Actor Chris Hemsworth, renowned for his role as Thor, the God of Thunder in the Avengers franchise, is instantly recognisable for his bulging biceps and ripped physique. And that’s thanks to trainer to the stars Luke Zocchi.
Yet Mr Zocchi is also an entrepreneur at heart.
He unveiled his business, Sipp Instant, during a pitch as part of growth accelerator SparkLabs’ Cultiv8 Demo Day in Sydney, which he said is aimed at making coffee more accessible and affordable, as well as more sustainable than plastic coffee pods.
Developed with co-founder Dylan Garft, Sipp Instant produces probiotics-infused instant coffee, with satchets made from “100 per cent home compostable packaging”.
“We’ve been trading for about 18 months, but I reckon the process to get it to that, we probably worked in it for about a year prior to that,” Mr Zocchi told My Business.
The idea came about as a result of his travels around the world with Chris Hemsworth over the last five years, as he flew to various locations for filming, and the large sums of money he was shelling out for his caffeine fix.
“I’m always in London or... basically everywhere [but home],” he said.
“So, it kind of came about, the idea of having a good coffee that you could take with you and travel with.”
Joint ideas, passions
However, both he and Mr Garft have infused their own passions and ideas into the end product.
“I had the whole idea of the creamer and having the health side of things, but his big impact was the whole sustainable side — he is really passionate about that,” explained Mr Zocchi.
“He really introduced me a lot more to that side of things. It’s funny now because we’ve kind of swapped roles: he’s right into fitness now and he’s training, and I’m more passionate about the environment now.”
But why did he get involved with starting up a new business on top of his existing work commitments, My Business asked Mr Zocchi.
“It was just a little side project that we started and it just grew,” he replied.
“I was super busy... I was training Chris as we’re travelling, and I’ve got my online [fitness] business, and this was a side project that just kind of took off.”
Being part of an accelerator
Mr Zocchi admitted that growing a start-up through a growth accelerator like SparkLabs' Cultiv8 program has been “a massive learning curve”.
“I don’t think I realised what we were getting ourselves into,” he said.
“I still remember when we first started, and we were trying all the different flavours... we’ve just learnt and progressed as time has gone on.”
According to Mr Zocchi, the accelerator program has meant regular contact with mentors and advisers, providing plenty of guidance and answers to questions as and when they arise along the way.
Pitching for investment
For many start-ups that go through an accelerator program, the time comes to pitch to investors for funds to bring their product to life or, as in Sipp Instant’s case, give the fledgling business added scale.
So, what is it like to pitch your business to a room filled with hundreds of investors, industry representatives and gathered media?
“I don’t like public speaking,” Mr Zocchi said.
“I’m good to talk to people, but I was dreading [it]. I’m so glad it’s over. I never want to do that again!”
[For the record, these nerves weren’t evident to most people in the room, including My Business, with Mr Zocchi’s presentation flowing very smoothly, and no sign of the head cold he had been struggling to overcome.]
The business has also opted for sustainable packaging of its coffee blends, despite such alternatives to plastic being relatively new to market for human-grade food products.
Mr Zocchi admitted that the costs of doing so are “a lot” higher than regular options, and are a cost they have absorbed into the business rather than passing on to customers.
“I think a normal packet was roughly a couple of cents [each], and when we first started, we were almost near a dollar,” he said.
But doing so was both for personal and branding reasons.
“The marketing pitch we got out of telling our story, and what we’re about, we just committed to it and I think it’s obviously worked for us. But it is a lot more expensive.”
Other businesses looking at more sustainable packaging options, Mr Zocchi suggested, should look to work openly and closely with the supplier around cost.
They stumbled across their UK-based supplier through a personal connection, he said, which hadn’t previously dealt with such a small business.
“They kind of helped us a bit as well and backed us because they really liked our branding.”
But in the end, Sipp Instant had to “bite the bullet” and buying a full-size roll in order to maintain healthy margins.
“It was a bit nerve-wracking at the start, because as a start-up, every little dollar counts,” he said.
Of course, most start-ups don’t have close working relationships with high-profile people like the Hemsworth brothers, Mark Ruffalo and Cate Blanchett. So, how has Sipp Instant really tried to leverage these connections?
“It’s definitely made things easier — it’s definitely been a big advantage to us,” Mr Zocchi said.
“It just opens doors.”
But he admits that celebrities have to be careful about any public association with a brand or product, so as not to devalue their own “brand”.
“I think the reason those boys [the Hemsworth brothers] have helped is because they actually like the product,” he said.
“I think if they didn’t genuinely like the product, regardless if I was friends with them or not, I don’t think they would really push it.”
And for those Hemsworth fans out there, what is it like to work so closely with one of Hollywood’s leading men?
“There are so many [stories],” Mr Zocchi said, laughing.
But it’s a funny story while they were in Japan that came front of mind.
“We were in Japan, and Leonardo DiCaprio and his whole entourage came walking past me and Chris. And I watched Chris put his hand up to give him a wave... and DiCaprio was barrelling through the lobby with about 12 people and he just ignored Chris and walked straight past him.
“I looked at [Chris] like, ‘Oh, that was so awkward’, and he just stood there, like he didn’t know what to do.”
Mr Zocchi added: “They’ve made it up now. Chris has chatted to him at one of the awards... but I still remember the day that DiCaprio brushed us off!”