Let’s start at the beginning: why did you want to start a haircare business?
A. ‘I was hooked on keratin treatments myself, but the entire process was expensive and time-consuming. So I wanted to see if I could do it myself. The beauty industry is very saturated, but there were no products or brands that offered the treatment in an at-home format. I didn’t have a budget for market research, but I could see that the beauty industry was moving towards DIY and self-care products.’
What happens next?
A. ‘When I graduated from my master’s degree at the beginning of 2019, I also resigned from my full-time job and started work on O’Wow. It’s extremely hard to get business loans in Estonia, so I was working with a very small loan from friends and family. With that, I had to source the manufacturer, make a website and carry out my own professional shoot. We launched in August with just me working full time and my boyfriend working on branding and visuals.’
How did you get past that?
A. ‘We had no marketing budget, but we started collaborating with micro-influencers. By the end of 2019, we had sold out of our first inventory of 1,000 units. I was very worried when the pandemic hit, but it turned out to be the opposite of what I was expecting – people were constantly looking for salon alternatives. So, last year, we hit revenues of €1.6 million and made a profit of €200,000. And we’ve also just started fundraising.’
When did you see your sales start to rise really rapidly?
A. ‘In March last year, after we started running paid ads. It felt like a dream, but it was also overwhelming to deal with a level of demand that we weren’t prepared for. We ended up overselling and running out of stock – we once sold to 2,000 customers and 200 were left waiting for their products. And when Covid hit, all flights from Brazil – where our manufacturer is based – were cancelled. So we learned the hard way.’
What did you change about your business goals and forecasts when sales took off?
A. ‘I didn’t used to be a numbers person, but I quickly started looking at our key performance indicators. I also took a step back and wrote down all my personal limitations. I’ve got big dreams of making O’Wow the category-defining at-home salon brand, but I can’t be an expert in all the fields to make that happen. So this is how I choose people to work with – in terms of whether they can bring in extra value, expertise and connections.’
How has it been building your business based in Estonia?
A. Setting up a business in Estonia is simple – you can incorporate a company in 10 minutes. Compared to the time it takes to apply for a VAT number in the UK, it’s much more digitally advanced. We’ve never had an office in Estonia – we built our team during the pandemic, and I’m only now thinking about where we should settle.’
And how has that affected you?
A. ‘Being remote has also led to us becoming a well-recognised brand in Finland. I didn’t even consider Estonia and Finland as target markets – I wanted to be a global brand from the get-go and built the whole website in English. But towards the end of last year, all the big media platforms in Finland picked up my story. So, we gained fast and organic brand awareness. But that is relatively easy: there are probably only 500,000 people in our target audience in Finland. It’s not as easy in the UK or the US.’
Around 90% of beauty brands fail in a year. How can they achieve the success you have?
A. ‘Define your message based on what your target market struggles with. Then easily demonstrate the benefits of using your product. The third thing is to bring up your story. People don’t want to buy from brands any more; they want to buy from other people, especially in the beauty space.’
This article was first published in Courier issue 41, June/July 2021. To purchase the issue or become a subscriber, head to our webshop.