Marcus Mollinga, YourZooki
Increased awareness of the importance of boosting immunity has powered the growth of liquid supplements business YourZooki during the pandemic, which is doubling its workforce to 35 to deal with the increased demand, says co-founder Marcus Mollinga.
- What was the inspiration for your business?
I used to play a lot of rugby and had numerous knee operations as a result of injuries. During my rehab I would take Omega 3 fish capsules to reduce inflammation around joints, but I found them hard to swallow and they would always give me fishy burps. I had always been entrepreneurial and had known Jack Morrison since school and so the two of us decided to create an Omega 3 supplement which tasted pleasant and was enjoyable to take. We spent two years working with food scientists to create a product called Omega Water, which was launched into the health food retail chain Holland and Barrett, but it failed because at £3 a bottle it was too expensive and people thought it would taste of fish oil. So we went back to the drawing board and created a higher concentration Omega 3 smoothie that could be mixed with protein shakes and we started selling it under private label to large supplement brands. We were selling thousands of bottles this way so in 2017 we decided to set up our own brand, YourZooki, and take full control of the product. We now sell eight products under our own brand, and counting.
- How did you finance the growth of your business?
We funded our own label business with £20,000 of personal savings and when we launched the YourZooki brand in 2017 our families invested £100,000 in return for shares in the business. That money paid for our first production run and to launch our products at trade shows. At the end of 2017 we began selling our products on the television shopping channel QVC and when we needed to provide 20,000 bottles for a special promotion on it, we financed it with a £150,000 invoice and trade finance facility. We now have debt investment totalling over £2 million provided by the likes of Investec, Lancashire County Council’s Rosebud Fund and Metro Bank, and an invoice finance facility.
- What has been the most difficult or challenging part of growing your business?
Scaling the business, staying focussed and growing as a team.
- What has been the impact of the pandemic on your business and how have you dealt with this?
Covid has been a huge advertisement for people to look after their immunity health and take it seriously, and we have nearly quadrupled in size since the pandemic began, at the peak selling 1 million products a week. More than ever, people are conscious about looking after themselves and instead of spending money on beauty products, they are spending it on good quality immunity support products.
- Have you changed your business in any way as a result of the pandemic?
We are launching more immunity focused products and looking at ways to scale up production faster and ultimately bring the manufacturing in-house. Last year we used part of the funding to open up a new facility in Blackpool and grow our team to keep up with demand brought on by the pandemic.
- What key lesson have you learnt about setting up and growing a business?
Don’t burn bridges because you never know who you are speaking to and where it could lead to. I met a guy in the gym about ten years ago and I would always chat to him about the business, and now he has joined the business heading up our UK retail sales. He has got all the experience we need and is key to the business.
- What has been your biggest mistake?
In our second year we nearly went out of business by trying to take on the US market. We were working with consultants there, but we were naïve and it turned out that they were lying to us about the prospects and conversations they were having with retail chains. We put a lot of trust in them and if we had carried on for another month with them we would not still be in business. Fortunately, with more experience under our belt, we recently signed a contract with General Nutrition Centre (GNC), which is the world’s biggest dietary supplement retailer and has given us access to 2000 GNC stores in the US and Canada.
- What has been the secret of your success so far?
Seeing the bigger picture. Jack and I have a clear vision of where we want to get to and so it is about just working hard, being persistent and really looking after your customers, whether they are spending £20 online or they are a retailer, such as Holland and Barrett.
- What advice would you give an entrepreneur just starting out about how to grow their business?
Try and set up a business which is scalable from day one. The investors we’ve spoken to over the years have been excited by the potential we have to scale because it allows you to go faster and create true brand value. We could sell our products to any country in the world because of the infrastructure and technology behind us. Scaling up an online business can be much quicker than a business with a physical presence. We sell through our own ecommerce platform and direct to retailers, which gives us more flexibility to grow than if we were tied to our own brick and mortar store.
- What personal quality or characteristic has been most useful to you as an entrepreneur as you grow your business?