Troy Douglas is co-founder of Nexba; the Aussie sugar-free drinks brand taking the world by storm. He joined editors Cec Busby and Adam Bub on the First Act podcast to talk about Nexba’s phenomenal rise to success and how it wouldn’t have been possible without passion, purpose and authenticity.
When Troy Douglas co-founded sugar-free drinks company Nexba with his childhood friend and brother-in-law, Drew Bilbe, little did he know that his business would become a force for positive change in the world on multiple fronts.
From humble beginnings selling their naturally sugar-free drinks from the back of a van in Bondi to being stocked in Australian grocery giants 7-Eleven and Coles and around the world, it’s been a heck of a ride for Nexba. In 2019, they became the first Australian startup to gain backing from Gaingels, a syndicate of investors committed to supporting LGBT startup founders.
Since then, Nexba’s thirst for making a purposeful change in the world has only grown.
Troy Douglas (left) and Drew Bilbe (right), co-founders of Nexba
The power of purpose
A visit to a friend in a remote First Nations community in the Northern Territory first sparked the fire of change in Troy’s gut.
“I got to experience how negative the impact of the availability of really bad products is on people’s health,” says Troy. “I could see that very young people were drinking a large number of soft drinks instead of water because it was almost as accessible. Speaking to the local health nurses in the community, they shared how it’s driving an acceleration in childhood diabetes and other negative implications of a poor diet.”
Troy and Drew recognised that a healthy, non-artificial sugar alternative was needed, so they developed Good Sweet – their natural sweetener blend that, according to their website, tastes ‘every bit as good as sugar, but without anything artificial’.
“People don’t really understand the negative implications of sugar and artificial flavours,” Troy reveals. “In the market today, if you look at any category, they either have sugar products or those labelled as ‘reduced sugar’, which are replacing the taste with artificial ingredients. The data and science are now proving that these can potentially be worse for you than an occasional sugar product. That’s why we’re focused on trying to make great choices available. There’s still work that needs to be done to ensure that we’re providing all areas of the community with healthy options – I passionately believe that we need to have a big impact.”
Listen to Troy Douglas on the First Act podcast:
As young founders, Troy and Drew knew that their product was boldly unique – one of the only naturally sugar-free alternatives to soft drinks to be found anywhere in the Australian market.
“I don’t think I ever didn’t have confidence that we would get the brand there because we were so starkly different to what exists,” says Troy. “I think we were able to get that distribution in key retailers because they get to understand that difference. Winning national distribution in 7-Eleven was exciting and a moment in time that reflected that we were on the right journey.
“The next big challenge for us in the next growth phase is letting consumers understand that they can trust naturally sugar-free products.”
Leadership in the LGBT community
Another front in which Nexba is holding its own as a game-changer is that of an LGBT leader in business, after their highly successful bid for backing by LGBT-allied investor group, Gaingels.
Troy admits that it hasn’t always been easy to open up about his sexuality in business but reveals that this bravery boosted their authenticity and, ultimately, their success.
“It took me a while before I was fully comfortable to share my sexuality in a professional sense,” says Troy. “Gaingels was a really exciting moment to prove that if you accept yourself and lean into yourself, it leads to a more positive impact than you probably could have imagined. I’m very fortunate to be in a position where our business is at a size where I can lean into it in a very big way. And I do want to share that story.
“I’ve had incredible mentors like Paul Zahra – one of our legends and investors in Nexba. I’ve been inspired by their courage to share their story because I remember the first time that I did, there was somebody listening, and they really got something out of hearing it. So I think that as somebody in the LGBTQ community, it is an important area to lean into and share because it shouldn’t be a barrier.
“It took me time to lean into that,” Troy admits, “but I’m now an incredibly fortunate human with an amazing husband. I’m part of an amazing rainbow family with two beautiful mums that are the primary parents of our four boys.
“I think in a professional sense, the more that you can be authentically yourself helps you to be your best self in your professional work and your output. The ethos that Drew and I try to always instil at Nexba is this mindset of being naturally brave, which can mean being your natural, brave self. Our values in the business are to be brave, be collaborative, and be real.”
It’s not about the money
Troy firmly believes that staying true to yourself and your purpose is more important than any money you may make. He says that a money-making attitude isn’t necessarily a precursor to success.
“If somebody says to me, “I’m in business because I want to make money”, then they’re the first person I wouldn’t back in that business being successful, because there needs to be the substance behind longevity.
“I think knowing your purpose leads to a healthier and clearer focus on where you’re heading in life – as an individual and in a partnership or business. I’ve got a personal purpose statement of ‘live bravely, love life, and leave a legacy’.
Listen to the full interview with Troy Douglas on First Act here.
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