Back in 2012, I started Ethique in my kitchen, in Ōtautahi Christchurch with this big dream of saving the world from plastic bottles – or at least one million of them by 2020.
Almost ten years later, we’ve stopped over 18 million plastic bottles from being made and disposed of, export to 22 countries, our products are found on the shelves of over 6000 retailers, and we have a team of 33 based around the world.
I have definitely learned a lot. It’s been relentlessly difficult, with the highest of highs coupled with seemingly never-ending challenges. It’s been lonely, exciting, overwhelming, but never boring.
I was asked to share my top five lessons for leading a renowned, sustainable business. So here they are.
1. Your business is nothing without your team
A business is nothing without people. Hard to believe employers find this one a tricky concept to grasp, but here we are. You can’t do anything alone and having a solid team around you is the number one most important thing in any business. It’s not the idea, it’s not the marketing – it’s the people beside you every single day. Hire people you aren’t necessarily comfortable with straight away, because often those you immediately bond with are very much like you and those skills are already in the business. Hire smart people who you trust and are empowered to lead.
Every day our customers email in new ideas, or the team has a great idea, or I think of something new I want to try. And most of them are not in the plan. In the first few years of Ethique’s life, we pursued almost everything that was dangled in front of us and it was massively distracting. It’s hard to say no to what looks like an amazing opportunity at the time, but if it’s taking you off track of what it is you want to achieve, you need to think really carefully first. ‘Nicheing down’ is a term that is very overused, but it’s really important to focus on a small area, and a small target market. “Women aged 18-65” is not a target market. Go deeper.
3. Purpose is key
If you’ve read anything I’ve ever written this one won’t come as a surprise, but it’s 2022. Any business wanting to stay relevant should have a purpose beyond making money. Ethique’s purpose is obvious; we are using the power of ethical business practises to regenerate our planet. This purpose inspires the team, attracts top talent, engenders loyalty and passion from our customers, excites retailers and most importantly, purpose helps you get out of bed in the morning. Business as a force for good has enormous potential to fix so many of our social and environmental problems. But it is also critical to a business's success these days, as consumers demand more and more authenticity and transparency.
4. Just keep swimming
Creating a business is hard work. Some days you feel like you are on top of the world, the next day you are drowning underneath challenge after challenge. In the early days, the smallest hiccup would have me in a spin, stressed about how we would resolve it. Nowadays, very little fazes me. Through years of experience working alongside people to solve problems, my faith in myself has grown. This confidence is crucial as an entrepreneur, yet is difficult to develop and often only comes with experience. You need to develop grit, which is largely just faith in your abilities and the drive to keep putting one foot in front of the other. It might not feel like it, but there are very few problems that cannot be solved.
5. Back yourself
It is natural to doubt yourself and your abilities, particularly so for women entrepreneurs – hello, Imposter Syndrome anyone? I have struggled with this throughout my business career, and it has led me to back down on some things I probably shouldn’t have backed down on. However, one thing I have never changed is my commitment to Ethique’s values. I get asked “how did you grow so fast without compromising on your values” in almost every interview and to be honest, I find it an odd question. Ethique is built on values, they are fundamental to what we do AND what we all believe to be right. We don’t compromise them to grow quicker, and it boggles my mind that it’s the norm for businesses to do the opposite. And to do so, would be to endanger the brand anyway. Which would be a terrible business decision. So, if you have a strong belief in something, stand by it, and don’t feel the need to compromise on something incredibly important, just because you don’t have faith in yourself. (Of course, it goes without saying that you should also listen to people around you, with different life experience and expertise to you.)
Bonus tip: Just do it
Don’t put yourself in a precarious position to do so, but give it a crack. You never know what will happen, so take the plunge, build the prototype, launch the website, trademark that name. Take the first step, because that will make the next easier, and the next and the next...