DURING the day, the four friends behind indie soft drink brand Botol Kaca go for classes and worry about their university assignments. But almost every night of the week, they get together for the very time-consuming business of packaging their soft drink bottles, which they will then sell at events during the weekend.
“Everything at Botol Kaca is purely DIY at this point, because we’re only just starting out,” said Rahimie Affandie, who founded Botol Kaca together with Nur Syazmie, Muhammad Rahmat and Ahmad Al-Hadi, who’re all 22.
Nevertheless, the guys are enjoying every second of their venture into Malaysia’s burgeoning indie F&B scene, and they’ve built a small but growing following – pretty impressive for a brand that was only created in May this year with an initial capital of RM200.
It started from a night out at a mamak between the four high school friends, who now each attend different universities. The topic that night was about earning side income.
“There’s this trend over the past couple of years to start indie brands in the local scene, and we thought we’d jump on that bandwagon,” Rahimie recalled.
“Everyone was already making their own clothing lines, so we decided to come up with our own soft drink brand instead, something vintage.”
As luck would have it, Muhammad, who was studying at Universiti Teknologi MARA in Malacca, found a factory there that produced soft drinks.
They decided to buy the bottles in bulk, then repackage and rebrand them to cater to the urban Klang Valley market.
“One of the reasons we wanted to do this was based on our own experience with local brands,” said Nur. Brands like Pop The Soda, for example, had already found success with a similar concept for soft drinks.
“When buying local brands at events, we were surprised at how competitive their prices were. So, we figured we could do it too.”
After much deliberation, they settled on a selling price of RM3 per bottle of Botol Kaca. Making their product accessible, however, was trickier.
“At first, we wanted to adopt the business model of ice cream vendors and just sell Botol Kaca on sidewalks,” said Rahimie. “Then, we graduated to gatecrashing local events. Eventually, we got recognised and people started askingfor our contacts and inviting us to events.”
Being university students trying to kick-start an independent business isn’t easy, though. Even with things going relatively well for Botol Kaca now, Rahimie and Nur are intent on completing their respective degrees.
“Due to our busy schedules at university, it can be difficult even with the four of us taking turns collecting our stock from the factory and manning the booths at events,” Nur admitted.
“We use my father’s school van for larger stock collections. We unscrew the seats to make space for all the cartons, so there can be a lot of work involved.”
Of course, it is all worth it at the end of the day for the boys, especially when they manage to sell all their stock at events. On good days, and depending on the size of the event, they can sell up to 1,500 bottles.
“We’re having fun doing this – especially being able to build our brand and watch it grow. That’s our main focus with Botol Kaca now; the money is just a bonus,” said Rahimie.
“All our profits now are being channeled into our brand fund to increase our capital. We’ve been using the funds to upgrade the lighting and backdrops we use at events.”
After all, they’ll need all the branding they can get to one-up competitors like Pop The Soda and Hello Soda. It’s a small playing field for local soft drink brands but according to Nur, there’s a lot of mutual respect and healthy rivalry between the competitors.
Next on Botol Kaca’s to-do list is nation-wide expansion. And while they’re at it, they also hope to add to their four existing drink flavours – Ice Cream Soda, Sarsi, Tutti Fruity and Grape.
“We were limited to the factory’s flavours in the beginning. Now, we’re planning to have custom flavours like strawberry and red velvet,” revealed Rahimie. The new flavours should be ready in a year or two.
In the meantime, they will be exploring ways to distribute their products to shelves across the country.
Rahimie said: “Our drinks have a local taste that I believe every Malaysian – regardless of their race – can appreciate. At least that’s what we’re aiming for.”
For more info about Botol Kaca and to find out where they’ll show up next, follow them at instagram.com/botolkaca_my.