The boozeless bevvie industry is booming, and Canberra’s own Altina has innovated its way to the forefront

Look, it can be awkward. At five o’clock on a Friday, offices nationwide celebrate with a bevvie. And if you’re trying to cut down on alcohol consumption for any number of reasons, there’s still social pressure to throw a few back with your colleagues and mates.

You don’t have to be in recovery for this to affect you. You don’t need to be on a diet or cleanse for this to affect you, either. And you’re not required to name three reasons you’d rather not skull alcohol with colleagues or friends. As such, many find it far less contentious to settle in with a similar looking, similar tasting drop and let the questions no one needs answered evaporate entirely so you can get on with the business of unplugging.

Real life couple and business partners Alan Tse and Christina DeLay were both a part of the Aussie drinking culture but wanted to participate without beer and cocktail contents that decreased their decision-making skills … and detracted from their all-too-short weekends with hangover headaches. But it seemed too much to ask to find an alcohol-free alternative that looked cool, and tasted great. So Tse and DeLay hit the labs, combined some beakers of non-booze and yonks of know-how, and discovered some cocktail concoctions that serve the taste and atmos of alcohol, without the burden and calories.

Welcome to their business baby, Altina.

We had a chat with Tse about his first year as a business founder and owner … in the times of COVID-19. And changing a cultural norm that’s embedded in the Aussie office.

CBRIN: What was the catalyst to bring you to the world of zero-proof cocktails? And how’d you find your footing in that space?

TSE: When we started, we felt there was a real lack of innovative alcohol-free products in the marketplace, and wondered if others thought the same. Would they pay for them if they existed? The revenue and grants support we’ve seen proves that we aren’t the only ones who would purchase innovative, alcohol-free products. This brings us a sense of pride and excitement.

CBRIN: These “unprecedented times” (ugh, so sick of that term!) were either an awesome (yet challenging) or devastating time for new enterprises. How’d you navigate COVID-19 AND a fledgling operation?

TSE: Amidst the pandemic (and having a 6-month-old baby!), we’ve grown, hired staff and purchased more equipment capital through retained revenue. Our business is now self-sufficient, and we’ve stopped injecting money for business-as-usual operations. When national lockdown was announced on television, we looked at each other and wondered if we needed to get our old day jobs back, as our business wouldn’t survive given the bulk of our revenue came from both hospitality (bars, restaurants) and events. However, we quickly mapped out a (new and revised) 6-month roadmap and said to ourselves – if we can achieve these revenue and profit numbers, then we can keep going with the business. Online shopping and digital marketing were a huge pillar to drive the projected success, and we weren’t sure they’d work. As we heard businesses were cutting back on costs, including advertising, we spent money on digital marketing and our effort absolutely paid off. In fact, we were so successful, we had to hire a full-time staff to keep up with picking and packing for us!

CBRIN: So you’ve thrived! That’s fantastic to hear. Do you have any advice from the trenches for other startups hoping to find their feet as the world continues to pivot?

TSE: We get excited talking to other entrepreneurs about their idea and sharing the Altina story; as startup founders that get absorbed in ten different functions everyday, sometimes it’s great to step out of your own bubble and learn something new about other businesses and try to help them and try to get help. It’s not just about the other entrepreneurs you meet, but the other entrepreneurs that they may know. I talk to many aspirational entrepreneurs and the biggest reason for ideas never becoming anything more is the unwillingness of people to put in effort to build their ideas out – you need a certain perseverance to turn an idea into action.

CBRIN: Ah – so an event like First Wednesday Connect can be a real gamechanger. Gotcha. Now, I can hear a baby crying in the background and it’s almost time for me to crack a cold Altina (today it’s a Light Me Up – I love the hint of eucalypt), so if you have one piece of advice for couples starting their entrepreneurship journey together before we let you go, what would it be?

TSE: It’s super important to set expectations and stick to them to avoid cracks. For example, being a founder in the business is more than just selling a vision to investors or running a startup; if you have a day job, you’ll be aware of the admin team whose sole job is to look after all the behind-the-scene work. Well, when you’re part of a startup, the founders are most likely the admin team. We can assure you, there are more things to do and solve than you can do in a day, so workload is high and intense. It’s important to set clear life goals with each other as there will be implications on the business workload … like if your business partner wants to start a family in 12-months,  this will affect their availability! It’s fine to say “we’ll make it work when it happens,” but if you choose to be founders together in a business, you are effectively signing a marriage through the share certificate or whatever document you agree on. Transparency in life goals is crucial.

Alan Tse and Christina DeLay are the CEOs and Founders of Altina, the drink of choice around the CBRIN office and coworking spaces.