Innovation and enterprise blog

13 June 2014

Race to the finish - building a business in the sports industry

W&EWarren Pole, co-founder of 33Shake shares the story of his business and what he's learnt along the way.



Like many of the best ideas, our natural sports nutrition company 33Shake was born out of a daft bet, painful firsthand experience of a problem, and a good dose of luck.

To start with the daft bet, a friend challenged me to run the Marathon des Sables, a 150-mile, five day run through the Sahara desert. A physical wreck at the time who struggled to run for a bus, this was a tough call. But I accepted and in 2009 crossed the finish line in the Sahara in the best shape of my life. Instead of the end of the journey, this finish line was the beginning – the endurance sport bug had hit hard and I craved more. Ironman triathlons, 100-mile-plus bike races, and mountain ultramarathons all followed.

Which is where the painful firsthand experience of a major problem appeared.

Because to successfully race aerobic events lasting anywhere from six hours to six days, fuelling with the right nutrition is essential. Trouble was, every sports nutrition product on the market tasted foul, made me feel worse, and never delivered anything close to its claimed benefits. Talking to friends and fellow competitors, I kept hearing the same story.

As a journalist of 20 years and writing extensively on fitness and sport, I had unique access to many of the world’s best athletes on assorted assignments. With nutrition my biggest stumbling block, I always quizzed them about what they ate.

Their answers focused on clean, fresh, natural food of the highest quality, often superfoods. This was the opposite of every sports nutrition product out there – the more I investigated these, the more they all turned out to be based on cheap, manmade sugars and additives, ingredients I now knew were detrimental to sustained endurance performance and longterm health.

Here, luck rears its head.

Having junked all sports nutrition and seen an immediate increase in performance I searched for natural replacements. But none existed. Which was when my wife Erica, who had also caught the endurance bug, met a guy who’d studied superfoods for a decade and knew everything about maximising nutrition for a given end.

We explained what we needed for perfect endurance nutrition, and he developed a powerful blend of 33 whole, superfood ingredients that could be enjoyed as a single, tasty, daily shake. What it did for my own performance and health was incredible and with nothing like it on the market the three of us took the plunge into business in 2012. 33Shake was born.

By 2013 our fun side project was a full-time business juggernaut with us at the wheel on the steepest learning curve of our lives. Which is where luck once more entered the frame.

A friend tipped me off about the Innovating for Growth programme, we landed a place, and over the next four months received bespoke, expert guidance, advice and reassurance as well as a priceless opportunity to step back from our growing business and understand our longterm focus.

Since the course, sales are up threefold and we’re now talking with one of the biggest teams in pro 33Shake Chia Energy Gel
cycling to help with their riders’ nutrition for major races. Our adventure is still only just beginning but Innovating for Growth has fast-tracked 33Shake’s performance by several years while the Business & IP Centre’s resources, particularly with regards market research and IP continue to be one of the most powerful tools in our business toolkit.

Warren Pole, co-founder of 33Shake on behalf of Business & IP Centre

If you are an ambitious London-based business, you can apply for £10,000 worth of funded bespoke advice to help get your business to the next level. Apply today!


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