Today we launch Going Global, a new podcast miniseries about local businesses taking their expertise, products and services to the world. For co-host Brianne West, exporting has helped take her clean beauty brand to unimaginable levels.
When I started Ethique in the small, cramped kitchen of my flat back in 2012, I didn’t ever expect that ten years on we’d be exporting to 22 countries, in over 6,000 stores with offices in NZ, Australia, USA and the UK.
I started it with the (somewhat naïve) goal of ridding the world of plastic bottles, while operating a company as ethically, fairly and kindly as possible to people and planet. Over time, we’ve added more values to the company mission, like being palm oil-free and launching the Ethique Foundation, but being an ethical business helping solve social and environmental problems will always be at the heart of what we do.
To have the level of impact we wanted, and to become the billion-dollar brand that we now aspire to be, Ethique had to export. We began exporting in our third year, against conventional business wisdom which was (and still is), that a company shouldn’t start to explore other markets until it’s profitable in its home market. Being a young and inexperienced CEO back then, I listened and didn’t even contemplate export until I hired my much more experienced COO. He had built multiple companies, all with international footprints, and he encouraged offshore exploration as soon as it was financially viable. The idea was to spread the risk, and take advantage of much larger markets like the USA and Australia.
We began export in 2016 – first to the States, then across the ditch. Starting online, with a distributor in each country lessening the resources we needed to support the markets, we learned about what the consumer wanted, how the general landscape of retail worked (the USA is quite a bit more complicated than Aotearoa), and what messaging resonated in each market. We took it slowly, both out of necessity and by design, and that put us on the right track.
Without question, exporting was the step that made Ethique into the company it is today. It came with plenty of challenges, of course, like understanding the ins and outs of each new area, how to speak to consumers, how to fund the seemingly never-ending costs, how to scale manufacturing quickly to keep up with demand (there were some months a few years ago when we were almost constantly out of stock as we struggled to scale manufacturing). But the opportunities export has given the company vastly outweigh the challenges, and viewing the challenges as little bumps on the road rather than catastrophic problems made it all seem so much more achievable. Export was not the unattainable dream I had imagined after all.
Our export journey is fairly typical of a product company. That’s the kind of company that typically comes to mind – when New Zealanders think exporting, we think Fonterra or Beef & Lamb NZ. But our country has a large group of other exporters that don’t fit that description at all.
Today we launch of the first episode of a new podcast miniseries Going Global, looking at the journey of New Zealand exporters from a huge range of backgrounds and businesses. It’s hosted by Business is Boring’s inimitable Simon Pound with me, Brianne West, and you can find new episodes fortnightly in the Business is Boring feed.
This miniseries has been designed to broaden people’s understanding of export, celebrate the successes, understand some of the challenges and discern whether export is right for them and their business. Each episode features a businessperson who has taken their business international – some from day one, some after falling into international export by accident and running with it. From media company Shit You Should Care About to the security champions SafeStack, or Kami, the company revolutionising the education technology space, they each prove that there is no single “right way” to do business.
One of my favourite messages that resonated with me while recording the six episodes was each business’s mission beyond making money. Everyone we spoke to expanded their business offshore to grow their impact and change the world in their own unique way.
We kick off the series with Laura Bell, and her business SafeStack. Hers is such a compelling story – she created SafeStack in the hopes that it will no longer be needed in the future, when businesses have a more solid grasp on their online security. It’s been used by internationally successful companies like Sky and ASB for cyber security training.
Going Global is brought to you by NZTE, which has been helping companies in Aotearoa – including Ethique – take their business overseas for years. Through this podcast, we’ve explored what it actually means to be an “exporter,” and learnt that there’s no one right way to export. With expert advice for all businesses, big and small, product-focused, digital, or skills-based, NZTE helps New Zealanders with big ideas showcase those to the world.