Business Journey: Ruari Fairbairns – One Year No Beer
Working as an oil broker in London, Ruari Fairbairns was no stranger to the party lifestyle, but when he began to feel the detrimental effects alcohol consumption were having on his physical and mental health, Ruari knew something had to change. After some re-evaluation, Ruari decided to take a break from booze and found every aspect of his life changed for the better.
Inspired by this, Ruari wanted to help others realise how different their life could be if they changed their attitude and behaviour towards alcohol, so One Year No Beer was born.
Today, the international behavioural change programme has helped more than 80,000 people reconsider their relationship with alcohol. Here, Ruari shares his story.
Tell us about One Year No Beer, what is it and when did it launch?
Founded in 2015, One Year No Beer (OYNB) is an award-winning behaviour change programme and online toolkit for surviving modern society alcohol-free. It is aimed at anyone drinking in excess of three glasses of wine a week.
With a member base of more than 80,000, we believe that having a community is crucial to making a positive lifestyle change, and so we are constantly finding new and exciting ways to provide this support.
OYNB is not an abstinence programme; it is not about eliminating alcohol entirely. It’s about empowering people to break down old habits and build new ones, creating a positive mindset that lets the individual take back control and make clearer decisions.
We’re also currently developing technology that will enable members to connect over their common goals of changing behaviour with such things as caffeine, sugar, gambling and social media.
I believe you were inspired to start One Year No Beer after re-evaluating your own relationship with alcohol. Can you tell us a little bit more about this journey?
Changing my own relationship with alcohol was the starting point for my journey with One Year No Beer, because this allowed me to create space in my life, to find my true meaning and purpose.
I wanted to make people understand how big these benefits are, so I decided to create a challenge, and in 2016, we launched One Year No Beer, which at the time was a free 90-day challenge. It went viral and in the first year, we got over 20,000 sign-ups. This is how One Year No Beer was born.
Before founding One Year No Beer, you worked as an oil broker, how did this experience help you in building One Year No Beer?
During my time as an oil broker in London, two worlds collided, partying and being successful. The more I partied, the more successful I was. After a few years of this lifestyle, I started to experience several health problems like IBS, anxiety and dry skin.
I was introduced to something called Headspace and I started meditating on the train to and from work, and that was when I realised that alcohol was causing me more problems than benefits. I approached my boss and said that I was thinking about taking a break from booze and he said that this would be “committing commercial suicide”!
Six months later I finally plucked up the courage to do it and when I did, I was blown away with the benefits – I got fitter, faster and healthier. I became a better husband and a better dad. I grew my oil broking business and reduced costs by 30%. My IBS and dry skin disappeared and every area of my life improved.
When it first launched, One Year No Beer was an 90-day challenge, now it’s a behavioural change programme with members in 90 countries – can you tell us how the business evolved and how you have managed such exponential growth?
Start-up life is exciting and tumultuous and it’s not uncommon to feel like you are taking two steps forward and one step back, but from the very beginning we knew we wanted to create an online community, powered by technology that could help people change their behaviour. There has never been a more connected community than through our social media channels. I’d go as far as to say that it's the lifeblood of everything that we do.
We understand that by connecting and empowering people while gamifying our real-life experiences, we can enable users to connect with our brand and our missions in a much deeper sense. It also allows us to connect with people virtually anywhere in the world, meaning we can deliver behavioural change at an international level.
Building an audience for your business has never been easier because we have access to so much technology, platforms and resources to communicate with our customers and distribute our brand messaging, but the abundance of information channels can make it harder to reach and resonate with our desired community and core customer demographic.
What has been your biggest challenge since starting One Year No Beer and how did you overcome it?
Making difficult decisions in order to prioritise the thing that will make a big difference to your business sometimes means you have to sacrifice other short-term exciting ideas. I am such a creative and driven person that I find this very hard to do sometimes.
When you initially launched One Year No Beer, how was it received?
Our attitude has always been to be =different and bring positivity to an industry that is traditionally stigmatised, so we have a unique angle. Our solution is to connect the human race through peer support and build technology that facilitates connection through behaviour change.
Like I say, we are not an abstinence programme. OYNB is about breaking down old habits and building new ones, creating a positive mindset that lets the individual take back control and make clear-sighted decisions when it comes to booze.
We want to flip the drinking model on its head. From one of admitting you have a problem and possibly having to go to a church or community hall and sit in a circle and talk about being stigmatised for the rest of your life, to one of positive change. We want all our members to be able to say that they are out there, living a better life, proud of their life choices. For these reasons, we have and continue to remain extremely well received.
Understandably, the coronavirus pandemic has had a massive impact on people’s relationship with alcohol, and your platform has actually seen a 287% increase in people looking to change, how do you think this might evolve as the country moves out of lockdown?
In the first lockdown, we witnessed a 30% increase in signups, signalling a clear demand for increased support. These figures were reinforced by a YouGov survey that we commissioned, revealing that nearly three-quarters of UK drinkers were drinking the same (45%) or more (29%) during the lockdown, leaving only 25% drinking less.
Our internal data shows that more people than ever are choosing not to drink, so we need to hold on to the fact that we are a growing trend. People will come out of lockdown and the chances are that they will over-celebrate, and they will need a programme like ours to help keep them on track.
What are the short-term and long-term plans for One Year No Beer?
Our short-term plan is to pivot into a subscription business and create a freemium downloadable subscription app. Our long-term plan is to create a household name that is known for changing the world's relationship with alcohol, like Hoover is to the vacuum and Nike is to the trainer.
What has been your most rewarding experience since founding One Year No Beer?
At the beginning of the pandemic in April 2020, we decided to directly support some 8,000 frontline staff and NHS workers across the UK who were struggling with alcohol due to the stressful nature of their jobs. We also empowered more than 2,000 of our existing members by providing them with the opportunity to re-engage with the community and support those frontline workers. It was like an army of people supporting others and this has personally been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life to date.