KombuchaWOW: Phuket's Independent Brewery Bringing Thai Kombucha to the World
Phuket's KombuchaWOW: Putting Thailand Kombucha on the World Map with IT and Tourism Experts at the Helm
To say KombuchaWOW is an innovative kombucha brewery is an understatement. The company was formed just two months before the substantial worldwide COVID-19 lockdown by Alice Thongchoodum and Nathan Hague. Even though the entire World was stopped, they thrived and grew their Thailand kombucha sales during such an unprecedented time in World history. Here at Business and Leadership, we are particularly interested to know how this was achieved.
KombuchaWOW brews, produces, and sells its Thailand kombucha products in various novel flavour combinations. They first came onto our radar through their marketing efforts catching our Asia Correspondent's eye. We sat down with Thongchoodum and Hague for an in-depth interview.
What are your business backgrounds, and how do they benefit KombuchaWOW today?
Thongchoodum: I always knew I wanted to work in the tourism industry, so I also learned English from a young age. I then acquired my degree in tourism from Bangkok University. Back in the 90's, I could see that Thailand was a tourism favourite destination and I wanted to be at the forefront of this.
I love being able to create an entire itinerary for Visitors to Thailand, and follow through with them to make sure they not only had a great time, but they had an amazing experience too. Thailand is my home, and I feel like I am always an Ambassador when a client approaches me.
Hague: I started and ran a few very successful I.T companies, selling the last one in the mid 2000's to my Australian Partner. I had a very analytical but creative mind, and my approach to business is very systems-focused. With KombuchaWOW, I like to make sure we can draw on whatever technical solutions are available to us in the production through to marketing aspects of our Thailand kombucha, but always keeping in line with Alice's mantra of amazing an customer experience when a customer finally drinks a bottle of our Phuket kombucha product.
How did you two turn to make Thailand kombucha and ultimately start KombuchaWOW together?
Hague: I'd known Alice for 7 years and been to Phuket many times before, and I knew she wanted a change from the traditional sales route she was in at the time, in the tourism industry. It's an industry that is surprisingly not quick to adopt new methods of sales or marketing, and I could see Alice was struggling to make sales in a time where a complete package of tours for a family, is a simple click to add that package at the time they book their accomodation online.
I had seen my brother in London make kombucha only the month before telling Alice about it, and after some cursory research, I saw that no-one was making Thailand kombucha to any degree of commercial success. I came back to Phuket to show Alice what kombucha was, and what it tasted like, and the health benefits of kombucha and that was it: She was in, there and then. We started the business a week after I showed her.
Thongchoodum: After many years of working in Tourism, my sales numbers were getting worse with each passing month. I'm extremely good at sales, but if there's no-one to sell to - because they're all buying their tours online - then I didn't get a chance to use any of my sales experience to close deals. It was a very difficult time for me, as I didn't know what to do beyond sales in tourism.
Nate came back from London in November 2019, and talked about kombucha with me. It sounded interesting, and as someone who wanted to move away from tourism and into something that had healthy angles in there, I was sold on setting up a company to make Phuket kombucha, that has turned into a Thailand kombucha operation now. (Laughs)
What are the top three priorities of KombuchaWOW?
Thongchoodum: (laughs). We called ourselves KombuchaWOW because we always wanted to give people who drank our Phuket kombucha a 'wow' experience, so I'll put that first in my list!
- Always give a WOW experience to our customers when they drink our product
- Being as sustainable as possible through minimising waste and encouraging recycling of our bottles and cans
- Help our retail clients achieve their growth goals by stocking our product
We are fully focused on making our product stand out on the World stage, making people aware that our Thailand kombucha is a drink they should try whether they're here in Phuket, or living in Philadelphia.
How Did You Manage To Survive And Thrive During A World Wide Physical Lockdown?
Thongchoodum: It was brutal when we first heard that Nate couldn't go back to Australia - he had arrived only 3 days before Australia closed its borders for what ended up being 23 months in total! 1 day after Australia closed its borders, Thailand did the same. Phuket was sealed off from the rest of Thailand, and they closed the single bridge that links the island to the mainland. We were extremely lucky in terms of the Phuket Authorities letting people travel freely around their own Tambons (areas) providing they were masked, but you could not cross into another Tambon: There were both police and army checkpoints to enforce this. Over the years I had grown a sizeable network of people across Phuket from working in Tourism. What we did was Nate would advertise us using social media ads, and make the sales. We were producing the kombucha from our house at the time, so that was under control too. But the distribution was where I called upon my network of friends and acquaintances across the island to help make a distribution chain. I'll explain because we can't believe it worked either! (Laughs) OK, so I would drive the bottles of kombucha to the checkpoint, where one friend would be waiting to receive it. They would then take the bottles to their edge of their Tambon's checkpoint to give to the next person, and this would carry on until the kombucha reached the Customer who was waiting at the final Tambon checkpoint who would receive it. Payment in Thailand is always done via internet banking, so we would pay people to help us in this way - but a lot of the time, people just wanted to see us succeed during the lockdown, and would freely help us as it was such a novel way of doing business deliveries!
Hague: I look back on that period, and I honestly don't believe this could have worked anywhere in the world other than Phuket. It was amazing and I can't believe we built a business in this way!
What are KombuchaWOW's leading performance indicators? How are they measured and echoed throughout the business?
Hague: We live and die by how many of our retail B2C customers place repeat orders. While our goal is to obviously expand on our monthly Thailand kombucha products sales volume and finding new resellers, we also want to maintain healthy and mutually-beneficial partnerships with existing clients so they keep coming back to us and not emerging kombucha brands that are now appearing.
Thongchoodum: Like Nate said, we like to track average sales volume for an area, and then seek ways of increasing that with the resellers in that area where we see potential. It might be an additional PPC marketing campaign we run to drive sales to those sites, or we might run promotional events in the area to drive brand recognition so people go to our resellers seeking out our Thailand kombucha SKU's.
Name two organizations or well-known business people you admire and explain why.
Thongchoodum: I admire Richard Branson. I grew up knowing all about him, and reading articles on how he branded his company based on a perception of being fun, and a little edgy. Here in Thailand, we've been traditionally quite conservative in our advertising in the tourism industry. When he started his airline, I was very drawn to the details on how he did his marketing being the front man and face of the company - something national Thai company directors usually never did - although that has changed in the age of social media! Also, I've always liked the way he would accept the failings of his company in the past - he would go on TV and apologise and set out what he would do to fix it. I like that, and that's what I always have done when I was in the tourism industry and things went wrong outside of my control - but I would always make sure the customer was looked after.
Second person would be Jun Vanavit. He is the CEO of Hatatri, and electronics company big across Asia. He started out by repairing fans in his repair shop, and later moved into contract manufacturing for Japanese brands before creating his own brand and making his own electrical goods range. What I really like about him, is that to this day, he demands his company gives sizeable charitable donations to causes I align with too, but they do it without the usual huge PR fanfare - they just do it and not seek a marketing angle. I like that.
Hague: For me, I don't really admire anyone at the Corporate End of the spectrum - once you peel away the veneer of PR and spin, I am usually disappointed in those people. I prefer to give my attention on more interesting characters from the NGO and charity sector, and see how they have grown those organisations and how they then deliver those services to the end recipients. I'm extremely cynical of the business world in the age of social media, polished profiles and sanitised and optimised SEO result on individuals (laughs)
What’s the most critical piece of business management and leadership advice you would give your younger self?
Hague: Don't give a job to someone that you haven't done yourself. You need to experience for yourself, the work - the pitfalls, the shortcuts and the dangers. Only then can you go and get someone to do it, as you'll appreciate that work and the tasks involved. And secondly, always try to hire people way more talented than yourself. And then invest in them. Your business strength is only as good as the weakest person in the link. Thirdly, always seek a win, win, win situation: Helping others achieve their goals is how you reach your own.
Thongchoodum: I'd say before you setup a business in Thailand, that you absolutely research and pay for a professional to further research any licenses you might need for that business type. I'm not sure about other countries, but in Thailand we often have slightly different laws, taxes and fees between the different Tambons (areas) and duristictions around the country. I'd also make sure to tell my younger self to do a full business plan and whatever figures you conservatively use in that report - half them again. COVID19 wiped out a lot of businesses in Phuket, and we only survived and thrived as we had my network of people willing to help us and wanted to see us successful - which we'll always be grateful for. So always develop your network of people would be my point here. Finally, don't start the business unless you have 6 months of runway money. The stress and strain of having to get sales from day 1 just to survive - that's going to kill anyone's enthusiasm and drive after a very short time.
What is your vision for KombuchaWOW?
Thongchoodum: I think I speak for Nate too, when I say that we want to continue to make our Thailand kombucha brand known across the world. Red Bull is another Thai brand that is famous globally, and I wake up every day and work towards our company reaching that level of brand recognition with KombuchaWOW! being the best kombucha in the world.
KombuchaWOW! is a Phuket kombucha brewery located in the Chalong of the island. Established in 2019 by Alice Thongchoodum and Nathan Hague, the company markets and sells its Thailand kombucha brand across the entire country.
Known for its creativity in its marketing, KombuchaWOW enjoys being loud and vocal in areas of sustainability in Phuket and around Thailand. They do not shy away from calling out companies that use plastic in their production and use humour and shock tactics to educate kombucha drinkers on why they should be choosing KombuchaWOW instead of other Thailand kombucha brands that don't seek to minimize their wastage and carbon footprint.
Clients that stock KombuchaWOW includes five-star International Hotel chains, cafes, restaurants, gyms, offices, and minimarts.
They stock various SKUs but stick to their five primary Thailand kombucha flavours that are mostly made from local ingredients and the fruit of Thai farmers. Of note, KombuchaWOW is a leading buyer and proponent of "ugly fruit" - fruit that doesn't fit cosmetic requirements for grocery stores and would be traditionally destroyed - but is completely fine to use for juicing.
To learn more about KombuchaWOW and see if they're a good product fit for your company, contact them through their website or via their social media accounts: