This is part 2 of a series, read part 1 here.
While the idea was in place, actually starting the business, as is usually the case, proved more difficult than anticipated. Rather than list all of the boring details and experiences that I went through, instead I will list my top five tips for getting a business off the ground, this certainly helped me to grow Altr into the UK’s biggest selling male cosmetics brand
The idea: Similar to most budding entrepreneurs, i’ve had quite a few ideas for startups, and it’s important to quickly figure out which ideas are viable, and which are complete non-goers. For a business to be viable you have to consider a) is there an easy route to market, what barriers to entry are there, and b) is there a market, or could there be a market (for us it was the latter.) Once this was established through creating a thorough business plan, it was onto the next step.
Creating a Minimum Viable Product: Ultimately the major stumbling block for any entrepreneur fresh out of university is capital. Most manufacturers were looking for production of at least 10’000 units per shade, which was going to cost way more than I could afford. There was the problem of not actually having the money obviously, but also the fact we were trying to create a market, never an easy thing to do. Therefore it makes sense to test a small initial batch first to see if we could possibly get men to change their habits and wear cosmetics. I had to come up with a way to get Altr off the ground without spending tens of thousands on the initial product batch.
Sticking to your vision: Faced with adversity, it can be easy to go off track. For instance faced with high minimum order quantities, and long testing periods, what a lot of other brands do is white label (i.e. purchase pre-existing formulations that other brands are also using.) I was adamant however that formulation was key to getting this idea off the ground. So instead I persevered to find a manufacturer that was willing to take a chance on us, by producing small batches until we were big enough to order in bigger quantities. After talking with roughly 200 manufacturers in some capacity across the UK and abroad, a couple of string-alongs, and a lot of persuading, I finally found a manufacturer that could work with us to our specifications.
USP: While the idea of male focussed cosmetics was novel at the time, we knew that if this got off the ground, a lot of competitors would quickly enter the market. Concealers that I had tried before had actually made my skin breakouts worse, and so I was determined to create a product that actually helped prevent the root causes of breakouts. I also wanted a product that focussed primarily on blend, for the easiest possible application for first time users; so that guys didn’t have the same issues that I did the first time I tried cosmetics.
Testing, Testing, Testing: When starting out, ensuring that you have a top-quality product is crucial. You will never have as much time to focus on perfection than you do before your brand launches. We went through 7 iterations of our concealer and a further 4 for our moisturiser before I was happy with the final results. Although this took time, it was well worth it. Having a great product that you believe in is critical, especially if you are investing a lot of money in marketing and selling a product to a group of people (men), who typically had not been big consumers of cosmetics in the past.
Take Advice: I have lost count of the number of mistakes that I've made while running a business, the ones that sting worst however are when you go against the better judgement of those who’ve been there and done it before. So make sure you read around each area of your business, and get mentorship (this is commonly available for free through programmes such as Enterprise Nation.) Chances of success for startups are slim, 90% of startups are estimated to fail, and the first year is often the most critical as revenues are low, so every penny spent on the business needs to be well spent.