Andrew Nicolson – Co-founder of Whisky Blender

[quote style=”boxed”]Magic and hard work. I’m not even lying, it takes a great deal of hard work and I make huge sacrifices. I’ve noticed that a lot of my friends don’t call me anymore. My wee brother sees more of them than I do now. It’s not their fault, it’s simply because I can’t afford the time (certainly not as often anyway) otherwise Whisky Blender wouldn’t exist. Don’t get me started on the impact it’s had on my girlfriend – talk about neglected. Somehow it gets done though. That’s the magic part. It all comes together and right now we’re just so excited to seeing it all work.[/quote]

Andrew Nicolson is a 28 year old graphic designer from just outside Glasgow, Scotland. He stands over six feet tall, weighs an astonishing twenty stone, loves whisky and, as you can see in the photo, looks great with a moustache.

For as long as his parents can remember, Andrew has always been creative. Constantly observing the details surrounding him and meticulously documenting them in drawings which he constantly produced day after day. It was no surprise that he would come to love Art and Graphic Communication at school, which eventually led to him studying Graphic Design at Glasgow Caledonian University to a Post Graduate level.

During his time at University he started up a company to allow him more opportunities to develop his abilities as a designer. Working freelance in his spare time for increasingly larger companies not only helped him grow as a designer through the tasks he was given, but also invited him to meet with more experienced creative people who inspired him as he learned from them.

After graduating he moved to Edinburgh and continued to work as a freelancer until he was invited back to the University to spend a semester tutoring the first and second year design students. He has since returned to the West coast and currently works full time as a graphic designer for a social networking site.

In November 2011 he and his good friend, Andrew Davidson, revealed to the world what they had been doing with their spare time and launched a new business, Whisky Blender; a site which allows the visitor to blend their own whisky online using seven different options, then personalise it before it’s bottled and sent out to them to enjoy.

What are you working on right now?

Currently, with Whisky Blender, I’m concentrating on pushing it out into the world. We’ve worked really hard to make it all happen a lot of nights and weekends were spent not seeing friends and family to get it to this stage – so we are making sure our efforts are not in vain. Spreading the word on a zero budget is difficult. You find yourself spending all night on Twitter following people; using Facebook to leave messages on various club walls; commenting on YouTube clips and blog posts; giving interviews online and taking photos of bottles to send to websites in the hope that they feature you.

We’re concentrating hard on ensuring the entire process, from how a person finds the site all the way to them actually drinking their whisky, is firmly in place and running smoothly. Looking closely at all the moving parts in this operation whilst tweaking them firmly into a functioning position. It’s very important to me to ensure we offer the best service we can despite our obvious restrictions. The fact that we are doing this in our spare time shouldn’t stop Whisky Blender from running and it certainly shouldn’t mean the customers receive anything but a high quality product.

On top of this we are developing the site. It’s ever-evolving and although most of our advancements are behind the scenes they are vital to sustaining the business. Streamlining is key right now. We’ve hired staff to tackle the day-to-day workload as we supervise the progress when we get home each night and work rigorously on new features at the weekend. This is interesting because although this arrangement slows the development process down, it appears to focus it and often allows us time to realign before committing. Strikes and gutters really.

Where did the idea for Whisky Blender come from?

It came from years of loving whisky. Despite neither of my parents liking whisky, none of my siblings, grandparents nor closest friends growing up, somehow I got a taste for it. Liking the taste was only the beginning as it soon became a hobby. Andy was my first real whisky friend and to this day is the only person who really shares my level of interest. I’ve met people who’ll have a dram, but to be honest, it’s not their thing, and I’ve met many people who love it in a whole different way from me. Like they’ve levelled up to a place where I really don’t think I’ll ever be or truly belong anyway. I don’t know. Andy and I go to the festivals and have a great time. We did John Lamond’s beginners course several times and the advanced one a couple of times too. Not just to develop my ability to identify characteristics in the whisky which help pinpoint various attributes such as region, age and type… but because you got to have lots and lots of great whisky.

Anyway, the idea came one day when Andy and I had been at a whisky festival and perhaps over did it slightly. After some food and a snooze on the train back to Glasgow we went for a few more drinks and that’s when the idea came to us. We talked together developing this concept of allowing people to blend their own bottle of Scotch… through a website! We were so excited. Slowly but surely life got in the way and this idea was put back in the whisky cabinet until such a time arose that we said to each other “let’s do it” and we did.

What does your typical day look like?

Well, my typical day is working at my day job and not even thinking about Whisky Blender. It’s not until I’m home again that I submerge myself into the role of Creative Director and start looking at how I can improve the site. It sort of feels like chopping projects into bite-sized chunks. Chipping away at something night after night until it’s complete. The constant “fresh eyes” nature of this arrangement helps me take a step back (but also means it takes longer to take steps forward).

Right now the typical night is chatting to customers. I’m right into my market research right now and I’m obsessed with finding out what they think of the site – what difficulties they may have had, what suggestions they might offer, what changes they’d like to see happen, what additions would interest them. I ask them to send in photos and make videos – that’s my latest hobby – gathering as much user-generated content as I can. I’d love to make the site more dynamic that way; allowing the past customers to help the future customers. I love that idea!

How do you bring ideas to life?

Magic and hard work. I’m not even lying, it takes a great deal of hard work and I make huge sacrifices. I’ve noticed that a lot of my friends don’t call me anymore. My wee brother sees more of them than I do now. It’s not their fault, it’s simply because I can’t afford the time (certainly not as often anyway) otherwise Whisky Blender wouldn’t exist. Don’t get me started on the impact it’s had on my girlfriend – talk about neglected. Somehow it gets done though. That’s the magic part. It all comes together and right now we’re just so excited to seeing it all work.

Seriously though, it’s communication. None of the ideas we have within Whisky Blender happen on their own and it’s the team together that makes that “magic” I was talking about. Between me, Andy and our genius developer, Ian Beveridge, we have built a business from scratch. Nothing about Whisky Blender is “off-the-shelf” and that’s why we’re so proud of it. We don’t have an office and we all work from home at nights and weekends, so communication is achieved via phone calls, instant messengers, a private Facebook group and now a project management interface which we are currently trying to integrate into our working process. So long as we communicate with one another, there’s nothing we can’t do.

What’s one trend that really excites you?

Since launch we have been getting picked up by various blogs and I love reading through the articles to find out what angle they go for. More often than not it’s the “personalised” concept that’s trending. It seems to me that personalised things are popular right now and a lot of people want to buy their own… whatever. It’s cool to be part of that trend and I hope we are able to feed off of this urge people have to DIY.

Personally, as I mentioned earlier, I’m really excited by the user-generated content idea. To an extent we do that already by allowing them to make and blend and publish it to Facebook and Twitter, but it’s only that one thing they can do and we supply them with all the tools. I’d love for the site to inspire them to go away and do something themselves, with their own equipment and submit it to us to publish on the site. I want to have an archive of videos made by customers explaining their experiences with the blending process and what the outcome of their decisions were. I’d love to chop up the videos into different categories: ‘hints’, ‘tasting notes’, beginners guide’, etc… that really excites me.

What was the worst job you ever had and what did you learn from it?

The worst job I ever had was probably kitchen porter for a local Italian “ristorante”. My job was basically to clean all the pots and pans, plates, bowls, cutlery, worktops, kitchen utensils… you get the idea. It was tough work for a young boy and late hours. The worst of it was the smell. After your shift you smelled like you’d decided not to go to work at all and instead sat in a manky bin all night while people poured wasted food over your head. Each night I’d get home smelling so absolutely boufin’ that I had to undress at the back door.

What did I learn?

Never to work as a kitchen porter because you’ll come home stinkin’. Ha ah! However, it was my first real job and I learned about money and earning and working hard. I learned that unless I wanted to make this my life I would have start thinking. Thinking about what I’m good at and what I can do. Make that my life instead. I also learned that when we eat out, no matter how nice the restaurant is, there’s no telling what goes on in that kitchen. Let’s just say I like my home-cooked meals.

If you were to start again, what would you do differently?

Not a thing. I’m not a regretful person and I don’t think that hindsight is as much a power as everyone thinks. Doing one thing different could quite easily have a far greater negative impact further down the line. The fact that everything is going well now and that we’re having fun tells me that I’ve done okay. Sure, there were things that annoyed me and I had to fix; but if I could start again I’d ensure those annoying things were there for me to fix all over again.

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

Have fun! Enjoy what you do and don’t get hung up over the wrong things. From the start we’ve made it our goal to have a great product. We wanted a great bottle, nice labels, quality whisky and a slick site to tie it all together in a fun way. Each one of these features could quite easily have suffered if we wanted to save money or increase the profit margins. Instead of being greedy we stuck to our guns and ensured each element was at the level we desired and it’s because of this that we’re so proud. We made something that we would want to buy from, something that we thought was fun.

Don’t lose sight of why you’re doing something. Hold on to what your initial goal was and make sure you don’t cheat yourself out of the feeling of true success. The way I felt when the site went live, before any orders came in and we made any money through it, was irreplaceable! The sense of accomplishment and pride was so great that it no longer mattered if it made us money. I didn’t care. We did it!

What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

Ha ah! Right now I’m looking into making an iPhone app for the site, or possibly even just a mobile version, so I’m looking at a whole area of design which I’ve had very little dealings with and it’s very cool. Researching apps you can’t help but feel “if only I could come up with a great app idea that will make lots of money” because let’s face it, it can be that easy. Kind of.

An idea I had just the other day for an app was a game which utilises adverts. Perhaps you shoot the ads as they come flying at you. Or maybe you’re driving and try to avoid hitting the ads. Perhaps they are platforms in a kind of Donkey Kong obstacle level. Not sure, but I think that integrating the ads within the game in such a way that they aren’t overlaid on top of the game play but rather they’re an important element within the game… I don’t know. I’ve never seen one like that and thought it could be worth a shot. The app would be free and you’d get lots of ad impressions with adverts constantly being displayed throughout the game. Instant money!

Tell us a secret…

I don’t tell secrets, as then they wouldn’t be secret. I can tell you an odd piece of information about myself that you may not know. I’m currently growing a yeard. A yeard is when you stop shaving and simply grow out your beard naturally for one entire year. You can’t trim it, sculpt it, shape it or anything. I’m now over five months in and I look like a caveman. Yea, probably should have made that a secret, huh?

What are your three favorite online tools and what do you love about them?

Facebook – anyone who knows me knows this about me: I love Facebook and I’m all over it. Not only that but I’m genuinely excited when a new feature comes out (and often feel like the only one who’s happy about it). We use it for Whisky Blender not just as a public page to keep in touch with the customers (either alerting them to new features or allowing them to contact us with any issues or, ahem, praise) but also to communicate amongst ourselves and what we’re working on.

Tumblr – I’ve been using Tumblr almost every single day for the last three years now and is it’s the single most powerful tool I have for connecting, inspiring and exposing myself to amazing creative everythings. It’s fast, easy, intuitive and makes for a fantastically endless stream of glorious content.

Google Analytics – This is by far my favourite tool right now. I’m obsessed with it. Watching the impact that different changes or features or articles have on our traffic is fascinating to me. I’ve started attaching tracking strings to every hyperlink everywhere in the hope to learn more about our target market.

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

The Princess Bride by William Goldman. Simply because it’s amazing and by far my favourite book – I think it’s just brilliant. I know I probably should have recommended some kind of inspiring design manual or something, but really any book available to you at all is one you should read. Especially if it combines elements of comedy, adventure, fantasy, romance and fairy tale. As you wish.

What’s on your playlist?

Right now it’s mostly Guided By Voices.

If you weren’t working on Whisky Blender, what would you be doing?

I’d be out socialising and spending time with the people who mean the most to me. I’d see my friends, visit relatives and take my special lady out for a lovely evening.

Three people we should follow on Twitter and why?

@whisky_blender – because it’s us and we’re great!

@kookiedoo – because she’s got her head screwed on tight and knows what’s what in the social media

@stephenfry – we don’t follow him but we’ve heard he’s great!

When was the last time you laughed out loud? What caused it?

My girlfriend and I have an account with LoveFilm and get DVDs sent through the post each week. We each have a list and the DVDs we receive are taken from each of these lists. I requested the HBO series, East Bound & Down and it arrived this week. I laughed out loud throughout the whole series night after night. That is a funny show and I’m now awaiting series two to get posted out.

Who is your hero?

Wayne White, “Do what you love it’s going to lead where you wanna go.”

Are you creative at all outside of your work, does this affect how you work?

I am. I set myself projects all the time. Setting up challenges and forcing myself to solve problems. Design is precisely this exercise, a client comes at you with a problem and you solve it. The challenges I set myself aren’t always design-related, but they teach me the same principles.

Recently, I’ve started setting my friends challenges too. The last completed one was a painting project where I supplied twenty-five tiny canvases and differently printed tiles. Each of the twenty-five participants received one of each and were asked to replicate the image printed on the tile as best they could onto the canvas. Once completed and returned I arranged the wee painted sections together in a frame (which I asked my brother to build for me) and it revealed a completed image. A collaborative painting created by my friends. I love it. Right now they’re writing songs, we’ll see how that goes.

What’s your favourite colour?

Orange. Yet I rarely use it… weird.