Entrepreneur: Starting your own business, specially as an immigrant, is daunting but equally rewarding: Dimple Athavia, All Things Drinks

Laveta Brigham

Moving to a new country can be daunting especially when you have to build a life from scratch. Dimple Athavia, who moved from Mumbai to the UK talks to ET’s Rashmi Narayan on tips to start your own company in the UK along with her journey, goals, challenges and her […]

Moving to a new country can be daunting especially when you have to build a life from scratch. Dimple Athavia, who moved from Mumbai to the UK talks to ET’s Rashmi Narayan on tips to start your own company in the UK along with her journey, goals, challenges and her current successful business All Things Drinks.

Tell us a little about your journey from when you came to the UK.

I was 18 years old when I first arrived in the UK. I landed at Heathrow Airport, all by myself, for the first time ever on a plane, let alone a foreign country. I wanted to study winemaking and grape growing and found the University of Brighton had an agricultural college – Plumpton College in Ditchling which offered a BSc Viticulture and Oenology course. I had three amazing years studying in south of England, travelling to Champagne & Montpellier in France, working a harvest in Cyprus and another in Marlborough, New Zealand. As much as I enjoyed travelling and making wine, I really wanted to learn more about wines of the world and came back to the UK to study MSc in International Retail Management at the Business School in Brighton. This catapulted my opportunities to get involved in the UK wine trade and business.

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I worked for Grover Zampa as their UK Brand Manager for two years and working with Kapil Grover was a highlight in my career. My biggest role was that of Tastings Manager at the prestigious drinks awards – International Wines and Spirits Competition (IWSC). For four years, I was responsible for over 10,000 wines and spirits year-on-year, along with a lot of travelling and connecting with drinks producers. I turned 30 in 2021 and it was during the second lockdown, where we all had too much time to think, is when I decided that for the next 10-20 years, I was going to work for myself and for my dreams.

What inspired you to start your own business and what drew you to this industry?

Even when I was studying to become a winemaker at around 18-19 years of age, I had this rosy idea of having my own drinks shop. I worked part-time at a few independent wine shops in the UK and I remember feeling utterly happy when a customer bought a wine I recommended and came back saying they had loved it. Knowing that retail was going to be the end game, when my father offered to pay for a Masters’ degree, I chose accordingly. When the time came to start my own business, the idea was in my head for several years and I had been polishing it ever since. The biggest change from the seed of the original idea to what you see today, even something that I didn’t see coming, was my passion for flavours and people who make delicious tasting drinks – not just wine and with that, All Things Drinks was born.

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What were the challenges you faced in your journey and how did you overcome them?

Living in the UK without my family during those early years was quite challenging. Plumpton College is in a remote location and without a car, I was a bit stuck. But what amazed me was the support and generosity of the British people – the other students gave me innumerable lifts, helped me with understanding my course work, teaching me the polite way to say things and overall, took me under their wing. Some of my best friends today are the ones I met at university and I even ended up marrying one. One of the biggest lessons I have learnt is that one should have the courage to be vulnerable and accepting that you may not know everything. Don’t be afraid to ask for help and let others support you and join you in your journey. The other significant challenge has been the arduous UK visa process, but in my experience of over six visas in the last 13 years, I have found the system to be very fair. I have never felt discriminated because of my country of origin.

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Is it easier to be a woman in a leadership role in some cultures (in the context of geography) than others?

Being a woman born in Mumbai and now settled in UK; I can only comment on these two cultures that I have observed. Yes, it is easier to be a woman in a leadership role in the UK versus in India. However, it is more nuanced than that. Women tend to take on leadership roles in more than one part of their lives – they want to lead and succeed not just in their careers but also at home and in their community. Our society has been built around these gender roles and it is easier for men to accept leadership roles as they have been nurtured to focus on being a leader solely in their careers. This happens in UK too but when compared to India, the world for Indian women is still a long way away from equality.

What does the future hold for your business? What do you want to achieve next?

I have very big plans for All Things Drinks and I am ambitious to get there fast. We are turning a year old in July and the next two years are going to be very exciting. After successfully bootstrapping the business that is thriving from just our money, we are getting prepared for our first round of seed investment and to release some equity for early-stage angel investors. The focus is to get more people in the UK to shop with us, as well as investing in significant digital systems whilst growing our small team into a stronger core team. Looking at the impact we have made in just 11 months, I envision All Things Drinks to be a house-hold name in the UK in about five years.

What are your tips for growing a company?

The advice I would give to every single person who is thinking of starting their own business is build the company for your customers and be ready to pivot from the lessons you learn. Another bit of advice would be – if you see your business as a market leader of the future and have an ambition to grow it into a big company, think big and about scalability from day one. It may be a bit more work, but it will help you get to your end goals so much quicker. It is a lot easier to run a marathon, if you decided you wanted to run a marathon; than to be told at a half marathon that now have another 13 miles to go!

Furthermore, are there any tips you would give an immigrant and aspiring entrepreneur to start a business in the UK? Any start-up red tape one should know about?

I personally think immigrants can make great entrepreneurs as the concept of migration is so entrepreneurial. However, it can be lonely as you may have left your network behind, so make sure you build a community of people you love and trust. For aspiring entrepreneurs my advice would be – don’t just look at your business in isolation but think of it as a newcomer in a larger world of businesses within that market.

Make sure that you are truly passionate about the industry you are getting into. I believe passion trumps knowledge, because if you are passionate about something you can always learn more and grow your knowledge. But if you don’t love or care enough about the industry you have decided to be a part of; when times are tough, you may feel trapped. It’s been 14 years since I first discovered the wine industry and the thought of learning more about the industry and drinks still excites me. I am sure if you ask me in 14 years’ time, I will still be waxing lyrically about some drink or producer or country!

I found the process of launching an online retail company fairly straightforward. The five things you need to do once you have decided to go for it:

  1. Get your domain name & website development started.
  2. Get an accountant and get your company incorporated and register for VAT. VAT is not essential but if you are in B2C world – cashflow is king and being able to claim VAT can be crucial for a small business.
  3. Get a lawyer within your market and get Terms & Conditions, Privacy Policy and GDPR considerations done for your business.
  4. If you are going to be Online only – make sure you learn everything about Google. If you had a physical shop, you would know the rates, the footfall, the nearest station, and other businesses in the area. Now imagine your shop is on Google – that is your digital address, and you need to know how this amazingly powerful platform works, to make the most of your position on it. Research – Google Ads, Analytics, Console, Merchant Centre and Academy.
  5. Get a cheap – CRM system, Cloud-based Accounting Software and Logistics software whilst outsourcing everything you don’t need to do to experts with better systems or knowledge or both.
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