Sepoy & Co.’s success story is all about exploring an opportunity, taking chances, and creating a sustainable business model that not only withstands a pandemic but also doesn’t strain the environment. We caught up with founder Angad Soni to get his lessons on entrepreneurship.
If you are a seasoned drinker, chances are you would have sipped Sepoy & Co. Offering premium mixers, including tonic waters and ginger ale, Sepoy & Co. eschews high-calorie sweeteners and artificial flavours in favour of natural oils, the finest botanicals, and handpicked quinines. Packaged in reusable bottles, the brand has also partnered with the environment-friendly ‘zero waste’ initiative Glass2Sand, which crushes empty glass bottles into sand to stop them from going to landfills, and also launched the ‘RETHINK REPURPOSE’ campaign this year that aims at providing a platform to young entrepreneurs and innovators who are making a positive difference to the planet. Since its debut in 2018, Sepoy & Co. has won prestigious awards like the Superior Taste Awards in 2019 and 2020 by the International Taste Institute, Brussels; it’s elegant packaging has only helped further its popularity amongst millennials.
Given its meteoric growth in a niche segment, we got in a conversation with founder Angad Soni to understand how he spearheads the business.
We’ll start at the start — Sepoy & Co, a unique name. How did you arrive at it?
Tonic water was essentially a mix of quinine, sugar, and water that happened to be put together by the British soldiers stationed in India. They were mandated to consume quinine to protect themselves from malaria. The Indian soldiers at the time were referred to as sepoys, amongst other ranks. The fact that tonic was invented in India by soldiers made us want to celebrate our Indian soldiers or sipahis or sepoys.
What made you arrive at a decision of getting into the beverages’ business and picking up something entirely new (and risky) as botanical mixers?
I was obsessed with the opportunity that is arising in today’s Indian consumption space. We have a young country wanting to experiment with new products and are proud to be using made in India quality items. I happened to get the chance to investigate a product category in the beverage space that was not existing at the time. This light bulb moment came to me on a flight from Delhi to London when I ordered a gin & tonic. After that, I had numerous conversations with friends and family about why there weren’t natural botanical mixers in India.
The mixer category sits in a unique space between soft drinks and alcohol. To my surprise, no one in both the spaces found the gap in the market interesting. Also, I understood that people were associating tonic water individually rather than clubbing them into a larger category that included the likes of ginger ale, soda water, lemonades, juices, bitters etc. Even my friends working in the largest consulting firms could not help me with research in the mixer category — they either had alcohol or soft drink numbers. The only brand people really associated with the mixer category was Schweppes, which was made with artificial/synthetic ingredients or they had to import international brands at a very high price point.
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You are in an emerging space. What are the challenges and how do you address them? Also, the pandemic must have taken a toll!
Over the past years, a number of startups have emerged in the category and I feel it’s important for consumers to have a choice. Competition keeps me on my toes and drives me in setting the bar higher.
The pandemic definitely took a toll. Our on-trade business became zero. However, the pandemic also opened another avenue for the industry — D2C (Direct to Consumer). We were the first company in the country that had started shipping ‘Carbonated Beverages in Glass Bottles’, throughout India, back in December 2018. And when the pandemic hit in March 2020, we were able to immediately shift all our resources in getting our drinks to our consumers who were placing their orders on our website. We saw this space explode by 200%.
How did you plan the initial operations and scaling up of the business?
It was very clear to me that to get involved in a consumer brand, I had to think through every aspect of our product from a 360-degree perspective. I prioritised what was important, like balance and quality of the drink and the packaging design. I allocated resources there before anything else. It is very important to work with experts in their fields to give your product a chance to survive in the initial stages. We have been successful in ensuring a perfect product-market fit for all our drinks. Now we are focused on our next priority –building a team that will lead our efforts in scaling the business.
What are the upcoming plans and projects this year?
We are delighted that all our drinks have found a place in our consumers’ fridges and bars. We will continue to focus on introducing exciting drinks in the mixer space. Some of which are launching in the 1st quarter of 2021.
All images: Courtesy Sepoy & Co.