How To Pioneer An Industry
Launching a startup can be both thrilling and terrifying. Launching a startup that will pioneer a whole new industry is pretty much the same thing albeit on a colossal scale.
When blazing a new trail, the pivotal question goes from “will people buy my product?” to “will the world follow me into a new frontier?”
The key challenge is no longer besting the competition but creating the playing field. And the ultimate reward is offering people better quality of life rather than a product with better features.
Catherine Cervasio, founder of luxury brand Aromababy and pioneer of the organic baby skincare industry in Australia, can attest to all the above. Being first at the table meant a rare opportunity to create something bigger than a mere business and she seized it with both hands.
Aromababy, which turns 23 this year, has since transitioned from industry pioneer to industry leader and counts John Travolta, Dannii Minogue, Princess Mary and Jamie Oliver among its clientele.
woman with drive asked one of Australia’s biggest successes for her tips on being an industry pioneer.
Be your own research lab
How do you conduct market research on a non-existent market? The answer is become your own test subject. In Catherine’s case, she could not have found a better one. As a new mother with a background in skincare, she knew exactly what she wanted for her own baby as well as the limitations within the industry.
“Creating a range of organic skincare products was an obvious solution but it was only after talking to cosmetic chemists and formulators that I learnt they had never worked with natural ingredients.”
So Catherine delved into her own research by discussing ideas with new mothers, midwives and healthcare professionals. She used their feedback to develop a formula that provides the best outcome for a baby’s sensitive skin.
Educate. Do not sell.
When you are the only person who understands the inner working of a new industry, you have a choice of two very powerful roles – salesperson or educator.
Catherine advises picking the latter if trust and loyalty are part of your brand’s ethos. She has a zero tolerance policy for stretching the truth to win a sale, and makes sure that her entire team upholds this.
“It is not about getting the sale at any cost or about chasing profits. It is about providing the right information, allowing people to make an informed decision and hoping that some will choose your products based on their new knowledge.”
If sales is in your blood, then sell trust not a trend. Going the distance in the real world is worth a whole lot more than going viral on social media.
Take responsibility for setting industry standards
When there are no standards to live up to, it can be tempting to cut yourself some slack. Especially when no one would know any better.
Catherine remembers the many times she was advised to downgrade the active ingredients in her formula in order to reduce manufacturing costs and enable her to compete purely on a price point. She refused to lower her standards.
“I learnt that there are many products claiming to be natural and organic even when their essential oils amount to less than half a percent instead of three-quarters of the overall formula. This is why certain products cost what they do. You get what you pay for.”
And sometimes, you also get found out.
There is little point in going through all the trouble to pioneer an industry only to confine it to your backyard. And yet many pioneers develop tunnel vision and resist looking beyond their own shores. To Catherine, who took Aromababy international 15 years ago, this is unfathomable.
“We are dealing digitally with the whole world so you need to look at markets outside Australia to be sustainable. And when you do, you also need to consider whether you can sustain a growth in finances, space, resources and manpower while remaining viable.”
Catherine had her eye on the global market from the start but her initial route was an unconventional one. In the early years she would keep tabs on any new celebrity parents visiting Australia and find a way to get her products to their heads of security. Her success stories include Sylvester Stallone and the late Michael Jackson.
“I would not take this route today, but when you are young, passionate and driven, you go all out!” she laughs. “But I am older and things have changed as Aromababy is now well-known here and abroad.”
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