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dreaming of a debt-free kombucha business…

By Gary Leigh, GO! Kombucha Founder

IT ALL BEGAN soon after the sale of my London home in March 2003 when I handed a £30,000 12-month loan to two friends, who wanted to turn a hobby crafting a weird tea on their Thames houseboat into a UK drink brand. When their ambition – and my cash – burned out within a year, I waded in to sweep up the embers of my life-savings.

The business was signed over to me lock stock and barrel, but I was still working out how on earth to kick start it with scant funds – balanced with unpaid work for the voluntary charitable sector – when, in 2005, my “friends” sold their houseboat for approximately half a million pounds and promptly purchased, and relocated to…a vast chateau in France!

By 2007 – with probiotics still off the media radar, funds drying up and resorting to sleeping on cases of Kombucha in a dank Shoreditch warehouse – I turned to 0% credit cards to keep the tea flowing (folks, do not try this at home!) A year on, a further £20,000 spent and the card rates about to shoot up to 20%, I crawled in thinly-veiled desperation to the bank manager…

An angel in disguise? He looked at my business plan and agreed, albeit hesitantly, to convert my now considerable debt into a ten-year business loan commencing fall 2008, with interest fixed at 5% above base rate – a lifeline compared to what would otherwise have been (near certain financial disaster), and just about manageable within the business’s tight cash flow…

finally, free of all debts and covenants!

A decade on. The UK base rate is still mercifully below 1% and…the final monthly loan installment is about to be paid off! GO! Kombucha as an entity will then be, finally, entirely free of all debt and covenants, self-owned, self-determined, and operating fully within its own resources; an event I won’t be able to feel, process or put into words until that impossible day arrives in November.

Today, most new brands circumvent GO! Kombucha’s haphazard trajectory by setting up companies with several or multiple shareholders jointly responsible for shoring up the business, or with corporate cash. I was forced to take the road least travelled and grew GO! organically by reinvesting every single penny while sofa-surfing close to 40 (so not a good look!)

But it was a route that enabled GO! to remain true to its core principles; brewing 100% authentic, premium Kombucha tea over 15 years with mentoring from the late, great Kombucha guru Alick Bartholemew, thereby honouring the Ancient Chinese legacy to this day; free from shareholder demands to cut corners and adulterate the brewing process to bolster profits.

That GO! Kombucha can stand tall today – a major accident on 19 May 2016 that closed production that summer notwithstanding – is what I consider to be a personal miracle, and great gift. I visualised and dreamt today’s reality into being most days this past decade; in that context each bottle poured and every glass drunk today, I believe, to be heaven sent.

Would I have had it any other way? Absolutely not!

FOOTNOTE: The day after the bank agreed the loan the 2008 global financial crisis hit and new loans to small businesses were promptly withdrawn. Synchronicity is a constant, reassuring companion on my journey, but that brush with disaster was a lightning bolt too close to call!

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