Episode #39 | Stevi Lowmass-Taking Local Soaps Global
There may be many reasons that led you to become an entrepreneur yet that one compelling reason, your big ‘Why’ sometimes gets lost along the way. It could be because you are more invested in creating a great business plan rather than focusing on creating a thriving business or it could just be that you are afraid to ask for help.
There is no better time than the present to be brave, for you and your business. Gather your courage and take immediate action to see the results. Remember there is always help available, you just need to ask for it.
Meet our guest
Stevi Lowmass is the Founder and CEO of The Camel Soap Factory. She started the company as a kitchen-based adventure selling soaps in markets and fairs which since then has been scaled to this brand well known across the world and now operates out of industrial premises as a full-on manufacturer.
In this episode, Stevi shares how she found a gap in the gifting industry which led her to start her own soap company. She has founded and grown a successful business while overcoming countless obstacles. Her mindset and approach to business have greatly inspire.
If you have ever considered starting your own company or wondered how other entrepreneurs were able to overcome similar challenges, then this interview is for you.
- Finding your business Why and taking on the necessary mentorship to learn all you can about it.
- Taking action is most important for your business.
- Always stay open to feedback and understand it is never personal.
- Remember to ask for HELP as there may be more people ready to help you that you know.
Until Next Time
Stevi Lowmass 00:00
I dare to be myself. I dare to honor my values to accept my failures to be the person and the woman I am and not try to be something else that I feel I should be I just dare to be myself.
Evan Le Clus 00:17
Hello, you were listening to The Dare to Scale show with me, Evan,
Warsha Joshi 00:21
and me Warsha. This show is about all things scaling, scaling your business, your journey. And you.
Evan Le Clus 00:30
You are here because you dare to dream dared to dream big. So, sit back and enjoy the conversation, or perhaps even join in.
Evan Le Clus 00:41
Hi, and welcome to this week’s episode. And boy, have we got a great one for you. Warsha Can you do the introductions,
Warsha Joshi 00:49
I will indeed it is such a pleasure to introduce this particular founder, who, in her own words started the company as a kitchen-based adventure selling soaps, you know, in markets and fairs and things, which since then, has been scaled to a situation where we now have this brand well known across the world, and now operates out of an industrial premises as a full on manufacturer. This founder is somebody who I have known personally since I think 2012. And watch that entire scaling up journey from moving out from the kitchen to where the company is today. Our dear listeners, please join me in welcoming Stevi Lowmass, the founder and CEO of the camel soap factory. Stevi it’s so so wonderful to have you here. Welcome to The Dare to Scale show.
Stevi Lowmass 01:47
Thanks, Warsha. Thanks, Evan. It’s such a pleasure and an honor to be on the show. I’m always very surprised when people want to interview me. It’s so lovely.
Warsha Joshi 01:57
Well, you have set your paved the way for entrepreneurs who follow in your footsteps? And interestingly, we are we’re even within their scope. We’re talking to a few companies you are in the gifting industry, because that’s how it all started for you. Isn’t it that you found a gap in the in the gifting market?
Stevi Lowmass 02:15
Yeah, I did.
Warsha Joshi 02:16
So tell us a little bit.
Stevi Lowmass 02:17
Yeah, well, I arrived in Dubai, I’d been South African born. And but I’d been living in London for 20 odd years. And I ended up in Dubai in 2002. And when I first arrived here, there was really not much for people who lived here or who traveled to the region to take home as gifts that was genuinely reflective of the region. So you could buy beautiful candles made in China, you know, exquisite shores and pashminas made in India, and you could bad day, but there was very little else that I thought reflected, reflected the region. And at that time, Dubai tourism had really started aggressively marketing Dubai as a tourist destination, a lead said their goal of 20 million visitors by 2020. And I did the math, and even a tiny proportion of their buying product would actually generate a pretty substantial business. So that was the original concept. I like natural soaps. I really, really love the soaps that come from the region and I’m talking the northern Levant, Jordan, Palestine, Syria, Lebanon, all have strong traditions of soapmaking. But they make this with olive oil, and the leaf called Ka, which is Laurel leaf oil. And it’s it’s a green soap very, that ages for years. It’s really beautiful. So, and I thought I wonder if I could make something here but take out the laurel leaf oil, which obviously doesn’t grow around here and maybe put in something like camel milk. And I knew milk soaps would work. So, I mean, at that stage, I knew nothing about soap making. And so I literally Googled best soap maker in the world and up popped a name repeatedly a lady called Melinda Katz, who lives in France. And at that stage, he used to teach soap making in London. And I went on one of her courses, and she asked to what I wanted to do and she said, Well, I can’t teach you how to make soap with camel milk, but I can teach you how to make soap with goats milk. Okay. And that’s really how it started and initially just played around for a few years. There’s some kind of funny stories about how it all really kicked off with I will cover later. Do tell the story today. Yeah, yeah. So, I played around, tested them on friends and family. A friend of mine invited me to a school market of a little local school and another friend in Dubai, in Dubai. Yes, this is the really early days. So this would have been about 2012-2013 So I went to one of these Little Christmas markets and I had my soaps packaged up in packaging that’s not too dissimilar to where we are now. And I sold out why and I couldn’t do the second market. And I said to Brian, I said, you know what, Brian? I said, I think there’s a business here. This can fly. And the rest is history. I mean, there’s a lot of anecdotes about how it got there. But that’s literally how it started.
Warsha Joshi 05:26
So why soaps? I know you talked about, you found the gap. But why particularly soaps, it could have been anything else.
Stevi Lowmass 05:35
It could have been, but I will personally I like so. And whenever I travel, I always end up buying local search from the region. And I particularly love handmade. I also just thought I wanted to do something with the local ingredients and not much grows here to be quite honest. So camel milk seemed to me like a really obvious ingredient to work with. And I guess it could have gone down the camel chocolate route, as it happens, and when the serpent cosmetics root, probably because I’m stupid. And I knew nothing about it. And I thought, well, what can I do that and nothing about and start a business. So, but yeah, it’s a bit random. But because I like soaps. Yeah, and it’s part I mean, initially that what I was trying to do is create something, I really just wanted everybody to buy a little bit of Dubai and just get joy from the product and take it home with them. It’s morphed an awful lot recently. I’m also very committed to sustainable and environmental manufacturing methods. And to me things like soap bars, I just want the world to get away from plastic bottles and liquid soaps and liquids, shampoos and liquid conditioners and liquid everything in plastic bottles that are thrown away. Yeah. And that is also part of what drives me.
Warsha Joshi 06:59
I know, I know. Oh, my God. And I also know how beautifully they’re packaged in the little jute bags. By the way. I don’t know if you noticed, of course, you know, I’ve been buying camel milk soaps for a long time, especially from you, no only from you but do you know that I’ve gifted those soaps everywhere I have traveled.
Stevi Lowmass 07:21
Oh Warsha, I just love to hear that because that’s exactly. And you know, we get emails from people. We get an email from a gentleman many years ago who was in from Finland, and he’d been visiting Dubai. And he said I just want to let you know as I’m using a soap in my sauna, he says and the smell is Dubai
Warsha Joshi 07:40
It is and it is such a beautiful gift
Stevi Lowmass 07:44
Well the packaging has some quite funny stories, actually. So, when I first started making the soaps, I was invited to this little kindergarten fair, somewhere in Umm Sequiem was a really beautiful nursery. I can’t remember the name of it, but one of the nurseries that sell themselves on an environmental impact to ethos, a really beautiful nursery. And they had their little market for kids. And I was invited to come and sell my soaps there. This is long before I had jute bags in my on my soaps. And so I had made I think I probably had about 40 soaps and I wrapped all of them in beautiful colored tissue paper. And I’d sport a little logo off the internet that are used and had little stickers and I stuck them on and I had this really lovely table with my beautiful soaps all laid out. And I took photographs of them. And somebody had forgotten to switch the the watering system or for the garden and all of a sudden the sprinklers came. Yeah, instead, everybody and soaked my table and soaked myself. And that’s when I kind of learned a little bit about packaging, and what not to wrap my soaps in and I lost all my stock that night. But yeah, you learn quite a lot. I learned a lot about packaging and what works and what doesn’t work. And that’s when I started really looking around for packaging that was a little bit more robust, but also a little bit more sustainable and reusable and eventually landed on the bag.
Warsha Joshi 09:22
Yes. And before I hand over to Evan, because I know he’s waiting for some questions. I want to say exactly what you said. And I want to put it in how we frame it as well to say there’s no failure, there’s only feedback, because every time something like that happens, we’re learning from it. And we’re building on it and enriching our own experience of what to do what not to do. And so, you lost all the stocks that day were oh my god, what a beautiful product that brought forward in. But, oh, that was a beautiful, beautiful story. And most entrepreneurs out of rate of failing, and we’ll touch on that in a little bit. But what you shared is so wonderful to know in the early days when this happened and what actually came out of it. Evan, over to you.
Evan Le Clus 10:10
Thanks. So Stevi it is quite interesting. When you said you went into the kindergarten, I was actually picturing lots of little hands doing something and causing mayhem. I did not, I would never have thought of the sprinkling system sprinkler system. Oh, my Wow. That’s very, very interesting. It’s interesting so from where you were, to sort of where you are now, I imagine you’ve had several growth spurts in the company itself? What was the first big aha, other than maybe packaging? What was the first big aha, that sort of struck you?
Stevi Lowmass 10:38
Yeah, my first big aha moment, actually was, I was committing myself to the business. Again, it’s quite a funny story. But I’ve been playing around these soaps for quite a while. And, you know, all my friends had been trying them for probably close on 18 months. And we were sitting outside in the garden with two friends of mine who over from the UK and my husband, and we’d all had a little bit to drink and I do confess. And my husband looked at me in front of my friends and said, So what are you going to do with these soaps Stevi? Are you just going to play in the kitchen for the rest of your life? Are you actually going to do something with it? And I was furious. I was infuriated. So that’s my start of entrepreneurship. I was infuriated and said, I will show you, Brian. But my big aha moment actually was was about the same time is what had really been holding me back is I’d been held back with notions of what I ought to be doing, writing a business plan, writing all these things. And they, it was just dragging me down. It was like this anchor, and I just couldn’t fly because I needed to do business plan, I needed to do the costings, I needed to I needed to, and I couldn’t motivate myself to do it. And I read a book, I think it was called Jump. I can look it up later, and let you know what it is for the notes. And it was a short book, and I boarded it and Kinokuniya one night. It was basically bugger, the business plan, jump, go, you think it’s a good idea go. And my first aha moment really was a read this book, Brian had just thrown the gauntlet down in front of me. And I thought, you know what, I’m not going to write the business plan. I’m going to jump. And I phoned up one of our biggest clients, who remains one of our biggest clients who I love dealing with our Al Jabar gallery who’ve just been an amazing support. And I said, after these beautiful soaps, would you like to put them in your store? And they said, no, no, no, no, we don’t do soaps. We do gifts. And I said, No, no, no, no, this is a gift, not a soap. And we went backwards and forwards. And eventually, I think I was being so relieved that he put me on to his sister who got it. And she said, you know, work, let’s try this in Dubai Mall. And it worked. And there is, you know, the AHA from that Evan is, is that sometimes we get so held back about the things that we think we should be doing, that we don’t just do the stuff and do it and what was eventually did get a business plan written by the way. And, but once I was committed and started, a minute flowed, it was easy to get that together. And that’s how I raised the first round of funding from friends and family was through. It was was afterwards, but I had impetus. And I could move. And it’s what I say to so many people now who say, you know, they’re struggling with writing that I said, you know, if the concept is good do it on the back of a serviette if you need to just I ran the numbers are set with a neighbor, one Sunday morning, ran the numbers and said, What do you think? And he said, Steve, that’s a business go. And that’s literally how it started.
Evan Le Clus 14:08
Now, that’s a tremendous story. Absolutely amazing. And I think every entrepreneur at some point has some sort of a story like that. And it really is that commitment to the space. And I love the book Jump, you know, yeah. There’s another book I was listened to, quite recently. And it was my audio book. The hard thing about hard things, I think it’s called, and the guy in their harvests. His name is he said, you know, a lot of books tell you what to do. When things are going well, this is what you should do kind of thing. They never tell you what to do when things go badly. So, this is a wonderful tip about jumping. Do it, you know, back yourself and do it. I think that’s just tremendous.
Stevi Lowmass 14:47
Yes, yeah. And you’re so right. I mean, I think the world is all goes around all the things to do to make it work. The last two years have been a massive lesson for me In what to do when things don’t work? Yeah. And that’s been an enormous learning curve for me personally. Well,
Evan Le Clus 15:09
I look, I can only imagine. I mean, the stories we’ve heard about, like food and beverage travel, in your face industries, like Emirates, for example, the airline, everything stopped. I can imagine that was quite a huge handbrake for your business.
Stevi Lowmass 15:23
Handbrake, no, we fell off a cliff.
Evan Le Clus 15:26
Okay, that too? Yeah, it’s
Stevi Lowmass 15:31
no good. Yeah, no, we can talk about that later. Because it’s interesting. Yeah. And I always felt that if we survived it, we were going to be a much, much better company, in fact, and I knew that if we survived it, we’d be a much better company. And falling off the cliff, I discovered need not necessarily be the end of the world that actually is sometimes an introduction to a whole new world.
Warsha Joshi 15:59
Totally. I love it. I love it. Because that’s exactly what it is. Only when you fall off a cliff, do you know how to get up? Yep. Yeah, until then, we are never ever, ever really prepared to say, if we hit the brakes, what happens next? So, I love that I totally love it. And I want to go back to what you said earlier, Stevi. I made a note over here. Most people we tend to get held back, because we have some sort of a notion of what are some of the things that we should be doing, rather than just jumping in and doing it because until you start even as a proof of concept until you actually start doing something you don’t even know what that business is. You don’t even know what that business plan is gonna look like you have nothing to work with no. So get that proof of concept. Like you said, you had friends and family testing your soaps for 18 months. That’s brilliant. Because until you do that, you don’t know if there is a viable product to sell. So, there’s only one way to find out, jump in with both feet. Give it your all. Be prepared to roll up the sleeves and get stuck in do the hard work. There’s no easy way out. Yes, only way to do it is actually to do it. And you did
Stevi Lowmass 17:16
Exactly. I also think that there’s a lot of preconceived notions which I fell prey to about, you know, one is entrepreneurship, what should you be doing? colored by the fact that, you know, the press focuses on these these sweet young things? And they’re big successes. But do you know that the average age of successful entrepreneurs across the world is between 40 and 50. I started this business in my late 40s. And we forget the fact that experience is probably almost as good as an MBA. And if you stay humble in the process, you can learn from the MBAs as well to be quite honestly. But you know, we wait and wait and wait for that perfect moment. And there is no perfect moment, there is no perfect time. You just have to take the chance and say right now is when I’m going to do it. And it doesn’t work accepted, work out why and learn from it and move on.
Warsha Joshi 18:17
You bet. And you can see both Evan and me smiling because you’re totally speaking our language, there is no such thing as perfection, because that is so relative, it means nothing. What really matters is can you give today, all the excellence that you have of today?
Stevi Lowmass 18:33
Yes. I mean, and that’s another thing in terms of you know, building product, that sometimes I battle with people who you know who work for me is people are always striving for perfection. And funnily enough, I read was a review of a book. And I read the blinkers two books by the way, I’m very lazy. I never read the whole books, I just read the book summaries. But I was reading a book about how great companies and what they do is they go with products, particularly tech companies that are good enough, and then revise and improve, revise and improve. Again, with creating products. One of the difficulties is you’re always trying to create perfection. And actually, sometimes it’s okay to go with it good enough functional and then next iteration, improve it next iteration improve it. And that’s been a big aha moment for me as well is that is it you don’t need to go for the perfect packaging or the perfect doesn’t exist. And they’ll be for all the you know, the 50 people who say they absolutely love something they’ll be another 50 said they don’t like it. So you just need to accept can’t keep everybody happy. Not everybody’s gonna love everything. And sometimes you just got to go with your gut.
Warsha Joshi 19:52
You totally because there’s no such thing as perfection because it’s so relative, that you cannot please every person in the world because that’s just Impossible. So, you know, with today’s excellence, because tomorrow’s excellence will be built on today’s excellence, if you don’t do anything today, you’re just waiting for something to happen to you rather than taking the bull by the horns and say, right, this is what we have today. This is what we’re releasing in the market and trust the market enough to know that they will give you feedback.
Stevi Lowmass 20:18
Yes, No, exactly. Being I mean, that’s the other important thing Warsha, then learning to listen to feedback, making sure that you’ve got the mechanisms in place that people can feed back to you and said, don’t like this, and being open to it. Yeah, it’s very easy to be very defensive of things when you’ve poured your heart and soul into it. And then discovered doesn’t sell somebody I mean, we put four products, and I just absolutely love but they don’t sell, because we didn’t go about it in the right way. And the feedback is, we didn’t understand what the smells are. So, and that was quite a big learning curve, actually, is that, really, you’ve got to have good feedback mechanisms in place and be open and willing to listen to that feedback.
Warsha Joshi 21:08
Totally. And it you touched on something that we often talk about is, in most cases, especially true with entrepreneurs, true with us, as humans anyway, particularly true with entrepreneurs is when there is feedback given, at which point do we equip ourselves to say, this is not about me personally, this is about a product that we’re putting out. It is not about me, it’s about the situation and feel comfortable in that space to take that feedback, because it is about the product for refinement, not about you being judged personally.
Stevi Lowmass 21:43
Yeah,but that’s what I think your your previous that interview I listened to in December. I mean, I think he sort of alluded to it is that’s actually really hard. Yeah, it is it really difficult when you’ve poured your heart and soul into something, it is very easy to take any feedback as criticism. And it’s this really fine line, though, between really believing in what you do, if you’re absolutely sure going ahead with it regardless, and also taken in the feedback and being humble enough to go, okay. But it’s a fine line, actually, that balance between just going ahead. And of course, when you’ve created something, it’s your baby, and it’s really hard to let go of this baby. And that’s probably one of the, I think the hardest things about studying in business is getting your head around the fact that it might not need you at some point, then it might be better for somebody else to run it.
Warsha Joshi 22:41
I’m gonna add a few sentences over here, because this is anybody who has ever worked with me will know anybody I’ve ever coached will know. The starting point always is, it is not your baby, it is a business, it’s an entity you’re creating, its needs are very different to what your baby might need. And it’s it’s important to realize that distance, because you don’t actually want the business to always depend on you. And that’s what makes it a business. So, it’s a separate conversation with you. So Right. And it’s so difficult emotionally to separate yourself from what you’ve created from nothing from ground up from a concept that was probably somewhere tucked away in your head, and to a living breathing business. And knowing that at some point, it may not need me, it’s a grown up baby now. And I need to set it free, trust the people who are there and set it free. I’m saying this is very easy. And I know that transition is really is one of the most challenging mindsets shifts that an entrepreneur goes through.
Stevi Lowmass 23:47
Yes, No, exactly. It can be very tough.
Warsha Joshi 23:50
Yeah. And particularly also when there is now a team involved because everybody feels well we put our heart and soul into this. And how can somebody say this is not good. And for the founder, or the CEO of the company to manage those expectations as well to say it’s okay, guys, this is feedback for our product. And it’s for the better. How does that happen then for you Stevi?
Stevi Lowmass 24:13
Yeah, that is very difficult. I mean, we’ve got a lot of people who’ve been working for the company almost since since the start. Yeah. And it is very difficult, because they also mean, they’re everything that they are is wrapped up in the company. Yeah. And yeah, I mean, I can’t say I’ve got it completely right. yet. I think I’m still learning in this process of letting go and changing and learning that maybe this baby needs to change. It is very difficult with stuff. And to be quite honest. I think this is when companies need to start making really difficult decisions about who should stay because sometimes the people that were with you right at the start aren’t the right people to take this baby through to adulthood. To be quite honest,
Warsha Joshi 25:01
No, no, because culture changes, the way we do business starts to change, it becomes fairly process driven. Because at that stage, what is required are probably not the skill sets that were required when you are starting a business, you got to change first. And then the team’s got to change as well. So I’m 100% with you on it. Thank you for addressing that. And thank you for sharing that that particular scenario about that mindset transition.
Evan Le Clus 25:28
And also, the mindset transition and recognizing that at some point, who you need for the next 18 months or two years, whatever it happens to be, might not be who you’ve had all this time. And I mean, that that takes courage. It really does. Yes, yes. And particularly when fairly recently, I saw on your feed, that you’ve got external funding lined up and coming into the business. Suddenly, there’s other people you’re accountable to as well. So, the speed of growth will change as well. So can you talk to us a little bit about that? And how that sort of reflects on the people you have in the team? Maybe?
Stevi Lowmass 26:06
That’s a really interesting question. With funding, as there’s kind of two aspects to funding, I learned very early on in our very first sort of seed funding, we’d got some funding from a family friend. And we were just so grateful to get the money that I didn’t look at, who was giving us the money and ask why they wanted to give us the money. And it turns out their motivations, were not quite matching the company’s values. So that was there was an extremely hard lesson that nearly brought the company down, I learned a huge amount about getting money into the business and making sure that you get that money from people who have the same goals and values as you yourself. So this next round of funding that we got last year, we raised a million dollars, from two to local investors. I was very particular. I really needed to like them. Really? That’s a great, yeah, yeah, yeah. Because for me, I just felt is that when you start bringing in outside investors, you need to be able to speak really openly and honestly. And you need to have similar goals. And I think there’s good conference, it’s been a very interesting time. I’ve, I’ve actually liked having investors, I know a lot of people warned me beforehand and said, Oh, you’re going to be answerable to board, you’re going to be answerable to other people. And that bit is quite hard, when all of a sudden, what was your own decision, you now, for many important decisions need to refer to other people, but haven’t the investment has kind of reduced the loneliness to bits, in a sense, it’s really nice to be able to have a peer group that can review decisions. And then as a check and balance, it’s probably a bit of a love hate relationship or hate, only in the sense that it forces you to be a lot more rigorous about procedures and doing things properly. That you you wouldn’t perhaps have done if you were running it yourself, you know, that $50,000 that I’m going to spend on the machine? Ah, yeah, let’s do it. When you’ve got a board, you can justify it. And you know, really, I had a really interesting situation recently is that we make a product for a company, we do a lot of contract manufacture, as well now, and we make the product for a small sort of skincare business here. And oh, gosh, I’ve completely forgotten my point. Now, we’re probably talking
Warsha Joshi 29:03
about investors and the accountability.
Stevi Lowmass 29:05
And that’s right. So and we’ve been making the product by hand, and we looked at it and spoke to our production manager and said, you know, how much would a machine cost to make this process a lot more efficient, a lot less man hours, we know the labor costs, and you know how much it’s costing us. And pre board, I probably would have said to him go out and buy the machine. And although the cost was in high, and I probably don’t need to go to the board with it. What it’s forced in me is just a slightly more rigorous way of thinking. And I said to him, right, what are the reduced labor costs? How long does the payback and because we’re still only manufacturing a small amount of product for this particular company. The payback was going to be really quite long period. And I would never have done but before this investment, it is definitely given me a structure to how I think about things like investments and how we spend money. So yeah, it’s, it’s overall, a really, really positive. I think it’s a very positive experience. I mean, asked me in a year’s time, I might be saying,something different.
Evan Le Clus 30:21
I’m sure it will be grown leaps and bounds. The other thing that you touched on was not so much outsourcing, but you bringing in additional manufacturing sort of capacity for other for other businesses. And in that space, I’m sure the board would have asked, well, if you do, buy that machine, for example, what additional work and you sort of get in and it forces you to to really expand your thinking. And I know that you’ve also now producing a new couple of products a skincare range. How did that sort of come about?
Stevi Lowmass 30:55
Well, the skincare range, and the new products are really probably all a result of COVID. To be honest, our business been going like a rocket before the pandemic hits, visitor numbers were increasing. A lot of our product was going to China, we had increasing visitors from Asia, we knew that the product was really popular with Asians, and we were selling and doing those. And one of the problems with doing really well is sometimes you don’t look at, okay, what happens if this goes away until it goes away. And when everything collapsed, and our loss of business was probably a lot earlier than most, we knew what was happening by the end of January 2020. Because we could see the returners that we sell to who was selling to tourists, the planes had already stopped coming. It was a lot earlier than people realize. And we very quickly realized that in order to survive, we were going to need to really expand on what we did. So, we knew were a good manufacturing. And I’ll talk a bit about that later. By the way, just remind me later. It’s, it’s why we ended up manufacturing, it’s not what I would recommend, by the way for most people starting a skincare business and how we we got there is actually a bit of accident, a bit of fate and a bit of just not knowing, you know what I was getting myself into. But we we realized that we had all this capacity that suddenly wasn’t being used for this market. The other is that we’ve always had this great model of selling via amazing distributors and retailers directly to the consumer. But through retail stores. We really never considered ecommerce, and how we would need to to embrace it. So the new skincare products that have come out are really as a result of us looking at how do we start to address this wider market. What was really interesting during COVID for us is that whereas handmade and beautiful soaps sold when sales went up in the whole world, except the Middle East, where bar soap sales collapsed. And there was a reason there was a reason for that which we discovered in about June of 2020, when we started doing a huge amount of consumer interviews and research is that in the Middle East, people all thought that wash your hands meant washing your hands with an antibacterial so, so Dettol sales went like this. And everything else just collapsed, right. So, it forced us to have a look at new products. We were also developing product for Expo at that time. And that was a really exciting opportunity to develop products not only for Expo but for our future portfolios. So, we developed an amazing face rescue cream which is a moisturizer hand and a body cream. We also for Expo develop really beautiful milk soaps we develop the most amazing and it’s my favorite product at the moment lip balms made with camel milk. But they’re all fragrance with smells of the Middle East. So to like mango Lassie coffee and cardamom and milk and honey, they’re just they’re
Stevi Lowmass 34:30
fabulous. So COVID really forced us. And I have to say we’re still in the process of change, you know, going online in other countries and in particular, we’re very focused on China is not for the faint hearted. And we we’ve had a few missteps on the way. But I’m very pleased to say that we’ve finally shipped product to our first flagship stolen T-mall in China last month. And yes, so it means that We now have a platform and a means of getting products to the consumers. That is different to what we’ve done. But we needed all the SK use. And that’s why we really needed to. And the thing is, is that although we use camel milk in our soaps, what’s really important is that we’re not. It’s called a camel soap factory. And that’s another story altogether as to the naming, and what I’d call it if I started it now. But we aren’t all about camel milk, we’re developing an amazing new range of shampoo bars and conditioners, and they won’t have camel milk in them because camel milk, too rich for the hair. And then it doesn’t create an amazing hair product. But we’re using another local ingredient. For years, locals have used the ground up powder called Sidr. And they use it to treat scalp problems and hair problems. So we’ve incorporated the oil into our conditioners and the powder into our shampoos. They’re amazing. So it’s also about extending the product range to incorporate other local ingredients.
Warsha Joshi 36:08
Yeah,so let’s go back to a just before the pandemic, so let’s say December 2019, or maybe even November 2019. But we had just begun to hear about something’s happening, something’s happening, and nobody really knew what was happening, or even thought that it would reach us individually. So let’s look at you as a founder, then. And then the entire, let’s say, the 24 months after that, and now, which is just we’re just dipping that point of 24 months. So as a founder, what went through in your mind and of the challenges that we’re right there in front of us, and we were in the middle of it, and knowing that the sun will rise again, and there will be the end of the tunnel, and there will be light? At the end of that. What did you go through in your mind of how did you cope with all this? Probably, that’s what I’m really getting at is how did you cope with that?
Stevi Lowmass 37:10
Oh, yeah Warsha,That’s such a good question. I kept remarkably well, looking back at it. And I realize now that I had put in some really amazing things in my life that’s supported it. So November, obviously, in December, we, I mean, we November, December, January 20. Best months ever, we were creaming it. So we were planning to take on the world, in a completely different way.
Stevi Lowmass 37:45
So, I can honestly say I was not prepared. Yeah. And I think that was a massive learning experience for me is risk management. And spending a bit of time, which the board is now forcing me to do to look at, where is the risk to the business? What do you need to put in place to manage that? But in those heady days, at the end of 2019, we were heading for world domination. And it was wonderful. In early January, I knew those Jan figures were probably our last that we’re gonna see I thought it was for a year, I didn’t think it would be for two years, which is what it has been. And I belong to an amazing organization called Entrepreneurs Organization. And it’s a group of entrepreneurs, you can join it once you reach sort of the magic million-dollar mark. But I work with people in that group who are just astonishing. And I remember one guy saying, Stevi, would you like to come into my office, and I’d like to tell you about our dark days in the global financial crisis. He said, and I’ll tell you how bad we were. And it will make you feel a lot better. But he said, I’ll also teach you and tell you about some of the things that I did was really generous of him many. I went to his office and he put out this whole chart. And in the global financial crisis, his company had been so deep ended. I mean, way worse than the camel soap factory could have been a bleak, dark black position. They had this debt that was just looming over them customers who couldn’t pay them. He had two years of absolute hell and he said, here’s what I did. He said first of all, Stevi, I started a morning routine. He said, If I were you, one of the first things I do is make the time for yourself personally. He said you cannot be dealing with your company and its problems. 24 hours, you have to find space. He said I started journaling. I started exercising. I get up at five he said I had this two hour window that was me. Before I started tackling In the problems of the company, he said, the other thing that he said to me is it is learned to communicate. He said, If you can’t pay people, phone them, he says phone them. He said, You’ll be astonished how people are prepared to help somebody who reaches out. He says ignoring the problem, sweeping it under the carpet is simply not going to help. So very, very early on, in the pandemic, I took his advice very literally. And my husband has been an amazing support through this said, right, we’re both get up at five o’clock every morning. And it’s a habit we continue to this day because it works for us is we we do our exercise, we have our moments of meditation, I’ve never quite got the hang of journaling as much as I’ve tried it. But I do scribble and dots and use it for me time. The other thing that I was really clear about is when the day is stopped, I also stopped worrying about it and just let go and said, Write worrying about this is not going to make any difference. And I started planning. I when I said planning, I had Plan A B, C down to plan Z. What happens when this money runs out? What happens when I can’t pay stuff? What happens if we can’t pay this what happens? My group in EO it’s called a forum were very supportive. And at one point, I couldn’t pay the rent. And they were the ones who said, Stevi, you cannot accept the offer you’ve received from your landlord, you need to go back. And I learned courage. I started facing some of my worst fears. I’ve stopped being afraid of phoning people and stop being afraid of asking for help. And people were were astonishing. But I think you know, one of the key things that that I learned is that it just can’t panic, you have to stand back and look at what are the options and plan I remember going for a walk in Awadhi. Right in the early days and seeing these trees growing out of the rocks with roots going absolutely everywhere, and some would died and some had six. And you know, I looked at that. And I thought my God, it’s just like what I need to do with the business. You’ve you’ve got to learn to grow and rock. And you’ve got to, you’ve got to plan and my husband laughs about it. But to be honest, by the time I got the investment into the to the company, we were probably plans Z already.
Stevi Lowmass 42:50
And but all that planning just made such a difference. I don’t know if you’ve ever heard a TED Talk by a man called Tim Ferriss. Oh, my God, he is just amazing. And he talks about stoicism. And that was another big, big learning for me is he says is that when you’ve got stuff coming your way? Is that planning for how you can correct me and just accepting it. And planning for Worst case, actually means that when it arrives, you’re pretty okay with it actually. So very long answer. But yeah, I think personally, I felt I came through so much, much stronger and so much better as a person so much better. As a leader, I still think there are things that I would do differently. But I’ve learned the lessons. And I think if it happened again, I’d kind of know what I would do differently.
Evan Le Clus 43:53
I think that’s absolutely incredible. And stoicism and the fact that you weren’t alone. I’m pretty sure that’s an undervalued support system that you have right there. Particularly where it’s almost like mentorship where somebody else has been through something similar. Oh, and here’s the big map. Oh, by because I mean, you mentioned the financial crisis. And I mean, I shudder because I was working for some large corporates in Dubai Inc. At the time, and we had all sorts of things go really badly wrong in the US. And that was not pleasant. Then you really know who your friends are. And that’s supported I think, absolutely invaluable. So well done for getting there for seeing that that need and actually meeting it. That’s incredible.
Stevi Lowmass 44:46
Yeah. You know, Evan it’s very humbling though, because I’d always been very afraid, scared, perhaps to ask for help, or felt perhaps that I should be able to do this. And what it taught me was that asking for help people love to help? It’s just astonishing how much people if you ask them for help help you. And I think we’re afraid, I was afraid perhaps that asking for help meant that I was less of an entrepreneur less successful. But actually, I wasn’t in any less. I was just doing the right and sensible thing is learning to ask for help. And that’s something that’s just stayed with me actually is asking for, did listen to a great zoom crept in and remember who the speaker what it was that the coaching Goldsmith, Marshall Goldsmith did an amazing talk early on in the pandemic. And it didn’t resonate with everybody. But it absolutely resonated with me, he started his talk, he said, for those of you who businesses are struggling, he said, forgive yourself, because part of what happens when something like this hits you is that you think I should have planned for that. And actually, you need to just move on, forgive yourself. And that really comes to mind actually is that was an amazing, my husband listened to the same thing and said, there was a heap of junk. I said, you know, that really resonated with me. It was the right thing for me at the right time.
Warsha Joshi 46:24
It is it is and I love that what you said, and I want to mention on our last episode, and do listen to it when you get a chance. It’s a simple narration of a book. And in most cases, we look at children’s books, and we think, Oh, that’s, that’s a children’s book. I’m an adult, I know everything I should, why am I reading children’s book, which some of the deepest lessons that we get are put very, very simply, and that narration had one line of the question and an answer, which has stuck by me. And it’s a boy asking a horse was the bravest thing that you have done or said recently, and the one-word answer is ask for help or help.
Stevi Lowmass 47:05
Do you know Warsha? And I think for me, if you said to me, what’s the bravest thing you do? I would tell you it almost exactly that I learned to ask for help. And it came from the most surprising sources.
Warsha Joshi 47:19
Yep. Yeah. Asking for Help takes a great deal of courage because we really struggle with ourselves to saying, I don’t want to be judged. I don’t want to look like a failure. I really am running a business. I have a team and leading I should be knowing all everything. I should have all the answers. And yet, we humans, we don’t because this is a new scenario. And it’s perfectly okay to ask for help. And exactly, as you said, Stevi, we ask for help. And my god, the help is already there around you.
Stevi Lowmass 47:46
Warsha Joshi 47:48
Exactly. And accepted. Is that exactly what you said to remind you to talk about it? Evan, you have that note there, please, we’d love to hear from Stevi.
Evan Le Clus 47:57
There’s two very interesting ones that the first was you talking about production and manufacture? And you wanted to tell us a little story about that?
Stevi Lowmass 48:05
Yeah. So when I started, I learned how to make soaps. And the lady taught me how to make soaps. By the way. She’s just been astonishing woman. She’s in his 70s. Now she coaches and she coaches I think six business and she coaches nascent skincare businesses. That’s what she does. And I actually paid her I think 500 pounds a month, which was a huge amount of money to me, then to mentor me, she was my first mentor. And she said to me, she said, Stevi, you’ve got to find somebody to make the soaps for you. You really don’t want to start a manufacturing business. And I couldn’t find anybody to make the soaps for me, not on the volumes that I knew we were going to need to make. And it was interesting. I listened to a gentleman who started one of the biggest boat building companies in the UAE. In fact, they’re probably one of the biggest boat building companies in the world now. And he said exactly the same thing. He said, you know, when I started this business, I thought I was just going to be building boats, he said, but I’ve actually had to become a carpenter. I’ve had to become an upholsterer. This is what ended up happening, you know, is that because Dubai just doesn’t have the richness of services that you’d perhaps find in Europe, or in the US or, or even in Asia, or especially in Asia, you have to do everything yourself. So, I didn’t just have to learn to make soaps. I mean, we had to do everything, design our tanks, we had to design, everything has to be and we get approached by so many companies who’ve got dreams about this skincare business, and they come to us to make the product. And I’m so glad that we can provide that and actually it’s a completely different business to the camel soap factory in many ways, and then perhaps in the long run belongs in its own, it needs to be its own person. But if I’d had the choice have started a manufacturing company, probably not. I have to say it’s great fun. And it’s really interesting, and I love it. But it’s a distraction. I really enjoy manufacturing. It’s, it’s really, really great. I’ve learned so much. And my dad always used to laugh at that. He says, Stevi, just deep down in your heart, you’re such a geek, he says, You’re just like me.
Evan Le Clus 50:35
That’d be fabulous. There was a second thing you said. And that was the name of the company. He said, that might be different if you were to do it again.
Stevi Lowmass 50:45
Yes, you know, I just didn’t sit down and think about the future. And think what happens if I name my product after my company? And there are such famous companies that I knew about, like, you know, Rentokill, do you remember interview 20-30 years ago, when all of a sudden, you know, calling your company rent to kill what’s wrong? It’s a bit wron, wasn’t it? So they became rendered cool. So the camel so factory I used the company used to be called Essential soaps. But when I got my industrial license, I was sitting down at the DOD. And the gentleman who is doing the industrial license that to me, he said, you have to have the word factory or industry in the name you have to. And I said, Well, essential soaps factory doesn’t sound right. He says, how about the camel soap factory? It says you are camel soap factory? Do you know? And I said yes. But if I had just put a bit of thought into it, I would have realized the branding nightmare I was letting myself into. And I still need to solve, to be quite honest. So, we’ve become really famous as the camel soap factory. But in many ways, our products are now wider. And they’re a wider selection of products. It’s not all just about camel soaps. My brand is the camel Soap Factory, which is the same name as the factory. Would I have done it differently? If I started again? Oh, yes. But these are the things that happen, that sometimes it’s really just important, perhaps. And if I’ve spent a little time thinking about where do I see myself going with this. But you know, I didn’t believe in myself. At that point, I didn’t believe enough in myself to think about what happens if this gets really big. I was not believing in me. So, I just kind of went with the flow. And now I would do differently. Because now I know what I can do. I would look at and go, okay, if I’m going to grow this, this is not going to work. Let’s do it a different way and argue with the man at the DOD and say no, I don’t think that’s a great idea.
Evan Le Clus 53:11
I totally love that. And my dad is full of like your dad, I think you know, full of all sorts of good expressions, he says, Experience something you can’t buy. So, the one thing I do know now is that you can do a business plan. So you would have sat down and actually thought about all these things. But at the time, you don’t know. And the funny thing about business names in this in this town, like Warsha has the same thing made me sound like you know, we’re a little company and Karama or something.
Warsha Joshi 53:41
It’s like, oh, no, it’s the same. So our regular listeners, of course know. So we run another fairly large business called Platinum VA where we outsource admin services. And then came a time when we had to now register it in DED. So, we had to have management consultancies, but it couldn’t be VA because VA means nothing. What is the can’t have initials. So this eventually, after about five or six different suggestions, the name that we were suggested was Platinum star management consultancies and I said, Oh my God, we sound like a shipping company. What is that? No, no, no, no, just No, but yeah, well, what what took me back is Stevi when we first met the soaps were called Essential soaps, because that rang a bell.
Stevi Lowmass 54:27
Yes, that’s exactly what that it was essential soaps that are spelled original. So packaging was Essential soaps
Warsha Joshi 54:36
Because we’re buying the soaps and they were called Essential soaps. Oh, that’s right. Exactly. This was ages ago. Stevie.
Stevi Lowmass 54:44
Yeah, that would have been, oh gosh, nearly 2012 Nine years ago, 10 years ago even it could have been essential soaps.
Warsha Joshi 54:53
2012 I think when we met that was the first time, I bought soaps from you. Yeah. They were essentially So, yes,
Stevi Lowmass 55:02
yeah, there Warsha, you know, is not believing in yourself and not believing in your dream means you don’t plan properly. And that was a real lesson, you know, is that you’ve got to believe in what you’re doing and know and think, Okay, this thing’s going to get big. How are we going to? How are we going to manage? So we’ve just got a bit of an interesting, you know, branding issue, but we’ll sorted. We know, we need to do it, but this probably cost us a little bit more. And, you know, I would have done it differently if I started all over again.
Warsha Joshi 55:40
Yeah. And also, you know, what, it’ll cost you a little bit now. But would you rather it cost you a little bit now than but five years later, when you’re when you’re close to being a half a billion-dollar company, you know, yeah, sorted out now. And I have two questions as we come to wrapping up this superb conversation. One is, what do you do outside camel soap factory when you’re not working? What do you do? What’s your hobby? What do you do with free time.
Stevi Lowmass 56:09
what I do? Oh, right. So I, well, one of my great loves here is about 16 years ago, I started a book club. And we have read hundreds of books over the years, they are the most beautiful women that we and I read, I really love reading. And it is something I’ve really forced myself to do is, and I don’t just read business books, I find a lot of them really quite trapped and boring. There are the occasional good ones I like, but I really like beautiful fiction books by him. I find them inspirational; they transport me into my space to be. COVID so Brian and I’ve always enjoyed camping and getting out and about. But during COVID We really, really learned to appreciate the UAE in a way that I know many other people got the same. We started exploring wadis and hiking and mountains, and we started hiking a lot beautiful and I’ve been amazing. We’ve seen places we normally wouldn’t have seen. I’ve gotten fitter. So that’s one of the things that we really, really love to do. Together. Yeah,
Warsha Joshi 57:29
Beautiful. And the landscape, I have to say every 20 kilometers is different. And there’s so much to explore in this country.
Stevi Lowmass 57:36
Exactly. You know, and I find you know, even walking through the wadi is inspirational when you see nature in terms of the rocks that get washed down, and what how plants survive in the most amazingly difficult conditions. It’s a great teacher, as well.
Warsha Joshi 57:57
it is You bet it is. And like I said earlier, you see, you see a tree growing in absolute dry, arid conditions. And yet there are roots that that spread out to find that tiny bit of moisture that they can to survive. And it’s a fabulous thing. And now I have a question which our regular listeners absolutely know what’s coming. Is your I Dare to statement. We all have one hidden in us. And very rarely do we actually say it out loud. So what is your Stevi?
Stevi Lowmass 58:31
I really thought about this Warsha. And it was so easy. And then I dare to be myself. Oh, I did to honor my values, to accept my failures to be the person and the woman I am and not try to be something else that I feel I should be , I just dare to be myself. It’s taken me many, many years to get there.
Warsha Joshi 58:58
This absolutely calls for a round of applause that is one of the best so far. And that is so true for all of us. And that is a beautiful, beautiful I Dare to statement that you have shared with us. You dare to be just yourself. And what followed was more important, Steve is that you accept yourself for who you are with the failures and the successes and everything that goes with it.
Stevi Lowmass 59:21
Warsha Joshi 59:23
Fabulous. Absolutely. Fabulous. Evan, any last questions from you for our superb superb guest.
Evan Le Clus 59:31
This has been a stunning, absolutely stunning conversation Stevi, your journey. It really is inspirational. And I think with a lot of entrepreneurs, you learn to grow into your own skin. And you’ve done exactly that. And your I Dare to statement is absolutely perfect. Yeah.
Stevi Lowmass 59:49
Well, I’ve really enjoyed the I’ve enjoyed the conversation. It’s been wonderful.
Evan Le Clus 59:53
Thank you for being a guest. It’s been wonderful.
Stevi Lowmass 59:56
Oh, it’s a pleasure.
Warsha Joshi 59:57
Thank you so much.
Warsha Joshi 1:00:01
Thank you for joining us and for listening all the way through to get the show notes, the transcription and of course to subscribe, visit dare to scale.fm.
Evan Le Clus 1:00:13
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