Career

I started a business: three Kiwi women share their experiences

Three Kiwi entrepreneurs tell Monique McKenzie how they began their businesses, and what it has taken to become successful.

Sara Quilter: Tailor Skincare

Wellington's Sara Quilter, 30, began her award-winning bespoke skincare brand Tailor Skincare (tailorskin.co) in her dad's workshop with a Kenwood cake mixer and bag of clay.

The Tailor story started in 2012 when I was in California doing market research in the organic horticulture industry, working with a brand launching fertiliser. All the chemicals going into our food production got me thinking about the ingredients in skincare, so I decided to try making my own.

I moved back to New Zealand and by April had started up production in my dad's workshop making a detoxifying face mask. At the time, I was working as a support worker for adults with Down syndrome and autism, so I started putting all the wages I could into the business.

Work-life balance

I'm a big believer in work-life integration. I love what I do, so for me work isn't actually work. That said, I do have a rule: if I'm at my desk and not able to focus, I go and do something else so I can clear my head, then come back and work effectively. There's no point sitting there and not being able to give the task your best effort.

Celebrate your wins

There have been a few moments where I've sat back and thought, 'This is awesome'. Moving out of my house into a dedicated office space was a huge win.

Getting my first shipment of products manufactured was also massive, as it showed we were scaling up. The first award we won was Most Innovative Formulation from the New Zealand Society of Cosmetic Chemists for our probiotic anti-ageing serum, Tailor Renew.

That was a huge honour; because these guys are the scientists behind the science, and they're saying this is the most innovative product.

Follow your heart

I've always loved making potions, cooking and tinkering around. One of my favourite things is formulation; Tailor's the name because it's tailored to your skin.

I also love to share my knowledge, so I've just set up a Facebook group called the Tailor DIY Green Beauty Babes, where I'm teaching people how to make their own skincare.

I started the business with the intention to provide a personalised skincare solution and grow sustainably. I get calls from customers who say Tailor has helped change their self-confidence and view of themselves; because their skin looks better, they feel better. That's why I do it.

Stay true to your business priniciples

Tailor was founded on three key principles [relating to the use of good-quality natural, cruelty-free ingredients and environmentally friendly packaging]. Whenever I make a business decision, I go back to these and ask myself, 'Is this decision in line with these?' If it is, we continue. If it's not, we don't.

Delegate and empower

Figure out what you're really good at, figure out what you're terrible at, then surround yourself with people who complement those weaknesses. Delegate when you can. Come up with a process, document it, then hand it over to the next person. Give them the tools to own and improve on it, because chances are they'll do it better than you.

Get personal

We get a few hundred people using our online skin consultation service every day, but I also love to see customers face-to-face at expos and events. I'm still very much hands-on with social media too. I've found when it's in my voice, it's better for the customer, and I love having that connection with the community.

Accept the tough times

There was a time in the beginning where I nearly threw in the towel; I thought I had a good product, but nobody was responding. [I've learned that success is] going to take three times as long as you think and be three times as hard and three times as expensive, but that's okay. If you're passionate about your idea, that's the best foundation.

Julena Nola: Hunter Gatherer Gourmet

Julena Nola, 42, founded Auckland-based Hunter Gatherer Gourmet, turning her love of baking into a business selling gluten, grain and dairy-free baking mixes.

When I had my daughter Sofija, who's now eight, I stopped work at Telecom [Spark], where I was a technical specialist. I figured I'd go back to work when she started school, but by that stage my husband [Andrew Hooper] and I had switched to a paleo diet, and I could see the need for a paleo baking mix. It took nearly a year to get the recipes right; my family and friends had to put up with all sorts of dodgy creations!

Trust the timing

Basically, the timing will never be 'right' – you just have to take the plunge. I started selling my products in 2015. It was a good time to launch as paleo was getting a lot of [media] coverage, but my mum ended up in hospital for most of that year, and at the beginning of 2016, Andrew had a seizure and we found out he had a brain tumour.

He's recovering nicely with chemo treatments, but sadly, Mum died at the end of 2015 from leukaemia and complications from type two diabetes. She was one of my inspirations for making a healthier baking alternative.

I've turned all of her favourite cakes into delicious, healthier options, and all of our mixes are diabetic-friendly.

Find the right fit for your brand

My two biggest customer markets are mums who want to make better choices when feeding their families, and women aged 25-35 who are into fitness and healthier eating. Both groups want great-tasting baking that's kind to their bodies.

The main thing I've noticed with mums is their lack of time, so you can have our baking mixes in the oven in less than three minutes and there are three different recipes on the back of each pack.

Find balance between your life and your work

Balancing work and life has been difficult. You have to delegate and outsource, because if you try to do it all yourself, you'll burn out. I've just hired my first staff member, so my typical day has changed dramatically.

The main challenges are not knowing how to do everything because you're a one-stop shop, fitting it in with family and making sure the house is tidy, which is a problem!

Dream big

We're going to keep expanding into retail stores around New Zealand and I want to export to Australia and England; we plan to venture into service foods; we have new products in the mix; and I've changed our packaging to be more eco-friendly. Hunter Gatherer Gourmet has come a long way from where it started and has so much potential – it just needs time and attention.

Do your research

Talk to people before you begin; research your product. Get a bookkeeper or accountant involved from the start to work out costs; get a designer who works in your field; hire someone to build your website.

I found everyone I dealt with was extremely helpful; they were respectful of the fact I was a small business just starting out and willing to help with advice and not charge me as much. Megan May of Little Bird Organics advised me to get a business mentor, and she was right.

Thomson Foods, who have been in the food game for over 30 years and made my first proper big batch, became my business mentors. I went there knowing nothing, and they're still teaching me so much.

Rosie Graystone: MyTreat

Rosie Graystone, 30, created MyTreat (mytreat.co.nz), a monthly subscription-based delivery of boxes filled with goodies for hardworking women, from her home in Cromwell.

I had the idea for MyTreat in 2014, but started it in early 2016 after my daughter Sophie [now 18 months] was born as I wanted to work from home. Having grown up in rural New Zealand, I knew that busy women don't prioritise shopping for treats for themselves, and that's where the concept started.

Beautiful underwear is the last thing anyone has time to shop time for, particularly when you have children, but you always feel good when you wear it, so I saw a gap in the market and started asking people what they thought.

I needed a few people to say, "Just do it" – that's all it took. I wanted to send women something exciting once a month, an online business that offered a really good, honest, corner-shop service.

Love your customers

I deal with a minimum of 25 customers every day. They're hardworking women who don't necessarily treat themselves as often as they should, work for every dollar and want their money to be spent wisely.

They're putting their faith in me, so I take the search for great products seriously. I mostly work by myself, but dealing with women from all over New Zealand means I'm never lonely. They just want me to do my best to create good boxes and have provided amazing feedback so far, which makes it all worthwhile for me.

Stay on your toes

I'm good at writing down goals. Once they're on paper, working towards them seems more achievable. I set out six months ago to grow 20% month-on-month. I'm now hitting 20%, so that's pretty significant. The fact I can retain 70% of my customers at the end of a three-month subscription is a pretty good indication of the value and quality of my product.

Be inspired

In New Zealand, we're very lucky as there's heaps of inspiration for women wanting to go out on their own. Research; look at what strong competitors in your field are doing and opportunities in the market.

Call on your support network

The people you align yourself with have so much to do with how things work out. My husband, Jarrod, and family are all really supportive.

Because it would take over the whole house, rather than pack boxes throughout the month, we have packing weekends, and my mum, in-laws and grandparents have all been involved in these at some point.

Once a month, my girlfriends come to Cromwell and we eat, drink and pack boxes. As MyTreat gets bigger, it's less feasible to pack this way, but it's meant I can use MyTreat as an excuse to bring in my friends from out of town for a weekend.

Work hard

When I started MyTreat, I was like, 'Maybe I'll be able to have an online business and go skiing', but that's not how it works! Dig in, and if you're genuinely passionate and willing to put in 100%, back yourself. The more you put in, the more you get out. If you're a bloody hard worker, it'll be the best investment you ever made.

Do what you can do

In the future, I'd like MyTreat to have more of its own look and feel, but I built the website myself, so I come up against technical roadblocks, like coding. Sometimes I'm frustrated about trying to integrate software. A couple of times I've been like, "It's not going to happen this week"; I shut the computer, pack boxes, then come back to it later.

Support Kiwi brands

Before I started MyTreat, I didn't have any experience in the beauty industry, so it's been interesting to learn more about what goes into skincare and cosmetics, and to work with brands to find natural options. I love working with New Zealand brands like Linden Leaves and By Nature, and I'm lucky to have their products in my boxes.