Still competing. The only thing that has changed is the pitch

Saracens and Wales rugby star Dom Day retired in December last year and started his own company, fourfiveCBD, selling a hemp-based product that had helped him recover from injury as a player. Along with his former teammate George Kruis, they have seen rapid growth, now employ ten full time staff and are on course for seven-figure turnover by the end of the year. Here, he shares insights gained during his playing career 

Growing up in Pembrokshire, west Wales, I was a relative late convert to the” you reap what you sow” mentality. I was average academically and in sport throughout school and it wasn’t until my late teens that I began to “fill out..

For most Welsh boys, playing rugby for Wales was an obsession. For me, it didn’t really seem that achievable and so looking back I was quite relaxed about what was possible. I remember thinking, if rugby doesn’t work out, I’ll go on the oil rigs, that’s well paid and you get loads of time off.

Fast forward 15 years and I’m proud to say I played lock for Wales in the World Cup, I’ve been paid to play rugby in Australia and Japan and I had planned on leaving Saracens in November last year for a final hoorah in the US before injury finally got the better of me and I retired.

As a rugby player you have a short shelf life: the nature of the physicality of the sport means you’re only one game away from a career-ending injury. If you’re lucky you can earn a living into your early 30s. Ironically, it was a 2017 injury (I’ve had more than eight rugby-related operations in my career) that presented me with an opportunity.

I came across CBD, a natural chemical compound found in the hemp plant, that was helping a small number of athletes to recover quickly from surgery. I experimented and it seemed to work for me.

As I progressed through the ranks of rugby and eventually playing in the sport’s premier competition there was one characteristic that kept on coming through from those players who really excelled. I should clarify here, I don’t count myself as a great, far from it: I’m talking about those players who stood out, really stood out.

Dom and England prop George Kruis

The one thing they all had in common was that, when the critical decisions or plays needed to be delivered, they seized the moment. They took their opportunity and delivered.

I was fortunate to play with, and be coached by, some of the true greats of the game and I always asked them about their ability to seize the moment. Those that could articulate what it was, grouped around instinct and a kind of tunnel vision in the moment.

I was still experimenting with CBD when in January 2018 WADA (World Anti Doping Association) lifted restrictions on professional athletes taking it. This was my light bulb moment.

I knew nothing about business, let alone CBD, but I knew that if I focussed I could deliver a safe and certified product that would be in demand by athletes. There were products out there but their provenance couldn’t be guaranteed. My playing partner at Saracens and England, lock George Kruis, could see the opportunity but also had no experience in business.

At this point it would have really been easy to leave it hanging. But George and I decided to go for it.

We were going to need a brand, design, packaging, suppliers, literally everything from scratch with no experience whatsoever

As an emerging industry there was little reference material, but as playing professionals we had quite a bit of down time so we got stuck into hard core research.

We started to get competitive with each other, asking for example, who had found the most relevant contacts and information. It soon became clear that this was a big project.

We were going to need a brand, design, packaging, suppliers, literally everything from scratch with no experience whatsoever. Again, we questioned our ability, but it became an obsession and, to be honest, a really good distraction from our on-the-pitch duties.

It was at this point that we began to find the cross-over skills we’d learnt from rugby. And that skill was listening. We asked our friends and neighbours for advice. They in turn put us in touch with others and we just listened and sponged everything we could.

We made some mistakes, some quite costly in the first few months. But everyone does, even those with experience, and as a friend told me: if there are no mistakes,  why do pencils have rubbers on the end?

We embraced those mistakes, learnt and ploughed on. I’ll never forget seeing our first batch of fourfivecbd rolling off the production line and into our packaging.

Eight months later, we’ve expanded our range and we’re available nationwide in Boots and an international company offered to buy us out valuing our business in millions.

We decided against selling as we still had a vision to complete. To help us to scale at pace we agreed to look for investment. Again, not really our strong point, but we took advice and listened. Who would have thought, a rugby lad pitching to investors.

We keep things simple, break everything down into small chunks, no fluff. That’s what we do. We successfully raised the investment we needed and have some really exciting plans in place for the near future where we diversify our offering.

My advice to anyone starting out or expanding is to listen to as many people as possible. Everyone has something useful to say. If you have an opportunity, seize your moment, you never know how long your career will be.

More on FourfiveCDB here

Dr Joshua Van der Aa
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