Entrepreneur Series – Interview with James Shillcock

May 29, 2018

This month we interview James Shillcock, founder and CEO of Vivid Drinks.


  1. What’s your background prior to setting up Vivid Matcha?

I studied Economics at Manchester, during that time I was working for Deloitte and I was due to join their graduate scheme. I graduated with a 1st but I decided that I didn’t really want to follow that path so I postponed joining the scheme for a year. In that time, I went and worked for a chap who was the founder of a small tea business and joined him as his first employee. In that role, I was in business development gaining exposure in all areas of the business selling premium teas from all over the world to high end restaurants and hotels. It was in that role that I came across matcha green tea which led to me doing more research into that market. That role really gave me the confidence to go off on my own and pursue launching Vivid Matcha back in 2013.


  1. Where did your inspiration come from to create the Vivid brand?

The brand is all about having a sharp mind and thinking ‘Vivid’. Essentially what we do is create natural products to sharpen your mind and I’m a big believer in the idea that your mind is your most important asset. It doesn’t matter whether you’re Lewis Hamilton or working behind a desk you need a sharp mind and I felt that other brands in the market were missing that.

This is what formed the basis for the brand and there’s a lot of scientific evidence that shows matcha is great for sharpening the mind; it has natural caffeine and an amino acid called ‘L-theanine’ to help boost concentration. Matcha is an ideal ingredient to help busy brains stay sharp.


Young workers seem to be hooked on coffee these days so the matcha brand seems like a great alternative…

That’s what we want to do – provide healthier alternatives to coffee and energy drinks.


  1. What has been the hardest barrier to overcome whilst setting up the company?

When we launched matcha, was completely unheard of in the UK. This meant we had to focus on educating consumers first to explain the benefits of the product and why it is a better alternative for your brain than coffee or energy drinks – this has been tough on small budgets.

The second challenge is that the UK’s retail market is very competitive. All major retailers are reducing the number of products on the shelf so that they can compete with discount retailers like Aldi and Lidl. It’s tough for new brands to break into the retailers in the current climate which is why securing a listing with Tesco or Waitrose like we did last year is such a major achievement.


  1. How did you get your products into such well known retailers such as Tesco, Waitrose and Holland & Barratt?

 We are in over 600 Tesco stores across the UK – the fact that the UK’s largest retailer wants Vivid Matcha on their shelf really shows how far our brand and the category has come.

You have to demonstrate how you can bring in genuinely incremental sales for that retailer rather than adding products that are switching customers from an existing product. Tesco had no powdered tea on their shelves – matcha powder can be used not only for tea but in smoothies, matcha lattes and on porridge etc as it’s very versatile. As a result of this, we have data that shows that 61% of our sales are completely incremental to the tea category and a lot of that has been driven by younger shoppers, particularly health conscious women who are buying our brand so we have been able to drive new customers into the retailers.


  1. What is matcha and why do you think it has become so popular in London?

Matcha is a high-grade green tea leaf from Japan which has been ground down into a very fine powder. It has become so popular because we are riding on the wave of a number of major trends of healthier products. People are being much more adventurous and wanting to try and test out exotic ingredients and we have also seen that coffee shops have been a lot more adventurous in their offerings now for example Starbucks are now advertising matcha lattes which is huge!

The fact that these type of major coffee shops are promoting it means more people are coming into contact with matcha and it grows from there. Instagram helps enormously too! The colour of the green lattes has also boost its profile thanks to people sharing it online. A lot of people who used to be big coffee drinkers are now substituting one or two of their coffees a day for a matcha latte instead giving them a more sustained boost during the day.


  1. Where do you see the business going in the future?

We have developed some really exciting new products that we are launching very soon (keep your eye out 🙂). Our ambition is to carve out a unique space in hot beverages; essentially a hybrid super latte category between tea and coffee culture, tapping into trends like matcha or turmeric lattes. We are introducing a handful of new lines imminently which will really allow us to start challenging the incumbent major players. The hot beverage and particularly tea category is full of stale brands who have turned off younger consumers. Our brand has an opportunity to really shake that up and bring a bit of life into the category!


  1. What time does your alarm go off and how do you prepare yourself for the day?

My alarm going off varies between 5am – 9am but whatever happens, I will always get 8 hours sleep (I love sleep 🙂 ) and the science shows that it is essential. The machismo around working on less sleep is a nonsense and a false economy in the long run.

In the mornings I try to meditate every day and I have a cold shower – it gets your brain in gear!


  1. What advice would you give to young entrepreneurs starting up their own business?

It will take you longer than you expect to build something of value but nothing can get in the way of consistent hard work, perseverance and patience.


Quick Fire:

  1. Favorite holiday destination? – Ibiza – I went twice last year and I’m going again this July.
  2. Life motto? Progress over perfection
  3. What is one of the things you would put on your “bucket” list? I want to own an airline that runs solar-powered, private jets. Our first route is going to be London to Ibiza!
  4. Favorite drink? A cold beer from Forest Road Brewery



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