Billy Keast in Gallagher Premiership action for the Chiefs. Picture: www.jmpuk.com
At just 23 years-old Exeter Chiefs prop Billy Keast has already set up his company No.1 Cubs with his business partner Matt Butler. Their vision is to supply specialty coffee across the South West and unique Cornish clothing across the UK. They feel strongly that there is something unique and pure about Cornwall, and they want to incorporate it within their clothing to share it with the world in the No.1 Cubs way. The duo has begun to make a name for themselves with their unique style of clothing and quality of coffee.
How did you come up with the name No.1 Cubs?
One of the toughest things was coming up with a name. I was watching a rugby game on my laptop and after that game there was a baseball game on with the Chicago Cubs and it just clicked. I always wanted an animal design as its easier to be creative with an animal in terms of a logo. It also meant further down the line we could use some variation when looking at expansion e.g. a tiger cub, bear cub, wolf cub. Cubs is a youthful sounding name, which was on brand for us and the No.1 element incorporated my rugby position, so it fit well. It’s not too aggressive and easy going.
What was the driver behind getting No.1 Cubs up and running?
I was on loan at Cornish Pirates a couple of seasons back and was unsure what was going to happen in my career. I thought I could start this up, see how it develops, take it at its own pace and see how it goes. We started off really small with just a little van and did a few sporting events, with the aim of building a premium coffee brand to give customers the best coffee they could find in Cornwall and the South West. A couple of people I’d spoken to about starting this company had mentioned Origin coffee roasters as a potential supplier and put us in touch with their owner, so that was a handy start off. We contacted them on the off chance they’d be happy to do something with us and they were keen. They are well known for their speciality coffee, have a great culture and they search for the best coffee from around the world.
How did you find that first initial period of running your own business? We started in November 2018, I’d just started playing more senior games at chiefs, so everything seemed to happen at once. My rugby career started building momentum and the company was taking up more time so it was quite a busy six months. We managed to get the van all kitted out and book some events just to test it out really. We definitely went in at the deep end, I was never a barista, we did our training courses, but it was more of a passion of enjoying our coffee and trying to get out there and try something different. I would say at the moment it’s paying off.
When did you start to add in the clothing component of the business? We did three or four decent events with the coffee and were selling a couple of t-shirts here and there at the events, to a few of the boys at the club and to friends. Then my business partner Matthew set up our website to push the coffee and show people what we are doing with the option to buy some branded clothing. We feel both aspects of the business support each other well. We are now stocked in a couple of shops and have done various collaborations with Unis, so it’s pretty exciting.
What are your future plans for the business? We’ve recently confirmed a permanent spot in Charlestown Harbour, which is a nice little fishing village, from the start of April till the end of October. Obviously with everything going on, that’s been held off, but other than that we are really happy and chuffed we’ve got a permanent spot as we have been looking for a long time. We had a couple of hurdles and mistakes around permanent spots last year which didn’t quite go to plan, so it’s great to have this pinned down. Billy Keast in Gallagher Premiership action for the Chiefs. Picture: www.jmpuk.com
The Poldark series was all filmed at the Charlestown harbour, so it has a good draw for the public. On the clothing side we are now stocked in Whirlwind sports. They are a small sporting goods company in Cornwall, they’ve got four or five little shops. To get our clothing in somewhere is a great step for us and we also get a lot of our sales from Instagram which is ticking over nicely.
How are you and your business adapting in isolation?
Well I live on a farm in CornwalI so I can help out a bit more at home. It’s tough to put the hours in to No.1 Cubs when I am at Exeter so it’s really nice to put some quality time into the company. We, like so many, are trying to adapt to the current situation. Our clothing sales are keeping our business ticking over and Matt and I are doing up the coffee trailer, which is an upgrade from the van, so it will be ready to go when this is over. We are being as pro-active as possible in this current climate and making the most of the situation. I thought I might have had a bit more free-time, but I’m busier than I was before coronavirus hit.
At just 23 you have accomplished a lot outside of rugby already. What advice would you give to other young players?
I feel like if you have an idea that you want to pursue you should dip your toe in and get started. Our careers are short term and you don’t want to in ten/ five year’s time come to the end of your career and that summer attempt to plan the whole of the rest of your life. What I’ve done was a bit of a bold move to do at my age considering I’ve hopefully got a whole career ahead of me, but I thought to myself I’ve got a vision, why should I wait until I’m 31, 32, 33 to start it when I can start it now. For anyone who has ideas, you don’t know how long your career is going to last and you can’t plan for injuries. You want to get on the front foot rather than the back foot and that’s part of the reason why I started it. I didn’t want to be on the back foot in case I lost my contract and I feel like I’m on the front foot which is great.