Nancy grew up in Canada where she received her degree in education at McGill University. In 1992, she moved to California where she and her husband raised their young family. When her children reached school age, Nancy taught English As A Second Language (ESL) to engineers and scientists in the Silicon Valley workplace in addition to owning and managing several rental properties in Canada. In 2011 she founded and launched Botanic Organic, a natural and organic artisan crafted skin care company. Nancy has been an avid cyclist, yogi and runner for many years and practices organic and vegan cooking.
My husband’s work as an electrical engineer brought us to Silicon Valley where we have now lived for 22 years. We are both from Canada but prior to moving to this area, we had lived in Australia for four years.
What prompted you to get into the organic skin care business?
My interest in natural skin care was sparked by a passing remark from my acupuncturist, who commented on the harmful ingredients used in most skin care products. This piqued my interest and I wanted to learn more. I was dismayed to discover that many ingredients that go into skin care products can be rather toxic both to our bodies and to our environment in general. I became concerned about the cumulative impact of using many different types of conventional body care products each and every day over my lifetime.
Tell us about the organic skincare business. How do you develop your products? How have consumers reacted to your products?
I am a “do it yourself” type of person. It all started with a book called The Green Beauty Guide by Julie Gabriel. From this book I learned not only about the negative impact of mainstream body care products and how to decipher product labels to avoid toxic and damaging chemicals but also about what sorts of ingredients are particularly beneficial for skin. I found myself hooked on researching more about these natural compounds and began experimented with them.
I found out about a workshop in the San Francisco area called The Nova Studio that offers classes in creating soaps and natural skin and body care products. I learned how to make plant extracts and distillates, lotions, creams, serums and balms. I attended a natural perfuming seminar from a local San Francisco aromatherapy legend, Jeanne Rose. In the beginning, my main goal was simply to stop doing harm, but after I’d been using these natural products for a few months, I noticed that my skin was changing and dramatically improving. This actually came as quite a surprise to me. I think that we have been conditioned to believe that natural ingredients are somehow less potent than the synthesized ones, but I was discovering otherwise.
In the beginning there was no intention to make a business out of this growing hobby, but when a friend of mine – whom I met at my yoga class – became interested in what I was doing, we began creating products together to give to friends and family.
There came a time when we were invited to sell these handmade products at a small local event. Up until this point we had toyed with the idea of partnering to create a business but not much more. After this invitation, we hesitated only a little before deciding to take the plunge and Botanic Organic was born. Kit (my business partner) was instrumental in getting our business off the ground. Her background as a chemical engineer brought scientific rigor to our process and she also had a guesthouse on her property where we were able to have a dedicated kitchen to manufacture our products.
Since those early years, there have been changes in partners and where we manufacture. Our process has become more sophisticated and like any growing business, there is increasing time spent on PR and marketing. I didn’t initially think that I would like this aspect of the business but I really do enjoy it. I love all the connections to new people that come with it.
Our business has a growing and dedicated customer base. Consumers have reacted very positively to our products and our retention rate is high. This extremely positive response to what we’re creating is very confirming and gives me the confidence to keep moving forward. Our next step is to expand into more retail spaces. Although selling directly on-line is great, many people like to touch, smell and feel skin care products before they purchase. Providing this option more readily to customers will widen our customer base.
What is your favorite thing about being an entrepreneur and your least favorite?
I love the learning process. There is something new to learn everyday and the beauty of running a business in today’s world is that there is so much information out there that is readily accessible. It’s a huge advantage for business owners. I also love the “dopamine hits”. This happens each time you have some type of success in your business big or small. My least favorite thing is that running a business can sometimes feel as though it is taking over your life. You have to be very careful to build in time for other things.
If an expat woman has a great business idea, what are the three most important steps she needs to follow to launch her business.
- Take a class – I recently learned about an organization called SCORE Silicon Valley. They offer very affordable classes and free counseling to people who either want to start their own business or who already own a business: http://www.svscore.org/ws_2.shtmlI’m really excited to find out more about the support they can offer me and I only wish that I had known about them sooner! I think this would be an excellent starting point for any woman who wants to launch her own business. I’d like to credit Nyna Pais Caputi (founder of ‘The Expat Woman’) for giving me this information.
- Collaboration – I found it very useful to work with a partner. There are so many aspects to running a business and managing all of these alone can be overwhelming. For my business, there is an administrative side as well as a manufacturing and product development side. It helps to partner with someone who has different but complementary skills.
- Passion – start a business around something that makes you passionate. Ask yourself the question: “What do I care about so much that I would pay to do it?” When you first begin your business, this is exactly what you’ll be doing so it really helps to love it!
What advice would you give to professional expat women about starting their own business in the US?
Don’t be afraid to promote yourself. Americans consider it important and necessary to self-promote. Being shy and modest probably won’t get you very far in this culture and especially in business.
What is a typical day like for you?
Every day is different. Some days I hardly get up from my computer. I check e-mails, do research, spend time on social media marketing, or inventory related work.
Manufacturing days are very different. They are intense and physically very tiring. At other times I sell my products at events or network with people. It’s very diverse and I love that aspect of the business. In between it all I jump onto my yoga mat or go for a run or bike ride. Keeping fit really helps me to stay happy, healthy and calm.
What are three things you like about the USA?
- I really like living in this particular part of the United States because it’s so culturally diverse and it has a very educated population.
- I also love the weather and the diverse beauty of California. It’s an incredible place to live.
- Strangely, I also love mail order in the US. You can buy anything here for a reasonable price and shipping is comparatively inexpensive. This is also good for my business.
What are three things you found about the USA that were different from Canada you found hard to adjust to?
- Canada is a much more socially minded country. There is more government support and a much bigger safety net for its population. The socio-economic divide is smaller because everyone’s basic needs are taken care of by the government. I seriously miss public health care!
- Canada also feels safer. Gun laws in the US are nothing short of absent, in my view.
- I also feel that people in Canada are more trusting of one another and are friendlier. But perhaps that’s because the population in Canada is so much smaller.
What are three fun or interesting facts about your home country?
– Canada is a bilingual country with French and English being it’s official languages.
– Ice hockey really is the center of the universe in Canada.
– Most of you probably won’t have ever heard of the sport of curling but provincial curling in Canada is almost more competitive than curling at the Olympics.