Billy Keast Interview - 2021/22's First Vodafone Business Gain Line Award Winner

Following Billy Keast being the worthy  recipient of this season's first Vodafone Business Gain Line Award with his speciality coffee and Cornish clothing brand No. 1 Cubs, we managed to grab a word with him...

Congratulations Billy – how does it feel to win this award?

When Craig, our RPA Development Manager for Exeter Chiefs, spoke to me about it I was pretty surprised to be nominated, so to come away with the award is great. I’m very thankful for it and it makes me appreciate what I’ve done in the last few years myself and it’s nice to be recognised. It’s nice to look back on what I’ve achieved with No1 Cubs and what we’ve done and how we have grown. It gives me the opportunity to step back and look at what I’ve achieved and it’s so good.

What was the inspiration behind No1 Cubs?

So, myself and my business partner Matt started it a few years ago, he runs it on a day-to-day basis, and I’m very thankful for him and what he does. When it started, I was on loan at the Cornish Pirates, unsure about future contracts and what not, and I’ve always had a good taste for coffee. I do enjoy going to coffee venues and shops, tasting new coffee and cake, and as you know rugby boys like to go out on a day off to a coffee shop and chill, so I wanted to put my own stamp on how I wanted coffee to look. I wanted to create a space and environment in a café that I would want to go to - that was my end goal.

It started with the little caddy vans going around to all the events, and then slowly we started to be able to select the events to go to, and then we got our first permanent pitch in Charlestown, an old harbour by St. Austell in Cornwall. That was brilliant, and from then on, we grew. We have really good support from Origin Coffee Roasters - they are based in Helston and they are a big name in the coffee world now, they’re growing rapidly and just brilliant to work alongside. They’ve given us a lot of tips and help for the last few years and I’m very thankful for them.

What’s next for No1 Cubs?

So, we’ve just finalised our fourth space/café/trailer in Mevagissey which is a fishing harbour the other side of St Austell. So, we’ll have two places on the South side of Cornwall, and two on the North which is brilliant.  If I stay at Exeter Chiefs for the future or the next couple of years, I’d love to set one up in Exeter and put our stamp in Exeter and create an environment for the boys at the club, so they have a place to go. That’s my next kind of goal, hopefully it’ll come through.

Our next step is to get through to next year and cement ourselves with four places in Cornwall, (possibly five) and go from there. We’re learning every day, we’ve made a few mistakes over the last few years, but fortunately, we’ve had a lot of positives that have worked out for us so we’re fortunate for that. We’re basically trying to create our own café portfolio and get to as many places as possible and grow that way organically.

At the moment, we’ve only put our own investment in (myself and Matt), so there may come to a point where external investment is the route to go down and to even franchise the company as well. There are a lot of options and ideas out there for us. We’ve had to battle COVID too which has been an interesting one, but it’s all worked out for the best and it’s benefited us in some ways. As long as you stay positive and have the options there, you’ll be okay.

How do you find juggling No1 Cubs and professional rugby?

For the first couple of years, I was able to go back to Cornwall and do the events. Even on a day off I’d head down, which was a lot of miles and work! Now it’s a little bit more relaxed for me, I don’t have to go down day-to-day, but I have a call with Matt most days. We catch up and we’re always trying to think forward and plan new things, catch up about what’s been going on day to day, all sorts of things. I’m still very much involved but obviously you’ve got to have the balance of your own career as well, so the rugby comes first.

It is difficult sometimes to balance it and I completely appreciate sometimes it doesn’t work out, but I must say if it wasn’t for Matt doing what he does, No1 Cubs probably wouldn’t be at the place it is now so I’m very thankful for that.

But at the same time there was a lot of groundwork and foundation that was set in the first place, and I’m proud of that and what we’ve done. It can be tough, you’re always thinking about other things, not just rugby. But at the same time, part of the reason why I started No1 Cubs so early in my career was because I wanted something outside of rugby, I wanted something to occupy my mind to, to keep my brain ticking, and to use any skills, knowledge, or connection that I had down in Cornwall, and it’s worked out for the best.

How important has your support network been to your journey including support from the RPA and your Development Manager?

Yeah, it’s amazing. Craig’s been very supportive and brilliant. He’s always trying to think of new things and trying to help where he can, and he’s been excellent for me – he’s been faultless.

How important are initiatives like the Vodafone Gain Line Award for helping player businesses likes yours?

They are massively important. Obviously for myself to be put forward for this award is massive for me. On the RPA side, they are very helpful. I’m not just doing No1 Cubs, I’m trying to get my own courses done, and learn some new skills. They (the RPA) are helpful outside of the club and I’ve had an excellent experience. Having the Vodafone Gain Line Award there as a target is brilliant for me as I’ve seen other players win it and I’m very proud to have been nominated and to have won the award now.

For more information on Billy's business, please visit their website here