Success Stories: An Interview with Sam W Martin, CEO of Apothecary 87

We’re kicking off the start of this year’s success stories with a real corker! Sam W Martin is the CEO of Apothecary 87, one of Helm’s first graduates and he knows a thing or two about how to make a mean cocktail.

What inspired you to become an entrepreneur?

I don’t think I ever set out to become an entrepreneur, it’s something that just seemed to happen.

When I was young, I was always interested in doing business related things, even though I didn’t realise I actually enjoyed business. My friend and I decided to start selling Pokemon cards at school when we were just 12 years old. We used to visit a specialist store where we could buy the packs of cards but with a rare card guaranteed, and then sell those cards to other kids at school for a very healthy profit.

This will probably sound strange to most people but by the age of 14, I just knew I wanted to own an awesome cocktail bar (I don’t know how this became a dream of 14 year old lad, but it was). I used to write down my favourite flavours to mix in drinks, and talked with friends and family about design and size, along with where I would have this bar.

Although this never happened, when I was coming close to my 18th birthday, I decided to take the leap as a self employed bartender doing events. This evolved into starting my own events company and a consultancy company.

When I was 26, I started Apothecary 87. This was another venture I liked and almost fell into. It wasn’t until about 3 months in that I realised I really liked business and had become an entrepreneur. While running Apothecary 87, I’ve also started a jewellery company and opened a branch of Apothecary 87 in the US. I’m currently in the process of monetising our own photo studio and building a personal brand.

It’s only in the past year (I’m 29 now), that I have really fully accepted that I’m an entrepreneur. Realising this has given me a lot of direction and allowed me to pursue and plan some great business opportunities.

But to answer the question, I was inspired by “doing”. It’s allowed me to test myself, to surround myself with people who inspire me, and to finally realise this is a label that fits who I am.

Can you describe how you went from being a startup in your bedroom to where you are now?

Working my arse off!

When Apothecary 87 started, I had no idea how large it would be. I didn’t expect it to be more than a part time job. But I did have a vision of what the brand should be.

The mix of having a strong vision and the willingness to work 20 hour days, really helped. I was able to create steps for what I wanted to develop and follow these steps accordingly. Some of this was creative work, some was scientific, some was logistical, and some was finding the best people to help me. But from day one I really knew what the brand was, why we existed, and what our ethos was. As it happened, people saw these aspects easily and they just seemed to get the brand.

At the time, I didn’t know the formula for this, and in all honesty I still discover new aspects of this formula now. But I now know that doing what I believe, sticking to my guns when it comes to my values, and being authentic were some of the biggest reasons for us growing at the pace we have done and continue to do.

How do you keep your entrepreneurial spark alive?

How don’t I keep the spark alive!

I can view my accomplishments in a few ways. Maybe I’ve been lucky. Maybe I’ve been able to make the right decisions. Maybe I’ve worked harder than others. But however this is viewed, I know that I love doing what I do!

There are always times when you’re working on a project that’s tough, monotonous, or even not going in the right direction, but you can easily get through this by focussing on different aspects. There’s always a project within a project, or doing one thing can always lead to another. This makes it so it’s not hard to keep that spark. I’m obsessed and love it.

How do you manage working with family?

It’s not easy. As a family we all have our roles, and there are times when work reverses those roles. It can be tough to go against what you know in your personal life. But on the flip side, no amount of money or incentive can get you a better team member than someone who loves you.

How valuable was / is the support of others as an entrepreneur?

This is an easy question to answer…very.

If I’m elaborating, there are two ways I have found others helpful:

a) Running the business.

I was great at doing some aspects of business, good at others, and really shit at some aspects too! Luckily, one thing I feel I’m good at is surrounding myself with great people. These people have taken on the things I’m – if you excuse my language – particularly shit at, and even taken on some of the things I was okay at. The best part is that these guys are so great, they’ve surpassed the levels I could work to and it’s a regular occurrence for them to exceed my expectations!

b) Bettering myself.

The people I have met as an entrepreneur have truly been an amazing set of people. My teams, other business owners and other people in general have been a huge help, especially with me taking steps to better myself. This has included people teaching me, inspiring me and helping me. However it has to manifest itself, the people around me have helped me to become who I am and constantly aim to be better. I really couldn’t ask for more.

Interview Takeaways

* Get started now. You don’t know where it’ll lead.
* Work your arse off!
* Understand your brand, your why and your ethos. The rest will follow.
* Stick to your values and be authentic.
* Let others do the things you’re not so great at. You don’t have to do it all.
* It’s important to surround yourself with people that will inspire you, help you and teach you.

Thanks for your time Sam, it’s been great getting to know more about you.

If you’d like to hear more from Sam make sure you follow him on Facebook or LinkedIn.

For those of you looking to start a business and need that little nudge in the right direction don’t miss our Helm Free Fridays (every Friday 12-5pm). You could even end up with Sam as your mentor.

Helm Free Fridays

Want to learn more? Head down to Helm on a Friday for Helm Free Fridays. Full use of the space with meeting rooms, people and coffee. Come see what we're all about.