IIBN asked Founder Finola Fegan to give a brief description of her company Finca Skin Organics We are an Irish company manufacturing and selling skincare for very sensitive facial skin conditions particularly for rosacea sufferers. Currently we only sell online through our websites rosacea.ie, fincaskinorganics.com and rosaceaskin.co.uk
How did you get the idea/ concept for your business?
I myself have the skin condition rosacea. I was diagnosed when I was in my late twenties and after years of difficulties, I began to develop products that suited my particular rosacea skin. That led me to selling my products online to people with similar skin types and as it turns out, there is a huge market for rosacea products worldwide, but particularly in Northern Europe and North America. Rosacea is also known as the curse of the Celts. It affects every area of your life, work, social and personal.
Give a brief account of your education background.
I am an engineer by profession.
Did you always know/ever think you would become an entrepreneur when you were younger?
No, it wasn’t something I really thought about…I loved school up until I was 16 – then I was given, what I see now, was poor advice regarding A Level choices. I stopped enjoying studying as I didn’t love the subjects I had chosen and ended up as an engineer, whereas I think medicine was probably my true calling.
However, on completing my engineering degree, the entrepreneurial gene kicked in. I could see an opportunity in Ireland serving the border region. Up to then, engineering consultants were located in Belfast, Derry or Dublin. I set up on the border in Newry Co Down and together with another female engineer we had a nice profitable business. However it just wasn’t fast moving enough or interesting enough to satisfy me in the longer term.
Is entrepreneurship a common trait in your family?
I come from a family with a strong entrepreneurial streak. My Dad was a farmer when I was growing up but could always make anything he needed and was, what I would call, a natural born engineer, even though he finished school at 11, as was the norm in those days.
He was also a weekend golfer and later over the course of five years, beginning when he was 65, he turned his farm into an 18-hole golf course, located just outside Mayobridge Co Down.
My older brother was also an early school leaver – formal education was not for him – and after a brief bricklaying apprenticeship, he began his motorbike shop at 16, in one of my Dads old chicken houses. His shop in the first few weeks contained 2 motorbikes, a few cans of oil and some motorbike chains. He now has a multi-million turnover motorbike and accessories business trading online as well as offline.
Did you have prior knowledge of the industry before setting up your company?
I had zero knowledge of the skincare industry before setting up. But I’m a quick learner and I knew that what I needed for my skin wasn’t being met by what was on offer in shops at that time. I spent many months studying labels, trying to find out what was in them that was causing my skin so much grief.
What was your previous work experience (if any)? Do you think this gave you an advantage when setting up your business?
When you are young, I think that you don’t have any real fear. I started my engineering consultancy practice when I was 25. I always thought at the worst case if the engineering business went wrong or there was a downturn, I could always go back to working in pubs. However, the engineering business taught me well. We were always careful with clients money and I would say we were good at money generally. We knew our local market, who was busy, who was finishing up a contract and would be keen to price another etc. We were a good practical consultancy company working in the construction industry.
We were also good at managing our cash flow. Before we set up the consultancy, myself and my business partner had to go on a government sponsored business course. I always remember doing the figures and congratulating ourselves on how much money we were going to make in the first year. Then the course tutor came round and told us we had gone bust in month four. That’s when I first learned about cash flow and I never forgot it.
How did you initially fund your business? (self-funded, government funding, etc)
At the beginning I was self-funded. As I am not from the industry, I couldn’t afford to make any large errors, so there was no point in being aggressive while I was still in the early stages. I went on a government sponsored course in Ireland, called New Frontiers and this opened my eyes to the global possibilities of the business that I was developing.
Looking back, would you have changed the method of funding you chose?
No, I wouldn’t change anything. It would have been different if I had been an industry insider with connections, then I would have been more confident in looking for large amounts of funding early on.
What difficulties, if any, did you encounter when securing funding?
To date, I have bootstrapped the business, with some funding from Enterprise Ireland, who invested 50k in the company. I intend to look for angel investment early in the New Year 2020. I’m looking for individuals who love the skincare space and see its global potential in niche markets such as mine. I would ideally have investors who have ecommerce experience and others with retail /pharma experience.
What characteristics do you feel benefited you most when starting your business?
I am patient and I don’t mind waiting when I know something is worthwhile. I know my sector and I know the type of brand I want to create. Clean, plant based skincare for sensitive skin. Skincare that you can trust.
I have great rosacea products and every so often a customer will email me telling me what a difference to their lives that I have made, it’s easy enough to sell products that work. Google ads, Facebook ads etc make that easier, although online marketing is competitive and expensive.
But It takes time to build a brand, if you want that brand to last and for people to understand exactly what it is. I have patience for that kind of long-term thinking.
I’m also cautious enough not to make big mistakes financially. I want my business to last.
To what do you attribute your company’s success/growth to?
The success of the company is because I understand my customer. I stand in their shoes and I understand a rosacea sufferers frustrations and anxiety.
I also have a science/engineering background so I understand clean formulation and how to formulate great products without long ingredient lists laden with chemicals, that rosacea skin will not tolerate.
I now have partnered with the same digital consultancy who helped grow my brother’s online business and they take care of crucial aspects of the digital marketing plan. They are taking my products into the global arena, with emphasis on North America and Northern Europe.
What is your opinion on the importance of a professional network for an entrepreneur?
A network is so important. Very often we are working alone. We need the benefit of mentors who have been through the issues that we sometimes face. And sometimes we just need someone to remind us how far we’ve come and to provide encouragement to keep going.
My father was my No. 1 mentor for so many years. He was great craic and so wise. He is now 90 years old, in a wheelchair and has had dementia for the last couple of years. I miss his advice and wisdom. His dementia however, has forced me to become part of other networks that help me drive my business forward.
Do you think entrepreneurship has changed in recent years?
I think there is so much emphasis on developing apps and all sorts of tech businesses and that’s wonderful, but I love that I’m developing products that I can see and feel and touch, and that can make profound differences to the lives of people.
Would you ever consider starting another company or involving yourself in new start-ups again?
I can’t imagine it. I want this business to be a big success. I love that it’s growing. (At the moment 15% month on month growth and that’s without investment)
I love that there are no boundaries to how big it could become.
If you had one piece of advice for a new entrepreneur, what would it be?
Small steps to begin with then when you find product /market fit, just really go for it, prepare to take on investment if needed and be confident. If you’re really really lucky, you will have a father like mine who always told you that you could be or do anything.