How to break the norm and challenge the stereotype? Here's how Impossibrew shook the beer industry.
Mark Wong faced health problems from drinking and realised much of his social life depended on it. He started Impossibrew to create great-tasting beers that relax you without the alcohol. After a big branding misstep, Mark focused on listening to customers to keep improving. He candidly shares mistakes and wins on social media, gaining 35k Instagram and 65k TikTok followers with just a few raw, real videos. Mark explains how they use natural nootropics to stimulate feel-good dopamine and serotonin. Now Impossibrew sells a beer every 20 seconds, with people enjoying the light buzz without the hangover. Mark offers invaluable tips for any startup on avoiding common traps like overspending on branding and the power of social media authenticity. His mission delivers a delicious alcohol-free alternative that keeps the fun without regret.
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Jim James (00:02.004)
Hello, welcome to this episode of The Unnoticed Entrepreneur. Today with me, Jim James, is Mark Wong, who's taking on the 11 billion pound market for the no and low alcohol beverage. And he's already doing great because his brand, Impossibrew, is already selling one beer every 20 seconds. I'm not sure whether that's every minute of every day, like people having it for breakfast and lunch and dinner, or whether a lot of people have...
buying Impostor Brew for dinner. Mark Wong, welcome to the show.
Mark Wong (00:36.674)
Glad to be here.
Jim James (00:38.216)
Mark, so first of all, is everyone buying Impossibrew for breakfast? Are those 20 beers that you're selling every, sorry, the beer you're selling every 20 seconds, are those throughout the day or are they stacked in the evening?
Mark Wong (00:51.05)
Well, I'd say weirdly enough, it is pretty throughout the day. I don't think people have a breakfast other than me. I mean, our team, we sometimes have a breakfast, but I think, yeah, most people have it sort of, yeah, with the TV after dinner, during dinner, that sort of time.
Jim James (00:58.184)
Jim James (01:06.004)
But isn't it the beauty of no and low alcohol beers that you can drink it at any time of the day because actually it doesn't have alcohol, so it doesn't affect performance. And if you like the flavor, you could have it, for example, at lunch and then drive or be functional in the afternoon. Mark, we're gonna talk a little bit about your background. I mean, you didn't study beer, if anyone. I mean, you might have done a lot of studying with beer at university, so we'll talk about that.
But we're going to talk about how you've been building Impossibrew and how you went on Dragon's Den and the experience that you had there and your strategy for building the brand through social media and also your one big mistake, your one great mistake that you made. So then you're also going to tell us one thing that has really worked for you with building Impossibrew. So Mark, tell us a little bit about yourself and then explain Impossibrew and the mission that you're on.
Mark Wong (02:04.574)
Yeah, so I'm Mark and I think for me, I'd say a defining characteristic is just how much I love beer. Ever since, ever since I was young, anything I could see that, well I knew if you could brew a beer or make a cocktail, you know, you'd get invited to parties at school and you know, from there on, you know, anything for me, it was all about just enjoying that social experience. And of course, halfway through when I got to about...
say 22, 21, 22 or so, that's when I started having a bit of a health incident thinking that, well, actually I'm not supposed to be drinking anymore. So then that's when everything changed. That's when I noticed that things need to be different. How much of my social life was dependent on that and what can I do to drink a little bit better? Uh, and so from there, that's when Impossibrew started with some university professors that we were working with at the time, and also with a group of our team to really make this mission happen, you know, to make a million
billion people drink better without beers that give you a nice little relaxing buzz without the alcohol.
Jim James (03:06.784)
Tell us then, Mark, how that works, because I personally gave up alcohol about four years ago, and the first couple of weeks were pretty miserable, because the light year we used to drink, even at the age of 10, 11, after rugby practice, to have a shandy, very much part of the British culture, though you yourself are from Hong Kong, right? And then you came over here for university. Tell me, how does Impossibrew work, from a physical, chemical perspective? Because...
Mark Wong (03:12.502)
Jim James (03:34.484)
For most people, the idea of giving up alcohol, the drug, is the hard part. We can come onto the taste later, but how do you harness what you've learned about nootropics and these new sort of benign sort of elements to help people to drink and enjoy a beer without the downsides of having alcohol?
Mark Wong (03:57.022)
Mm hmm. Good question. Cause I think for us, the main starting point was really asking the question, why, you know, why do we drink in the first place? There's the flavor element, sure. But we never really started with flavor. It started with the sensation that alcohol gives us. And if we look throughout our day, we do consume drinks that change our mental state, say in the morning, we would wake up, either with a coffee or some people have an energy drink or a tea that picks you up. And in the evening, there is the
element of evening relaxation. And that typically is alcohol. And there is, there is kind of no other alternative in that space. And from there, we're thinking, what if we could use like say caffeine? It's a, it's a plant that's present in the natural world that does something for you. What if we can find an analog that is present in nature that can do the opposite effect that could replace that aspect of alcohol. So being from Hong Kong was actually quite, was actually quite good, quite inspirational from that, because I went back and that was when I saw
that people were using plants and herbs for all sorts of different reasons. And I was like, why did they, why did they do that? I've never understood the reason behind it until we sort of hit a brick wall. It's like, what could we do to replicate that feeling? And that's when we started looking back into those plants to see, well, actually there's so much, so much research, so much that's been done. That's just not really been used.
Jim James (05:18.556)
I think Mark, having spent 25 years myself in Asia, Singapore and China, Asian wisdom around plant-based, whether it's medicines or tonics, is frankly so far advanced and slightly ignored in the West. Tell us a little bit about nootropics. If someone was to drink a can of Impossibrew, what sensation would they get?
Mark Wong (05:47.431)
They wouldn't get absolutely smashed or drunk or anything remotely close to that sort, but the goal of what we're trying to deliver is that slight sense of one or two pint feeling, that slight sort of relaxation when you're having a chat with friends, that sort of conversations just flow. You just feel pretty good, but it stays at that spot and it doesn't go over that point. And nootropics is a pretty broad term.
Normally it means things that improve your cognitive function. It just so happens some of our ingredients fall into that category. But with these, it's pretty much active plants that work with your brain in a way where it works with the galvanologic system, it works with serotonin and dopamine in a way that slightly changes that balance in a natural way that gives you that slight relaxation without the brainwaves and so on. But either way, it just relaxes you in the most simple terms.
Jim James (06:37.44)
Great, Mark. I like that because the no low alcohol beers that I've been drinking are from traditional brewers and they are trying to get close to the flavor, but there's, I think, none of the element, in fact, none of the side effects or none of the benefits that you're talking about of nootropics. They're taking a traditional model and just brewing without alcohol, whereas you're actually putting something in with nootropics that gives it the same feeling that you get from alcohol, which is what people are in pursuit of, because
They have that warm and comfortable sensation and are more relaxed with their friends as you say, or their family.
You yourself as an entrepreneur, you've only been out of university a few years. You started this business in Possebreu, I guess, 2020 because it's three years old. Tell us about the progress that you've made and what led to you getting picked up to go on the Dragon's Den.
Mark Wong (07:33.63)
Yeah, I mean, it all pretty much started with a sort of unique competition thing. You know, the sort of start of competitions at the time, they're really supportive. And we would just essentially homebrew and try and see how far we could push that. Push that boundary. And through that, we had some grant funding, small amounts here and there. And it just sort of, we just tried to build that tiny base of people that are looking to drink a little bit better.
on and on from that point. And I left university, I'd say, yeah, 2020. And from there, we were only about three months into business at the time. And luckily, all of a sudden, BBC producer reached out and they were like, well, you know, this is, this is pretty cool. Do you want to come on? And I thought, oh, you know, we all know those moments of public humiliation. You know, the videos on YouTube, they get the most views on Dragon's Den. Typically, it's just...
someone really, you know, forgetting numbers or something. And I thought, oh God, if we're three months in, that likely will happen. But either way, it's one of those once in a lifetime experiences. And so I thought, might as well.
Jim James (08:41.7)
Okay, so you went on and you're the first guest I've had on the show that's been on Dragons Den. What was the experience like? But also in the context of this show, which is about getting noticed, what was the impact of being on such a high profile TV show on your brand profile?
Mark Wong (09:04.582)
Mm hmm. Sorry. The, I think the experience was, um, it was quite a long, it was quite a long process, which is, um, which is of course quite daunting. You don't get a retake, uh, things just, it just happens in one go and then, uh, sort of drop you in and see whether you swim or drown. Uh, so that was, uh, that was quite, that was quite fun. Uh, it was about an hour and a half long, give or take, and then it'll be cut down to sort of 11 minutes or so. But yeah, the questions were really difficult. They were hard.
But at least I think the session went well, you know, try, try our best at a time. We didn't get investment at the end, but I think as the episode aired, I think the audience resonated with our mission really tried to, they really, I think people really understood what we were trying to go for. Perhaps the Dragon Stint, which I assumed would make sense. We were only three months in with 10 Ks worth of turnover at the time. But that evening from when it aired, it's an experience I'll never forget. You know, we had.
what did we do? We did about 100k worth of sales I think in about a few hours time. It was something we've never ever seen before.
Jim James (10:13.896)
That is amazing. That's amazing, Mark. And so Mark Wong, you started this business. When you say we, I'm assuming you've got a team of people around you as well. So who else is involved?
Mark Wong (10:23.21)
Yes. Yeah. So we, um, we're all sort of early twenties, 20 somethings. We don't have industry experience. Most of us don't. It's just a group of friends that are really passionate about this mission. And of course we try and get some adult supervision, including our Dr. Paul Giazzo from Durham University. I really trying to get a lot of the nitty gritty parts right. And we also working with some more sort of expert brewers and so on and so forth. But, but yeah, it's this dynamic with a group of young guys,
young guys and girls and with some super vision ahead.
Jim James (10:56.832)
Well, you're certainly doing brilliantly. Mark, let's just talk a little bit about marketing, but also about distribution. Because one of the challenges for any new product is getting into the distribution channels and I used to work in a food business when I was out of university and getting into the majors in any country is a challenge and they want huge volumes almost straight away, they want huge discounts. So you have to be a certain size to meet their.
Mark Wong (10:59.694)
Mark Wong (11:19.192)
Jim James (11:25.052)
requirements and logistics and so on. How have you managed to get Impossibrew to those customers you mentioned, selling over a hundred thousand pounds worth of beer in a very short amount of time? What's your go-to-market strategy?
Mark Wong (11:43.222)
Yeah, for us, it's kind of an unusual model. A lot of people tell us it just won't work. And our model at the time and still is currently is really focusing on that direct to consumer experience. We thought that I didn't like carrying 10, 20 beers from a supermarket to bring it into my flat. And I thought, if we could get that direct experience delivered in, and if we can get that working, we could sort of...
have a direct relationship with our customers. We can hear feedback directly rather than through sort of gatekeepers. We can understand, okay, this part of the product is working, this part isn't, then we can make those changes. So yes, so far, even to this day, it's mainly direct to consumer website.
Jim James (12:25.904)
Oh, how interesting. So we've had a little bit of a technical hitch with your website today, haven't we? Which is at my end to do with the Virgin security settings. But if someone's to go on your website, Mark, then are you saying they can order cans direct and if they order those cans, how do you do the distribution, the final mile?
Mark Wong (12:31.468)
Mark Wong (12:52.574)
Yeah, so you can order cans directly from the site in sort of cases with different bundles and so on and so forth. And it just arrives in like one or two days. And yeah, we work with a different sort of fulfillment partners to really make sure it gets it there. And of course, it's heavy beer, shipping it all the way through. Yeah, it's a pretty expensive endeavor, but ultimately it works out better.
Jim James (13:10.132)
He's shipping water around him.
Jim James (13:19.844)
Okay. And this is impossibrew.co.uk, isn't it? If people are interested in going and buying those cans. Okay. And then you also have distribution through some other sites like Amazon and so on, or have you got people reselling for you there? So, because getting everyone to come to you is a lot of work, isn't it? But obviously there are distribution channels that are online. Are you using some of those as well?
Mark Wong (13:23.614)
Yes, that's right.
Mark Wong (13:46.826)
Yeah, we've had a good amount of interest. I think on Amazon, we have some sort of reseller partners that are going on there. But for us, our main focus as a small team as well as really make sure we laser in, improve that customer experience as much as we possibly can and just deliver value via our website.
Jim James (14:04.544)
Okay. And let's just talk then about how you're getting people to come to you. And then let's talk about how you're getting that feedback from customers. So just tell us about your social media, because if you're bringing people to you, Mark, as opposed to taking the product into the stores and online through some of these other channels, you've got to get people to you. So how are you doing that?
Mark Wong (14:11.191)
Mark Wong (14:20.696)
Mark Wong (14:29.182)
Yeah, good question. And for us, it was something that really took us a while to understand and get. We're like, how do we, we thought about, okay, what do people like watching? I know I don't like watching ads. That's what I know I don't like. And I'm like, okay, how do we make it less like an ad? Whatever we do. And we thought, how about we documented our journey? How about we went ahead and film things that happened as and when they happened throughout our startup journey, go through it all,
showcase the products and the story as and when we go. So we started doing sort of really dynamic videos on Instagram and TikTok. It was just essentially just fully about the startup journey. And through that, I think people would resonate with that a little bit more than just sort of plain product.
Jim James (15:16.52)
I think that's fantastic. And if anyone's interested, of course, you can go to at impossibrew beer on Instagram, where Mark and his team have got 35,000 followers. But you've also got a TikTok. And let's just share that. So that's at Impossibrew. Is there a difference in strategy between TikTok and Instagram? You're talking about sharing your journey in real time,
which is Brave, of course, as well. Have you found there's a different strategy on TikTok? You've got 65,500 followers and 1.6 million likes. So that's pretty impressive.
Mark Wong (15:46.2)
Mark Wong (15:58.786)
Thank you. Yeah, I think the it's different because the audience demographic is a little bit different, but I'd say, I think on TikTok, people are looking to be entertained and to be to be inspired and to see what life is like in a way that isn't something people already know. So we thought what could we share that's a little bit special that that's different. And we really put in the entertainment part and we really put in the
try and be as authentic as possible, document as much of the pitfalls as we have. So we documented when we launched our sort of limited stout, we really messed up a lot of the canning parts and we documented that part of the journey. We documented some of the others as well. And, and I think people enjoyed that. So we enjoy making it also.
Jim James (16:43.796)
And I guess the joy of those stories that you're making live is that they don't impact the product quality itself, right? They're kind of entrepreneur issues as opposed to maybe things that have put the product or the consumer at risk. Mark, we all make mistakes. You've only had three years, but you've got a lot of success already. Is there one thing that you'd share with my fellow unnoticed entrepreneurs that hasn't gone quite according to plan?
Mark Wong (16:58.061)
Jim James (17:14.744)
that you'd like to share without, I'm not trying to embarrass anybody here, but we've all done things that we put our head in the hand and go, why didn't I see that coming? Any of those moments for you?
Mark Wong (17:25.778)
Oh, there's a, yeah, there's, there's plenty. There's absolutely plenty. But I'd say the biggest one we had was right at the beginning when we had the competition winnings and some of the grant funding from university. And I decided, I thought, well, brands seems to be a really important thing. Uh, I didn't, I didn't know much at the time and I was like, okay, let's spend 90% of all the budget we have on to working with a big design branding agency. And see how it goes. Surely it can't go wrong that way.
Jim James (17:28.158)
Mark Wong (17:55.886)
And after about six months, I was just really counting my chickens before they hatched and I thought, brand's going to be done. Brand's going to be perfect. And dry January hits that year and it didn't work out well. We wanted to launch it for dry January. It just didn't work. So I was a, it was a pretty, it was a pretty tough experience. And even to this day, the brand now is made on PowerPoint. When I realized there was no other hope, nobody else would come and save us. So. Just
dig down and make it happen.
Jim James (18:26.704)
And I have to ask, what do you think was wrong with the brand that the expensive agency did? What was the flaw in the work that they did?
Mark Wong (18:36.734)
I think it was a communication mismatch in a way. And I think there really wasn't, the core understanding of the brand wasn't there, which makes sense. And the timeframe that was given was also quite short. But ultimately it just wasn't right. Like it just didn't come out the way that we wanted it to. And we didn't have any more money for revisions. So there we go. We're like, oh, it's gonna have to happen then.
Jim James (19:05.38)
Yeah, it's so hard to get a creative mind on the agency side to be in sync with the entrepreneur's vision for the brand, right? That is such a hard thing to articulate and to find someone that resonates with that. So you're certainly not alone with that sort of expenditure that didn't get you the ROI you might have liked. But Mark Wong was the founder of Impossibrew. Plainly, you've done a lot of things.
Mark Wong (19:14.339)
Mark Wong (19:23.18)
Mark Wong (19:29.933)
Jim James (19:35.76)
right. And is there one thing that you feel has, has been working for you? One sort of guiding philosophy or thought for Impossibrew that you're that you're using to keep you going through those through those mistakes and those tough times.
Mark Wong (19:37.198)
Mark Wong (19:54.11)
Yeah, I think it's a good question.
Mark Wong (20:00.81)
I think it's really listening, listening to our customers. I think from day one, some of our core relationships today came from literally phoning up our customers and each one of them before at the beginning, we would only get a couple of sales, but each day I would just bring up every single one to see what they would say. And that led to improvements in product, improvements in our marketing and all sorts. And then it's almost in a weird way, like a community effort that
I could just pick up the phone and the customer would be like, Oh, what do you think about this one? And, and the people are really nice and they're happy to help. And I think that has definitely shaped us into where we are today.
Jim James (20:40.768)
Mark, that's wonderful. I think that I'd be interested to hear and try the product. If people want to buy the product from you, they go to the website, impossibrew.co.uk. And in terms of flavors, you've got multiple flavors, I think. Is that right or is there just one? What would be the experience for people?
Mark Wong (21:03.01)
That's right. We've got two, we've got two styles. We've got a lager and a hazy IPA. The lager is a sort of classic golden crisp refreshing lager. And the hazy pale is a sort of, you know, best seller in a word way. They are, it's hazy, tropical, fruity, and it has all the elements of like a nice New England IPA. So, so yeah, that's, that's my personal favorite. I'm not allowed to have favorites, but that's the one for me.
Jim James (21:31.331)
Mark, I'm looking forward to trying those. And if you want to get hold of you to find out more about you and what you're doing, where can they go?
Mark Wong (21:40.182)
Yeah, feel free to connect with me on LinkedIn, just Mark Wong on LinkedIn, or just send me an email at email@example.com.
Jim James (21:47.36)
Well, thank you so much for joining me and sharing an inspirational story. I love the mission you're on to help people to drink an alcohol-free beer that still gives them some of the benefits of the sort of sensation of feeling relaxed and convivial, but without the downside of alcohol. As I say, someone that's given up alcohol, I applaud and celebrate and appreciate what you're doing because we need more choice on those aisles. And thanks for doing that. So with such a great
Mark Wong (22:18.186)
Thank you for the invite. Thank you.
Jim James (22:20.404)
So we've listened to Mark Wong who started a company called Impossibrew. It's only three years old, the company, but already made great progress. You can go to the website to buy the products direct. And I love the way that they have kind of avoided the trap of trying to go into the big supermarkets and going direct and using what might've been an obstacle in terms of distribution and volume through the big chains, keeping the margin, but most importantly, keeping the relationships and using those to build the brand and build the loyalty in the product. So that's
A lot of great learning there. And also what he's talking about, the difference between TikTok and Instagram. And you'll find as well that on both of those channels, they don't have a lot of videos, actually only 10 or 12 videos, but 65,000 plus followers. So it's not about the frequency and the volume of posting. It's not about posting every day or every minute, but a few well-considered and well-structured pieces of social media content. And that also should be very liberating to anyone that's...
building a business and hasn't got the time to try and do lots of content because it's the quality of the content, not the volume of the content. And I think that says a lot about the way, and I was gonna say speaks volumes, but that would be a bit of a beer joke. Speaks volumes about how Mark Wong and the team are building Impossibrew. So if you've enjoyed this, please do share it with a fellow entrepreneur and also rate it and like it, leave a review on your player and do follow us because.
I've got loads of wonderful entrepreneurs like Mark who are sharing invaluable tips and insights for you and me to become better entrepreneurs. Until we meet again, thank you for listening and keep on communicating.