Frustrated by the lack of choice among non-alcoholic drink options, Ellie Webb decided to create her own. She started by experimenting in her kitchen and went on to launch Caleño, a brand inspired by her Colombian heritage that is now available in stockists across the UK.
Ellie was named Great British Entrepreneur of the Year for the South West at the Great British Entrepreneur Awards in 2020.
How did you start out in business?
Prior to starting Caleño, I worked in the drinks industry, which gave me a good grounding. It was back in 2017 that I decided to give ‘Dry January’ a go for the first time, and from there everything changed. I couldn’t understand why the options were so dull for those not drinking so decided to do something about it.
That journey took me from my kitchen in St George, experimenting with different distillations, to Colombia, a place close to my heart, where I gathered all the inspiration I needed to bring together the right flavours and ingredients to create the vibrant and tropical brand that is now Caleño.
If you knew then what you know now, what mistakes might you have avoided?
How long it takes to hire brilliant people and get them up and running. It’s good to build that timeline into your process, so you can be realistic about how quickly things can happen.
What advice would you have given yourself when starting out?
Fail fast, learn from it quickly and move on. I think in the beginning it can be easy to get hung up on making everything ‘perfect’ but the world doesn’t work like that. It’s better for it to be 80 per cent there and get it out there than have it never leave the drawing board.
If you knew then what you know now, would you still be sitting there?
100 per cent – starting a business was the best decision I ever made. I’ve never worked harder in my life, but I have created myself my dream job and I love every second of it.
What do you know now that you didn’t know then?
How hard it would be starting a business on my own. Lots of businesses I speak to have two or three founders, and when you run a business you need to be on top of the finances, operations, marketing – everything! The first 12 months were incredibly hard and a steep learning curve for me.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received so far?
Don’t be afraid to ask for help. You will never have all the answers, but there are so many people out there who will be willing to help you.
What is your business highlight?
There are so many it’s hard to name just one. Being asked to feature Caleño in a Hollywood film was pretty exciting (it’s not been released yet), as well as being named Entrepreneur of the Year for the South West – that was pretty special!
What is your business low point
The months leading up to the launch were tough. I had quit my job and was struggling to get hold of my bottlers, who I was dependant on to produce my first 1,000 bottles. It felt like quite a lonely frustrating place at times as I was desperate to get the brand out there and there were so many things out of my control.
What keeps you awake?
It’s rare that I can switch off my mind, it’s normally buzzing with ideas. My secret is OneNote – as soon as an idea or thought pops into my head, I note it down and then I can sleep soundly.
What’s changed from when you started out?
I have a lot more confidence in myself and my abilities. The best thing I can say to those starting out is believe and trust in yourself and push yourself to do what you are truly capable of.
What’s still on your to-do list?
Getting really good at hiring brilliant people. Having an incredibly talented team around you is paramount to your success, so my focus now is on making sure that happens.
What’s next for you in business and personally?
From a business perspective, we are focused on becoming the nation’s favourite non-alcoholic spirit brand. We were recently named ‘Good Housekeeping’s number one non-alcoholic spirit’, but we still have a long way to go in the UK. Beyond that, I’d love to build out the brand globally.
For me personally, I’d love just to keep on learning and growing as a person. I really enjoy helping and supporting other young entrepreneurs on their journey as I know how invaluable advice and support is at that stage.
All photos by James Hacker
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