When The Going Gets Tough
Ironically, it was a business failure and growing financial worry that set naturopath and SleepDrops inventor Kirsten Taylor on the path to pinch-yourself business success. The single mum lost everything when a business partnership soured and, living hand-tomouth, the pressure was taking its toll. As she lay awake night after night worrying about the future. Taylor realized the solution to her problems may lie in a little glass bottle. As a naturopath, she had been formulating a sleep remedy for clients for years after realizing that if they weren’t sleeping, it was a struggle to treat them for other issues.
“I was getting feedback that the SleepDrops were really helping my clients to get a good night’s sleep and they were waking up feeling good. Until that point I’d never really thought more about it “the 39-year-old says.
Her subsequent research revealed 47% of adults in the western world had issues with sleep, at which point she realized these magic drops could have a far bigger market. With renewed determination, Taylor bottled her SleepDrops – making the lables on her home printer – and took out an ad in the local paper, rossing her fingers that she’d make enough to pay for it. That day the phone rang 20 times – and the business was born. That was 2009, and in the four years since she had added more products to the range, including sleep remedies for babies. She also has three new products to come. In four short years the business had grown to an annual revenue of more than $1 million and, with sales rocketing in New Zealand and abroad, Taylor expects that figure to be around $5 million within 12 months.
BILLS BILLS BILLS
It was a very different story when Taylor’s work partnership failed and she was left with nothing. “It was right at the time when the world was heading into the global financial crisis. There were no jobs in my industry and I’m a single mother. Things were very bad and I needed government assistance. Everything I had I’d put into a business and it was gone.”
Over the years, while she got back on her feet and developed her new business, Taylor and her son Jasper often went without, relying on the kindness of family and friends to get them through some rough times “when there wasn’t a lot in the cupboard”.
“There were times when I couldn’t pay my bills and my friends lent me money. My son hasn’t been able to have guitar lessons or do martial arts classes, so we’ve had to sacrifice. But I think I did a really good job of making him feel like everything was okay – that was important to me. I needed to be a rock regardless of what was happening.” She says.
Taylor wasn’t without a strong skill set – previous roles as a technical consultant and trainer for a top New Zealand natural remedy distribution company, a contact formulator of natural remedies, a webshop owner selling supplements to the Japanese market, and a practicing naturopath, all helped her in developing and marketing her SleepDrops products.
Until the end of last year SleepDrops sold directly to clients, but with increasing approaches from outside customers, retailers and distributors, Taylor launched the products into a limited number of pharmacies at the end of 2012 and the number of New Zealand stockists has risen to 650. The company is experiencing huge growth month-on-month and sales are well ahead of Taylor’s business growth forecasts for this year.
“I have a sales graph that goes like that,” she says, gesturing upwards with her hand. “I’ve never given up faith this would work but it has definitely been hard and scary. Now it’s starting to happened and there is a part of me just doing a jig because I’m so incredibly excited about the future.”
Dressed in a hot pink silk T-shirt and jeans, her straight blond hair tucked back from her face, Taylor looks relaxed and in control. Sitting at the dining table at her rented Auckland home, with views out across the harbor, she can hear the doorbell chime periodically as clients drop by to buy products directly from her and her staff.
It’s clear Taylor lives and breathes the business, relishing the chance to connect with clients and help them with their specific sleep issues. Growing up with community minded parents, she always saw herself doing something that would help others. She planned to become a layer but her first year of university left her disillusioned and she took the chance to travel, spending seven years away from New Zealand.
It was while working in Japan that Taylor’s 20-something lifestyle started impacting her health, and a friend introduced her to vitamins, minerals, and supplements. The change to her mood, energy and health were profound and Taylor says she knew she’d found her way to help others.
“I had made a promise to myself I would keep travelling until I worked out what I wanted to do. It had to be something I really loved and could spend the rest of my life doing – naturopathy was definitely that thing for me.” She came back to New Zealand to study to be a naturopath, medical herbalist and nutritionist, and in the midst of her initial three-year course she also had son Jasper, now 11.
As a woman, she says, New Zealand is a great place to do business, with support available to fledgling entrepreneurs who want to get an idea off the ground. As her business grows she would also like to set up a fund to help single mothers with good business ideas.
“I used to tell my Japanese friends I was going back to New Zealand to start my own business and they were quite amazed. But in New Zealand we can do anything. If you’re really determined,, prepared to work hard, have a good product or idea and you’re prepared to back yourself,, then people will back you.”
And with SleepDrops poised to go global – and with a successful trial with Cathay Pacific pilots using SleepDrops during their scheduled sleep breaks during flights – she says the key to maintaining a work-life balance will be finding savvy strategic partners in each of the new markets.
“I want to be a mum and to go to soccer matches and take a week off each school holidays. I’m aware I have this massive thing that’s going happen with the business but if I am clever about it then I should be able to maintain my work-life balance.”
Her advice to others is to crunch the numbers and to follow the advice of the countless entrepreneurship course and books she has devoured over the years – ‘find your niche’ and make sure your business also `feeds your soul`. Taylor says she knew her products were good and she never gave up, despite the challenges. “It is a huge leap of faith and not just once – it’s a huge leap of faith every day.
“Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t all altruistic, I’m going to look quite good on deck of my super yacht,” she laughs.
“I want both – I want a super-amazing lifestyle and I want to only make products that will improve people’s lives. If I make lots of money doing that, then that’s awesome.”