Do you love the idea of turning your health passion into a business, but have no idea how or where to start? Here’s some incredible business building advice from Elizabeth Barbalich, founder and CEO of award-winning organic skincare brand, Antipodes, which started from humble beginnings just eight years ago in New Zealand and is now stocked in 10 countries, with a host of celebrity fans, including Elle Macpherson, Evangeline Lilly and Cara Delavigne.
It helps that her range of 26 skincare products, five mineral foundations and six lipsticks has a unique approach (every product as a whole, rather than the ingredients alone, is scientifically tested, so you know what you’re using works), but it’s how she’s handled the ups and downs that helped cement her success too.
Here’s Elizabeth’s business-building advice
Make it personal.
“I had three children in four years and my body was under a lot of strain and I couldn’t sleep properly, so I started really thinking about what I put into my body (and my family’s) and that sent me down the road of pure organics. Then I saw an opportunity for a really good New Zealand organic skincare brand that was based entirely on science. That’s how Antipodes was sparked.”
Plan. Plan. Plan.
“Spend a lot of time doing it. Look at all the different options and look at where the opportunities are. New Zealanders and Australians have great entrepreneurial spirit. We try things and do things our own way. But due diligence is vital. Example, you might want to jump into a café without realising that on top of big startup costs, there are audits and your landlord can dictate opening hours.”
“You don’t always want to go into a market where no one else exists. There are advantages to there being a precedent, an established category. Think to yourself ‘I just have to go in and do it a bit differently’. A good analogy is this: in Wellington where I live, thousands of apartments are being built, but there’s always room for another good one. The bad ones won’t be tenanted or sold, but the good ones always will.”
Start small. You can’t conquer everything in a day.
“Eight years ago, we started with only seven products. (The first thing we launched was Divine Face Oil, which is a really simple product.) I’m quite impatient, but we started small because it was about starting right and getting the right quality that would still be selling well in 10 years time.”
Know your competitors.
“I think you absolutely need to know what your competition is doing. You need to know the direction they’re heading because then you can create something truly unique and different. I don’t think you should worry about them though. In fact, I love my competitors. They keep me on my toes.”
Be creative with money.
“You definitely need some investment to start something, but you don’t necessarily need lots. Never spend money you don’t have to for the first few years, and always take free advice, even if it’s not good advice. And it doesn’t always have to come out of your pocket. We couldn’t afford funding for scientific research, so we went to the government. Open your mind to new sources. For a start-up, that van be make and break.”
“Small can be good. Agility was the biggest advantages we had. If we wanted to do something, we just did it. And we still do – we don’t have a board or top management, just a really flat structure in our business that means we can change directions quickly.”
Be ready to make sacrifices.
“I sacrificed my social life, but I’m a private person so I was quite happy to do that. You can’t have everything at once. I involve the kids as much as possible in little decisions we make so they have some input into the brand.”
Treat negative feedback like a gift.
“If I ever got some feedback that was really challenging, say a retailer telling me we weren’t selling well and they were going to drop us, I’d put it in an email, then send it to myself to look at 24 hours later. Then I’d ask myself, is it as bad as I first thought, and how can I fix it in a way that’s good for the brand, for the retailer, and most highlights what you’re not yet getting right.”
Have people who have your back.
“I’m a big believer in surrounding myself with a really strong network of people. Foster good relationships with everyone you come in contact with, because if your brand goes through a rough stage, you’ll need them to stand by you.”
Don’t worry so much.
“You can’t be a worrier in my industry, you just won’t survive. You have to be in the mindset that everything is fixable. Because everything IS fixable, right? It’s just how that varies. You almost have to have a child’s positive mindset: why can’t I do it?”
But know doubts are OK.
“I have a lot of those days where I question what I’m doing, but I have a really strong family network that keeps me sane. At every stage in business you will get those days or weeks that are really challenging. Put things back into perspective and remind yourself why you started.”