Maria Hatzistefanis, founder and president of beauty brands Rodial and Nip + Fab, tells GrowthBusiness paying for talent earlier on in her business’s life would have helped it to grow faster.
Maria Hatzistefanis, founder and president of beauty brands Rodial and Nip + Fab, says paying for talent earlier on in her business’s life would have helped it to grow faster.
I have always been interested in beauty, skincare and treatments – it’s a personal passion of mine.
While studying at university in Greece, my first job was as a freelance journalist writing about beauty for Seventeen magazine. It was there that I saw a gap in the market for a skincare range that would offer natural alternatives to cosmetic surgery. However, I didn’t have the business skills or knowledge to be able to start a business at that time.
I then moved to New York where I studied at Columbia Business School, following which I accepted a job in investment banking at Salomon Brothers. Although the position had nothing to do with my original idea, it was a fantastic opportunity.
After a few years in banking, I realised that I wasn’t working on something that I was passionate about so I left my job in 1999 to pursue my dream, which was to set up my own skincare brand. The initial £20,000 investment in the company, which my husband and I put together, mostly funded some basic production of very small quantities of the products that I developed, along with some packaging and marketing.
I worked from home, took the calls, did the packing, promoted the products and “door- knocked” the stores: I invested 100 per cent of my time and didn’t take a salary.
A slow process
The business has since grown organically, and we’ve never had outside investment – Rodial and the newly launched Nip + Fab brand remain 100 per cent owned by my husband and me. The combined turnover is about £5 million and I employ more than 50 staff.
By doing this way, it has taken me much longer and I would imagine that if I had pursued equity investment for the business at the early stage then we would have grown much faster, but we chose a different route.
I hired my first staff member in 2005. What I have found – and since wish that I had known at the time – is that I should have pursued people with experience rather than only focus on people that I could afford. My advice is to find a way to pay them, and hopefully they will earn back what you have paid, and also bring the skills that you are missing as the owner.
I am not a natural salesperson so hiring strong salespeople was really important. Then, as the company grew, I needed to invest in operations and finance, which I could do to a certain extent but I needed to bring in people who had experienced of bigger companies and who had the knowledge and skills to properly structure my growing company.
Stemming a loss
Beauty is a very hard sector because you need to have a brand and you need to have a very specific point of difference to everything else that is out there. It may be cheap to develop a product range, but making it into a brand is where you can get stuck.
There have been many times when decisions I have made haven’t worked as well as I had hoped, but if about 85 per cent of your decisions are right then you can live with 15 per cent of them being totally wrong.
It is very important to realise that once you have made a mistake – such as the product not selling or the person you have hired not working out – you have to realise your loss, cut it off and move on. You need to make decisions fast.
The same applies to third-party services. When we launched in Canada, we selected a PR agency but within a few weeks figured out that the relationship wasn’t working out the way we expected. We had to terminate the agency and pay a month’s notice.
We then employed a second agency that again didn’t perform to our standards and after a couple of months we felt that this wasn’t a good choice either. We had to pay another month’s notice to them.
Finally, we hired a third agency – six months after launching in the market – and this one worked.
The lesson learnt is that when it comes to paying for a service that is key to your business, if it isn’t working then it is better to end it.