Melanie McVean is one half of the couple behind Australia's most affordable and effective natural deodorant NO PONG. The Canadian-native and her Australian husband Chris launched the business in May 2015 and to date, they've grown, on average, 76 per cent quarter on quarter valuing the company at $2 million.
Oh and did we mention she's also registered midwife, clinical educator, international board certified lactation consultant and women's health advocate, currently living and working with underprivileged communities in Timor Leste?
High achiever, much?!
We spoke to Melanie about the ethical drive behind the successful e-commerce start up and how they built the business in less than 24 hours. No joke.
How did the idea for NO PONG come about?
I was making deodorant for myself for about a year, one day I noticed my husband was wearing the same t-shirt for three days and I was like what are you doing?! And he was like I’ve been using your deodorant, and I don’t smell! I smelt his armpit and that’s kind of how NO PONG came about! He was like we need to sell this, this is amazing.
What prompted you to make natural deodorant for yourself?
I think it’s important to understand what you’re putting on and inside your body. I was doing a 30 day Friends Not Food challenge, and this was all about eating real food, not packaged food for 30 days, and also talked about looking at labels in the products you’re using. It just kind of prompted me to be a little more conscious about all that stuff, so making my own deodorant and my own face oils and everything like that. I don’t think I have the perfect lifestyle, I just think you should be aware of what you’re putting on and in your body so that’s kind of how it came about for me.
At what point did you think it could become a business?
Well he basically thought of it right away. So Chris has a marketing background, and we used to live in Sydney, and he’s done marketing for years. So he was like let’s do this, and he also has worked on a few startups before, and was very involved in that startup community. And so it kind of, we were looking for a new opportunity and it kind of happened very quickly.
Did you have any experience running your own business prior to this one?
No, not really. I worked in – I’m a midwife but before that – I worked in a lot of retail places and as a waitress for years and years so I have a lot of customer service experience. And I’m also quite a numbers person, and both my parents were in accounting. So budgets and things like that come quite naturally to me. So it’s a good mix between the two of us I think.
Could you explain a little bit about the “hackathon” that got the business off the ground? Did you basically start a business in a day, are we simplifying that too much?
No, no you’re not. It actually went like that. When he said let’s do this, I was a bit sceptical because I was like we’re not just going make it on our own, why would people want to buy it. Also, because you see so many startups that put a lot of money into starting up a business, and then they market and realise that nobody actually wants the product. So I didn’t want us to go down that route. So we had it all planned, we went to Java, and we went to like the corner stores, bought some little notebooks and yeah, we had like an agenda I guess. So we had a plan, our vision, our mission, our name, and little videos kind of thinking about marketing, and so we started building the website, all in a day.
It was just the two of you doing that?
Yeah this was the two of us, on like a table, on the side of the beach. We have pictures of the whole thing too, cause it’s kind of funny. Then what we did is we posted just posted on our Facebook, to our friends, this is what we’re thinking of doing, would anybody be interested in buying? So before we hadn’t purchased anything at that point. And we had about 50 orders just from people we knew, or people who said yes you make this we’ll buy it, so a good interest. And then we went home after our trip and I started making it in the kitchen. But in the beginning I kind of made it to order, I wouldn’t want to put out more money than we had coming in.
How did the business scale up after that?
Well we do a lot of marketing, Chris does all of that, and we just left it on itself - so as the demand grew more, and it was really, I mean it was never taking any investors, which we’re quite proud of and yeah, we just kind of grew it as the demand grew, and yeah have always just been really very budget conscious.
What’s the best business advice that you ever received?
I think a friend of ours talked about minimal viable product and that is kind of what we did too, so to test the business idea, if it will work or not, what is the cheapest way to do that without actually making anything. And because with that, the tricky thing in business is that people have ideas, and ideas are wonderful and usually you’re trying to sell the product… It’s seeing how much interest you get in the product before you actually spend any money or time doing stuff.
Were there many risks you had to take in starting and developing the business? Which ones have paid off for you guys?
We had to scale up and out first very quickly which was a challenge, so probably that was the hardest thing for me, finding manufacturing and shipping logistics when we were so small. We had to pay a little bit more than we were obviously paying ourselves for making it at home in the kitchen. But that was probably the best thing we could’ve ever done, was outsourcing it when we were still so small. And every decision that we made from then on we made based on scalability. So we just always make sure that it’s scalable and that we’re not limited in that way.
What advice would you give others, and specifically women, starting out in business?
It doesn’t have to be all encompassing, it also doesn’t have to be really expensive. I’ve committed to working almost full time, as a midwife [so] I’m doing what I love to do and as well as running a business. I think who you surround yourself with is so important and Chris and I have very clear values in our business, so we make sure that all the partners in our logistics, company, and our manufacturer – everyone is aware of our values and also share them. And it just makes it so much easier to do business. I think if you find those really great partners, that will just make it so much better and it makes it really enjoyable.