Erna Basson first became an entrepreneur when she was 22.
She was a uni student who was kept busy cramming a four-year consumer science degree into three years, while also juggling four part-time jobs, but she still found the time to sell her lecture notes to her classmates for exam revision.
“Fifteen years later, I still think my notes are still making the rounds at that uni,” the South African-born businesswoman says with a laugh.
Ironically, that experience was also an important lesson in copyrighting your work.
“Always, always put copyright on your documents or on your work because otherwise people just copy it.”
After moving to NZ in 2017 with her husband and two young children, Basson decided to start a skincare brand in the early days of the covid-19 pandemic.
She was on the hunt for skincare that would help her dry and sensitive skin, but simply couldn't find a range that wasn't expensive and easily accessible.
Undaunted, she saw it as an opportunity to create the products herself.
“The whole idea of Frula Beauty was to create really luxury formulations, make them more affordable and accessible and make it more mass-market,” she says.
Basson says she knew two things when she started out.
The first was that she would make aloe vera the largest ingredient in all her products, instead of water like most other skincare brands did.
The second was she would get Frula into every supermarket around the country.
She’d noticed how important supermarkets had become during the pandemic, almost becoming community hubs.
“That's the best way to make something more accessible,” she says.
“Everybody goes to a supermarket and some people go three to four times a week – I go almost every day.”
Frula is set to hit supermarket shelves across the country next week.
"This has definitely been the hardest thing I've ever done,” she tells BusinessDesk. “It's been an incredible journey."
'A thousand steps'
To get the capital to fund her new business, Basson sold a haircare and extensions business that she’d started in 2017 and which had a strong customer base.
She got to work on perfecting the skincare formulas she needed with an Auckland chemist.
“We formulate our products right here in New Zealand and we have our own chemist, which I absolutely love,” she says.
“There’s a thousand steps to be made before it's actually on shelves, which is something I didn’t realise before I started.”
Foodstuffs was the first retailer in NZ to come on board and Countdown quickly followed. Now even American retail giant Costco is on the list, bringing the number of supermarkets stocking Frula nationwide to over 300.
Frula Beauty's full range hits supermarket shelves across the country this week, starting today.
Basson says now in talks with an Australian retailer and expects the range will be stocked in several hundred of their stores around the country by early next year.
It's been a steep learning curve. Before she ventured into the skincare world, she says she had no idea how much work went into getting a product on a supermarket shelf – let alone the process of creating the product.
“The good thing is that I knew from the start that I wanted this to be a natural, clean beauty brand. That was not negotiable.”
With the Australasian market just days away from feeling the full Frula effect, where next? The international market – and as soon as possible, Basson says.
She's in talks with more Australian retailers, hopes to sign off on her first UK retailer before the end of the year, and is working on getting a deal in the US with a retailer there who's expressed interest in the brand.
“I love beauty products. I love the beauty industry. I definitely want to stay in it," she tells BusinessDesk.