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Whisky business pays off for a young social media expert

IN this week's SME Focus we hear from a young entrepreneur who came up with an innovative way of promoting the whisky produced by one of Scotland's oldest industries .

Name: Blair Bowman.

Age: 24.

What is your business called?

World Whisky Day.

Where is it based?

I divide my time between Edinburgh and Aberdeen as well as travelling internationally.

What does it produce, what services does it offer?

World Whisky Day on May 17 invites everyone to try a dram and celebrate the water of life. Events are taking place all over the globe and people are encouraged to attend events near them or host their own event. World Whisky Day celebrates all types of whisky/whiskey and encourages everyone to enjoy whisky responsibly. Events taking place on World Whisky Day are registered on the World Whisky Day website.

There are two flagship events taking place in Scotland - a ceilidh at the Aberdeen Music Hall on Friday, May 16 and a World Whisky Day Feast Fair, showcasing Scottish food, beer, cocktails and whisky, at the Scotch Malt Whisky Society on Saturday, May 17.

What is its turnover?

It's around £100,000 and there are various revenue streams. My three main customers are the whisky brands/distilleries, World Whisky Day event hosts (venues) and the general public. I'm working closely with a variety of whisky brands/distilleries who are sponsoring various aspects of World Whisky Day. Event hosts can register their World Whisky Day event for free but can pay to upgrade their event to give it more exposure on the website. The general public can access the World Whisky Day shop on our website and buy official merchandise and a specially created World Whisky Day Whisky.

How many employees?

Just me but I am looking to expand rapidly in the next six to 12 months.

When was it formed?

August 2011 while I was living in Barcelona as part of a year abroad for my Hispanic Studies degree.

Why did you take the plunge?

Three years ago, I noticed that #WorldGinDay was a global trending topic on Twitter. Having co-founded an award winning Whisky Society at Aberdeen University I wanted to find out the date of World Whisky Day. When I couldn't find anything about a World Whisky Day and saw that WorldWhiskyDay.com was available to buy I knew I had to do it. I invested around £1000 of my student loan getting it off the ground. To add to this, I was successful in winning £1000 in 2012 from the Scottish Institute for Enterprise New Ventures Competition to reinvest in the business. Only a few days after launching the website I was receiving emails from all over the world, with people telling me how they would celebrate. After about a week I had over 1000 people saying they would celebrate World Whisky Day, it was then that I knew I had to make it really happen.

What were you doing before you took the plunge?

I was working as a Social Media Manager at two small start-ups in Barcelona whilst still studying full time.

How did you raise the start-up funding?

I was very lucky to win two awards from The Scottish Institute for Enterprise. Initially I won £1000 from the New Ventures Competition in March 2012. Then a week after my graduation in July 2013 I won £50,000 in their Young Innovators Challenge Competition.

What was your biggest break?

The first goal I had set myself was to make #WorldWhiskyDay a global trending topic.

Seeing #WorldWhiskyDay as a global trending topic on Twitter on the first ever World Whisky Day in 2012 was an incredible feeling.

What was your worst moment?

When WorldWhiskyDay.com crashed for three hours the same day because of too much traffic. It was getting about 15 to 20,000 hits an hour. I now have a dedicated server with Iomart Hosting, so I don't need to worry about this happening again.

What do you most enjoy about running the business?

I can make my own itinerary and schedule.

What do you least enjoy?

Doing the admin things.

What are your ambitions for the firm?

I think World Whisky Day has the potential to become like what St Patrick's Day is for Guinness. People who might never drink Guinness might drink it on St Patrick's Day just because they need an excuse to give it a try. If people who have never tasted whisky before hear on the news that it is World Whisky Day, this might be the tipping point they need to get out to their nearest event and give it a go.

What are your five top priorities?

Get people trying whisky on World Whisky Day and hopefully falling in love with it; have whisky distilleries/brands involved in World Whisky Day around the world; encourage people at events to raise money for Just a Drop, an international water aid charity; increase awareness of World Whisky Day.

What could the Westminster and/or Scottish governments do that would help?

It would be great to see the Westminster and Scottish governments encouraging more entrepreneurship, especially to pupils at high school. I was never told that setting up your own business was an option. It was all about getting a 'good' degree in order to get a 'good' job. I wish I'd known more about the option of setting up your own company. I guess I've just had to learn it all on the fly.

What was the most valuable lesson that you learned?

There will never be enough hours in a day to do everything you want to do. If you accept this and give it your best shot then everything will work out just fine.

How do you relax?

I love the Scottish countryside and spend most weekends out in Aberdeenshire visiting castles or gardens with my girlfriend. I also enjoy running along Aberdeen beach and of course enjoy a dram at home from time to time.

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