David Galbraith, NEF Fellow 2013, or, as he likes to be known, “SWIG Hip Flask Magnate”, worked at 2 Sisters Food Group as part of the NEF programme. 3 months after finishing NEF, we caught up with him to see how he’s getting on.

David Galbraith SWIG Interview

Tell us a bit about what you’ve been up to since leaving the NEF programme in 2013?

I’ve started up a couple of small businesses since graduating. A service based business (coaching graduates through assessment centres and interviews) and a product based business (SWIG hip flasks).

Recently, I’ve been one to take advantage of open opportunities. I’ve also been fortunate to receive funding from the government StartUp Loan programme and have been lucky to receive a couple of weeks in the PopUp Britain “SWIGadilly Circus” store.

Also, like a pushy parent living vicariously through their poor unknowing child, I’ve been proud to witness SWIG in the hands of the Duke of York and have been lucky enough to chaperone it to the likes of Downing Street and the House of Lords.

I’m currently knocking my pan in to get 400 SWIGs ready for the Spirit of Christmas market from 5th-10th Nov.

While the SWIG project is now just about hitting break even point, I am well aware that I could get to the point I am now with SWIG (from scratch) in about a week. I don’t know if that’s a good or a bad thing.

What was the inspiration behind this? Where did you get the idea?
Imagine my situation. I had just spent 6 months shadowing one of the most amazing self-made entrepreneurs in the UK, going to monthly NEF development workshops. The entire time I was like a big spring becoming ever more tightly wound up. Every time I learned something new from him or from the NEF programme, I became ever more motivated to try it myself.

I became inspired to start a product-based business from seeing the likes of Chris Sheldrick’s ‘Sheldricks of London Sugar’ and Sarah Neely’s ‘Pawsie’. Branding was a big part of my childhood and a product-based business seemed like a cool alternative to the service based that I was already running.

I had a range of product/brand ideas, but the flasks came out on top. One day I had filled an old horrible plastic CocaCola bottle with whiskey to bring to a picnic in the park with friends; it was at that point I questioned myself on why I hadn’t already been persuaded to buy a nice hip flask alternative. I’d never been marketed a hip flask before, so it was a likely gap in the market.

Of course, the easier answer is that I’m Irish so a business in booze was my destiny from the start.

What’s next?
I’ll keep pushing SWIG. I’ve noticed that one of the defining factors of a project’s success is to just keep plugging away. Keep being nice to people, working hard and getting the word out. One day a tipping point will come.

How did your time with NEF help prepare you for what you’re doing now?
Well, 6 months at ‘2 Sisters Food Group’ gave colour and depth to the vision of being king of a billion pound operation.

Also, NEF has shifted the situation from needing to hustle hard for any opportunities (and taking what you get), to having the opportunities readily available and simply needing to pick them selectively.

If you could start your business again from scratch, would you do anything differently, knowing what you know now?
I focused at the start on trying to make gigantic power moves like making deals with distilleries and pitching to major retailers. I barely had a product.

What I really needed was to be building the product from the ground up (going to markets, fairs etc). As soon as I got into the PopUp Shop at Piccadilly, I realised from the other more experienced businesses there that there were 100 smaller steps (which I couldn’t see before) between where I was and where I thought the first step initially was.
(Also, that it isn’t normal to try and climb the steps in the dark).

Some people argue that running your own company at a young age is a step too far – do you think it’s a disadvantage or an advantage to start business at a young age, and why?
I wasn’t aware this was even a debate. An earlier start on anything in life will give you an advantage later on.

You are naive and cheeky when you are young. It’s a lucrative time to make big mistakes that you can easily recover and learn from. The important part is that these lessons need time to mature, and the earlier you learn from something, the more times it will have a chance to pay off.

To become the best in the world requires that you start even before you know it’s what you want to do. Rory McIlroy wouldn’t be world class at his age if his Dad didn’t pre-emptively start him in the sport of golf. Many people have natural skill and passion, but only a few have the extra 5-7 years of practice before they knew they had either. That’s where I was quite lucky… My sister and I used to run all sorts of crazy little creative entrepreneurial projects from the age of 7. I’m glad to say our parents let our creative business minds run free.

What advice would you give to someone starting out on the NEF programme, or indeed any young aspiring entrepreneur?
Everyone loves to hear a ‘silver bullet’ answer for this stuff that solves everything. Well, I’ve got one.

Consciously become a vacuum for the year. Take in as much advice, stories and inspiration as possible. The trick is to let everything slide into your subconscious. Don’t worry about actioning on everything you hear.
What you hear may or may not resonate instantly, or it may or may not come up again 10 years later. The important part is to make sure you’ve heard or experienced it. Steve Job’s talks about connecting the dots, it is a brilliant concept; just remember you need as many dots as possible stored in your subconscious to increase the chance of them connecting some day.

Also, try drinking whisky while in the bath. It’s so SWIG.

Where do you want to be in 10 years?
I know that my future isn’t in money. I think that many people want to be a billionaire from their passion, but to be a billionaire your passion has to be money. Rather I’d like to live vicariously behind a series of well-known brands. I think I’m scared of getting directly famous. If the Daily Mail run a name and shame story, I’d rather it be about the brand than about me.

If I could have a list of 3-4 widely known brands by the time I’m 35, I’d consider my work to be a success.