Exceptional Entrepreneur: Brianne West

You may recognise this talented entrepreneur as being part of BNZ's Supersize SME journey, where she was selected by a panel to receive guidance on how to grow her business. Not that she isn't already on a huge trajectory. As the founder of Ethique, Brianne has already been a Fast 50 Rising Star for Christchurch in 2015, had an article in Forbes magazine and received a shout-out from pop princess Britney Spears, after which sales went through the roof! We spoke with Brianne on her dreams for her business and what makes her products stand out while gleaning some valuable tips for those wanting to follow in her footsteps. (Hint - launch when you're 80% ready!)

Describe your typical day.

I don’t have one! I travel a lot so I’m often not in the office. When I am, I spend most of my time behind a computer answering emails, planning new products or dealing with the new problems every day inevitably brings. 

What would you say have been your most significant ‘uh oh’ moments?

The biggest I can think of is overlooking our international trademarks. We used to be called Sorbet and raised $200k through equity crowdfunding on the basis we’d look to export to the USA and Australia. Two weeks after we closed the round, we went to apply for international trademarks and found that, unsurprisingly, Sorbet was taken. That’s when we had to rebrand which, timing-wise, worked out quite well anyway.

You have been recognised by some significant international publications - is that by design, good luck or a bit of both?

A bit of luck, a bit of knowing some well-connected people and having a good story. Forbes magazine came about through a leadership seminar in Hawaii I attended where I met someone who is now a dear friend and mentor who introduced me to a reporter.

It does help having a solid purpose behind the company as people really understand why we do what we do - it’s much more interesting and relevant to people than just pushing a product.

With your business now employing a number of people, how does this impact your approach to growth and change from when it was just you? 

I’m not particularly risk adverse as I find a certain level of uncertainty exciting but I am more mindful that I now have 138 shareholders and a team that are financially involved. I never took massive risks without thinking before bringing more people in anyway. I always ensure I get advice from those around me and think through possible scenarios before leaping. Although, to contradict that, if I passionately believe something is the right thing to do, even if I am alone in thinking that, I tend to go with my gut.

Who are your biggest competitors in the market today?

It’s a crowded market and while no one in the world is doing what we do in terms of a 100% solid product line that is sold in completely compostable packaging, there are thousands of cosmetics companies, all selling products that essentially do what ours do (although without the environmental credentials.) The one we are always compared to is Lush. 

Where do you see your biggest growth market in the next 12 months and why?

The USA certainly has the biggest growth potential for the next twelve months although Australia isn’t far behind. We launch with our distributor on Amazon and various other online outlets in October and the projections they have provided us with are significant so it’s a very exciting time.

What charities do you donate to? Why?

We have a focus on environmental and animal welfare based charities. We donate monthly to 'Helping you help Animals' (HUHA) and the World Society for the Protection of Animals. We have an adopted Slow Loris and an Orangutan through the Orangutan Project. We are working on partnering with some larger charities on a bigger scale to ensure what we donate has some real meaningful impact instead of small partnerships with lots of charities. One of these is Surfrider - a grassroots charity dedicated to getting plastic waste out of the oceans. Something that obviously resonates strongly with us!

With 20% of your profits going to charity, do you think this will increase the growth of your company through awareness of goodwill and your environmental purpose, or hinder it in the long run as the profits won’t be going back into the business?

Our forecasts have shown this commitment won’t hold the business back and it is such an integral part of our business so it helps us tell our story and as a result receive more press.

What would you say are the top three skills needed to be a successful entrepreneur?

I don’t think there are three skills you need,as skills can be learnt to an extent. However you do need to be tenacious, willing to put everything on the line (well, almost everything) and able to tolerate being uncomfortable because the best outcomes come about from being out of your comfort zone.

What advice do you have for others who are starting their own business?

Don’t wait till it’s perfect, launch when it’s 80% of the way there then refine it as you get feedback from your early adopters. You’ll never know if you don’t try. And don’t plan and schedule everything to death, you need freedom to pivot and change quickly and nothing will go to plan anyway.

What do you wish you had known before you had started your business?

Don’t undervalue your experience and ideas and trust yourself. Just because others have more experience doesn’t mean they are automatically right.

If you weren’t running Ethique, what would the alternate Brianne West universe look like?

A toss up between being an astronaut or a female David Attenborough. Something that involved lots of exploring and new experiences.

26 September, 2017 by Emily McLean,

Emily McLean

Emily McLean

Emily McLean works in the Deloitte marketing team and closely with Deloitte Private. She loves telling the stories of those individuals and businesses leaving their mark in New Zealand's SME space while delivering news and insights to help business owners grow their companies. 

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