Interviews with women entrepreneurs (CSI)

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As part of the WP2 the consortium has performed a series of interviews with women enetrepreneurs. Their summary is available in this document.

2. CSI

 

Interviewee: Christallena Poulli, Cyprus

Interview with Ms Poulli

What inspired you to start your own business?

Throughout my life I was always fascinated by nature and its therapeutic properties, which led me to study Herbalism in London. Since I can remember myself, “giving without expecting a return” was a key factor to my wellbeing and an ethical value taught by my parents from a young age. I always got a beautiful feeling by making others feel special. My way of doing that is through meaningful little gifts and friendly gestures and that ultimately translated into a vital business model perfectly illustrating my life’s mission – to serve and provide for the commonwealth. Following my studies, I had the opportunity to work in a few Holistic clinics where I concluded that a large percentage of people were seeking alternative methods of healing and skincare driven to being a more natural approach. As a result of this tremendous demand and my passion for natural, herbal remedies and overall holistic wellness, CP Herbalist was born. A skincare company with nearly 100% natural cosmetics made with high quality, potent ingredients and in-house patented formulations. Our brand’s mission is to produce products that truly serve their purpose and can become an alternative solution to several dermatological and hair issues encouraging people to “feel beautiful in their own skin” as our motto suggests. I find it extremely fulfilling and inspiring to see people respecting themselves and embracing their beauty regardless of their skin type and I truly believe that CP Herbalist is on the right track of making this miracle happen for everyone. Today, after a lot of hard work and daydreaming, I am able to share my knowledge, experience and to create effective formulas that, according to our customers, have a positive impact in their lives.

How long have you been running your business?

I have been running CP Herbalist for the past 5 years. Our physical store opened in 2018 and a year later, in 2019, we entered the digital world with the launch of our ecommerce website www.cpherbalist.com.

What has been your biggest achievement as an entrepreneur so far?

I believe that achievements are the feedback we get from our past actions and contribute towards forming our next goals. For the past 5 years I have achieved a few goals that made me proud of myself and my capabilities on a personal and business level. My most important achievement was conquered the day we launched CP Herbalist with the mission to help people with their skincare and to become a part of their skin-love journeys.

On a personal level, I am proud of myself for the way I learned to manage the stress and pressure that comes along with running my own business. I started CP Herbalist with no previous experience, competing in a highly demanding market. Believe it or not, I never thought of giving up and I never will! I am a firm believer that a positive mindset, a strong aligned team, and the love for what you do will always lead to a beautiful outcome regardless of the struggles and fallbacks you will get along the way. I would like to highlight that I have created an amazing team consisting of 8 women, which I am now able to employ on a full-time basis and share my passion, aspirations and goals with. I love my team and feel extremely proud of my accomplishment, as trust and team spirit are hard to find nowadays.

In regards to my latest achievement, I am proud about gradually building and self-founding my own manufacturing factory in Cyprus. We want to keep control of the entire production and facilitate the whole process “in-house” in order to maintain our high-quality standards. We expect to start production as soon as 2025. Having our own factory will eventually create new business opportunities and contribute towards expanding to new horizons.

 

How do you keep your business competitive in the face of technological progress, digitalization, and innovation?

As a business we acknowledge that technology and innovation go hand in hand, hence that we constantly strive to adapt to the latest trends in order to maintain our position in the market and stay competitive.

Social media is the main marketing tool for businesses today, so we devote a lot of our time and budget into it. Through social media we engage with our followers and encourage them to contact us for any immediate assistance or questions regarding their skincare. To stay competitive in terms of marketing, we constantly update our business plan and shift to new advertising methods. We are a community based company and we like to interact with anyone that engages with us online. This helps us a lot to increase our brand awareness and loyalty to our products as customers appreciate that we care and follow back.

Among our greatest success stories, during the harsh times of Covid-19, CP Herbalist was among the first cosmetic ecommerce stores in Cyprus to launch and offer direct product purchase, packing and delivery to home services. We managed to immediately adapt to the new norms of purchase and launch www.cpherbalist.com, a digital ecommerce platform that where our customers can purchase their favourite products and get any support they need. We managed to grow our sales rapidly and established our position in the cosmetics industry with an increased number of new followers and a trustworthy community. We constantly push the boundaries of technology and adapt to the latest features in order to help our customers receive a better service including product assistance and personalised skincare routine recommendations. We like to create bonds with our customers by resolving issues, replying to their questions, giving them tips, so that they know that we value them and that our relationship isn’t just profit-based.

 

Would you like to share some tips for growing the business and making it profitable?

When I started CP Herbalist, profit was not my top priority as we wanted to maximise our quality before optimising costs. My main goal was to create high quality cosmetic products made by the best possible raw materials that create value to our end consumers and add to the skincare routine.

In my personal experience, organic growth is the best growth strategy for businesses as it provides stability and strong fundamentals. I knew that by keeping our quality high then our customers would recommend our products to friends and family – which it did! At the beginning, mouth to mouth was our best advertising strategy. Through this strategy we created a positive flow of recommendations by our customers and an organic growth with new customers.

Furthermore, a major asset of our business and something that I believe all business-owners should focus on at an early stage, is the customer care service and the support experience they receive after they purchase a product. Communicating with our customers and following up to their dermatological improvements was a vital part of our operations and a key to our success. As a company we want to be transparent and informative, be there to listen to the customer’s needs, and provide assistance wherever is needed. All this contributes to creating a loyal, repeating customer base.

Finally, I would like to point out that flexibility is key to expansion and being able to discover and move on to the next step is vital. We inspire teamwork and dedication of our employees in a well organised environment that truly makes the dream work and brings productivity to maximum. For me it is important to remember that building sustainable growth requires time, effort and patience, but in the end it always pays off.

 

What makes it particularly difficult to open or run a business in your country? How do you face it?

Opening a new business always comes along with challenges and difficulties, but depending on where the business is located, those challenges may vary. The main factors that affect the ease of doing business in any country are usually the local market conditions and regulations. For us, being located on a small island meant that we had to deal with a market that was not very diverse and was lagging the supply of raw materials that were vital for our production. During our early days, we had to compete with established ‘chemical’ brands and convince customers to try our natural products. This required a lot of effort and education on our part, as well as creating a niche for ourselves in the market by educating the consumers about the benefits of the naturally derived products. Another challenge that we faced was the high demand that rose during the Covid-19 period as consumers were extensively shifting to alternative caring and natural products, which as a result had put a lot of pressure on our production capacity. Since our products are handmade, we had to work long hours in the lab and sacrifice some of our personal time in order to meet demand. However, we are very happy and grateful to see our customers enjoy the benefits of our products and appreciate our work. That is the best reward for us.

 

What are the changes that you would like to make? How long is it going to take to make them? What does prevent you from making them?

I always embrace changes and I think they are essential for continuous improvement and growth. That’s why, even though I am confident in the quality of my formulas, I am always ready to update them or make any changes needed in their content in order to greatly enhance their quality or overall effect. One of the changes that I am eager to make is related to our packaging and our environmental impact. As an eco-friendly business, we are part of GreenDot’s collective packaging recycling system, the only licensed packaging recycling system in Cyprus, and we aim to adopt more sustainable practices as we progress. For instance, one of our main sustainability goals is to implement a refilling system of our products. The idea is that our customers will be able to bring back their empty packaging and we will refill it, in order to reduce our waste. This, of course, requires special equipment and methods, which we plan to acquire with the opening of our factory. Another change that falls into the same category, is switching our packaging mostly to glass, except for the products that have to be in plastic packaging by law (for example bathroom-related), which we intend to be making using recycled plastic. In general, as a business, we are open to changes, and we are always welcoming innovative ideas and suggestions.

 

Have you faced any challenges or barriers in your entrepreneurial journey that you attribute to gender bias or discrimination, and how have you dealt with those challenges? Have those challenges influenced your business strategy?

It is undoubted that to this day women in Europe and in the entire world still face gender discrimination in the workplace that greatly impacts their career journey. During the early stages of my career, I came across a few instances where people judged my abilities and undermined my value, with the only criterion being my gender.

Growing up in a religious family with three brothers I was taught several important life values including about “Equality” and to always speak for your my own truth when needed. I was taught to confront people that intentionally undermine me as a person. Equality is about respecting your fellow humans which at the bottom line has nothing to do with gender, religion, or skin colour – we were all born from the same place. It’s extremely important to report and act immediately against gender discrimination.

Our business strategy was in fact influenced by such instances. Regarding our business strategy against gender bias and discrimination, one of our practices for example is to hire people that share a similar ideology of equality in genders, and of course in case of an incident, to immediately report and act on it. CP Herbalist is about equality and women empowerment, that’s why we encourage people to “Feel beautiful in their own skin” and most of our products are gender-free. We want to equally serve our clients regardless of their background, gender, or religion.

 

Based on the researches, the fear of failure is very heavy on women’s shoulders especially in the business environment. What does failure mean to you? How do you deal with it?

The quick answer to this question is that failure is part of the process and should not be feared under any cause – instead try embracing it. Failure is always a possibility, but it should not be something that will stop you from making the step towards your goals. During a failure, there is a lot to learn and great opportunity for trial and error. Every failure has a lot to teach you and most certainly it will prepare you better for your next try. Few of my best results happened just after I failed the first few times. That was because I gave myself the chance to think and reconsider my options.

In my case, when I first started, I knew that I had nothing to lose but a lot to gain. I mentally stated myself into my own reality. I knew that if I put enough effort the universe would reward me – which it did! Of course, I acknowledged that some parts might not go as planned but that doesn’t mean they will never do! I began small, from zero and I started building up from there, upscaling my success little by little.

I can say that I am even attracted to risks and even if fear exists, I push myself to go ahead and do it, because I know that’s the only way to grow, gain experiences and improve. Yes, risks and new steps or changes can sometimes be quite overwhelming, but it’s up to you to choose if you are okay with staying right where you are, or if you want to shoot for the sky and see where you can land. In my experience, it’s always somewhere beautiful and always worth it.

 

How do you differentiate your business from competitors and create a unique value proposition for your customers?

During my studies in London, I was shocked to find out that most brands use a fully synthetic pre-made base, that is usually about 75% of the entire formula. In most cases, these bases are made primarily with ‘chemical’ preservatives and artificial ingredients that are used to enhance the texture and smell of a product, whereas they don’t really offer anything beneficial or valuable back to the skin.

At CP Herbalist we want to differentiate from our competitors in every possible aspect and meaningful way.  When creating a new product we always begin by identifying the skincare challenge we would like to solve using only naturally derived materials. What truly distinguishes us is our unrelenting pursuit of products that deliver genuine results and draw authentic smiles. Every ingredient we decide to add, serves a purpose and we never hesitate to make changes to improve their performance or quality.

Our formulations commence with meticulous research to handpick the finest raw materials, herbs, and other elements for each product. We take great care to source these ingredients from across the globe, seeking out regions where each specific component thrives best. Our commitment to responsible sourcing is a more financially demanding path, but it embodies our unwavering dedication and ethics.

Our customers’ reviews serve as a testament to the efficacy of our products and a key value to our brand and customer acquisition. They generously share ‘before’ and ‘after’ images, inviting us into their skincare transformation and affirming the real-world impact of our offerings. We support transparency and trust, hence that we never hesitate to share the feedback we get from customers.

 

Have your priorities changed from when you first started? If yes, how?

Since the day we launched CP Herbalist, our main priority has always been to keep high quality standards and effectiveness of our end products regardless of the cost of production or difficulty to source raw materials. We are a customer centric company, and we want to bring value back to the customers by prioritising and listening to their feedback for future product improvements.

As the company grows so do the responsibilities of the engaging parties. Managing a growing team of 10, creates new challenges, costs, and reconsideration of priorities. Compared to where I have started, now I have the responsibility of an entire team and it’s very important for me to know that they are happy, and they will get paid at the end of the month. I always prioritise their needs above mine to be able to “walk in their shoes” in understanding their requests. This helped me a lot to form a healthy team environment and respect among colleagues with fair treatment.

On a personal level, my priorities have changed a lot, and since I dedicate most of my time towards running and improving the business. My personal time is way less than it was at the beginning, but I am totally okay with that because every moment I spend on my business brings me so much joy. It’s true after all that when you are running a business, it’s not like having a 9 to 5 job that you get to leave from and not care about until the next morning. Urgent or unexpected things come up all the time and you cannot stop thinking about the next thing on the to-do list or a new idea that comes to your mind no matter where you are or what you are doing.

 

What role do you think mentorship plays in helping women succeed in business?

I believe that good mentorship is vital for empowering women in the field of business and their success in it. The guidance, support and valuable insights of a mentor can help women build confidence, overcome challenges, and achieve their entrepreneurial goals. I believe that working in a positive and healthy working environment initiates motivation, productivity, and equality among coworkers. I love women. I am a woman; I work with women, and I create my products taking into account mainly women’s needs and desires. Being an empowered and empowering woman in my workspace is something that comes naturally, as I aim to help each member of my team to grow, learn and to be able to fulfil their future goals. Seeing women empowered to do what they love the most and working with passion towards their aspirations, is one of the most beautiful things I have ever experienced. As a mentor it is important to share my knowledge with other women of my circle and be open to provide any help needed, as we really need to understand that the success of one woman, does not equal the failure of another. It can actually mean the opposite, as the experience of one can become a valuable insight for another who is devotedly working towards her dream.

 

How do you manage your free time as an entrepreneur?

As it is known, most professionals and business coaches will suggest a balance between life and work. In my experience, the entrepreneurial journey is a mixture between pleasure and work as one cannot exist without the other. At this point in life, my number one priority is my business and to conquer my future goals. I feel proud of my persistence, and I know that hard work always pays off. I am a person that works at least 12 hours a day and I constantly push myself to reach new heights and milestones. I am fortunate to have a husband who runs a business too, and is equally excited for what he is doing, so he can understand my dedication to my work. In our free time we enjoy some valuable time together, going on short trips or out to dinner. I also love spending time with my family and friends, and going to the gym for a much-needed workout to unwind and relax. I try to spend my free time learning, communicating, and exploring new activities that bring pleasure and new life experiences.

 

What advice would you give to other women who want to start their own business?

The number one advice I give to any woman who wants to start her own business is to just go for it without a second thought. Don’t wait around for when you will finally feel ready because chances are that you never will. Circumstances will never be 100% perfect for you to finally make the big step. You just have to put trust in yourself and your dream, have faith in God and be ready to work hard for it. Always ask for help and never give up in case you don’t succeed the first time – remember you have unlimited tries left! Even the most successful people on earth were once inexperienced and had limited knowledge of what they were doing. No one knows everything and you don’t have to either. Asking for help doesn’t mean you are not capable; it means you are strong enough to do whatever in your power to reach your end goals. Finally, always look forward and never forget where you came from. Staying humble and grateful no matter how successful you become, is one of the greatest qualities of an entrepreneur or a person in general. That way, you are able to see your younger self in the eyes and be proud of your accomplishments without any regrets or doubts of your past actions!

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