Zaffrin O’Sullivan, 41, first had the idea for Five Dot Botanics back in 2017. She wondered why the packaging for skincare products listed impenetrable ingredients at a time when consumers were demanding ingredient transparency in food and cleaning products.
O’Sullivan found a cosmetic scientist and spent two years developing her products along with designing the brand and a website alongside her day job working in television. The idea was to create a range of skincare products with only five easily understandable ingredients each. Five Dot had its first manufacturing run in the spring of 2019 and launched direct to consumer last July. The brand is already stocked in health food chain Holland & Barrett.
Only this week, O’Sullivan won a place on the coveted Sephora Accelerate 2020 programme and she plans to spend time in the US and Paris developing her brand for international distribution.
O’Sullivan still runs Five Dot Botanics as a side-hustle, as she still works in TV as a lawyer. And, if that’s not enough, she is a mother of three and a committed beekeeper.
What inspired you to start your business?
I wanted to see more transparency in ingredients used in beauty products and I realised that others wanted that too.
When did you start?
What obstacles did you face starting up, and how did you overcome them?
Not having any contacts in the beauty industry was initially tricky as you need a network to grow. I overcame this by joining a natural and organic cosmetics formulation school, so I made lots of friends through that. I also founded a group called Female Founders in Beauty where I created my own network of beauty entrepreneurs. We’re grassroots but we have nearly 2,000 members from around the world.
What’s the most valuable lesson you’ve learned since starting your business?
Resilience and the tenacity to keep going and trying again. I got my first investment based on going back six months later and asking again.
Why work for yourself when there’s stability in working for others?
Building something is exhilarating and exciting, doing things your own way and taking risks to do something different simply because you can, is an amazing feeling.
What is the one characteristic that you possess that has helped make you so successful?
Enthusiasm and energy have helped, they bring others along with you and help when you feel you don’t know how to do something. You feel optimistic about giving everything a try!
What’s your guiding business philosophy?
Integrity. Everything else is impossible without it.
At what moment did this venture become real for you?
The first ping on my app saying we had made our first Five Dot Botanics sale. At that moment, it all became very real.
How important do you think International Women’s Day (IWD) is for female founders?
It’s great inspiration and a celebration, and important for highlighting female role models.
Is IWD necessary and why?
Yes, female founders and women in business have historically been underrepresented.
Which (if any) female founders inspire and you and why?
Anita Roddick, founder of The Body Shop, an ethical beauty pioneer.
Just do it. Learn by doing. Don’t sweat the small stuff and have fun.
What is the worst part about being an entrepreneur?
You never really switch off; you’re always thinking about the business.
What is the best part of your day?
All of it is pretty interesting. But there is something wonderful when customers send you a message on social media or leave a review letting you know they love their purchase. That human contact and feedback is the best bit, knowing you are serving the needs of your customer.
What makes it all worth it?
Feeling like you are learning and developing and taking things in your stride. It’s not about some abstract future goal, it’s about enjoying the journey.
What advice do you have for someone just starting out?
Try things out and don’t dwell on setbacks, learn to pick yourself up. Always be kind and courteous to everyone you meet.
How do you define success?
Adding value to the lives of others and having fun along the way.