Brothers Harry and Charlie Thuillier read my book Screw Work Let’s Play back in 2011 and it inspired them on a series of adventures that culminated in creating the world’s first healthy ice cream, Oppo.
Oppo is now sold in leading UK supermarkets and the company was named Guardian startup of the year 2014.
I caught up with Harry and Charlie recently and had a chat with them to get the inside scoop (sorry) on Oppo Ice cream.
Here’s what I found out:
John: How did you come up with the idea for Oppo Ice Cream?
Harry: I first read Screw Work Let’s Play while on a beach in Egypt on a Windsurfing trip in April 2011. It got both of us thinking about ways to do what we enjoyed doing. So a month later in May we decided to go on an adventure in Brazil.
We were going to break the unofficial world record for the longest distance travelled by kite buggy on land, unsupported. We got the sponsorship in June, and we were on a plane to Brazil by July! (You can read more about the adventure at kitebuggyadventure.com)
Charlie: During our kite buggy adventure we ran out of food so lost 8kg of bodyweight in 2 weeks. Not to be recommended and fairly painful! We survived on wild superfoods, which tasted fantastic whilst being very healthy. This was proof that it is possible to make the most indulgent food healthy. What about luxury ice cream that’s good for you? So I quit my job, and founded Oppo.
Everyone said it was ridiculous and for many months it was! Following 25 months of research, three different factories and lots of ‘head in hands’ moments Oppo launched in October 2014 – Waitrose, Ocado, Wholefoods and many independents.
Oppo replaces sugar and cream with stevia leaf and virgin coconut oil. Each flavour is boosted with a unique superfood, creating a delicious luxury ice cream containing fewer calories than an apple.
Did you try some other things out before you came up with the Oppo Ice Cream idea?
Charlie: I’ve always had little projects – from selling Pokemon cards at primary school to having a tuck shop at school when I was 13. I had various more serious concepts I worked on just before Oppo – for example an app where you can create your own postcards abroad and they get printed and sent at home – but then I realised there were several other multi-million pound companies doing just that and I didn’t see how I could do it any better.
However the Oppo idea had always been smouldering in the background, I just didn’t quite know it. I’ve always been fascinated by nutrition and fed up with how our favourite foods aren’t good for us. It seemed to me like large food manufacturers were lazy and stuck in their ways. Sugar and artificial ingredients are cheap and easy ways of making food taste great.
Even though the world’s largest ice cream manufacturer told me my aim of healthy ice cream was utterly impossible – I’ve proved if you work hard and think different it’s perfectly possible to create food utopia – our favourite indulgent foods that are good for you too.
What made you think this is the right idea to pursue?
Charlie: It grabbed me. I became more excited the more I thought of it and realised how awesome it would be if I managed to create an ice cream that was truly healthy. I thought I could turn the category on its head.
Until now, innovation in the category has been in different formats, flavours or sizes. Uninspiring. What about changing what we understand ice cream to be? Using none of the same ingredients yet still arriving at the same end result – a product that can legally be called ice cream and still has the taste sensation of your favourite treat.
For an idea to be worthwhile it’s got to excite you in every way, and continue to excite you as you develop the idea. Oppo did that for me. Crucially, it did it for others too.
The Oppo Story
What were your first steps to act on the idea?
Charlie: Asking industry experts. I first asked if it was possible to create such a product – they all said no, so I realised I was on to something.
Then I changed my questions to – “what would a company have to do to succeed, if they created such a game-changing product?” Through this I learned about marketing, FMCG brands, product creation, branding etc. That limited understanding was what I started with.
It was then that I left my job to start full steam ahead. In hindsight, I could have stayed at my job for longer, which would have given me an income for a little longer but I was lucky that I could move back with my parents, and later on to my brother Harry’s sofa to save money and work 100% on Oppo.
When did you first realise this thing was going to take off?
Charlie: Firstly when I created the product – when I realised I had done what I set out to. Then it was when Harry joined the business full time after I’d been trying to get him on board for 2.5 years.
However I think it’s rare that you find a big milestone that suddenly catapults your business, or when you realise something will work. As an entrepreneur you always have to have unflappable belief that it will work, of course it will – if you don’t, no-one else will. Milestones and big events only occur after the accumulation of months or years of intense work. It’s rare to find sudden success one day.
What was your first ‘playcheque’?
Harry: So I guess our first playcheque was a £10,000 order from Waitrose! With ice cream it’s slightly harder to create a play project in the way you should do to test an idea, but I’m sure if Charlie was less convinced about the idea then we could have done that, and grown the business more slowly and with less risk by taking market stalls and the like to test demand.
Now we have a team of 10 from a small office in Clapham in SW London. We got into wholefoods last week, a large contract caterer the week before, a national distributor this week, and are speaking to various other retailers and wholesalers to grow the Oppo brand.
Recently we raised £300,000 in three days, making us the fastest food and drink start up globally to raise investment using crowd funding, and the most over subscribed company on the Seedrs crowd funding site.
We have also won an award for most innovative product of the year, and got shortlisted in the final ten for Virgin’s Pitch to Rich award.
What’s your advice to someone trying to choose the right thing to pursue?
Harry: Work out what you like spending time doing and where you often forget the time when you’re doing it. Then work out if there is anything in particular about that activity that you seem to get a buzz from, and examine ways that other people might want to pay you to do that.
But I didn’t really do any of those things. In our case it was spotting something that we wanted to change in the world, and then finding an opportunity to do that. It’s then about being relentless in the way you pursue your goal – nothing is perfect and there will always be setbacks, but you’ll find the right path in successfully navigating those setbacks.
If Harry and Charlie’s story has set you thinking, what product, project, or business idea would you like to get off the ground? Post a comment below and let me know.
Still hunting for an idea to get started on? Then take a look at my step-by-step programme to find an idea you love and get it making money: Find Your Money-Maker