He devised a recipe with his sister and business partner, Suze, and, after selling their first carton of Jimmy’s Iced Coffee in Selfridges in 2011, the brand has gone on to be a supermarket staple, stocked in the likes of Waitrose, Tesco, Sainsbury’s and Whole Foods. We met up with Jim at his company’s HQ in Christchurch to find out more about his company and his time at AUB.
How important do you think your branding is to your success?
It’s fundamental. In terms of getting someone just to pick up an iced coffee off the shelf, or any product off the shelf, it has to stand out and look great, and it’s the combination of the branding, the packaging and the ingredients that make a successful product. I think the name is cool because it’s got a personal ring to it, it sounds like it actually belongs to someone. Some people might think it’s a name that some big company has made up, but it’s not. If you scratch beneath the surface you can have a look at who owns it. The branding also tells you exactly what the product is – it’s iced coffee. I think one of the things I wanted to try to do was make it as timeless as possible.
I don’t know whether it’s getting older or whether it’s still as fresh as it used to be, but because we can play with the rest of the packaging you can always bring it to life in a new way. We now have our creative team really well established here and everything design-wise is done in house – we’re really lucky to be able to jump on stuff and change stuff at the flick of a switch if we need to. It’s not working with an agency and having to brief them, everything is done here and it’s great.
You’ve spoken before about the need to have lots of passion for what you do. How important is passion for anyone hoping to have a career in the creative industries?
It is the most important thing. If you don’t have any passion, you’re not going to get out of bed and you’re not going to go and do stuff you don’t want to do. There’s so much stuff that we’ve done that we didn’t want to do, but you just have to do it and you have to do it with a smile on your face.
What kind of career did you envisage for yourself while you were at AUB?
That’s a really cool question actually. I did a Foundation Art degree, then I went off to the Surrey Institute for Art and Design to study Graphics. But after about 10 minutes I realised I was actually really terrible at designing stuff and I hate computers, so I quit and went and got a job in a regional nightclub down the road. It was hilarious but I think the best thing about it was that it taught me I really enjoy putting on events and putting on nights. So then I thought I should really just go back to uni and complete the right course.
I went on the course at AUB and I distinctly remember the feeling I got when I saw that there was an arts and event production degree. I thought this sounds amazing and I worked really, really hard to make sure that I got on the course. It was epic and I think I thought whilst we were doing those things I would be in the events industry forever, and I’d probably end up running my own festival, albeit as a production manager or a director. I was really interested in global roadshows for big brands and that’s where I thought I would sit and be forever, and it kind of happened. After uni I was involved in festivals every summer for about four years, but it was those winters where I was just a labourer that I didn’t enjoy. Added to that, festivals got more silly and I wasn’t actually working on the production side – it was more standing on stage and introducing bands and becoming an emcee and a host. It was great and I really enjoyed it, but it wasn’t my calling. I needed it to be full time and I didn’t want it just to be going everywhere all the time – I like being at home with my family.
Do you think any of those emceeing skills have been useful in your current venture?
If you can stand on stage in front of 5,000 people in a mankini then you can go to Tesco and pitch your product. It teaches you how to be quite bold, especially when you’re going to give talks to people. On Tuesday I went and did a talk at Highcliffe School to 150 kids, and I’m going again tomorrow. You just learn how to cast your voice over stuff. You learn how to make everyone at the back of the room listen. It’s not about nerves, it’s how you have your posture, that’s been really helpful.
Can you tell us a bit more about your time at AUB?
It felt very free. There was always music being played and there was always someone cooking some kind of barbecue on a Friday. It was already going through a bit of a change, but a change for the good it felt like. Our course director Richard Wright was super cool and I learnt a lot. The arts and events production space was really geared up for us as students – there were loads of telephone rooms where you were calling up and getting quotes for things like PA systems, then there was all the photocopying you needed and the computers, everything was built in. It just had this cool vibe about it and I think nowadays if I go to AUB everyone seems to be very career driven – everyone’s very fit and into drinking coffee, whereas back in the day, in 2001, it was much more about how big is your hangover and how smelly are your dreads.
Did the course live up to your hopes?
Totally, I learnt so much from that course, although I wasn’t very good at the theory side of stuff as I’m not into sitting down and reading – I like being up and about which is why I really excelled in certain parts of the events course. For our third year show, we put on a 3,000 kid skate festival at Slade’s Farm, just over the road. We got a first for that which was great, but I only just scraped a first because my round up of the event, as a document, was pretty poor. I like being at the live event, talking to people, doing the thing, being on the radio making sure everything’s sorted as opposed to the post event write-up. The event is done now, I don’t want to think about it anymore, but you need to do these things.
I remember at AUB one of the best things about it was the guest lecturers we used to have. I remember thinking “wow, if that’s your job after uni, then I want to do what you do”. And that could have been from music production to curating artists for festivals. There was a guy called Chris from Continental Drift, a fascinating character. He knows every single eclectic, awesome band on the planet, and curates loads of different spaces for the likes of WOMAD and Glastonbury, and he was such a dude. When he left I thought “you’re the biggest dude I’ve ever met in my life – I want to curate bands”. So that was fun and it’s nice to know now that I could be that person for someone else.
How did you come up with your mantra of “keep your chin up”?
It literally popped into my head on the way over to our designer’s house when we first designed our logo. I thought that every big company has a strapline. We were a company of two people at the time, so we weren’t a big company, but we thought if we want to be one, let’s act like one from the beginning. And I don’t know it popped into my head, but “keep your chin up” just turned up and I thought that could be the embodiment of everything that we mean to do – it’s all about being positive and smiling, chatting to people and having fun. Then also physically, if you keep your chin up, then you look more approachable, you see more of the world. I was explaining to these kids the other day, if you drive past a bus stop and there’s six people there, they’re all just going to be looking down at their phones then no one’s going to have their chin up. Also if you don’t keep your chin up when you’re drinking our product you will just pour it all over yourself and look really stupid. The mantra has lasted really well and we keep using it so that’s a testament to it.
What’s your one piece of advice to future creatives?
It’s quite a tricky one because creativity can lead to anything. Within the creative space you can go from events to iced coffee, or fine art to working for a publisher. Whatever happens, I think it’s just good to do something you enjoy at AUB and then just take that creative mindset and apply it to something else you enjoy. I think that’s probably the most fundamental thing, that you are doing something you enjoy, because whether you’re creating film or costume, it’s actually something that’s a passion. Something that requires creativity, and creativity is amazing, so going from fun to fun again is epic. And whether you’re going to be an employer or employee, it doesn’t really make any difference, you’ve still got to just keep that creativity there. If you don’t have fun, what you end up making or doing ends up being boring – it needs to be exciting if you want to be creative.
Find out more about BA (Hons) Creative Events Management at AUB.