 6 weeks ago, but it has the chance to be a perennial product; it doesn’t just have to be for babies and toddlers – we’ve seen parents use them for their smoothies, for example.

The market might be smaller than lollies right now, but we’re seeing a general move towards frozen products. People are starting to understand that not all frozen food is bad, that freezing can lock nutrients in and that frozen products are obviously very convenient. Jamie Oliver is pushing it now too, which helps.

Q

Where can we find LICKALIX right now?

Well, Ocado obviously. We’re in Jamie’s restaurants too, Whole Foods and Planet Organic, along with 600-odd more places that are lesser well known, from the South to Scotland. Find any family-friendly place that is keen to provide healthy alternatives and we’re probably there.

"Consumers are happier to spend their money on the people they care than themselves. They want to make sure their loved ones eat nutritious, quality food. Our products are perfect for that"
Q

You initially raised funds on Crowdcube. What’s your advice for raising money on a crowdfunding platform?

Ok, so that’s a whole other interview!

Number 1, you have to be proven. We were one of the youngest businesses to be funded, but the more proof of the team, the model, and business, the better.
You have to have a great video…

Q

A lot of people miss that. They don’t find a way to stand out.

Exactly that, you need to be different. So many are too long, too boring. And it needs to be relatable. You want to be able to grab people that are generalist investors and might not know the ins and outs of your particular industry.

Q

Are you still in touch with all the people that were part of that raise?

We are. We did loads of outreach and people got the concept instantly. We also kept the minimum value intentionally low so that we could build an initial group of brand ambassadors. Now, we have 250 people around the country that are selling our brand into their families and local shops and cafes.

This also helps with visibility on the platform. On Crowdcube, you’re ‘ranked’ by the last investment received, so making it easy for people to invest even small sums increases the chances that someone – and that someone might have much more to invest than the minimum – sees your proposition first. That’s another reason to get as many people involved as possible.

We send a quarterly newsletter to everyone, and we have close ties with our major shareholders. We try and keep in touch whenever and wherever we can really.

Karis Gesua Lickalix
Q

There seems to be a great sense of community around the brand. How do you maintain that?

I think it comes from the essence of the brand and how Dom and I wanted the brand to be in the first place. It’s a really personable brand because we are so heavily involved in everything. Our team really believe in the brand.

We also have plenty of physical touchpoints, which makes a huge difference. We take Kenny out every weekend, and more in the summer. We go where the audience is.

The product is very family-orientated too. We’re not pretending to be anything we’re not; it’s nice, clean family fun.

Q

Speaking of family, you work with your partner. Many people wouldn’t dare. How does this work and do you ever stop chatting about lollies?

Ha! Sometimes I have to say, ‘let’s stop talking about work now.’ I don’t know how we do it because we spend so much time together.

We have our business together, we live together, we’re married with a son – Rocco – we share all our hobbies together, all our friends seem to be together.

I love it. I really lean on him and he really leans on me. It’s another reason why we’ve been successful and how we can compete in a space with the likes of Unilever. We couldn’t have done it without each other. But I wouldn’t recommend it to everyone.

When you run your own business you’re on it 24/7. And on the rare occasions when we do get the chance to go out we have to tell ourselves to stop talking about lollies!

Q

It feels like challenger brands are in the ascendancy and the bigger brands are having to find ways to stay relevant and almost ‘catch up.’ Is this what you see day in and day out?

I always knew that there would be smaller companies chasing us and bigger companies squeezing us. We had first mover advantage but that never lasts for long.

One of my main focuses is production. To source everything we want in an organic format is so challenging at scale. We’re free from all allergens now, which is a major point of difference, and it matches where the market is heading.

Mums come up to me and say ‘I’m so pleased that my kids can have your lollies’ and I love that. We were at a family festival recently and a child came up to me, thrilled that he could have a chocolate lolly for the first time – he’d never had one before. That was amazing.

Organic, free-from, whole real fruit rather than syrups, no refined sugars. This is where we started and, ultimately, we’re pleased that people are catching up because we want the market, in general, to be healthier.

Q

Brexit. Has that changed anything within the business?

I don’t think we’ve seen the big changes just yet.

Everything has got more expensive of course. We buy some of our ingredients from Holland and we’ve had to swallow that, but we can’t forever, and I can’t see how these prices won’t continue to increase.

If ordering terms change then that will have to change our pricing. And it will make it harder for us to sell into Europe – not just us, all British companies. We might see labour challenges too, but we saw a cost change immediately.

Q

And what’s next for LICKALIX?

We’re developing some new, top-secret products.

And we want to increase our reach and find our way into places that Ocado can’t so that anyone that wants healthy, free from, organic treats can walk to their local supermarket or café can find them.

Thanks to Karis Gesua.

Check out LICKALIX and Baby Cübes here, or find out when Karis, Kenny and the team are bringing ice lollies near you by following them on Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest and Facebook.