When Tim O’Sullivan and his girlfriend arrived home from a wholesome bender in South Korea he wanted one thing: Korean pear juice. The only problem is hardly anyone in Melbourne stocked the drink. You could order some online, maybe – or settle on second best, but Tim didn’t do either of these. Instead, he made his own. Tim is the 26-year-old co-founder of Bae Juice, the first 100 per cent Korean pear juice on the Aus market.
Bae Juice – Bae is the Korean word for “pear” – launched 15 months ago in Melbourne. You can now find it in over 100 stores across Australia. But between then and now is a chasm of personal sacrifice and hard work. Things you want and should be doing in your 20s – online shopping, travelling overseas, buying a car, saving for a house, and cute as hell anniversary dinners – have been put on hold.
But before we get into it, let’s back it up to his trip to Seoul with his boo / Bae Juice co-founder Sumin Do. The point of the trip was to meet Sumin’s family. But Koreans love to drink almost as much as we do, maybe even more, so the “low-key trip to meet the family turned into a two-week long drinking holiday.”
Every night before he went out, Tim was told to drink Korean pear juice. Do as the locals do, pretty much.
“It was confusing, but hey I went for it – I was on holiday,” Tim told P.TV. Drinking Korean pear juice before a night out makes the impending hangover less shit, he was told. “I couldn’t believe it,” Tim said. “It was common knowledge.”
It almost seems too good to be true, right? But I asked Dr Google M.D., and, well, it checks out. A whole five years ago, Aussie scientists at CSIRO conducted a study to see if drinking Korean pear juice reduced the severity of hangovers.
The study found that overall hangover severity was significantly reduced in people who downed a glass of pear juice compared to those who had a placebo drink. “With the most pronounced effect seen on the specific symptom of ‘trouble concentrating'”, Manny Noakes, the lead researcher on the project, said.
You have to drink the pear juice before alcohol though, otherwise it’s not going to work.
“I was hooked!” Tim said. “I woke up fresh every day and had a great trip.”
Back in Melbourne, Tim managed to track down the juice at a Korean grocer and, determined to prove its worth, gave it to his friends and family to try before a night out.
“It was like a miracle juice,” he said. “So I rallied up my best mate Liam [Gostencnik, co-founder] and we discussed how we could bring this to Melbourne.” A few weeks later, Tim and Sumin were back in Korea on the hunt for a supplier to grow their idea.
Here’s how it all came together.
PTV: Where do you even begin when you want to start a small business?
T: I love this question. We had no idea early on – it was all so exciting we just went with the flow of everything. We didn’t really know how to even set up a business officially. Had to call friends from my old football club that were accountants to help and get us a proper business structure.
We tried to make everything more simple:
- Set up business
- Build brand (product and website)
- Get some strategy going
- And get stock to make it all a reality.
I part own a cafe in Melbourne called Benny & Me, although we’re a family business so I didn’t have much to do with the initial setup. I was lucky to be able to bounce off my dad and use him for those questions and early stages in starting our business.
PTV: How has Bae Juice grown over the past year? How many employees did you start with?
T: We’ve grown from about 40 stores last year to over 100 currently, with some big things in place. We’re hoping to work with some large retailers soon.
We’re a small team, the three of us founders are the only core full-time workers. However, we have an amazing graphic designer that we work with, Maddi Sheehan, who designed our brand in 2018.
We also work with distributors, designers, and media companies. But essentially, we’ve taken on all the roles internally. Between the three of us we do the socials, distribution in Melbourne, PR, correspondents, and logistics with an outside company to name a few. It keeps our overheads lows and doesn’t put us under too much pressure, and we support each other’s roles regularly.
PTV: How did you guys land on the packaging design?
T: We were lucky our manufacturer already had the pouch design. Lots of products use it in Korea so we kind of loved it straight away.
T: It [the pouch design] really helps our concept of grab and go – quickly smash one before you go out, etc. Then the design – we realised we’re focused on the event space with an audience between 18-35 so we needed to make it fun and represent the lifestyle vision we have. That’s when the amazing pinks, blues, and mustard colours came to life and we are insanely proud of our product. I still hold it and think wow sometimes haha.
PTV: How did you overcome hurdles?
T: We constantly see the bigger picture. We have been through some incredibly challenging moments over the last 2.5 years but we have so much confidence in our product and what we are doing as a team. We always back ourselves and to look back over the past few years – with the lack of experience in all these areas – to now giving advice to others just proves our hard work and development. Sumin is my girlfriend of almost four years and Liam has been my best friend since 2005, so we luckily can lean on each other in challenging times or pump each other up when we need to get shit done.
PTV: How important is social media in your business?
T: It complements what we believe is an awesome brand we have developed. Although organic reach is difficult on Instagram with just product shots and fun content. We’ve taken on Facebook advertising internally now, and we’re having some early success with it.
We try to display our personalities in our copy and tone of voice and enjoy playing with ideas and competitions. Social media ideally helped us launch our product (besides petrol money) as we used it as a platform for people to message us, and show their interest. And we delivered samples in the first few weeks of launch so it’s an amazing free resource that, with some ideas, can be used well.
“I used to have absolutely no idea how to post a letter to a friend overseas,” Tim shared. “Then two years ago I imported 7500kg of Korean pear juice from South Korea to Melbourne.
“I didn’t take any courses or study at university, in fact I was expelled from school and barely passed. But I applied myself and the things I have learnt have been life changing. Accounting, importing, marketing, legalities and more. You really have to quickly adapt to all areas of business, but it’s extremely rewarding.”
Author’s Note: Tim was super kind to send me a box and I ripped through my 12-pack in a week, because I have no self control. Maybe pace yourself if you’re keen.Image: Instagram / @baejuiceaus