I’m delighted to be back with another Behind the Biz interview.
If you’re new around here, this is my weekly series where I discover the stories behind lots of amazing businesses, how their founders got started and what it’s really like to run a business.
In today’s post we’re diving into the world of Russian vodka as I chat with Patrick Ryan, the founder of Ishka Spirits.
Where did the inspiration for Ishka Spirits come from?
I spent a couple of years living in Moscow (as you do!). The Russians all say that most of the vodka available in Europe is pretty poor quality. Most Russian distillers don’t even really target Europe because the Russian market itself is so big.
I figured someone needed to bring their skill and heritage in vodka-making to the UK, and Ishka Spirits was born!
Since then we’ve evolved.
In the New Year, alongside our own vodka we will be partnering with other small producers in the UK to create a marketplace for quality craft spirits that connects producers directly with their customers. This was a natural progression – I found the best way to sell our vodka was directly to people online, and now I want to help other small producers do this.
How did you decide upon the name of your business?
‘Uisce’ (pronounced Ishka) means ‘water’ in Irish. It’s also the root of the word ‘whisky’. Vodka actually means ‘little water’ in Russian. Ishka felt like a good name for an Irishman making Russian vodka!
I’m also big into my surfing and an ocean-lover. We actually donate a portion of profits to removing plastic from the oceans, so water is very much at the centre of everything we do.
What did you do before starting Ishka Spirits?
I worked in the trade department of the Irish Embassy in Moscow – so I made a few handy connections. I still work full-time for a tech company in London, but luckily I’m able to fit everything in…I don’t have children to worry about for now!
Did you always plan to set up your own business?
I wouldn’t say I’m a classic entrepreneur – I was never selling sweets at school or anything like that. But I always had a rebellious streak and knew I didn’t like being told what to do, so it made a lot of sense to try my own thing.
What has been the biggest challenge in running your business so far?
Understanding how to prioritise your time. It’s very easy to spend a lot of time on projects that don’t bear fruit.
What has been the highlight of your business journey to date?
Seeing people enjoying your product at a bar is a really great feeling. It’s rewarding to realise you’ve taken something that was an idea in your head and made it into a real product that people want to buy.
What role does social media play for your business and do you have a favourite social platform?
Social is really important for us, especially as we’ve recently transitioned to become a much more digital business. However, it is really easy to spend a lot of time on social and convince yourself you’re adding value, when you really need to just focus on sales. If your social isn’t affecting your sales, you’re wasting time.
Instagram’s our main channel, although I have plans to do a lot more on Youtube. Video is a great way to be a bit more personal and get closer to your community.
What advice would you give to aspiring entrepreneurs?
Stop talking/thinking about it and go and do it. The biggest risk is to do nothing.
Where do you hope to take your business in 2018?
We’re evolving with the online business and I’m excited to launch our new craft spirits marketplace. My other major focus is building our Russian vodka’s presence in bars and restaurants.
The Fifa World Cup is in Russia this year. This means the country will be in the spotlight. I think there will be a great opportunity to introduce people to some of the more positive aspects of Russian culture. Obviously the press are very anti-Russian government in Europe (often for good reasons), but they are generally lovely people and they have a lot of amazing food and traditions. They’re quite misunderstood – really most Russians just want to be accepted and respected. Imagine how it feels when everyone trashes your country constantly!
We’ve got some really cool food partnerships going on already with the likes of Mishki Food and we have some more immersive events planned in London in 2018 that are going to be a lot of fun!
Thank you to Patrick for getting involved with Behind the Biz. I really enjoyed hearing about his business journey and love that he’s keen to help other small craft spirit producers with his new venture. It sounds like there’s lots of exciting things to come for Ishka Spirits in 2018.
The branding of Ishka is stunning, did you notice the ballerina? I feel very lucky to have a bottle sitting right next to me. I’ll be reporting back next week with a full review.
I hope Patrick starts creating some exciting video content. I think it’s an excellent way of making any brand a little more personable and really helps to get the story out there.
If you fancy getting involved with Behind The Biz please leave a comment below, send me an email or drop me a message over on Twitter.