A career in arts journalism meant Amanda Thomson had her fair share of overly sweet champagne, a problem she’s solving with Skinny Champagne and Skinny Prosecco.
Tell us about your business, what does it do?
Thomson & Scott produces high quality Champagne and Prosecco with other sparkling wines joining our portfolio in the coming months. They are branded Skinny Champagne and Skinny Prosecco. Our USP is that our products are as natural as possible and developed without the harmful chemicals and invasive processes so commonly found in the wine industry. Thomson & Scott Skinny Champagne Grand Cru is ‘zero dosage,' cutting unnecessary sugar from the production process. Thomson & Scott Skinny Prosecco contains 7g of sugar per litre compared to 12/15g of sugar added to traditional Prosecco. It's also certified vegan and organic.
What did you do before you started this business?
I was an arts journalist and broadcaster with the BBC. It was a fast-paced life with lots of travel and a diet of canapes and over-sweet champagne.
What inspired you to start up?
I loved my career as a journalist, but at the back of my mind always knew I wanted to run my own business and combine it with my interest in fitness and wine. Those two might not look as though they naturally go together, but as a vegetarian who loves food and a party girl who thinks nothing of getting up early for a spin class, my take on life is to enjoy the best of what you love. Once I had discovered that the quality of a lot of sparkling wine wasn’t great and much of it was packed with extra processed sugar I knew that I could create something better. I moved with my young family to Paris, enrolled in a Wine Diploma at Le Cordon Bleu, studied hard and one night met a producer of fabulous zero dosage champagne. That is where Thomson & Scott Skinny Champagne and Skinny Prosecco truly began.
How would you describe your business to a novice?
It’s pretty simple: we produce sparkling wines of the best quality that contain as few chemicals and sugar as possible. They taste great – if they didn’t no one would return for a second bottle – and deliver what we call ‘healthy hedonism’, a way of enjoying your wine while knowing exactly what is in it. There is no legal requirement to list the ingredients in alcoholic drinks in the UK, and I’m on a mission to change this.
Where do you get advice, support or help?
I call on a number of people depending on what the specific issue is... I'm lucky enough now to have a super smart group of "phone-a-friend"s amongst whom there's almost always an expert to help with the problem in hand.
My key confidante is Patrik Franzen at Barworks. He's a long-term friend who has been through the entrepreneurial journey more than once himself so is always prepared to listen to my trials and tribulations!
Others I call on include fabulous tech guru Jacqueline de Rojas and I'm really looking forward to learning from EY partner Joanna Santion who is my mentor in their Entrepreneur Programme.
Finance is one of the most common barriers to starting up. How did you access the finance you needed?
As a journalist, I wanted to scope out the landscape and completely understand it before I did my first raise. Ultimately, I always have my end in sight, which is an IPO. So, this informs decisions I make now at early stage. I believe it's a bit of a numbers game - the more people you're in front of the more you recognise what will work on both sides.
I soon realised early on that there was a lot of macho bluff in the London finance world and once I had the confidence to stand my ground, the plan came together.
What has been your biggest achievement so far?
Holding that first bottle of branded Thomson & Scott Skinny Champagne Grand Cru was a pretty heady experience. I’d been told by so many industry traditionalists that what I was doing couldn’t be done, and had to work really hard to raise the finance, that there were times when I thought it might never happen. And when Thomson & Scott Skinny Prosecco sold out three times in its first week at Selfridges, that’s when I knew we were on to something.
How do you differentiate your business from others?
We are really open. The wine industry is notoriously secretive and can be very elitist, and we want to lift the lid on everything from production methods (not all are vegan) to ingredients (many are surprised when they discover their champagne contains up to 50g of sugar per litre). We list the calorie content, along with other ingredients and the alcohol content. We champion an informed lifestyle based on knowing what you are drinking, and work closely with lifestyle and fitness brands.
What’s it like to be your own boss?
It’s everything I thought it would be, but way more relentless and challenging! that said, I love the adrenaline and it's true when people say entrepreneurs are a little crazy. I now think it's a prerequsiste. It's certainly not for the faint hearted or sensitive. Managing employees in a fast-growth start-up can be really tough, and constantly making key decisions based on the big picture means confidence is key. I honestly had no idea quote how all encompassing it would be - someone asked me yesterday what I did with my downtime and I was stumped. Because there isn't any.
Where do you see your business in 5 years’ time?
We’re already going global and I’d love to be in all the world’s major markets. Countries like Australia and regions like California are a natural fit for us because their populations are already interested in nutrition, fitness and wellbeing. We are spending a lot of time asking for transparency in wine labelling, and hope that soon everyone will be questioning what’s in their drink and asking for a Thomson & Scott Skinny version of it.
What advice would you give to aspiring entrepreneurs?
Surround yourself with positive people, don’t lose track of your vision, and prepare to work your damn socks off. Be honest about what you are good at, and never be afraid to ask for help. I have some amazing mentors who are powerful people, and I approached them direct with a straightforward, “I really admire what you do, can you help me?”
Why did you enter the BQ Emerging Entrepreneur Awards?
The awards are all about celebrating tenacity, creativity and perseverance, qualities I believe every entrepreneur needs to have by the wine case-load! To be recognised by peers for working hard and having a vision would be amazing, and I really believe in the aims of the award. Entrepreneurs are so often overlooked by big business, but can you imagine a world with no new ideas coming through?
What would it mean to you to win an award?
Having hard work recognised would spur me on to work even harder. I am passionate about my brand and long to take my transparency message further around the world. I believe winning would give me an even larger platform to talk about what’s in wine and why Thomson & Scott Skinny Champagne and Skinny Prosecco is special.