My Interview with a young entrepreneur "SEAN NDIHO OBEDIH", Founder of Ynotplast – Britain’s first multi-ethnic brand of first aid products designed to match the natural skin tone, allowing the plasters to seal and conceal.
Hey Sean, How are you doing today, Welcome to YHP
Hello I am doing very well thank you and I am honoured to be doing this interview with you.
So kindly give us some brief background details about yourself before we move forward?
I was born in Rwanda and came to the UK as a refugee to start a new life after the civil war, I then worked for various corporations in Sales, Project Management and Marketing before I went back to complete my high Education after winning a prestigious scholarship to study at the university of Buckingham where I am in the final year of the Bsc Business Enterprise degree.
So Sean, tell us about your current business. What are you doing exactly? How did you come up with the idea?
Well I currently run YnotPlast, which is Britain’s first multi-ethnic brand of first aid products designed to match the natural skin tone, allowing the plasters to seal and conceal. Our product range includes plasters and Bandages available in five different shades of all shapes and sizes, first aid kits and other products currently in development.
These products are aimed at those with African Caribbean and Asian skin types as well those that enjoy a tan. I believe that we need to reflect the diversity of our society, and inspire and encourage the next generation of our kids by removing all man-made barriers.
The idea came about when I visited a friend of mine and his son came home from school crying. He had been bullied by other kids for wearing a white plaster across his forehead after sustaining an injury in the playground. ”Can’t you find one that matches your skin tone?” they asked. Well when he told us what had happened we couldn’t find anything in any shops or pharmacies and this is when I realised that I could change this because if I didn’t somebody else will do it; that was my Eureka moment.
I did some thorough market research and the results I got convinced me that it was a worthwhile niche to fill. It’s a journey that has taken me over three years. I looked at what’s available and realised that I could improve the concept and take it to the next level and create a brand that could rival mainstream brands like Elastoplast and Band Aid by Johnson and Johnson. It wasn’t as easy as I initially thought but it has been worth it.
What were you doing before this, and is this your first business?
Before I started the business I was a project manager for one of the main high street supermarket chains where I was part of the teams that did refits for new stores; this was very instrumental because I learned a lot about establishing sound supply chains as well as coordinating projects successfully.
No it wasn’t my first business, my entrepreneurial journey started when I was very young about 8years old back in Rwanda when I used to buy Confectionary products and sell them to school; I remember when we were freeing the war my entrepreneurial instinct kicked in and I was always known as the guy who could get you anything that you needed call it the natural Hustle Spirit, I got involved in everything from selling tyres to Money exchange buying and selling different currencies.
This carried on when I found myself in a boarding school in Kenya and I started supplying them with Sardines that I used to buy using my pocket money. When I got to the UK I got involved in Network Marketing for various companies and I also learned a lot about Self-development as well as building teams of sales People (agents).
At some point I also had a Mortgage brokerage firm, so persistence is the key, I happen to be a jerk of all trades, which is a necessity for all entrepreneurs, as we have to run many departments of a start up while we can’t yet afford to pay people to do it for us.
Where did you get the start-up money to get the company started?
All the money that I used came from my job, I was working at my day job and worked on my business in the evening, this meant that It took longer but I didn’t have any choice as I didn’t have any assets like a house to remortgage or a Rich Uncle to bankroll me but this made me more determined to make sure that I made something out of my self and I believed in the products so much that I had to risk everything for it to become a reality.
Bootstrapping was the key weapon but a friend of mine came in later and Invested small amount of money but I had to prove the concept first.
Who are your main competitors? How do you compete against them?
Our Main competitors are brands like Elastoplast, Band aid,3M Nexcare as well as Supermarkets own brands like Boots,Tescos and so on; but I would like to emphasize that we are the only company that focuses on producing first aid products for all hues concentrating on the African, Caribbeans and Asians; in the UK alone we are talking in excess of over 5 million people but we want to be a Global brand operating and dominating in markets such as Africa, the West Indies The Middle East, Brazil and Asia, so we still have a long way to go yet.
We compete by simply catering to a segment of the market that was previously ignored and creating products that appeal to the customers.
How has your experience in running the business been different from what you expected?
Well to be honest it has been a long ride, the Healthcare Industry is a mature sector and everybody knows each other so it was very difficult to get any insider secrets/information but I had to employ unconventional methods but I would say that I am big advocate of” Learning by Doing” Everything cost more than I thought they would and at times I wondered if I was fighting a losing battle when I kept running out of money.
Finances were and are always going to a challenge until we fully establish our brand but we have had to be very rigid with the way we source we source and manufacture our products, it was very difficult finding a company that was willing to believe in us and manufacture these Plasters for us; don’t get me wrong this is not a new invention but none has gone out of their way to build a reputable first class Brand of Ethnic First aid Products.
We are also looking to diversify and move into other areas such as sports and perhaps fashionable plasters at some point in the future.
What have you done that has been very effective in helping to grow the business?
It has been a great struggle convincing Supermarket buyers especially here in the UK that people will come into their stores and purchase these products, so we had to create awareness first, we have tried many methods and I would say that we saw the results of that when I was awarded an award from Black Business Initiative Awards for Innovation and Creativity in 2009 which was a great sign of recognition by the Community.
We have also had to keep asking people what they want to see and buy and try to give it to them for example we are currently designing a unique Industrial First aid kit that will suit all companies.
Are you guys profitable? How have sales grown in the last few years?
No we are not profitable yet due to the fact we wanted to scale out the business and create something that is concrete in the marketplace; but we are expecting to be profitable by the end of year 3 of our operations which is sometimes next year; the fact that I have been studying full time also meant that I couldn’t dedicate all the time to My business however it gave me time to strategise and reposition ourselves in the marketplace.
Do you have any employees?
We outsource everything so I don’t really need employees and couldn’t afford them anyway but we have been working with various Consultants and professionals however as we expand the company we will be starting to employ people directly fairly soon.
What are your plans for your company?
The Plan is to develop a reputable first aid company that is modern and progressive.
We have had to look to international markets, we will be launching in South Africa just in time for the word cup 2010 this summer and that is a market of about 48 million people and will mark the start of our International expansion plans especially in Africa; we are also talking to various distributors in the West Indies and Middle East.
What has been your most effective marketing tactic or technique?
The secret has been talking to anyone who could care to listen to what I have to say about this wonderful product that I believe is going to change the industry.
So I did a few magazine interviews but Search Engine Optimisation was very crucial too hence the reason why we are redesigning the website now.
Well the word of mouth has been our greatest weapon and we also embraced the power of the Internet, we released various Press releases, I also happen to be a Public Speaker with a passion to motivate people.
I am also an Ambassador for Enterprise UK whose aim is to drive economic prosperity and social cohesion by increasing the UK’s enterprise culture and entrepreneurial behaviour.
What three pieces of advice would you offer entrepreneurs starting out today?
As an entrepreneur there are times when no one will come to your rescue: you have to take charge and learn to the art of decision-making. So I will share with you the three words that have become the pillar of our company: Pride, Passion and Persistence.
Pride because you need to know who you are as an individual and not be put off by people who may say that you are weird because you have all these great ideas that you are always trying to bring to market. Equip yourself with good habits such as learning from your mistakes and Mentors.
Passion because you need passion to keep gathering support from your Investors, employees and everyone that you will be selling your ideas to; passion is one thing that will make people want to follow you and work with you instead of going with someone else.
Persistence because the road to the final destination in Entrepreneurship is long and you need to learn to dance in the rain; there are going to be very tough times but having a clear vision will keep you focused and persisting till you make your dreams a reality.
Just believe that everything is possible if only you put your mind to it. Last but not the least Ask, and it shall be given you; Seek, and you shall find, Knock and the door shall be opened to you. It is amazing what people are willing to help you with especially when you are a young entrepreneur who is enthousiastic about your company.
I am a testament to that having come here with nothing but a burning desire to make it; One thing i learned is that Life is too short so make sure you do what your heart pushes you to do. It is better to try and fail rather than failing to try.
Thanks for your time Sean, I wish you the best of luck