The start-up ecosystem has witnessed several changes — from making the field inclusive to encouraging women to lead the change. We interviewed some inspiring startup founders about their business journey, success and what they learned along the way.
Erika Doyle, Founder of Drink Dry Store – the first premium non-alcoholic drinks marketplace in the Middle East tells us about bringing a zero-alcohol revolution through her start-up.
How did the idea of Drink Dry come up? Tell us all about your success journey in building your startup so far?
I am a non-drinker, so it was a personal choice of mine to introduce and build the premium alcohol-free drinks category for adults in this region. I started Drink Dry in February 2020, just as the global pandemic was about to cripple some of the world’s biggest economies. The fear of failure was overwhelming at times, however I am a firm believer in facing your fears head on and turning them into opportunities. So instead of racing to get going, we took time to make sure we laid really solid foundations to our business. We were the first company that were bringing in non alcoholic products into the market that looked and tasted like their alcoholic counterparts and so we had to work very closely with local authorities to make sure our products were compliant for all sales channels – retail, hospitality, exports and not just eCommerce as initially intended.
This in return was the single biggest USP of Drink Dry and what has put us on the map as the go-to wholesaler and expert in all things non alcoholic. We were the first movers in this space and it made most sense to do it by reaching the end consumer directly and setting up an online store was the most obvious way forward. Since our first month of trading in January 2021 to December 2021, Drink Dry saw their monthly sales grow by 2000%. In month three of trading, we entered the retail space, working with Choithrams in March 2021. Following on from this, Drink Dry had their first export order in August into Kuwait and then entered the ‘quick commerce’ business with Talabat in December 2021, showing a clear demand for Drink Dry’s product offering across numerous channels.
What are the offerings from your brand? How do you distinguish yourself from the rest of the market?
Drink Dry is the first and only premium non alcoholic drinks marketplace in the Middle East. We have products in our range between wines, aperitifs, spirits, beers, mixers and tonics, things that offers the consumer the full experience of celebrating and enjoying a drink without it being alcoholic. Our products don’t taste like a lot of low quality soft drinks in the market that pretend to offer alternative drinks for non drinking adults. Our drinks are sophisticated, craft and exclusive to Drink Dry. We have a wide range of exclusive brands from different parts of the world. It is all about discovering the new ways of drinking, it is about drinking better. Our biggest market is the UAE where we have direct-to-consumer reach via our e-store as well as a presence in retail and the hospitality sector in well-known supermarkets like Choithrams and spinners. We also tend to do our own distribution and work directly with our B2B clients.
What is the potential market size for the non-alcoholic beverage market in the region?
It is hard to give specific numbers but the recent stats announced by Lyre’s suggest that there is a potential of 100,000 cases a year of alcohol-free spirits alone totaling $20m. I think there is a lot of education to be done to achieve these numbers, but the signs to reach there definitely look promising. The fastest growing sub-categories for us are definitely non-alcoholic beers and spirits. We launched our non-alcoholic spirit brand Sea Arch in December in the UAE.
As we look ahead to a new year, what are your future plans and vision for your brand’s growth and expansion?
We are launching Drink Dry Store in Kuwait this year as well as Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. We want to introduce the adults non alcoholic drinks category to the wider GCC audience. We want Drink Dry to be associated with quality premium drinks that cannot be found anywhere else. We want to create communities of like minded curious adventurers wherever we go and break the taboos.
With March being the Women’s day month, how women entrepreneurs like you are making their mark in the startup ecosystem.
There are some truly phenomenal females out there who are making a mark in their respective industries, such as Emma Banks from Hilton Hotels and Halima Jumani from Kibsons, which in return inspires other women to enter the world of business. Running a start up in many respects is so much harder because you have to be able to do every job within the company at the early stages while trying to scale it so you can bring right talent on board to help you grow as a business. But with every success story, I am sure that more women get inspired to take that leap of faith and go after their dream.
The startup ecosystem has been dominated by male entrepreneurs for the longest time and it was a rare sight to have females as part of the founding team. How essential is it to encourage women more often to enter the male-dominated sectors like businesses?
It is crucial, we don’t have the option not to encourage. Today a vast majority of C level executives in big corporate companies as well as small start up businesses are men, and that’s simply a fact. Just the other day I was in a Board room with five other people, all of which were men, I was a single female. Drink Dry operates in F&B and digital eCommerce space, these two industries notoriously lack women representation so unless we invest now in educating our younger generation and making young women believe the saying ‘you can be whoever you want to be’ so deeply that it becomes their ‘mantra’, the world of business will forever be dominated by men.
Do you think if more women enter into businesses, the more value influence is created in the community? Is the ecosystem evolving, the mindsets are changing?
There is a common misconception that if you want to fit in to this ‘male dominated’ business world, you have to act like a man. This is a big mistake and is exactly what discourages other women, because some of them might be simply exhausted from childcare or running a household and might think that they don’t have anything to offer in the world of business. That is so untrue. I am a mother of three small kids and that is the single most important role I have, I am a wife, I am a friend and I also run my own business. If my kids are sick and I have a dreadful night sleep, I speak openly about the fact that I am tired the next day. If I am having a really busy time in the office and miss many bedtimes at home, I also speak about the mum guilt. This is the reality, we don’t have to pretend to be one or the other, we can be mothers, wives and successful business owners. Only by being open about the challenges along the way, will we encourage more women to come into the world of business.
Is entrepreneurship an innate quality in women as they build a home and that is nothing short of being an entrepreneur?
Women are simply miracle makers! We have a natural ability to multitask which is the single biggest skill required when running a start up. I was very fortunate to grow up surrounded by strong women in my family – my mother had two jobs, looked after two kids and ran the whole household like clockwork. She is a ‘no nonsense’ kind of women, she can be mopping the floor one minute, having a high level call the next while wearing a red lipstick throughout the two. The more roles we play and accept it as a way of life, the better role models we are to younger generations. My three girls see me as fun mummy at home who does crazy things like throwing midnight pizza parties as well as a serious business women who stands up for what she believes in and works hard to have a successful business.
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