In just six years, Bondi man Tom Maclean has gone from unemployed to the owner of a business worth $6.8million – and he credits the whole thing to a tipsy idea after a barbecue.
Mr Maclean had just left his job in finance, and was looking to start a business of his own when he invited friends around for a barbecue.
As the night drew to a close, the 39-year-old laid in bed, dissatisfied with the cider he’d been drinking, wishing he’d been able to drink wine instead.
‘I had a few drinks, as you do, and I guess I was just thinking about how I love wine, but it didn’t really fit that casual backyard Aussie barbecue setting,’ he said.
He thought back to a recent trip to Italy, where the aperitivo – generally a wine or a cocktail enjoyed in the hours between the end of work and the start of dinner time – had been a highlight of the holiday.
Sofi Spritz (pictured) have become a fixture at many Australian festivals including Falls Festival
This was Mr Maclean’s first dalliance with what would soon become Sofi – a premixed, wine-based cocktail company that was going to make him a millionaire.
The next morning he pitched it to his friends at breakfast. They laughed it off, but he was determined to keep going with it.
‘Usually I talk myself out of ideas, why it won’t work… but the more I thought about this the more it made sense,’ he said.
‘I became obsessed with it – tried to call every man and his dog – anyone who knew anything about drinks, wine, whatever.’
This included Simon Gilbert, a renowned Australian winemaker who lives in Mudgee.
‘He thought I was crazy and I said “look, I’m going to get in my car and give you a taste of my prototypes”,’ Mr Maclean said.
‘He tried it and thought this isn’t half bad, and helped formulate the recipes.’
Mr Maclean’s idea struck him in early 2013. By the end of the year, he was selling prototypes of Sofi at the Bondi Farmer’s Market and spruiking the drinks to local bars.
‘At the end of summer, we did a crowdfunding campaign in the form of a presale, and it was a massive success,’ he said.
‘Off the back of that, we landed a trial run at Dan Murphy’s, and then we landed a line at BWS.’
Tom Maclean (pictured) whose drunken business idea has grown to become a near $7million company
Mr Maclean wasn’t done growing his business though, and pursued a spot on Shark Tank, where he managed to get two new investors.
‘It’s really accelerated since then I guess,’ he said.
Now, Sofi sits in 20 per cent of Australia’s bottle shops, and just under five per cent of the nation’s bars.
While Mr Maclean was a finance man by trade, business has always fascinated him.
‘My stepdad was a farmer who then started a supply chain business,’ he said.
‘He was quite an inspirational figure in my life, and he passed away about seven years ago – just before I started Sofi.
‘He inspired me to try and launch a finance business, but I ended up doing a drinks business.’
Mr Maclean is now in the middle of launching a new rose, and crowdfunding through shares to grow his business.
‘We want to get into more airlines, into events… the next big thing [for Sofi] will be export,’ he said.
‘We are looking at going to the UK, China, the US… we’ve already sent some to Vanuatu, Papua New Guinea, and Canada.’
To those looking to start their own business, Mr Maclean has one tip; ‘Start selling early,’ he said.
‘I did the smallest possible production line and took it to the farmer’s market. After that, we changed packaging.’
Mr Maclean said a close connection with his customers – built from early sales and crowdfunding, was key to his success.
‘They become your brand advocates,’ he said.
‘You need that word of mouth because we are up against massive global behemoths, and because you get direct feedback [by having that close relationship].’
Mr Maclean has sold off most of his business, which is now run by him and a close selection of friends and family.
Sofi is now worth $6.8million, and the 39-year-old’s share – roughly 25 per cent – is worth about $1.6million.
‘On paper, I’m a millionaire,’ he joked, ‘but really it just means now I can afford to pay myself a salary.’
Mr Maclean’s business has grown from selling prototypes at Bondi Farmer’s markets tohaving international sales in Vanuatu, Papua New Guinea, and Canada