ARTICLE / THE MAKING OF... SERIES
The making of...
This is a simple startup scenario. You work for numerous corporates. You learn and refine your craft as a marketer. Through the journey, you find out what you like and dislike, whilst, in the background, you slowly build out your own product. But not just any product. Something intentional, never compromising and centred on the health of people and the planet. Sounds straightforward, doesn’t it? Well, this is exactly what Natalie Butler, Founder of biobod did.
The making of... Series
Welcome to The making of... blog series. To start, can you give us a brief background into who you are and where you’ve come from?
Hello, I'm Natalie Butler, Founder of biobod. I’ve been working away developing biobod for almost four years on the side and now work full-time on the brand. We launched mid-way last year (2022).
My background was originally in marketing and my early career was spent in health and beauty companies. I started to work my way up the ladder at a large beauty company where I spent over five years. It was an amazing training ground, but corporate was definitely not for me.
My next big role was General Manager of Tom Organic (feminine hygiene) which was the turning point for me. Being able to work across an entire business and drive outcomes was so much more satisfying than always having to stay in my lane. Moreover, the brand was deeply and ethically aligned with my values. My connection to the brand, company and my team made going to work a breeze.
With that said, it had always been my goal to start my own thing so once leaving TOM, I started to develop biobod whilst consulting. At a foundational level, I knew I wanted to create intentional products that didn't compromise the health of people who use or make them or the planet where they are used.
Natalie Butler, Founder of biobod
We love it when marketers leave their corporate lives to start their own thing. It doesn’t sound like too much of a leap from where you’ve been to where you are now. Having said that, how did you come up with the concept?
During my time with the beauty corporates, I developed highly reactive skin due to all of the actives I had smothered on my face with reckless abandon. In my 20's, if it burnt, it must be working. I spent most of my time working on brands that I could no longer use myself. I have this vivid memory of chatting to the beauty director of Vogue at some work event and she was describing how she had developed severe Rosacea as a result of all the products she had trialled over her years working in the industry. At that point, the penny dropped. I started to examine the ingredient lists of what I was using. I researched endlessly and somewhere during that time, the idea for biobod was born. I had many other ideas, but this one was so connected to my personal day-to-day experience that in the end, I gave in to it.
Knowing you wanted to create something different from what was already on the market, how did you research your idea? How did you test your product-market fit?
Much to the annoyance of the skin scientists who helped develop the range, my research was endless and almost obsessive. From hundreds of clinical research articles to interviews with dermatologists and engaging with others who suffer from sensitive skin, I lived and breathed skincare for years. We had a small core testing group for initial development which expanded to a wider group as we got closer to launch. Something that emerged during the research process was how reactive beauty products are. This idea of 'fixing' or 'taming' our skin can have such a detrimental impact on our long-term health. So I decided that I wanted to create an intuitive product that worked with the foundations of skin health.
We can only imagine how long this would have taken to get right. How were the first runs and what were the first iterations of your product like?
Each product has undergone years of development and literally hundreds of samples. Making great products for sensitive skin is really difficult. That is why there are so few available on the market. Each product has to contain no known irritants, be fragrance-free, sulphate-free, essential oil-free and use either super gentle or no preservatives. It was tough, but in the end, perseverance paid off. We have had so many amazing success stories in our testing group that I feel really proud of the products we’ve created.
We know creating something different is never easy and can also be costly. How did you go about funding everything?
biobod is partially funded by myself and partially funded by a silent investor who believes in me but has little interest in skincare.
And what about the branding? Can you tell us about the process and how you arrived at where you are today?
I went to an agency very early on when the products and ideas were not fully developed. This was a mistake. Throughout the years of development, the brand went through such a huge evolution that the original branding just didn't fit anymore. A friend who is a designer evolved it to another level and then finally a designer, who had originally worked on it at the agency, finished it off. I was a painful client, but everyone is still talking to me.
Knowing what you want and making it happen can be a challenge. Now the brand idenity is sorted, how are you building awareness? How are you getting the word out there? How do you plan to scale the brand?
It’s early days for us, so this is a tough one to answer. We don't want to grow too fast and are really looking to only partner with amazing influencers, brands and retailers who are aligned with our core values. If working this way takes longer, we are ok with that. We are playing a long game.
There’s absolutely nothing wrong with playing the long game. What about your future challenges? What's the biggest hurdle or hurdles do you think you'll face moving forward?
I look at young founders who are at the start of their careers and they have no fear. I envy that in many ways. I’m almost twenty years into my career so I see all the risks and challenges ahead and I know there are many. So I guess my biggest challenge is myself. Not listening to that monkey on my shoulder and taking some of the risks that my twenty-year-old self might have done.
As a founder, there’s always one thing or another. The main point is to acknowledge it and work your way around the self-imposed mental barriers. Knowing what you know now, what advice would you give another entrepreneur who is embarking on their own startup journey?
Perfection is the enemy of ‘done’.