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How three schoolmates dreamed up $4m idea to replace your daily coffee

The twenty-somethings pooled their live savings to make it work.

From a trio of 12-year-olds in high school to the founders of a company on track to hit more than $4 million next year, sticking together has paid off for these three Aussies. Eamon Roderick, 24, Hugo Gray, 24, and Alex Chambers, 25, have been best mates for the past 13 years.

But by the end of 2024, they’ll hit a new milestone by selling their caffeinated chewing gum to 5,000 retailers nationwide. Each piece contains 40 milligrams of caffeine, which is equivalent to half a cup of coffee or half a small energy drink.

“It's called Zuum Energy Gum and it’s a chewing gum with caffeine, guarana and B vitamins,” Roderick told Yahoo Finance.

Three men in blue suits and ties holding drinks and smiling.
Eamon Roderick, Hugo Gray and Alex Chambers came up with the idea for Zuum while quarantining together during Covid. (Supplied)

“The idea is that it's basically a cleaner alternative to things like energy drinks, coffee, a pre-workout [supplement] or alcohol. It’s ultra clean, no sugar, low calorie and gluten-free.”

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With the company’s very recent launch into 7-Eleven, the founders are well on their way to reaching their goal of selling two million packs in 2025, a staggering achievement for the business that just celebrated its first birthday.

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Growing up together in Melbourne, Roderick, Gray and Chambers said were best mates since they can remember, moving through high school and then into university side-by-side.

But it wasn’t until they were fleeing Melbourne’s harsh lockdown laws during the pandemic, that the business idea came to them.

“During Covid, we escaped up to Queensland, but first we had to do two weeks in a hotel quarantine camp in Darwin,” Roderick explained.

Alex Chambers features in a video comparing gums (left), Hugo Gray holds up a pack of Zuum (centre) and Eamon Roderick and Hugo Gray celebrate seeing the gum in a 7Eleven (right).
The trio have been busy promoting their brand on social media. Source: TikTok/@zuumenergy

It was this forced time with each other that led them to start “spitballing”.

“We were basically looking for an energy alternative because none of us drink energy drinks,” the 24-year-old said.

“We thought we came up with the idea [for a caffeinated chewing gum] but then looked overseas and realised that it was an emerging market in North America and Europe, and that the product was taking off, particularly with high-performance athletes.”

The young men then found that they were lucky enough to be spending Covid in the nation's temporary sporting heartland as many of the nation's elite athletes had relocated to the Sunshine State during the pandemic.

Alex Chambers and Eamon Roderick standing in front of a Zuum sign at an event (left) and the duo with another man at a Zuum stand at an event (right).
Zuum launched at Chemist Warehouse in March 2023 and is on track to make a $4 million profit by the end of 2025. (Source: Supplied) (Supplied)

“At the time, the only visitors really on the Gold Coast and around the state were the AFL clubs, the NRL clubs and the netball clubs, so we were out every night with these athletes and we'd pitch our ideas to them and ask if our product was something they’d be interested in,” Roderick explained.

“We had a lot of the AFL players coming back going: ‘Yeah, we hate energy drinks but we have to use them to get a boost pre-match, so if you could come up with something cleaner that tastes good in a really convenient format, we'd love it’.”

From there, the three men developed a product, developed a brand and pooled their life savings to funnel a $60,000 investment in several pallets.

“We then started approaching retailers including Chemist Warehouse and they were just really interested,” Roderick said.

“They loved the idea and the head buyer of Chemist Warehouse basically got addicted to the product, so they gave us a shot and we launched in Chemist Warehouse in March 2023.

Since then, the train to success hasn’t stopped moving with the school mates racking up “a pretty long list” of 2,500 suppliers, including Ampol, WHSmith, about 200 independent supermarkets, and newly-announced 7-Eleven and Coles Express.

They also sell directly to ALF clubs like St Kilda. “They use it as a high performance product — recommended by their dieticians and high performance staff — before every match and every training session,” Roderick added.

The brand has also recruited distance runner Lauren Ryan, who will be representing Australia at the Paris Olympics later this year after she broke the national 10,000m record.

While appearing on Nine's Today show recently, Ryan said she uses Zuum as part of her training routine.

Lauren Ryan speaks on today (left) and is shown while competing (right)
Zuum ambassador Lauren Ryan, a long distance runner who will compete in this year's Olympics, recently promoted the brand on Today. Source: Instagram/@zuumenergy

For Zuum Energy Gum, business success has come down to two things, according to Roderick.

The first is that the product is multifaceted with lots of different use cases.

“The obvious one is as an energy drink alternative anytime people want a convenient caffeine boost, whether that be for the 3pm office slump or as a pre-workout product,” Roderick said.

“But a lot of young people are also using it during nights out for that high energy feeling without alcohol.”

The second is that the founders tapped into the emerging trend of functional products.

“Basically what’s happening in America and Europe is that there's a lot of brands taking traditional formats, whether it be drinks or food items, and then taking that existing format and adding a functional element to it,” he explained.

“So where you could traditionally just be chewing an old piece of gum, you can have the same exact product experience case but with a functional benefit.”

“And there's really no reason not to do that these days.”

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