Reflections on our first year in business
A couple of weeks ago, Woven turned one year old! It was marked a day late with a slack message in our #general feed from Pete - our MD and the man responsible for overseeing our liquids. “Think it was a year since we launched yesterday’... some emojis followed but it was a nice moment to zoom out a little, take stock and reflect on the year that was.
Why are we writing this post?
One of the ‘why’s’ baked into Woven is a desire to share the experience of doing it with as many people as possible. We make no secret of the fact we talked about doing the project for around a decade before actually making it happen - and had it not been for the Pandemic, the limiting beliefs that kept us from starting in earnest might never have been overcome.
In our very first conversation about the sort of company we wanted to create in the world, there emerged a desire to help others believe that it is possible. It doesn’t sound like a big deal - but once you have that mindset - there are plenty of resources that can help you roadmap your way forewards. I’ll never forget the first time I discovered Courier magazine in a South london coffee shop. For those that don’t know courier is a magazine packed full of inspiring new ideas about business and inspiring start up stories. It was marvelling at the stories of others that helped us gradually transition to a ‘this is possible’ mindeset, and from there? … not easy, but possible!
Making it happen
We want whisky to become as vibrant and energetic as the craft beer scene. We want people to see that it totally IS possible to do things so many people told us were impossible for so long. And whilst we’re not going to be publishing a ‘roadmap’ any time soon - our door is open for anyone that wants to talk to us about the journey from behind the bars of the city to having a small whisky business in it. Yes, the industry is totally dominated by mega corporations - but there are gaps you can fall into and there are also people willing to help by lending experience or contacts in the right places. There’s a slowly emerging new wave of Scotch producers that aren’t just adding colour to the industry, they’re going to be essential if Scotch Whisky is to keep pace with emerging styles of whisky from elsewhere. New ideas need to be supported, the category needs to develop. It is happening, just too slowly. We’re not saying it’s going to be easy, but we are saying it is possible - and if we’d had even that level of encouragement we probably wouldn’t have waited 10+ years to finally make it happen.
So, year 1. Report card.
Actually Doing it! Putting something ‘out there’ with a strong purpose has been one of the big positives. Financially rewarding? No. Emotionally challenging? Yes. Deeply satisfying? Like nothing else we have experienced. In hindsight, it feels as though we really needed to do this and even the hard bits feel great because we’re doing it. We’re doing it together, we’re doing the hard work, we’re doing it for us and the category that we love. There’s alot to be happy about in all of that.
We have released 10 Whisky ‘Experiences’; individual blends designed to capture a moment in time, a particular mood or occasion. From Experience N.3’s meditation on the idea of nostalgia in whisky drinking and thinking to the verdant forest walk inspired Experience N.5 to our homage to the Whisky making stories Woven into our neighbourhood of Leith; making these whiskies, getting them to a place where we were happy with them - working out the systems and methods to get liquid into bottles alongside all the other parts of the puzzle required to get it into the hands and mouths of real people all over the UK has been… constantly challenging- but overall we’re delighted to have made it this far.
We’re not creating Woven alone. There are the mentors and friends of friends who have connected us to trusted suppliers or people who might know a thing or two about this or that. There are the bartenders of Edinburgh who took our first releases and sampled them over the bar and told our story to complete strangers, some of whom have become dear friends to the brand. There are the people who have sent us kind little messages of encouragement from within the industry. We started this journey as three friends unsure of the next move - but now Woven is a community of hundreds, ranging from amazing partnerships with the likes of Freytag Anderson and Wheregiantsroam to retailers like Royal Mile Whiskies and Enotria. Not to mention our pals @ Holyrood Distillery who have taken a thousand abstract requests politely seriously. It all matters. Our business philosophy involves choosing the paths that cross over as many people as possible - making as many connections along the way as we can, right around the world, but Woven wouldn't have happened without a whole bunch of talented, kind, generous and lovely people. We are all Woven!
Really - there are no downsides. There is struggle, uncertainty and hard work aplenty - but so far there are zero regrets. Perhaps we are still in honeymoon mode, but the quality of the connections that we’re making through being part of Woven has made every moment 100% worthwhile. And the best thing is, we’re only just getting started.
But if you pinned us down and we had to talk about difficult thing it would be startup culture. We had worked in bigger drinks companies, some of whom were obsessed with channelling startup culture into their own businesses. ‘Work like founders’ they say in a certain big beer-funded incubator we accidentally fell into. There’s a glamorous side to startup culture - the hustle, the free-thinking- the challenger brand mindset. It’s all good vibes. But the truth is that actually doing it is super hard. Feeling like a founder is awesome - getting to work on your baby is the best thing, don’t get us wrong... But as a self-funded startup in a cash-hungry industry, we had to make some tough decisions about who could work on the business full-time, part-time or at all. We’ve had to juggle day jobs, night jobs, side hustles and external projects alongside this project in order to allow us to get it up and running. We’ve no problem working for free on something we love, but there’s been a big does of reality-checking in the last year that has meant at times, that we’ve not been able to be the ‘all in’ founders that we really wanted to be. It’s a fact of life - but we actually feel we’re only putting ourselves in a position now where we can give the project the focus that it deserves. It’s going to make a huge difference to us and the business going forwards.
We are currently busy getting our next releases ready and the good news is that this includes something a little different. Our plans for 2022 see us hopefully taking on our own space in Leith which will allow us to push things a little more from a production standpoint. We’ve just opened some export markets so will be working to make the brand stick in those as well as identify a few more. But we plan on being more regular with our updates so subscribe to The old to be kept up to date with the latest Woven happenings.
Lastly - thanks to you! Our community. Whether you’ve followed the journey from day one, or before - or your brand new into the fold… Woven exists to make connections and so is nothing without those who choose to engage with it. #weareallwoven
Alastair, Pete, Nick, Ed and Duncan