20 QUESTIONS: Mark Roberts, Beer Hawk

The founder of the online store for beer talks about the importance of flexible working for fathers and the relative merits of taste-testing Pringles and selling Tampax.

by Rachel Savage
Last Updated: 12 Jun 2014

1. IF YOU HAD DONE SOMETHING ELSE WHAT WOULD IT HAVE BEEN?

Accepting that I’d never have made it as a tennis pro, I would have definitely started another business based around one of my other passions - sailing, scuba diving and travel.

2. WHAT ELSE WOULD YOU NAME YOUR BUSINESS?

We were thinking of Beer Sherpa or Beer Hunters - I guess a Sherpa makes it easier for climbers to go and scale the Himalayas, but the climber still chooses where to go.

3. IF YOU COULD BE BASED IN ANOTHER CITY WHERE WOULD IT BE?

Vancouver in Canada. It’s got a great mix of outdoor activities, it’s got the ocean and mountains nearby and it’s also got some great companies based there.

4. WHEN YOU STARTED, HOW DID YOU RAISE MONEY?

We funded it with our own savings and remortgaged our house. It doesn’t take a lot of money to start an ecommerce business now, so we built it on a relative shoestring budget. When we’d proven the concept to ourselves we attracted some external capital and started paying ourselves a basic salary, after about nine months of trading.

5. WHAT HAS BEEN YOUR MOST IMPORTANT DECISION SO FAR?

Definitely starting the business. I had a really great job with a high salary, as marketing director of Direct Wines (Laithwaites), and stepping away from that felt like a really huge decision, especially as we were expecting our first baby. Everything else apart from that just feels quite minor

6. WHAT HAS BEEN YOUR BIGGEST MISTAKE?

As we started the business with our own cash, we were really conscious about keeping costs down, so we did everything ourselves - packing boxes, web development, graphic design. It took us a while to get the confidence to hire someone. Since then, every time we’ve hired people we’ve wondered why we didn’t hire them months before.

7. WHAT IDEA DO YOU WISH YOU HAD COME UP WITH?

Paym mobile payments. It puts another nail in the coffin for cash, because you can pay any of your contacts instantly. It makes your life simpler and I’m a massive fan of anything that can do that.

8. HOW DO YOU HANDLE STRESS?

It’s really important to find something, which isn’t work, that you can really enjoy and immerse yourself in for a few hours. For me that’s still tennis. I play two or three times a week and any stress I do have gets taken out on the ball.

9. WHAT WAS YOUR FIRST JOB?

Apart from the mandatory paper round, my first job was working as a sales assistant in a department store selling soft furnishings. I can’t claim I loved bedding and lamps, but I loved chatting to customers and it also paid the bills.

10. WHAT WAS YOUR WORST JOB?

During my first few years working for Proctor & Gamble I was given what they termed a ‘development opportunity’ to work on feminine care. It involved quite literally walking around with a blue dye kit and enthusing about the virtues of Tampax. As a young guy in your early 20s that could get a bit embarrassing.

11. WHAT WAS YOUR BEST JOB?

Assuming I don’t view running Beer Hawk as a job, my best proper job was when I helped manage Pringles’ innovation across western Europe. That involved personally testing every new snack product. I really enjoyed that and got a little podgy at the same time.

12. IF YOU WERE ON THE APPRENTICE WOULD YOUR TEAM BE NAMED?

Team A. As a Yorkshireman, I find all these hyperbolic names absolutely ridiculous. Why don’t we just name one Team A and one Team B and get on with winning the task, instead of spending hours coming up with a name?

13. WHAT COMPANY WOULD YOU INVEST IN RIGHT NOW?

The crowd funding market for businesses trying to raise capital is exploding at the moment. I’ve actually already invested in Crowdcube and Seedrs.

14. APART FROM PROPERTY, WHAT IS THE MOST EXPENSIVE THING YOU’VE BOUGHT?

Before we had a family, we used to travel to the most exotic destinations and interesting places we could afford to go to. Our trip around South East Asia would have probably been the most expensive. Then of course a family comes along and priorities change.

15. SUIT OR JEANS?

Jeans every time - it’s still a novelty for me after years in the corporate world. If I need to look smart it’s jeans and a jacket and on a hot summer’s day I’ve even been known to bust out the shorts in the office.

16. FLEXIBLE WORKING OR OFFICE HOURS?

I’m a big fan of flexible working. I don’t think you can ever fully switch off from your own business and I also value being able to work around the really important bits of home life, such as being able to pick up my son from nursery during the week.

17. WHAT IS YOUR FAVOURITE THING ABOUT THE OFFICE?

Our beer fridge. We are lucky enough to get some samples from some of the world’s best and newest breweries on a daily basis and we won’t list any beer that our buying team doesn’t love.

18. WHAT APP CAN’T YOU LIVE WITHOUT?

Analytics Pro. It’s an app that takes all of our Google Analytics information, so I can instantly get all of the details on the website’s performance, no matter where I am.

19. WHO IS YOUR BUSINESS IDOL?

Having joined P&G as a graduate, I saw first hand the impact that chief executive A. G. Lafley has had on the company. It was him who introduced ‘the consumer is boss’ mantra, and ensured that, whoever you were, you were crystal clear about the role you played in the overall company strategy.

20. IF YOU WERE PRIME MINSTER FOR THE DAY, WHAT WOULD YOU CHANGE?

I’d make financial education compulsory at school and offer free financial management classes for everyone in the country. I’m amazed at how some really intelligent people can make very poor financial decisions due to lack of knowledge.

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