The founders of The Inkey List, Camille Rose Naturals and BYBI share how they took their brands from kitchen table to the global stage, as well as their top tips for anyone else looking to follow in their footsteps

Over the past decade, a bevy of new and exciting women-led brands have hit the beauty scene, providing us with inspiration for not only kickstarting a new skincare regime, but potentially a new career.

They may be global success stories now, but many have humble beginnings, with small budgets and even smaller teams as their founders pondered how to turn their beauty passion projects into full-time businesses. If you’ve ever found yourself musing, ‘Could I do that?’ chances are that they did, too.

Making a dream a reality is full of ups, downs and stumbling blocks – particularly for women. The 2019 British Business Bank’s UK VC & Female Founders report, commissioned by the government, found that venture capital (VC) investment in start-ups with female founders is increasing but progress is slow. The findings are being used to inform ongoing work to tackle this issue as the role that these companies play was identified as key in boosting the economy.

"We need to continue to empower the women around us to feel confident enough to start businesses, ask for promotions, speak up and enter the world of funding," say Elsie Rutterford and Dominika Minarovic, co-founders of BYBI.

Here, here. For this reason, we speak to some of our favourite successful entrepreneurs to find out how they made the step-up from kitchen table to start-up and full-time career. They reveal how they used social media to make their mark and give us their top tips for getting the ball rolling should you want to make your own brilliant business idea a reality.

Meet Colette Laxton, CEO & co-founder of The Inkey List

The brand

Launched in: 2018

All about: knowledge-driven, ingredient-based skincare for all (people and budgets!).

How it started out…

I started out learning the whole brand cycle at Boots, from product development through to marketing in multiple areas – starting in toys before beauty! I started right from the bottom; making tea, packing samples and filling out spreadsheets. Ironically, it doesn’t sound much different to heading up a start-up! I was the one going to the post office, even four years ago.

From a young age, I always saw the power of beauty. I was a dancer from age three and the armour of putting on a red lipstick (and blue eyeshadow then) was the last thing I did before going on stage. In my teen years, I saw this even more as I struggled with acne and saw the huge impact your skin has on your self confidence. Back then the skincare options were limited, so I hid my acne under a baseball cap. These experiences stay with you, and developing a beauty brand that could empower through skincare knowledge is such an incredible thing.

In the start-up days…

It was just me and my co-founder [Mark Curry] for a while, and we started to hire junior talent straight from university, as well as calling on friends and family for support. We even convinced an entrepreneur who owned an office to let us squat in a room for a while, because we couldn’t afford rent. Luckily, we both had an amazing network in beauty, so we were able to find suppliers and agencies to take a chance on us before we managed to get investment.

We use social media to build our business by…

Delivering knowledge and using our different channels to support educational content (for example, Instagram long-form guides vs TikTok snackable video content). We want to support people through their skincare journey, not just force them to buy a beauty product.

The thing that had the greatest influence on our trajectory was…

The press we received. The coverage we got on our launch day led to multiple retailers contacting us and getting us listed within a matter of a week – we sold out and we knew we had something right there! Social media has also been one of the most critical success factors of our brand.

The biggest lesson I learned was…

As a company we start with YES, which has always set us apart. However, early on, saying yes to every opportunity meant at times we were not as focused as we should be and left ourselves exhausted. Learning to focus was a huge learning curve for me.

The one thing I wish I’d known before starting out is…

The importance of cash flow! I’m not a finance expert, but keeping your cash tight will protect you from the inevitable headwinds that will come your way.

My top tips for other aspiring entrepreneurs dreaming of turning their beauty passion project into reality are:

• Define your superpower! Why are you unique, why would a customer love your brand/products/comms? Define this and then stay true to this in every decision you make.

• Surround yourself with the right experts – do not scrimp on legal, finance expertise. These are not sexy, but they will be the foundation of your business.

• Stay in your lane. It’s easy to look at what others are doing, but do what is right for you and your business. As much as I personally love trend-led memes on social, we are a knowledge-led brand, so this is not the right content strategy for Inkey.

• Put people at the centre of everything. You are nothing without your team and nothing without your consumers. Put them first in every decision, every day.

• Find your own pace. Not every brand and business is an overnight success and even those that look successful have their own issues – scaling too fast can be catastrophic for a young business.

Shop the full The Inkey List range

Meet Janell Stephens, founder & CEO of Camille Rose Naturals

The brand

Launched in: 2011

All about: natural, ingredient-based blends for skin and any hair texture.

How it started out…

I started making my formulations in my kitchen back in 2011. I was on a personal quest for products that would help with the skin and hair issues that myself and my family were experiencing. My kids had severe eczema and I wanted to find something that would help give them some relief, so I researched different ingredients and herbs and began making my own. I became obsessed and loved coming up with my own creations. I have a masters degree in science, but I had no idea I would have ended up in the beauty industry.

In the start-up days…

I was the only one involved in my business. I worked on Camille Rose every day for hours. I didn’t realise how fast the time went, because I enjoyed making the products so much. I was my own employee for the first year of my business, although I did employ my kids to help out from time to time!

I use social media to build our business by…

We use our platforms to educate followers about our products and show how they work for all hair types and textures. Entertainment is also important for us and so we’ve featured guests, ranging from chefs to DJs. We want them to be feel-good destinations.

The thing that had the greatest influence on our trajectory was…

When we got into the major retail chains and the orders began to grow – we knew we’d need assistance from a larger manufacturing facility in order to meet the demand. I really put my all into finding a partner who shared the same ingredient beliefs as me. This was an important part of our growth.

It was also a goal of mine early on to share my brand across the pond [she’s based in the US]. I remember finding Boots on the internet and calling up to ask if they sold natural hair and body products. I asked so many questions to the sales rep about how I could get samples to the store.

The biggest lesson I learned was…

My biggest learning came when trying to find a facility to help with manufacturing. It took me over a year, because it was important that we found someone who knew how to work with the natural speciality ingredients we used and believed in the same things when it came to formulation. Being able to trust your partners and having the same end goal of providing customers with a great product is of the utmost importance to me and to our brand.

The one thing I wish I’d known before starting out is…

To just start – even if it’s just you at the beginning. I’m glad I learned how to be a boss the way that I did. I pride myself on being self taught and trusting my own instincts.

My top tips for other aspiring entrepreneurs dreaming of turning their beauty passion project into reality are:

• Don’t stop for any reason! If this is your passion, keep working towards getting it off the ground and running with it. Work on it every day until you become a household brand.

• Tech is your friend when it comes to managing projects and reaching new productivity peaks. My top picks for any business are:

- Quickbooks – a must-have tool for all start-ups! It’s great for keeping payments organised.

- Intralinks – a tool that keeps all of your important papers in a file and makes it easier to find all your important papers.

- Dropbox – great for organising reports and photos that can be easily shared with your team members.

Shop Camille Rose’s amazing range

Meet Elsie Rutterford & Dominika Minarovic, co-founders of BYBI

The brand

Launched in: 2017

All about: pro-planet beauty for all.

How it started out…

It all started with Clean Beauty Insiders (formerly known as Clean Beauty Co), our DIY beauty blog that we created in 2015.

It quickly became the UK’s premier destination for all things natural beauty, with a growing community to match. We created and shared DIY beauty recipes, ran workshops and hosted events, while still working full time. To further our education in natural beauty and validate our recipes, we trained as skincare formulators, achieving a diploma in natural skincare formulation from Formula Botanica. In early 2017, we wrote Clean Beauty, a book published by Penguin that contains more than 100 natural beauty recipes.

We wanted to launch BYBI, because we truly felt that there was a gap in the market for natural and vegan skincare that delivered great results for your skin, underpinned by leading sustainable ethics and looked as good as it made you and your skin feel. Our Clean Beauty Insiders community had validated this idea, so we knew there was an audience for BYBI before it launched.

In the start-up days…

In the beginning, it was just the two of us. We operated out of our kitchens and then moved into a studio in East London, before making our office in Farringdon our home permanently.

The thing that had the greatest influence on our trajectory was…

In late 2018, we launched our now bestselling Booster range, including Bakuchiol Booster, a gentle retinol alternative that helps support collagen production and improves the appearance of skin texture and fine lines. We were at the very forefront of the bakuchiol trend, which gained lots of attention from press and consumers alike.

The biggest lesson I learned was…

We’ve learned that as a small team, staying focused on the brand’s wider objectives is really important as there’s always so much you could do, which can lead to being spread too thinly. Currently, we’re hyper focused on the UK market.

The one thing I wish I’d known before starting out is…

That you really can make a positive change. We set out with the goal of challenging beauty industry norms and building a climate-conscious beauty brand. This year, we launched Glowcurrant Booster, £12, the world’s first carbon negative skincare product*. This product is unlike any other in its category, in that it removes more carbon from the atmosphere than it emits.

We use social media to build the business by…

We use it to communicate our brand story, hero community content and personally engage with our audience.

Our top tips for other aspiring entrepreneurs dreaming of turning their beauty passion project into reality are:

• Go for it, don’t procrastinate or spend ages agonising over perfection. Take the plunge, you can always fine tune and tweak it once it’s done.

• Building a pro-planet business is the future. BYBI has always championed sustainability within beauty, but it’s never been more important to create climate-conscious businesses across all industries.

• If you don’t have tons of direct beauty experience, set out to surround yourself with experts who can help fill your knowledge gaps and act as mentors who can support you.

• Find yourself a business partner you can rely on and trust. Someone to share the highs and lows, sense check decisions and basically have someone that is going through exactly the same journey as you. It can make the whole process feel less daunting when you’re in it together.

• A couple of management apps that have been crucial to the development of BYBI are Slack and Slack has allowed us to communicate effectively and efficiently within a start-up environment, and has allowed us to seamlessly collaborate on projects that involve all areas of the business.

Shop BYBI’s full range

All prices correct at date of publication

*Due to its unique, first-to-market production methods. Glowcurrant Booster’s carbon footprint is negative, because it is made using low-carbon ingredients and sequesters carbon throughout its supply chain from cradle-to-gate. It does not rely on or involve any carbon offsetting.