Shifting a start-up into an enterprise: What I wish I knew then, that I do now

Shifting a start-up into a national enterprise: What I wish I knew then that I know now

Jessica Simes
Building, scaling and financing a business is one of the most rewarding and challenging things you might ever attempt in your career.  You need to be prepared for years of perseverance and set-backs, plus have grit and sheer determination in spades, to succeed.

I know, because this is my reality.

I became Managing Director and Co-Owner of Brewtopia – the only producer of personalised beverages in Australia with a full suite of drinks – five years ago.  At this time, we were situated in a tiny construction office working out of a small shed in Western Sydney. It was alive but floundering. The then-CEO set me the challenge to transform the business, so we relocated Brewtopia to Melbourne, my home town, allowing me to closely manage the transformation while raising my 10-month-old. It was a real balancing act.

Like many who lead businesses in the growth phase, I have made tough decisions and worked incredibly hard – especially juggling professional and home life – to make Brewtopia appear like an overnight success. We still have goals to achieve and I would say we are still in our infancy but I put our success so far down to identifying and capitalising on a gap in the market, having a broad scope skillset and building a diversely talented team.

I knew that personalisation was becoming an increasingly popular trend from my discussions with brand owners in the beverage industry. There was a strong desire and appetite for a service that would help Australian businesses with the graphic design, digital printing, label application and packaging, as well as warehousing, logistics, and compliance and licensing requirements. However, the actual execution of a service like this was extremely difficult and clunky with a number of businesses across the process needing to be involved. Seeing this as an opportunity, I set out to create a fully integrated business model which would see Brewtopia extend and transform into an end-to-end solution for clients. My vision was clear from the outset and that ultimately resulted in achieving the desired outcome.

I knew growing a boutique business and effectively creating a new category would need me to be a flexible but firm leader with a broad skillset across all aspects of the business including e-commerce, IT, finance, human resources, sales, digital and traditional marketing, operations and supply chain. These skills and the required diversity allowed me to look at each aspect of the business with context, perspective and understanding. My previous experience in various industry sectors and business lifecycles equipped me with a very strong business acumen and a rich understanding of business operations from the ground up.

I started my career in product marketing with a manufacturing brand so there is a very strong focus on production principles such as lean manufacturing, raw material sourcing, supply chain, cost structure and pricing strategy. In my first years of my career I was fortunate to be thrown in the deep end and in my early 20’s I was running a small division, which also gave me P&L and people management experience.

From here to KPMG I had a totally different focus but the learning was equally valuable in managing complex environments, so at every turn in my career I have built this incredible tool kit of knowledge which gave me the foundations needed to effectively run a start-up business, where management, structure and process is absolutely important.   Some might say that this inhibits creativity in a start-up but I would argue it avoids chaos.

l had a very clear strategy and vision for Brewtopia and it all began with a talented and trustworthy team. I had the fortunate opportunity to hire my entire team when I started. If you can put the right people with the right culture together all working towards a unified goal, magic happens and everything else will fall into place. And that is exactly what happened with Brewtopia.

I had a holistic approach to hiring my team. It was critical for me to not recruit simply based on skills, but to hire the right person with great aptitude and attitude. You could teach them the rest. Two of the key staff I hired were turning 60 at the time. They have provided an enormous wealth of knowledge and calm for the entire staff, particularly important when embarking on such an intense transformation plan.

Transparency is key. Taking your team on the journey with you is incredibly important.  There is absolutely nothing the team do not know about the business. When issues arise, we always get together as a group and brainstorm ideas off each other. If you have a brilliant team, why not use them? Lean in and listen intently. Your team will share diverse thinking and approaches.

That same core team is still with me today continuing on the journey.

Brewtopia now has an extensive client base across Australia including many household names such as Stan, Smeg and Boating Camping Fishing (BCF). We operate a multi-channel sales network across B2C online retail and B2B wholesale and corporate direct.

For those embarking on a journey similar to mine, my biggest advice would be to set out a clear, unwavering vision, surround yourself with a unified team with a strong cultural fit and complementary skills. And most importantly, prepare yourself and accept that it won’t be easy but it will be worth it.







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