A Week in the Life of... Hugh Duffie, co-founder of Sandows
Hugh is one of the co-founders of Sandows, who have been instrumental in introducing cold brew coffee to the UK since launching in 2014. Cold brew is a type of coffee drink, in much the same way as an espresso, cafetière or a flat white, and the process involves infusing ground coffee in cold water overnight. This long, slow method draws out an unexpectedly smooth and refreshing flavour that’s caffeine charged to boot.
Australian-born Hugh moved to the UK at 18 and started working in restaurants, where he trained to be a barista and bartender. He left to specialise in coffee and met Luke Suddards at TAP Coffee in Wardour Street, where he developed the roasting and café management skills that have served him well at Sandows, which the pair started in 2014, initially working from an Islington café’s basement.
Sandows ambition is to make great cold brew something you can find everywhere and Hugh sees Sandows as a creative expression of the pair’s vision for great coffee - trying to take care of quality with humility, whilst engaging people with distinctive design and simple explanations.
Sandows produce a range of products from premium glass bottles in the style of whisky flasks that sit in specialist cafés, luxury retailers and members clubs, to cans that sell in more mainstream retailers. Hugh is an alumni of our Innovating for Growth: Scale-ups programme and will be a speaker at the upcoming Thinking Outside The Pots talk, so we asked him to tell us about a week in the life of running Sandows…
Most weeks are pretty different and it can be fluid which I like, but here’s an example of the kind of thing I normally do. My morning routine is probably the only really consistent part of my day and though I used to cycle every day, I actually find my (pretty short) commute really helps clear my head and set me up for better focus. I’m very much the kind of person who hits snooze half a dozen times - have to admit I’m not really a morning person, it’s no wonder coffee is a big part of my life. I usually wake up and deal with anything urgent email-wise whilst still in the comfort of my bed. I get up and take a shower and head to the Overground for about a 30 minute door-to-door trip which will usually feature listening to a podcast or some music, working through a long read or firing off a few memes to friends in one of the WhatsApp or Instagram groups I’m in. I just about always stop off at Lanark Coffee on Hackney Road for a chat and a coffee. This year I’ve been trying to keep my intake to just two coffees a day, usually before midday, whereas previously I’ve had virtually no limit and found myself feeling very wired/weird after my 6/7th coffee.
Monday I get in to our office, part of a small ‘village’ of adapted shipping containers by the canal in Hackney, and set myself up for the day. Recently that’s meant some cereal and a brain function nootropic and then it’s straight into it. Mostly chasing up recent leads, preparing for calls or email pitches for potential new customers, or thinking about marketing and what we need to be executing on this week.
Tuesday I tend to schedule meetings for Tuesday/Wednesday so I can try and get ahead on the Monday and have a bit of room to give sales another push later in the week. At the moment there’s a lot of work trying to balance day-to-day execution with piecing together our long term plan in the form of a pitch deck, aiming to show potential investors that we have a clear plan for growth whilst also demonstrating that we have delivered on plans previously.
Wednesday Likelihood is that I will have a meeting or two booked and given our office is in a shipping container leaving it a bit exposed for conversations, I’ll sometimes arrange to meet elsewhere to avoid disrupting everyone. These meetings could be with mentors, wholesalers, freelancers we work with, investors, potential investors or even sometimes Luke when we need to walk around some of our stockists, take stock of where we’re at visually and talk through our plans as we walk.
Thursday As we approach the end of the week I’m always checking in on current cash flow, sales for the week and progress towards our monthly goal and usually chasing those leads again from Monday. I don’t like emailing people a load of times and hassling them so I try to keep my tone really jovial and if we’ve met and had a laugh together (always my goal) I’ll throw in a joke or meme to try and elicit a response. Thursdays are a big day for launches and industry events and we straddle both coffee and alcohol industries across our various products (for example our Espresso Martini Mix is stocked by a lot of bars and we work with many alcohol brands to promote it) so often times I’ll find myself representing the brand after the working day finishes, meeting people and explaining what we do and seeking out new opportunities. I guess as a founder your work is so associated with your identity (life) and your lifestyle is so dictated by your work, so for me the answer is to ensure I’m enjoying work and life. That means working with people I get on with, not taking life too seriously and trying to share my enthusiasm for what I do. My whole philosophy is a bit like that question ‘how do you eat an elephant?’ where the answer is ‘one bite at a time’. I just try to move things forward every day and accept that it ebbs and flows and be grateful that I have the opportunity to control my own lifestyle so much and express myself through my work every day.
Friday Fridays we put our heads together as a team and go over the week’s activity, re-align on everything that’s happened and ensure production and sales are in sync. On a monthly basis Luke and I will need to put together an investor update for our lead investors and we present the data (financial performance), talk through successes and failures, team news, share the content that has been shaping our thinking and confirm our plan for the month/s ahead. We finish up with a few drinks and generally wind down with perhaps fun food Friday or some Friday tunes or both if we’re lucky. I’ll usually leave the team once we head our separate ways and meet with friends and have a few drinks. Given my family are in Australia, I look to my best friends to fill that place in my life and so investing in those relationships is really important to me.
Weekend For a long time (nearly three years) Luke and I worked seven days a week and it was a case of fitting work into every waking hour to push the brand along. We reached the point of burnout and for the most part, Luke and I now avoid work on the weekends to take that time to decompress, gather our thoughts and really establish some balance and get inspired by doing new things. I love going to the cinema or exhibitions at the Design Museum for example, but I can be lazier sometimes and end up just watching Arsenal play and then stay at the pub for the other football games on that day. I love dropping in to our stockists on the weekend and seeing people experiencing our brand, but I guess I acknowledge that building a beverage brand is about quality interactions as much as quantity and that getting that right means patience and stamina over a prolonged period.