Today, I interview Sarah Orecchia, the founder of Unbeelievable Health, an ethical nutritional supplements company.
Hi Sarah, Thanks for doing this. How are you doing today?
Great thanks, aside from the fact that I’ve been working much of the weekend. However, that’s part of the course of being an entrepreneur/small business owner.
Can you give us some background information about yourself?
I am obsessed with natural health and have always tried to avoid prescriptions and visits to the doctor whenever possible. This led me into wanting to set up a business producing high quality natural remedies. I spent years researching natural ingredients which have nice studies behind them and got together with some nutritionists and experts in the natural health industry to come up with some formulas and concepts.
Tell me how you initially got into business?
I had no idea how to start but had experience running other businesses and had worked for ages in sales and marketing. I went to some wonderful natural health experts and business owners for advice and was lucky to find some great mentors. I also got a shedload of help from the British Library’s Business & IP Centre. Our business was also selected for the UK funded Innovation for Growth program which has been invaluable.
How did the idea for Unbeelievable Health come about?
Well, my first business plan, many years ago at 22, was to start something very similar to what is now, Vitamin Water, but I could not raise the funds. That was probably a blessing as running a business takes a lot of time and energy, I’m not sure I would have been able to handle it at the time. After Vitamin Water (Glaceau) was sold to Coca Cola for a huge amount, I revisited the idea of a health business.
I’ve always been a lover of bees and a massive fan of bee propolis, which has natural anti-viral & anti-biotic properties. I figured with all the concern over the decline of the bees, that a great range of products based on health from the hive would be a unique concept. Creating demand for bee products actually helps bees as it encourages more people to become beekeepers, which is vital to sustain the bee populations. I started to save up and after a few years I had enough to get started.
Tell me about the early days, what was the hardest part of starting the business?
Well, I wasted a colossal chunk of time, as many do, on the business plan. A great executive summary, good market research and a basic plan are enough to get started. Just DO it! There was a lot I had to learn. EU regulations are strict in my industry and changing all the time. Also, business has changed a lot with social media, the old ways of doing things have changed, certainly from a marketing and advertising point of view.
What is Unbeelievable Health? And what are you trying to solve with it?
We are an ethical nutritional supplements company. We try to make it easier for busy people to be healthy, naturally. Our vitamins are all food sourced and combine bee ingredients with other beneficial nutrients, all of which have a proven history of benefits.
How have you been able to fund it?
Savings and small loans, when needed from HSBC who have been really helpful.
What sorts of advice do you having for entrepreneurs looking to raise money for their startups?
Try to get it as far as possible without investors. Once you can prove the business has legs, then go to investors. Also- have a water-tight executive summary, investors don’t spend too much time looking through business plans these days. I highly recommend the classes done by The Funding Game at the British Library- Paul is a genius and an angel investor himself, so can save one a lot of time & help cut through the waffle.
About the first few months, how excited were you, tell us about how those months felt, what happened?
I spent a year laying the groundwork and launched in spring of 2010. Within the first couple of months we got into 2 key health store chains and signed on with some important distributors so it was exciting. But there was a huge learning curve and many endless months of crazy working hours. The long hours continue!
How did you initially get traction?
We have had a very limited budget so it has been a slow burn. I think social media & PR has helped. What we are working on now is getting more case studies. As we are unable to make any claims it’s tricky to prove that natural health products can really make a difference which is why case studies are really important. We recently got into a national chain so we are hoping that will further help raise brand awareness.
What are the most crucial things that you have done to grow your business?
Spending on advertising and PR yet you always feel you should be spending more. We have also started to stay in better touch with stores although it’s not always easy- as we sell through wholesalers we often don’t know where the products end up. It’s important to nurture your current network.
What would you say has been the highlight of your entrepreneurial journey so far?
The camaraderie amongst entrepreneurs. I have been so fortunate, to have had so much good help and advice.
What should we be expecting from yourself and Unbeelievable Health for 2013?
New products hopefully. We have been working on some great formulas with some experts in the industry. We also hope to hit some new markets, like New Zealand and Australia, which would be great as they are huge fans of bee products. We also have a new website in the works. We hope to one day, be the Burt’s Bees of nutritional supplements based on health from the hive.
Lastly, what three pieces of advice would you offer entrepreneurs starting out today?
1.Don’t be afraid to ask people you admire in your industry for help- most will be flattered and delighted to help. The few that tell you to sod off aren’t worth it anyway!
2. Check out the resources at the British Library Business & IP Centre (even if just online). Women Unlimited’s site is also a treasure trove of brilliant advice- not just for women!
3. Just get started! It’s a great time to start a business and there is a lot of help for entrepreneurs in the UK and tax incentives- register for the EIS schemes!!