Jonnie Shearer: the new king of pussy

Stop sniggering at the back. Pussy has become a rising star in energy drinks, thanks to this young entrepreneur’s tenacity

“What about this fog? My pussy’s been gasping all night!” is one of the classic innuendoes delivered by Mrs Slocombe in Are You Being Served? which, love or loathe, never fails to get a rise out of people (no pun intended).

“I didn’t have any money for marketing and with 200 different products on the shelf I needed a clever name – something to make it stand out”

Jonnie Shearer

Before that we had the ultimate Bond girl, Pussy Galore – “I must be dreaming” – and now there’s Pussy Drinks; an energy drink that its creator, Jonnie Shearer, calls “the Champagne of energy drinks”.

Incorporated in late 2006, Pussy Drinks Ltd was dreamt up two years earlier; the day after Shearer left Oxford Brookes University. The name came first and the drink followed: “I didn’t have any money for marketing and, with 200 different products on the shelf, I needed a clever name – something to make it stand out.”

Shearer’s gamble is paying off. The daringly named drink started life as a soft drink for clubbers and is now being stocked by 3,000 UK retailers and in 18 countries worldwide. Like its rival, Red Bull, it contains a powerful punch courtesy of guarana, Siberian ginseng, natural caffeine and milk thistle.

On a good month Pussy Drinks claims to sell about 200,000 cans, both in the UK and abroad. Just recently sushi chain Itsu started stocking it and Selfridges has just signed up.

The significance of the Selfridges deal is not lost on Shearer: “I’ve popped in there ten times already to see how it’s doing. Apparently everyone’s talking about it in there.”

This is exactly what the young entrepreneur wants. Determined not to conform to the energy drinks mould, the brand breaks with convention by using feminine graphics, natural ingredients and by not associating itself with extreme sports – although the drink was served at the Monaco Grand Prix.

Instead, Pussy has been served at the Hollywood premier of Oceans 13, top hotels and even Hugh Hefner’s 80th birthday party – although just how “feminine” and chic that is is debatable.

Of this last coup Shearer is very proud – he has a photo of Hef drinking a can as his screen saver to prove it – but at the time he was too naive to exploit the marketing potential behind the snap. “I had no marketing or PR experience so it took me a week to get hold of the picture and then I didn’t know what to do with after that,” he explains.

Pussy poster

Nowadays marketing is no longer a problem. The ad agency Beattie McGuiness Bungay (BMB), led by renowned adman Trevor Beattie, is marketing the Pussy brand and has bought shares in the company.

“It’s a really interesting time for us,” says Shearer. “We’ve got BMB on board, Trevor Beattie and Bill Bungay. That’s how we can compete with the big boys.

“It’s great having them at monthly meetings.”

When you look at the BMB directors’ track records it’s unsurprising that they saw something they liked in Pussy. Formerly of ad agency TBWA, the trio are responsible for the reinvention of the French Connection brand with FCUK and Wonderbra’s deadly “Hello Boys” billboards. Innuendo is their game.

“It was an interesting time – imagine working from the bedroom, trying to make business calls and your mum starts hoovering or picks up the phone when you’re in the middle of selling to someone”

Right now they’re coming up with new slogans to highlight the drink’s naturalness – The drinks pure. It’s your mind that’s the problem – a message that Shearer is keen to get across. “One of our biggest challenges is getting people to try it as so many are put off by the other energy drinks on the market,” explains Shearer. 

But, despite the name and the reputation of more traditional style energy drinks, Pussy seems to be catching on. Unusually for the market there’s a 60/40 split for female/male drinkers, says Shearer, “despite the name”, and he’s adamant that the name has provoked “99.9 per cent positive feedback”.

This is just as well because not too long ago Shearer – who did a degree in property – was singlehandedly running the company from his bedroom in his mother’s house. He describes that time as “very lonely”. While his friends were busy securing high-flier jobs in the City he was desperately raising cash to fund the 30 different formulae that came before the final one.

“Imagine working from the bedroom, trying to make business calls and your mum starts hoovering in the background or picks up the phone when you’re in the middle of selling to someone.”

“I had a small car at the time and would try to fit as much as possible in and I’d have a half a ton of Pussy in the back. I got stopped once for overloading and had to give a load of cases to a random club in the East End”

The transition from a bedroom business – where he would drive across London making deliveries from the back his old BMW 3 series – to a fully fledged limited company came at the turn of 2006/2007 via investment from Jules Stevenson of the events company GSP.

Before Stevenson came along Pussy Drinks was a one-man business, although Shearer had managed to strike a deal with the Mint Group – the company behind a range of bars including Koko in Camden and Infernos in Clapham. This “tested the product” he says.

“I was doing it all myself. I had a small car at the time and would try to fit as much as possible in and I’d have a half a ton of Pussy in the back. I got stopped once for overloading and had to give a load of cases to a random club in the East End.”

Now Shearer employs a team of 12 in his Notting Hill office and says he’s expanding. They’re in the final throes of teaming up with a “major multiple” but can’t disclose who yet and are actively looking for a distribution partner.

“We want to keep it quite entrepreneurial as we don’t want to control the whole brand and business internationally. We want to find entrepreneurs who have drinks experience in different territories while we control the brand, but give them freedom and flexibly to do what they want,” explains Shearer.

And with a name like that, who knows what they’ll do.

www.pussydrinks.com

 

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