They met while working in the City of London, where every deal is surrounded with a haze of alcohol, along with the good times and bants. Sensing that their boozy corporate culture might involve more peer pressure than actual love for quaffing ale, Andy Ramage (42) and Ruari Fairbairns (36) set up One Year No Beer, an initiative with the catchy, but surprisingly challenging aim to give up drinking for 90 days.
They struck a chord: it seems that clean eating is influencing clean living too, and not just in social groups unused to being sloshed. Even in the boozy UK, the proportion of adults who drink is at the lowest level on record. One Year No Beer soon had 15,000 members signed-up. But once you’ve caught the public mood, can you turn your movement into a business without compromising its integrity?
RISING You’ve tapped into a lifestyle movement – did you spot it developing or were you surprised to hit 15,000 members?
ANDY RAMAGE ‘We knew we’d get signups, but not at the speed we have done. When we originally discussed the idea, Ruari and I were colleagues in the City, in a very boozy climate. And there are thousands more people stuck in a similar loop, where everything revolves around drinking – celebration, commiseration, relaxation. Whatever the occasion there’s always an excuse to have a couple of pints. The pressure is massive. People have all these false associations with beer, and so we set the challenge.’
RISING Speaking of challenges, you both still work full-time jobs. Has that caused any issues?
AR ‘I run an oil brokerage business – and Ruari works in the City himself – so our day jobs are a million miles from being the social entrepreneurs of a lifestyle brand. The business element is something I’m excited about. Although I’d be lying if I said it hasn’t had a big learning curve.’
‘We tell people that they are going to slip up at some point – it’s human’
RISING What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learnt so far?
AR ‘If you ask someone to build a house and you’re not there to project manage it, the risk is it goes belly-up. That’s what happened with us, where we’ve had to consistently pay people to come and do stuff we could have done a thousand times better, and it’s led us into various problems. We started off trying to do things a little bit budget. If you’re living in the grey, as they say, you’re always going to fall prey to those sorts of cockups.’
‘If you ask someone to build a house and you’re not there to project manage, you risk it going belly-up’
RISING Did the fact it’s a movement, in which people are personally invested, mean that the stakes were even higher?
AR ‘One hundred per cent. A year ago I thought we couldn’t continue, I’d hit burnout; but then we saw even more signups and knew we were changing lives. Our mantra began as: “If we help just one more person, it’s a massive success,” and within months we were helping thousands, receiving emails about changing someone’s life. That makes you think: “Shit, we’re doing something pretty good – not just shifting supplements to make an extra couple of quid.” Our aim then became to keep going at all costs.’
RISING You’ve started charging for the service. Did you fear that in doing so you’d come across as a bit opportunistic?
AR ‘That’s a really good point. At the beginning, we wanted to give it all away for free. Quite quickly, however, we realised we couldn’t get it anywhere near where we wanted to whilst it was non-profit, unless we turned it into a charity, but with that came a lot of red tape we just didn’t have time for. So we hit a happy medium, where we can charge for it without feeling like we’re exploiting people. The basic package is £20, which in London terms is not even four pints. For those people who want extras, including video courses, it costs more.’
RISING And who is it aimed at specifically? Stockbrokers who liquid lunch?
AR ‘The gender ratio is about 50-50, which is interesting for us. We’re two guys, the branding is slightly masculine – it’s One Year No Beer - so in our minds, initially we were aiming it at guys like us. But as we found early on doing our homework, similar lifestyle services all seemed aimed at 70-80% women. When we met with Alcohol Concern early on, they told us: “The people we can’t get into, the most important group, is the 30-40 year old, City-type men. That’s the demographic we can’t reach.” And nearly half of our members fit into that group, so we’re in a good place.’
RISING And why do you think people will continue to sign up now that it’s at a cost?
AR ‘The support, the tips, the community. It gives you a common goal. Whenever I’d go for a client meeting and they’d say “why are you not drinking?”, I’d say “I just feel like it”, but within half an hour I’d be drinking again. With a challenge, you’ve got a reason to stay obstinate and determined. I lost two stone when I gave up booze, so I know first-hand how good it is. As I found playing football [Ramage was once a pro for Gillingham], the office workers who flourish are those who don’t go boozing, because they’re on the ball day after day, running rings around their colleagues.’
RISING A year without beer is a nice idea, but we all know there are times when you just seem to end up with a drink in your hand. What happens then?
AR ‘We tell people that they are going to slip up at some point; it’s human. Now, that’s normally when people go, “Oh screw it, I’m off the wagon” and proceed to have eight more. Our goal is to come in and say, “Hey, put that to one side in your mind and go again.” If you get to 90 days with just a couple of blips, then that’s amazing.’
WHAT NEXT Here’s an idea: while 90 days without booze might be impractical for any number of reasons, why don’t you challenge yourself, right now, not to drink for ten days. Don’t cancel any social occasions, just don’t drink at them – this dry run will help you to identify where you’re having a drink due to peer pressure, or stress relief, rather than pleasure. And the self-discipline you learn will help you to then go for 90 days, if you want to.