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How NICE Founder Lucy Busk Has Raised 1.1 Million And Counting In Crowdfunding

This Co-Founder is paving the way for industry-disrupting ambition, sharing her entrepreneurial story and her push to get more women into the world of investment

By Hannah Connolly

4 April 2023
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ucy Busk got her entrepreneurial start alongside her brother, selling safety pin bracelets, together they made £2.5k – she was just 11 years old. This was the start of her business journey, but today, Lucy is working in the future.

The future of wine, that is, as the Co-Founder of NICE Drinks, Lucy has introduced an industry disrupting brand that has changed the way we consume and experience wine. “We call ourselves a future wine company and we have got a really clear mission to change the way the world wines. We want to make wine less intimidating, more approachable and reinvent an industry that is a bit obsessed with the past.”

Driven by a mission to challenge the status quo, to reshape the meaning of work-place culture and to bring more women into investment, NICE drinks is currently crowdfunding and has so far, in much the same way NICE has defied the expectations of the wine business, has more than doubled the typical male to female split in crowdfunding participation which so fair has raised £1.1million.

Here, we caught up with the Founder to talk about the crowdfunding journey, the future of NICE and how you can be involved…

Can you tell us about yourself and where your entrepreneurial began? I am Lucy, I am 34, and I live in West London with my husband and my two dogs, a miniature dachshund and a spaniel. I am actually having a baby in about 14 days time, my first child so scary and exciting at the same time.

My entrepreneurial journey actually began when I was 11 years old and I often forget this. It was putting lots of little beads onto safety pins and making them into these quite amazing chunky bracelets and I actually set up a business with my brother doing that. We made two and a half thousands pounds selling them which is a lot of money but especially when you are 11 years old it is really a lot of money. I was obsessed by it - so that is where it started. I grew up with an entrepreneurial father who had a number of different businesses so I guess it was always in my blood.

So, did you always want to start my own business? I’ll be honest when I was younger, I was much more interested in having friends at school, boys, playing sports… I only started thinking about my life and career when I was at university and leaving university. I can’t honestly remember if I thought about starting my own business, I was very lucky that I stumbled into it after leaving university.

I was going to pursue a career in interior design and I was catching up with a school friend after the summer and she was writing a business plan for an on-the-go breakfast idea and as soon as she started talking about it I got that really excited feeling inside. I asked her if I could join and before we knew it we were beginning to build a brand and raise money and launch a business. So, the first business I launched was a brand called Cuckoo. We made on-the-go chilled healthy breakfast pots which we ended up getting stocked in the likes of Waitrose, Tescos, Ocado and I ran that business for four years before selling it. That was the start of me running my own businesses and I can’t ever imagine now doing anything else.

What was the catalyst behind NICE? After I had sold my first business Cuckoo I had a consulting business for a couple of years just on my own. Helping small to medium sized food and drinks businesses understand how to run their businesses, how to sell their products, to win distribution in Tesco as an example. I had a great time doing it but I never saw myself as a career consultant, and about a year into consulting I met Jeremy, my now business partner, and co-founder at NICE. He was leaving Propercorn after building their international business and we were catching up and actually I had only met him three times but on the third time of meeting I said look I don’t want to be a consultant forever, would you like to set up a business together? And he said yep, let’s keep our ear to the ground.

We both knew it would always and only ever be a food and drinks business because that is what we knew and that is what we loved. We decided to go to America and see what was going on over there with the food trends but we didn't get that far because a week later I was mindlessly scrolling through instagram as us millennials do, and I spotted a wine in a can. As soon as I saw it I just became obsessed. I had never seen or heard of wine in a can before and I had traced that brand back to America and then I quickly discovered that there were so many brands in America selling canned wine. What I loved was that as a consumer I could really imagine myself drinking canned wine; at a festival, on the train, all of those moments where a bottle of wine is really inconvenient. I only needed to look at what had happened with craft beer and gin to see that consumers were really receptive to drinking out of cans.

I also then started to delve into the wine industry in the UK a bit further and what I realsied was it’s pretty stuffy, pretty old school and pretty male dominated. It hasn't really changed in forever except for the screw cap so I saw an opportunity to shake up and disrupt that category and that was the Eureka moment behind NICE.

Can you tell us more about NICE and the ethos? We call ourselves a future wine company and we have got a really clear mission to change the way the world wines. We want to make wine less intimidating, more approachable and reinvent an industry that is a bit obsessed with the past. We work with family run vineyards in France and Argentina to produce unpretentious wine and then use packaging formats that are best suited to consumers' day-to-day lives for all occasions.

We have a range of cans which you can drink on the train, in the park or when you just want one. We have boxed wines, because, yes, good quality wine in a box is now a thing, and we also have wine on tap so you can order a brand of wine that you have heard of at your local pub.

We started with cans, we are the fastest growing canned wine brand in the UK, we sell one can of wine every five seconds. Our customers include Sainsburys, Ocado, were the only wine onboard Virgin Atlantic flights in Economy and Premium Economy, we supply stadia, we did 180 festivals and we have bigger ambitions this year we supply cinemas, theaters, quick serve restaurants – we have a really wide variety of customers.

Wine can really have a stuffy, even intimidating reputation. How is NICE disrupting that? I fully agree, the wine industry is a little intimidating, I have been handed a wine menu in restaurants and I have no clue what anything means. I just panic and pick the grape variety or the region that I know – I have no idea if I am going to like that wine.

It is actually so crazy that we live in a world where everything is so simple – you can order your groceries on your Alexa but the wine industry is still this un-understandable, intimidating world. If you asked the average consumer, they don’t have a clue about wine.

So, one of the big things about NICE is to make wine less intimidating. We try to do that in a number of different ways. First of all, we just don’t use wine language that people won’t understand – so we don’t use language like structure and body and legs to describe our wine because really no one other than a wine critic knows what that stuff means. We keep it simple, we keep the descriptors simple so anyone can understand what that wine will taste like.

We also don't do things we consider quite old school or quite un-consumer friendly like pairing wine with food because who actually really does that, instead we pair wine with great moments. We have created a brand that we hope and we think looks really fun and we behave in a really youthful and energetic way in order to be less intimidating.

Thirdly we are really focused on brand building and bringing out really creative forms of marketing in order to bring new consumers into our brand and into wine. We also are a female-first business, we are female-founded and we are 45% female owned and 80% of our business is women. The wine industry is probably around 90% male dominated– which is just an issue because often it means there's one very masculine way of thinking, bringing in that female energy and that female way of thinking and new ideas for wine.

What is your proudest achievement on the NICE journey so far? This is really easy to answer, it is definitely around the team that we have built. It is amazing really thinking about Jeremy and I, almost four years-ago this month, giving up our consulting business and starting our first full day at NICE and it was just us at the office. Then we were hit by the shit show that was Covid and it was still just us ringing each other everyday… Now fast forward we have got an incredible team of thirteen people.

We have a combination of real juniors – this is a lot of people's first jobs, so that is really existing because you can shape and mold them into the great salespeople you want them to be. Then we have got senior leaders in the business who have 18 years expereince in massive businesses like Heinken and Redbull. It is just so wonderful to build the company culture. It is one of the biggest privileges of being a founder, you can get to set the culture.

At NICE we live by these six guiding values and mantras and these have all come from Jeremy and mine’s heart and head and setting those rules. Seeing the team react well to those rules and just seeing the team gel together and grow and achieve and develop is definitely the thing I love.

We are very lucky at NICE that we have built a culture where everyone wants to be in the office, no one wants to work from home everyone is great friends everyone wants to go for drinks after work – we are this big family unit working towards this end goal – that is 100% the thing I am proudest of achieving.

What was the intention of the crowdfunding round and what comes next?

NICE is now at the final stages of the Crowdfunding campaign, we have 4 days left. We are currently in the overfunding stage. We set out to raise £750,000 and I think at this moment in time we have raised £1.1million. We have brought onboard over 200 investors.

What we are really proud of and excited about is that 48% of those investors are female – one of our biggest ambitions with crowdfunding, other than to raise capital, was to bring more women into investing. Only 14% of angel investors in the UK are women and there is a massive gender investment gap. So a lot of the dialogue around our raise was giving women the confidence to start investing and we are really pleased with our statistics because the usual split on Seeders – which is the platform we are raising on, is it is normally about 80% male to 20% female – so the fact we are at 48% is great.

The crowdfunding came about because we of course wanted to raise money, but as I said we wanted to get more women investing into NICE. But for Jeremy and I, over the last four years we have always spoken about a crowdfunding element and it was just the right time. I think for us we really love that it democratises investing, you can put in as little as £55 which is a dinner out in London and then own a piece of the pie. We love the fact that essentially anyone can do it and it creates this incredible team – we now have essentially 200 brand ambassadors out there in sainsburys telling their friends to buy that one, I have invested in that.

What we are hoping to see when we close is, we are hoping that that 48% female split doesn’t go lower, we hope it goes higher and what we will be doing with the money once we have it, is we will be really investing into main growth areas.

Join NICE today on the crowdfunding journey...

"As a future wine company, NICE exists to make wine less intimidating and more approachable. We put consumers and occasion at the heart of everything we do, and we have fun doing it.

Angel investors which include Grace Beverley (Founder of TALA & Shreddy), Cassandra Stavrou MBE & Ryan Kohn (co-founders of PROPER), Jasper Cuppaidge (Founder of Camden Town Brewery), Shilen Patel (Co-founder of Distill Ventures), Simon Champion (CEO Boxpark), Steven Higginson (Former CEO Compleat Food Group).

We’re a female forward business; female founded, 80% female team, 40% female owned and we are on a mission to encourage more female investors to get involved with NICE.

JOIN THE JOURNEY HERE. Note, the Funding round closes in three days so register your intrest now.

Where do you want to see NICE in 10 years? So in 10 years time, I very much hope that NICE has become a household name. I'd love for NICE to be used in sort of, I don't know Harvard Business School examples as a brand that was really pioneering in changing an industry that would be incredible.

In terms of mine and Jeremy's involvement, we've always been really clear, I sort of hate the word serial entrepreneur, I sort of even hate the word entrepreneur. But I think we probably both are serial entrepreneurs. We've got lots of different ideas and lots of different things we want to do.

We've always been really open from day one about what we want for this business. We want NICE to change the way the World wines, we want NICE to still be here in 10,20,30 years time. And we probably always want to have some kind of involvement in it, But we don't see ourselves running this company full time for the next 20 years. We very much see ourselves, partnering with someone to take NICE to the next level. We hope for that to happen in the next few years, and for us to be very involved in that process. Then always have a role in a position at NICE, but not a full time position. We want to take the business to a certain level, and then hand it over to the next stakeholder to take it to that next level.

What is your personal mission or driving force? Lots of different things, but just to pick out a few. The first is definitely around disruption, which I do feel is a slightly overused word now, but I am very driven by disruption and doing things differently. When I first came up with the idea for NICE, I just couldn't believe it didn't already exist, and that people were still on a train or in a park with a bottle of wine, a corkscrew and a plastic cup. I am someone that has always thought quite differently and done things quite differently. That is shown in all parts of my life from what I wear, to how I decorate my house, to how I think

The second for me is learning and being challenged. So one of the reasons I stopped the consulting business was because I got it to a point where I wasn't being challenged and I wasn't learning any more. I was teaching the same stuff over and over again. Personally, I love being challenged. I absolutely love being out of my comfort zone and I love learning – I'm a very curious person.

The third is training, mentoring, seeing people grow. I've been so lucky in my career that I've had so much help from other incredible entrepreneurs and I now really try as best I can to really give back and help others. Within my team specifically I'm very driven by seeing someone join and knowing nothing, then getting them to a point where they're out, you know smashing their sales targets and completely owning their work.

The Short Stack

This Co-Founder is paving the way for industry-disrupting ambition, sharing her entrepreneurial story and her push to get more women into the world of investment.

By Hannah Connolly

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