Tell us about yourself and your business!
I have a background in medicine and biotechnology and spent 25 years supporting the development of medicines for cancer and inflammatory diseases. Although my role has been corporate, I have always been intimately involved with the work of our researchers, and have developed an eye for good science.
While traveling through Japan in 2012 I found an amazing technology that regulated the human hair cycle using natural botanicals. Essentially, the Japanese scientists figured out how to slow down hair aging by blocking a protein called FGF5. To me this was an absolute breakthrough. Not only the key to hair thinning and hair loss, but also natural working actives. I was convinced and we bought the technology the following year. After two years of further research, formulation and clinical trials, in 2015 we launched the first FGF5 inhibitor hair care products that prevent hair aging; thinning and hair loss. Evolis was borne!
We focus on effective, clinically evident results, but they also have to be best in class when it comes to looking after the hair from root to tip. Most recently, we have developed the technology to address other hair growth regulators and will be launching our new eye brow and eye lash growth products next year.
What inspired you to start your own business?
I have always loved science and have a strange humanitarian streak. When I see exciting science I always wonder how it could be made useful for the benefit of people. So, when I saw the FGF5 inhibitor technology in Japan my brain went into overdrive. It also helped that I suffered from quite severe hair thinning at the time and, irrespective of trying pretty much everything, nothing seemed to work for me. Around 80% of all northern European women have fine hair, and when it starts to thin out, it is really noticeable. I was one of these women and, frankly, I have given up hope. So when evolis started to transform my hair after a couple of months, I was inspired. Then my hairdresser wanted the product for all his other customers so the idea of the business was formed.
Is this your full time job?
Yes, it is. Probably more than full time. When you are building a business it can be all consuming, depending on your goal. We want to make our products available globally, and have offices in Dallas, Sydney and Tokyo. But even when I’m not “working” my mind is still on how we could do more for our customers, how to communicate our products better and how could we make it available to the widest audience.
How do you structure your days?
I’m an early riser, so by 7:00am I would have finished my daily run, get organized and arrived at my office. I like to think through my priorities before others arrive at the office. I find these alone times are my most creative when it comes to strategic thinking. Then I spend time with my team individually, making sure we have a good flow and achieve 2-3 key outcomes during the day. I prefer to take outside meetings from lunchtime onwards, but this doesn’t always work and I often spend my entire day in back to back meetings. Plus, I travel a lot between Sydney in Australia, where our head office is, and Dallas. I try to keep my routine of getting up early, exercise than straight to work, which sets me up well for my days. I am a creature of habit, no matter where I am and love my routine.
Where and how do you work best?
I don’t have one specific way/place of working, and can get things done where I am at the time. Over the years I became accustomed to working through jetlag, although it is my preference these days to have at least half a day between arriving in a new location and meetings. The truth is, the business is my passion and my thoughts are never far away from it. Even so, my best achievements have almost always come from team work. I love bouncing ideas around, getting feedback and improving as a result.
Are you currently running any promos/contests/giveaways that you would like our readers to know about?
Yes, right now we have a fantastic promotion on our Reverse Collection, which includes our Activator, shampoo and conditioner. The most important product is our hair hero, the Activator, but using collection will give fuller thicker hair in just four months. Normally $121, it is now available for $99, and we’ll also give you a fabulous comb to use with the conditioner or hair masks. Just visit the evolisproducts.com website before 30 June. Outside of this, we always have great opportunities to test our products so it is really worthwhile signing up to our newsletter on www.evolisproducts.com.
Where is your business based?
Our head office is in Sydney, but we also have offices in Dallas and Tokyo. We have been very fortunate to establish a great partnership early on with Neiman Marcus, then more recently with Bloomingdales. They have been very supportive and understood our philosophy of effective and clean hair products, that can easily become part of people’s daily routine.
What were the first few steps you took to get your business up and running?
You have to be 100% committed and believe in what you do; in our case, we wanted to bring effective, clean hair care products to everyone so hair aging and thinning is banished. Although we use products to keep our youthful skin, teeth and body, we are not used to doing the same for our hair. We tease it, bleach it, straighten it and torture it in any way possible, so developing a communication strategy to allow people to learn about and experience our products has been very important from the beginning. On the practical level, I was already running a public company so we have acquired the technology from Japan, which took us a couple of years to complete and have global ownership. The good thing was, that by the time we finished the deal I was totally convinced that the product works, as it has transformed my hair from thin and brittle to shiny and bouncy. Just in time to take our first product range to a wider audience.
What has been the most effective way of raising awareness of your business and attracting new customers?
Like many new brands, we communicate through social media, and build the number of listeners through digital marketing. Our partnership with Neiman Marcus in the US has also been great and we interact with our customers in the stores, providing a service called evoliscope. It is essentially a microscope to assess the quality of the hair. Many of the associates at Nieman Marcus, after seeing their hair with the evoliscope, became our greatest advocates. In Japan, our best tool to communicate the benefits of our technology has been QVC, where we have become the best selling hair product in three years.
What have been your biggest challenges so far?
All the false claims by products that don’t work. Thinning hair is a very big issue. With a great market comes lots of competition, mostly from brands that make big claims and don’t deliver. People stop trusting, because products just don’t do what they claim. We constantly face this, so we try to make sure that we are fully transparent about the way our product works, our ingredients, the science and the clinical study results. Hair biology is complex and there are very few new innovations out there that have any scientific basis. Even with the big brands, when you read the fine print you will see that they are just a variation on the claims that make no biological sense. The other big challenge is funding. Your ability to communicate will depend on your ability to spend money to access your audience through digital marketing and social media. You have to have deep pockets if you want to make a big impact.
How did you overcome these challenges?
We have been very honest about what our product does, how it works and what results people can expect. Hair grows slowly, so if anyone tells you that they will grow 6 inches of hair for you in three weeks, they are lying. We try to have real conversations with our customers; what is going on with their hair, what are their concerns, how can we assist. We also tell you upfront if we can’t. In terms of funding, we are getting close to profitability. Going for profitability often comes at the expense of growth, but we have been able to grow at around 50% annually.
How do you keep motivated through tough times?
It really helps to think of some of the women and men whose life has changed by using evolis. One of our customers suffered from cancer and had difficulty re-growing her hair. After four months she started to have new growth, which was amazing. Or a pharmacists who was so skeptical of evolis that he started using the products on himself as a joke. He is now one of our most enthusiastic advocates. Focusing on the people keeps my passion through the not infrequent challenges.
I also had a couple of great mentors and they have taught me some important lessons. One of them is that you don’t’ really fail until you give up. My dad had always said to me that there is no such thing in life as “normal” pace, only your pace at doing things. So if I ever feel that I should be doing better, I remember that I can only go at my pace. Starting a business is tough and sometimes it can feel that the whole world is out to get you. But most people don’t care about you, they care about themselves. People are not for or against you, there are for themselves. This can be quite scary at first but liberating when you truly get it.
How do you distinguish yourself from your competitors?
Evolis is the only topical, natural product for thinning hair that has clinical studies published scientific, peer reviewed papers. We know how our product works and don’t have to hide behind generic statements; we have the only FGF5 inhibitor product on the market. In addition, our active ingredients are plant based and we focus on maintaining our clean philosophy. We don’t put phosphates, silicones, phthalates, sulphates an parabens into our shampoos and conditioners. We also use very effective anti-oxidants and moisture holding ingredients such a baobab and mangosteen you can only find in skin care products, as they are very expensive.
What is the best advice you have received recently?
Delegate, and delegate more. As the business grows I will have to increasingly let go of aspects of it, which I find difficult. Recently one of my mentors reminded me of the importance of letting go certain aspects and allow others to take over, even if they make mistakes.
What do you wish you had known when you started your business?
This is a cliché but very true; building a business takes longer and cost more than you expect. The other important thing, which I didn’t quite realize at the beginning, is that things change along the way so we need to change with them. The market changes, customers’ expectations change and you often have to manage shifting dynamics. This has never been more true that today in the beauty industry.
Who are your biggest influences? Who do you admire most? Who or what inspired you to do what you’re doing now?
So many great business people to choose from, so I mention Jack Ma. I am a great admirer of the Alibaba founder. He says many sensible things about how to build a business and is a great advocate of persistence. But I get my daily inspiration closer to home; my team, friends and family. They inspire me to overcome the inevitable daily challenges and celebrate the wins with me.
What advice would you give to other entrepreneurs?
Take a break. You are so much more useful to yourself, your family and the business if you take a break, reflect and find time to relax. Entrepreneurs are wired to be on 24/7, so it is more challenging to chill than anything else.
What business tools/resources could you not work without?
My iphone of course! I conduct a lot of my business on my iphone, and I’d much rather lose my wallet than my phone these days. The second most important tool is my Microsoft tablet. As great as the iphone is it really isn’t suitable for writing loner text and some of the apps I use a lot, like one note, doesn’t work well on the iphone.
What surprising lessons have you learned along the way?
It has been a pleasant surprise that the beauty industry is full of motived people who are also great innovators. Coming from the science background I was always interested in how clinical research is done for beauty products. Whilst the majority of the brands still rely on nebulous claims, there is a strong trend to get functional ingredients that do actually deliver results.
But the most important lesson I’ve learnt is that you have to remain true to your core values. When things get difficult it is easy to cave in and go on the path of least resistance. At the end, authenticity will pay off.
Where would you like your business to be 5 years from now?
In five years I envisage evolis to be the trusted brand for people when they think of effective personal care; whether it is to keep their hair in top condition or have the best quality skin care. We have our hair care line already on the market and planning to follow with scientifically validated, clinically tested skin care in 2020. I would like to continue to grow exponentially and build a large, loyal customer base around the world.
The market is changing so fast in beauty, trends come and go. But I believe that brands that deliver true value in people’s lives will remain. I would like evolis to be known globally as such brand in five year’s time.
where can we find you?