Laylo: from a chance text message to everywoman ‘brand of the future’

Laura Riches, Co-Founder of Laylo, remembers the first time she thought about boxed wine in a professional context.

At the time I was the Marketing Director of Naked Wines and one of the team suggested adding a boxed wine to our Christmas case.

“Absolutely no way!” was the answer.

Three years later I quit my job to co-found a boxed wine startup – Laylo.

Boxed wine. But not as you know it

For decades, boxed wine has been associated with cheap plonk. It’s the jungle juice we’d drink at student house parties or the ‘goon bags’ we’d guzzle while travelling.

The reputation was justified. Boxed wine used to be lined with aluminium, which would crack easily. As soon as oxygen reached the wine, it would taste like vinegar.

Things have changed a lot since then. The material used to make the lining has evolved, meaning it’s now possible to put amazing wines into boxes with confidence; the taps even keep the juice fresh for six weeks once open.

Boxed wine is also a more sustainable way to drink wine, generating 90% less carbon than glass bottles.

Our ‘sliding doors’ moment

During lockdown I started working on a pitch – to create a top quality boxed wine that tastes and looks amazing. A boxed wine that you could proudly share with friends.

I’m not sure who I planned to pitch to. The presentation would have probably gathered metaphorical dust in my Google drive if it hadn’t been for a chance text from my friend – and former COO of Naked Wines – Laura Rosenberger.

After some lockdown chitchat (‘bubbles’, ‘lateral flows’... you remember!) we discovered we had exactly the same idea. We knew we worked brilliantly together, so it was a no-brainer to join forces.

The side hustle

We were lucky that we naturally gravitated towards different aspects of our ‘side hustle’. Laura is an operational whizz and figured out the building blocks for transporting wine, getting it through customs, and delivering a great ‘direct to consumer’ (D2C) experience. I was focused more on the brand and marketing.

Our first wine launched four months later in November 2020 – a Tempranillo made by sisters Ruth and Ana de Andres, wrapped in a Spanish tile design.

There wasn’t a marketing budget, so we looked for every possible (free) opportunity to shout about our brand. The first orders came from friends and family, but soon followed by people who’d heard about us through word of mouth or PR.

Then the Masterchef judge and critic William Sitwell started shouting about Laylo on his social media.

Within a couple of weeks, we’d sold over 2 thousand litres of wine.

Building Laylo direct to consumer

Over the past 2 years we’ve focused on building a brilliant direct to consumer experience. We’re trying to change perceptions, so it made sense to have a direct conversation with consumers.

We’ve launched 14 wines, all of which have received rave reviews from the press – everybody from fancy critic Matthew Jukes to Ed Gamble on the Off Menu podcast. Most importantly, Laylo customers love what we’re doing, manifest in our Trustpilot reviews, and repeat order metrics.

A personal highlight of mine was our popup in Selfridges over Christmas 2021. It was the first time we’d been able to see the reactions to our wines face-to-face … The “this is actually delicious!” moment doesn’t get old.

And 2023 is a really exciting milestone for our business, as we move from a focus on D2C to multi-channel distribution through retail and the on-trade (bars and restaurants).

It’s something we’ve thought about in the past. But right now feels right for Laylo and the market more generally.

The F word

Being a female founding team is something we think about, but mainly as motivation to buck the trends.

We’ve had the odd comment: “I don’t invest in female founders because they struggle to get follow on”. But we’ve also been fortunate enough to be surrounded by brilliant men and women who really want Laylo to succeed, including a line-up of supportive investors.

Founder communities including everywoman and Buy Women Built have helped us navigate the highs and lows of starting a company. I’ve huge admiration for Maxine Benson MBE, Karen Gill MBE and Sahar Hashemi OBE, who are rallying the collective force of female entrepreneurs.

Winning the everywoman ‘Brand of the Future’ award in December last year felt like the culmination of two years’ hard work, but also a statement of where we want to take the business – we’re here to change the way the world drinks wine.

The three things I’ve learnt through starting Laylo

Find your way to ‘just get going’: Lots of people have a business idea, but very few actually do it. For me, teaming up with a Co-Founder was the impetus I needed to make my (our) idea a reality.

Look for free opportunities: We did eventually spend some money on marketing, but I learnt a lot from the early days. ‘Free’ channels like PR and organic social take a lot of effort, but also force you to figure out what’s actually interesting about your business.

Surround yourself with good people: We’ve been intentional about the investors on our cap table, the team we’ve hired and the communities we’ve joined. For us, it’s been crucial to find a balance of positivity and honesty.