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How I beat the odds: Adrian Everett, E-Lites
The founder of electronic cigarette brand E-Lites was an RAF pilot before setting up his own business. Adrian Everett chats to us about his path to success and expanding his business in South Africa.
I was an RAF pilot for more than a decade before leaving in 2006 to start my own business. I had always wanted to do my own thing, and in between trips to Iraq and Afghanistan I had tried my hand at many hare-brained schemes – everything from doggy daycare to setting up an astrology website.
My business partner, Michael Ryan, and I were both in a rubbish place at the time. I’d lost my house because I couldn’t keep up with the mortgage payments and Michael was going through a divorce. The smoking ban had come in and we came across the story of this chap in China who had invented an e-cigarette – an unheard-of device at the time. A smoker for 17 years, I knew this had the potential to be a life-changing product.
Michael and I both borrowed £5,000 from family members and we started working from a small flat in Redditch.
In 2009, our first trading year, we turned over less than R1 million. In 2013, we made R752 million-worth of sales in the UK. E-Lites is now the leading brand of e-cigarettes in the UK, and we’re going international this year, starting with South Africa.
When we were trying to get the idea off the ground back in 2008, no one believed that e-cigarettes could be a real product category and banks wouldn’t lend to us. To change the mindset of smokers was a huge thing. Doctors had been trying for years to come up with nicotine replacement therapy and they were largely unsuccessful. So the first challenge was getting people to believe in our vision.
The next step was making a business worth pennies into a global brand. We set up a website, our own route to market, and platforms for distribution and promotion, with no support. We reinvested any money we made into improving the product and we’re now on our 10th-generation product. We employ 70 people, up from 25 in 2012.
We were in fewer than 100 shops in early 2012 and we’re now in more than 20 000, including the big four supermarkets. The exposure is good for business and, as with cigarettes, people tend to stick to the same brand. We’re proud that we haven’t borrowed any money, but this year we’ll accept external investment for the first time as we work towards being the leading e-cigarette brand in the world.
There has been debate about whether people should use an e-cigarette in a public area. We’ve always stated that e-cigarettes are not lit – they don’t smell and don’t contain tobacco. Allowing people to use them freely is a good thing.
We welcome more rules and we are working with the government and the EU to make sure much stricter quality-control measures and standards are introduced.
It hasn’t surprised me that smokers have been so quick to try e-cigarettes. They’re a less harmful alternative and cheaper too. By 2030, we think that e-cigarettes will be more popular than tobacco cigarettes.