Five Minutes with the Founder | Rupert Holloway, Head Conkerer (MD), Conker Spirit
Today we spend five minutes with Rupert Holloway, Managing Director at Conker Spirit, Dorset’s first gin distillery and creator of the Conker Cold Brew Coffee Liqueur, who shares his entrepreneurial secrets with us.
“We are Dorset’s first gin distillery, opening our distillery doors in Bournemouth back in April 2015. Today you’ll find a team of 8 Conkerers handcrafting our award-winning spirits in tiny batches, without the shortcuts. We believe in genuine craft, quality-focused, innovative spirits. We are the real deal – the distillers, bottlers and botanical foragers – handpicking gorse flowers from the clifftops of Bournemouth for our bright and refreshing Dorset Dry gin. Conker Cold Brew Coffee liqueur is a dedication to the coffee lover – no imitation, simply Grade 1 forest-grown Speciality coffees from Brazil and Ethiopia.”
WHAT DOES BRITISH LUXURY MEAN TO YOU?
A complete indulgence in quality and design, while curating within the values and heritage of Britain. For me that means taking a design-led approach to everything we do, without the shortcuts, while producing in the heart of our community in Dorset.
WHAT’S YOUR VISION FOR CONKER SPIRIT?
Conker is a team of friends, sharing a passion to build a world-class distillery. We believe in creating meaningful experiences through our spirits and events. Lasting smiles and memories. Building something real we can all believe in, champion and rely on.
WHAT DO YOU CONSIDER YOUR GREATEST ACHIEVEMENT?
Conker was very much a shoe-string start-up – there was no inheritance fund burning a hole in my back pocket. I ploughed on regardless, leaving behind my day job and salary, repeating the mantra ‘there is always money for good ideas’. For my business idea I secured £20k in a government loan and grant, crawling across the start line in April 2015 with 60 hand-filled bottles of our Dorset Dry Gin. Today we are a team of 8 producing over 1,000 bottles a week. I’m very proud of what we’ve achieved and how we got there.
HOW DO YOU DEFINE SUCCESS?
It all started as a means for me to leave my day-job to do something I was passionate about. I found that as Conker grew, so did my ambitions and expectations for the brand – the goalpost of success tend to ever shift like that. So now success is working and thriving in a job I love.
WHAT’S YOUR GREATEST EXTRAVAGANCE?
Last year we bought a little speed boat that me, my wife Emily and our two little girls can sleep on. We figured that spending the night under the stars moored up in a glassy bay off a Dorset beach was worth it! I find great release and comfort from being on the water.
WHAT DO YOU LIKE MOST ABOUT BEING AN ENTREPRENEUR?
For me it’s the creative freedom. Whether that’s literally curating our brand and products, or more simply solving the day to day challenges you face. It was exactly that creativity that was so absent in my previous career. Running your own business is such a satisfying process, I get an immense feeling of pride in what we do.
That’s always a tricky one, partly because entrepreneurs need a very selective memory about the tough times! Certainly, one of the toughest things is being an employer. You start your journey wanting to make gin, and you end up managing a team. But the challenges of that are outweighed by the joy of building a family who are all working towards your goals.
WHAT HAS BEEN YOUR GREATEST REGRET?
Going through school, university and my previous career I was always overly focused on what would look good on a CV or would secure the best salary, rather than focusing what I was truly passionate about. I’ve since learnt that you will be most creative and successful pursuing the things that excite and inspire you. That said, I don’t regret going from a biology degree, to a masters in construction to quantity surveying – its made me who I am and has set me up with the skills to run my own business.
IS THERE ANOTHER BUSINESS OR A FOUNDER THAT PARTICULARLY INSPIRES YOU?
When I was 7 years old I met a ten year old called Jim Cregan who was on holiday in the UK from Dubai. He would go on to launch Jimmy’s Iced Coffee. Watching (from my quantity surveyor’s desk) my best mate launch Jimmy’s and curate a business around his passion was a huge inspiration to me. It meant that once I had landed on my idea, I believed it was all possible.
WHAT IS YOUR GUIDING PRINCIPLE?
Unless we’re treading new ground, to be honest, I’m not going to get that excited. We believe opportunity lies in the gaps between what everyone else is doing – imagining something new into existence, even if that means some trip-ups and dead ends along the way.
WHICH LIVING PERSON DO YOU MOST ADMIRE?
My wife, Emily. She’s my hero.
WHICH WORD OR PHRASE DO YOU OVERUSE?
I seem to say the works ‘essentially’ a lot when I’m trying to explain things. I think this may have something to do with wanting to get straight to the point, without the waffle! That’s it, essentially.
WHAT KEEPS YOU AWAKE AT NIGHT?
If its not written down, it tends to swim around my head. There’s nothing like jotting down a quick list to let the brain settle and sleep descend.
WHAT DO YOU MOST VALUE IN YOUR FRIENDS?
With a couple of kids, a house to put straight and a business to run, time with friends is far too scarce. You know you have a great friend when they make you feel that no time has passed since you last saw them. It’s a reliability and an understanding that life’s busy.
WHAT PIECE OF ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO SOMEONE STARTING UP THEIR OWN BUSINESS NOW?
The single most important factor for me launching Conker was the internet. In fact, Conker simply wouldn’t have happened without it. There has never been a better time for you to do your own thing, learn new skills, follow your passion or launch your own business. If you have an itch to learn something new or do something for yourself, then I’m afraid you’re running out of excuses! A year from now you’ll wish you’d googled it today.
GREATEST LUXURY UNDER £10?
I love a cocktail, and while they all too often trip over he £10 mark, there is nothing quite like an expertly crafted cocktail.