‘Don’t be afraid, just start’

Date: 29th February 2012

JUSTINE Troy wants to challenge the thinking of New Zealanders who say it can’t be done.

As the co-founder of the trail-blazing and international-award-winning New Zealand distilled-vodka brand 42 Below, she and her husband Geoff Ross have shown how it can be done by doing it.

“And if two kids from Papakura can do it, you can too,” she told the audience of around 200 at last night’s Chamber of Commerce Innovation and Inspiration speaker series.

From hand-written notes and test trials in a Wellington garage the company offered shares in a public float in 2003 and listed on the NZX before it even turned a profit.

Three years later, with the help of one of their first investors Grant Baker, their vodka-journey ended with a $138 million sale of the business to Bacardi. But it was the closed doors and negativity encountered along the way that spawned the title of her book, “Every Bastard Says No”.

“I wrote the book because I didn’t want to be the person who pocketed the cash and then walked off.”

As a mother raising two young boys, she wanted to report what had happened.

She warned there would be “language” and naughty stories.

It came with the territory.

Anyone who remembers any of the 42 Below advertisements knows they were out to get noticed. They talked to the gay community before others did. One of their adverts for their vodka carried the tag line, “Drink it straight….or gay.”

It worked and they snagged the lucrative “pink dollar” market.

And while there might have been the odd hiccup, legal wrangle and apology letter along the way — it all conjured up some great PR.

“It is very difficult to put your hand up in this country and say, ‘I can do this’. Can you imagine standing in a garage in Wellington and saying, “Yeah, I’m going to go global with this?”

New Zealand had a pathological resistance to success, she said.

“The problem producing culture is extremely disturbing here.”

But with some great ideas, good old-fashioned work ethic, tenacity and faith they had showed more than a few people.

42 below will go down in NZ history as an example of what a small start-up company can achieve.

For Ms Troy there is no excuse for not being the best possible person or company you can be in the field that you are good at.

New Zealand had taken its humbleness and humility too far, she said.

“NZ has become over-humble and it has to stop. If you fail in America, then you’re better next time. They’ll say, ‘That’s great, you’ve had a failure. What did you learn and what are you going to do next?’ Don’t be afraid of someone who hasn’t done so well. Create solutions, not problems.”

With broadband and the internet, geographical isolation was no longer a valid excuse either.

42 Below might have pioneered a new way of marketing and raising capital in NZ but it was a hard journey.

“Business is all about challenges — it’s tough — and the faster the growth the more problems.”

Even the NZ Government told them no.

But they travelled overseas, lived in crappy apartments, hired hot guys to go to promotional parties and always maintained their belief in their product, old-fashioned manners and honesty. Her advice for those at the beginning is, “Just start”.

“Know you and your businesses story.

“Keep it simple and know it well because you have to be able to articulate it.”

Word of mouth still remains some of the best advertising.

Their new brand Ecoya, which sells luxury bath and body care products, is a success story already.

Their new Moa beer is now the biggest exporter of beer in to the US out of New Zealand in whole foods. But even that came with its challenges — a legal letter from France stamped, and very official, threatened serious action if they didn’t stop comparing the beer to champagne.

What did they do? A post card was sent back to the French lawyers. On the front, in artistic sepia tones, was a picture of the RAINBOW WARRIOR sinking.

On the back, a hand-written Maori phrase. Translated, it said “. . . . Off”.

They haven’t heard back.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012 • Sophie Rishworth Gisbourne Herald

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