On the up · 5 November 2018

Smol: Meet the startup cleaning up the detergent aisle

Smol’s laundry detergent comes in small, letterbox-friendly capsules.

Two former marketers at Unilever are hoping to change the way consumers buy laundry detergent. It’s as easy as letterbox delivery.

Who are you and what is your business?

I’m Paula Quazi and my business partner and co-founder is Nick Green.

Smol was created by myself and Nick based on both our personal frustrations with the household category in addition to our understanding of brands.

Buying detergents is one of those regrettable purchases on the household aisle: The brands are ancient and the only way to avoid getting ripped off is to buy on multi-buy promotion. But who wants their kitchen cupboards full of cleaning stuff?

My longtime friend, Nick, has a great understanding of e-commerce and subscription businesses and a shared belief that things in this market could be significantly improved. From here the idea of supplying laundry products direct to consumers via subscription was born.

We are an online-only business, so consumers can only purchase our product by signing up via our website. We post direct to customers and regularly replenish their stocks based on their tailored usage plan. This means someone who puts their washing machine on four times a week will get their pack twice as often as someone who puts it on just twice a week. No more stockpiling in your cupboards and no more lugging back heavy packs from the supermarket.

Our products are also more sustainable, we use fewer chemicals than any other capsules and our packaging is both made out of recycled waste and is also 100% recyclable. Our packs have also been cleverly designed to take up minimum space in your cupboards. They look more like a chunky iPad than a traditional detergent box.

What inspired you to start your own business after you left Unilever?

I have always wanted to create something that I can say is my own. I’m always having ideas and then feeling frustrated when they arrive on the market or I see them in an episode of Dragons Den.

As my 50th Birthday approached (eek!) I thought ‘it’s now or never’, so I gave up earning a living helping others build their brands and started one of my own. I’ve always wanted to create my own brand, and whilst working for a big organisation can be fantastic, it’s not the same as being your own boss.

How did you fund the business?

Our seed money has come from private investors and friends.

What were some of the biggest challenges you faced when launching?

Developing the product was a huge challenge. Along the way, there were moments when it seemed so impossible that we nearly gave up. Eventually, we got there and it’s an amazing feeling to have created a breakthrough in the market.

When we launched, Nick and I literally did everything ourselves – as you can imagine this was also a challenge, it was relentless. We were production, customer service, marketing, PR, finance, and IT all rolled into one!

What’s your biggest achievement to date?

Building a brand that thousands of people love. It took a long time and a lot of energy but it was totally worth it. Customers love what we’re doing and it’s a great feeling to know we are making a real difference. We also have more ideas to improve their lives and strengthen our brand relationship.

What marketing strategies have you used?

Making a product that people want and creating a brand that people love is the only marketing strategy that matters.

Consumers need to be confident that they are buying a product that will suit them so we offer everyone a free trial of nine capsules – for which they only pay £1 towards postage and packing. This is sent to them before their bespoke plan starts giving them the opportunity to decide if they want to stay with us or not.

We believe that our business will be built one customer at a time. Therefore, customer service is crucial (no matter how big or small we are), listening to people and treating them as we would wish to be treated ourselves is the Smol way. Too many brands have lost touch with real people.

In five years’ time, I’ll be…

Working on building Smol into a global brand that is loved by consumers across the world.
 We have some fantastic future ideas that are a little out of the ordinary so I really hope to be making those a reality in 5 year’s time.

Who are your business heroes and why?

Tony Hsieh of Zappos, because he has led the charge in customer service, his ideas were breakthrough at the time and have built his business advantage.

Yvon Chouinard of Patagonia is also a hero of mine. His sense of purpose has guided Patagonia to incredible success through strategies that others may see as commercial suicide. He had the courage to ask his customers not to buy his products but to conserve or fix their existing products. Not only has this created awareness around the negativity of throwaway clothing but it also built significant brand love for Patagonia.

What advice would you give to aspiring entrepreneurs?

Trust your instinct, work hard and never give up.

What’s your favourite way to spend downtime?

I love nothing more than the simple things in life, like spending time with my family and walking our dog, Boomer.

Last series you binge-watched?

Breaking Bad.

What three things can’t you live without?

My husband, my kids and my dog!

What app do you use the most?

Facebook/Instagram I love to be in constant touch with our customers.

What is always on your playlist?

Amy Winehouse – Back to Black.

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ABOUT THE EXPERT

Jennifer is a reporter for Business Advice.

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