Inspired to create an environmentally friendly coffee body scrub while watching Dragons’ Den in January, Will Brightman quit his job soon after and had produced over 1,000 units by the end of March. Business Advice spoke to the founder of Optiat to find out how he pulled it off.
“My girlfriend had just bought a French press and we were throwing away a lot of coffee grounds,” explained Brightman, thinking back to the initial spark behind his young company.
“I’d read a scientific paper saying that there were a lot of antioxidants in this waste and knew that 500,0000 tonnes of it was being sent to landfill every year, so put two and two together and realised that there must be a better use for what’s left after you’ve made coffee – especially when there are a whole bunch of independent coffee shops paying to get rid of it.”
Attending the Enterprise Nation StartUp 2016 event in Canary Wharf was a big inspiration for Brightman, who explained: “Lara Morgan – the founder of hotel toiletries business Pacific Direct – really caught my attention. She said, ‘don’t procrastinate, just go and do it’, and I took the advice to heart.
“Soon after I had the idea, I started to explore the possibilities – I’d always wanted to give entrepreneurship a try. I was moonlighting on the company for a short time, but my job at a hedge fund was very intense – I was working 12 to 14 hours a day.”
Brightman soon came to the realisation that he needed to commit full-time to the project to be in with a chance of making it successful. He describes his attitude as: “If it doesn’t work out that’s fine – you’ve just got to try.”
Optiat – which stands for “one person’s trash is another’s treasure” – reflects not just this gung-ho attitude to enterprise, but his passion for the “circular economy” – a business space where production doesn’t create any waste or pollution.
Not only is his product made from coffee grounds which would otherwise have been thrown away, it is shipped in an aluminium jar designed to be reused – with refills sent in biodegradable packets. “The whole model is just really about minimising the impact on the environment – it’s really important to me to be part of an economy where what you buy reflects your values,” Brightman explained.
Even the location of the company’s production facility – a studio in Hackney – was chosen with sustainability in mind. “When I started trying to turn the concept into a reality, I reached out to a whole bunch of coffee shops,” Brightman explained.
“The guys at AllPress, a company which roasts beans and supplies coffee shops, thought it was a fantastic solution to the problem of waste, so we started working together – and it makes sense to be near to them.”
So far, Optiat scrubs have predominantly been sold through the company’s own website – but Brightman hopes a stall at the London Coffee Festival in April will introduce the brand’s products and mission to a wider audience. He is also in discussions with natural beauty shops.
The biggest challenge for Optiat’s founder has been convincing consumers to venture into the unknown. “Though it’s a highly developed market in places like Australia, the coffee scrub concept is still in its infancy in the UK, and there’s a lot of uncertainty around it – though when people try the product they love it. Coffee is an amazing exfoliant, it smells wonderful, and it’s great for skin conditions like eczema, acne and psoriasis.”
The Optiat team so far is a family affair, with Brightman citing his parents as a key role models and an important source of advice. “They worked in the public sector but they were also entrepreneurs, buying properties and renting them out – and able to pay private school fees as a result of this, which really inspired me,” he explained.
His girlfriend’s support for the business has also been invaluable to his ability to get a product into production so quickly. “I think we really complement each other, because I’m more analytical, while she is big on social media – especially Instagram – and is a great salesman,” Brightman said.
The entrepreneur thinks his background in finance has been key to helping him refine Optiat’s business model, but cited the importance of asking people for help on aspects of the enterprise which were unknown territory. “Learning about all the regulations that effect production of cosmetics has been a big hurdle, but I’ve learned to just pick up the phone and ask. Oxford Biosciences gave me lots of extremely helpful advice,” explained Brightman.
Despite the youth of the Optiat brand, its founder is already brimming with ideas about where to take it next. “There are a huge range of coffee-based cosmetic products which we could develop,” he said. “And we’re not wedded to just using coffee grounds. The concept of reusing products which would otherwise be considered waste will underpin everything the company does – there are so many possibilities.”
If you’re looking to make the leap from idea to execution, don’t miss James Caan’s seven-day startup guide.
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