- Name: Cameron Romeril
- Business name: Soda Press Co.
- Industry: Organic soda mix and kombucha concentrates
- Number of employees: 5; 2020 turnover of $10 million
- Operating since: 2013
- Location: Bondi Beach and Auckland
What was your first paid job?
From the age of about 10, I worked weekends and holidays pressing bales of wool in a wool store.
What made you get into your current business?
Prior to Soda Press, I’d spent 16 years in advertising, having been very fortunate to have worked with a number of brands globally. I guess this facilitated a lens for spotting opportunities within consumer trends. The one I was most passionate about (and probably drove many people mad over the decades) was the ethics and origins of food.
The idea and catalyst for starting Soda Press Co. came at the same time. I’d come to the end of a role and I’d also recently purchased a SodaStream as it ticked the value and sustainability box for me. I soon became frustrated when I couldn’t find soda syrups to pair with my spirits that were natural and true to flavour as I liked them. Despite being an amateur foodie, I’d never made a fruit syrup before, but gave it a crack in my small kitchen apartment about seven years ago and it struck a chord with friends immediately. I started looking deeper into the market opportunity, talking to industry experts, SodaStream users and retailers — the data and potential demand was compelling enough to make the great leap.
How did you get your very first customer/client?
Six months after I started really looking into the market opportunity, I had my first $20,000 worth of orders after launching at Melbourne’s Home and Giving trade fair with a small stand. My goal was to win “best stand”, which was achieved, so it was a really great start to the Soda Press Co. journey. Looking back, the hardest part of the journey was the first four years of the start-up phase with long hours and many bruising learnings along the way, but it was also the most rewarding period.
What has been your biggest triumph in business?
There have been many over the years, which are big in their own right. However, I have found that sometimes the triumphs earlier on, while smaller in comparison, are more game-changing in context for the business. Therefore, winning the People’s Choice and Platinum awards at the international SIP awards in LA a few years ago was up there, but the biggest of all was signing the deal with the perfect partner, SodaStream, which gave us the opportunity to sell the story and product on a global scale.
Conversely, what has been your biggest mistake and what did you learn from it?
I’ve given everything to getting Soda Press to where it is today and that meant 70+ hours a week and a pittance of personal income over seven years. In hindsight, I do think I could have managed that a little better and enjoyed the non-working aspects of life more.
How have you adjusted your business to cushion the blow of the COVID-19 crisis?
We were very much set up for COVID-19 as we are better for you, we deliver value and, most importantly, we are all about convenience, making healthier drinks, how you want, when you want. So, the places we were in have seen a massive spike in sales. However, the pace of our global rollout slowed in many markets due to logistics and system changes. Sadly, not being able to attend key international trade fairs has also been another burden for expansion.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
Don’t sweat the small stuff — sounds pretty simple and cliché, but in the start-up space you have to stay focused on the dream. If you get caught up in the little things, you’ll lose focus and go insane in the process. So, focus on the end goal you set out with.
If you could change one thing to make life easier as a business owner, what would it be and why?
I guess that really all depends what stage you’re at from start-up to late stage scale-up, which is where we are now. For the latter, I’d say more time working on the ideas that will drive the business to the next level. As with most SME business owners, there are many things that we want to stay close to and bring to fruition as they are in our heads, but we also need the space to extract and execute these. As a business grows, you spend less time on the core product or new opportunities and more time fighting fires, dealing with compliance through to process, among many other things.
What do you do to get away from work?
This sounds strange, especially in the current context, but I seriously used to love long-haul travel. It meant I could switch off for 20 hours, no email, no calls, no texts. This has obviously changed more to catching up with mates, watching sport, sailing, time at the beach and some domestic travel. But most of all, I now have a wee fella, Monty, who is 1.5 years old and any time with him is quality time.
What is the best thing you have ever spent money on in your business (and why)?
Hands down, a quality recruitment agency, who helped find me a team of utterly excellent team members in key positions. We are a very senior and specialised team, so this was a game changer.
What is the funniest experience or encounter you have had in business?
There has been a number over the years, but the funniest experience I’ve had is one that always brings us back down to the ground. About two years ago, one of our customers left us four voicemail messages unleashing a barrage of expletives because he’d been to four stores (a message per store) and they’d all sold out of our tonic that he’d been sent to find. You really had to hear it to believe it, but honestly, it made my day to see consumers so passionate about our product.