Stylish, effortless, modern and natural are generally not the first words that pop into your head when thinking of men's skincare. The struggle is real when attempting to get men to take skincare seriously, no matter how many ads feature gorgeous girls falling head over heels for the guy using the latest brand of face-wash. But now Hunter Lab is mixing up the dynamic of men's skincare with their range of chic sustainable and simple skincare tools.
When did you come up with the idea of starting Hunter Lab and how old were you when you started it?
Funnily enough the idea was first born as I ticked over to the big 3.0. I’m calling it a mini mid-life crisis moment! At the time I was working agency side, but my passion for the work really started to wane. I was stagnating, and that’s a hard pill to swallow at that age.
I firmly believe timing is everything; I’d always had a strong itch to go out on my own and had a few ideas but the business case for each was never perfect. But the passion and persistence was always there and because of that I think my mind was open to opportunities. So when a social conversation with a friend, who was working in NPD at Mecca at the time, turned into a 4-hour discussion on all things skincare, the path became crystal clear and the beginnings of a 2-year journey began.
The name Hunter Lab is very unique, how did you decide on a business name?
This was the hardest step of the entire development! Because we’re talking to guys in a category that has been surrounded by negative stigma it had to be masculine and appealing to Aussie men. It had to be premium and sell the dream, but Aussie’s have an ingrained filter for marketing spiel and corny slogans, so it had to pass a ‘try-hard’ test. As we were going to be the little guys taking on the big fish the name had to be unique and disruptive; it had to somehow reference our connection to Mother Nature and allow us to evolve the brand into the natural grooming force we aim to become.
Why did you choose men’s skincare?
We saw a gap in the market. There were very few brands inspiring guys in Australia to use skincare on a daily basis, and none in the natural space. We knew skincare was important, especially as we hit ‘mid-life’, but we couldn’t find a single brand on the market that was relatable to an Aussie bloke looking to be inspired into a simple daily skincare routine. And as luck would have it we had access to the very best green chemistry guru in Australia, and experience marketing to Aussie’s. So the only logical option was to do it ourselves!
How hard is it selling skin care to men?
It’s certainly an ongoing challenge, especially in Australia, but that’s the reason we jumped in. If you look at the men in Europe and Asia they are years ahead of Australia in their perception, understanding and usage of skincare. Up to 40% of males in some Asian countries are daily users of skincare. If we can inspire and change this under utilised daily necessity in the health of Australian men then we’ve accomplished what we set out to do.
What’s it like going up against major brands who have been in the industry for a while?
Like all established industries, the skincare market needed a shake up. Australian men were not relating to the repackaged feminine brand offerings. Whether we can be the brand that shakes the tree remains to be seen, but at the very least we hope to educate Aussie men on the incredible benefits of natural skincare and get them to think about adding products to their existing daily grooming rituals.
Have you had to jump through many hurdles/paperwork and regulations to bring your product to life? If so, what’s your advice for other people going through that now?
Absolutely – over 2 years worth! The reason there aren’t many players in the market is because there are significant steps required along the way to create the most effective, safe and sustainable natural skincare.
Surround yourself with people who know what they’re doing. I’ve found through my network of friends and people I’ve worked with so many are so supportive and eager to help. Find those people who have done it before and buy them a coffee. If you can take one snippet of gold from each of them you’ll save yourself hours and for startups time is everything.
Who is the Hunter Lab man?
He’s the hard working, hard playing man who invests his precious time in pursuits that better his brand, inspire self-confidence and deliver him the edge over his competition. He’s a 21 to 70 years-old, young-at-heart masculine modern man who’s driven and determined to lead a healthy, conscious and rewarding lifestyle. Most importantly he isn’t afraid to search for more effective and efficient ways of doing the important tasks that make up his daily life.
How did you find the motivation to start fresh and create your own business?
I think you’ve either got the passion to go out on your own, or you've got the passion to climb the corporate ladder. Obviously neither is the right or wrong way; it’s just a different path. So the motivation was always there for us to give it a crack. Because of that we were able to pounce when the opportunity presented itself. With an open mind and a great team dynamic things quickly escalated and grew around us.
What were some of the very first steps did you take to get the business up and running?
The first steps we took were to talk to as many entrepreneurs, trail blazers and business people as possible. Like anyone starting out we had doubts and questions so we needed to be sure we were on the right path.
The second step was to clearly define our roles and make sure there was absolutely no ambiguity around responsibilities and tasks. We’d been told working with friends was risky so we spent considerable time trying to safeguard against any future problems.
How did your previous career experience help with running a startup business?
We all brought to the table quite different work experiences, both successes and mishaps. Those experiences when combined have allowed us to work through most challenges with a confident approach, and that’s the reason we wanted to start a business as a collective.
When was the moment you realised you had created a viable business?
It wasn’t until we were able to get the brand in front of our audience and start having conversations with consumers and retailers that we saw how impressed and inspired they were by the products. That was a small and satisfying validation to the hard work we’d done up to that point, but more than anything a real motivating force to continue on the path.
Tell us about a time when you overcame a stumbling block on your startup journey?
There are stumbling blocks weekly. Early on we aligned ourselves with someone who promised the world and pretty quickly we realized they couldn’t deliver. Thankfully we saw it as learning and didn’t let it sap our confidence. Having the support of partners is something that has really helped us through – no matter the challenge there is usually one of us who keeps a level, rational head!
We saw on Instagram your affixation by Cool Hunter, how beneficial has that been for your brand and how did you get the kind of recognition?
We still pinch ourselves about this opportunity. We have been huge fans of the Cool Hunter since they started their incredible blog. It’s great for us personally but importantly it’s an incredible fit for our modern skincare tools. We crafted Hunter Lab to follow modern masculine premium design aesthetics so being aligned with a brand that epitomizes these principles has helped us tell that story and helped our audience understand what we’re all about.
If you were to pass three top tips from your experience starting Hunter Lab onto young entrepreneurs, what would it be?
Up to 12 months ago were just another struggling cog in the corporate wheel, reliant on the paycheck but searching for something more. The weight of our own faltering expectations was becoming harder to accept and it seemed like our own business was never going to happen. Fast-forward through months of research, development, testing and we’ve now launched a brand which is stocked in over 40 premium retailers in Australia and about to go global.
That in itself is our advice to anyone in a similar situation – stay hungry, but be patient. Keep learning and keep exploring so that when you are presented with an opportunity you’ll be prepared and ready to throw everything at it.
To give a new business the best chance of taking off sacrifices have to occur, but you have to stay positive and keep things in perspective, short term pain for long term gain. Two of us have moved back in with our parents, we’ve spent all our savings, borrowed and begged, and foregone numerous holidays and events, which when you suffer from FOMO like we do seems like the end of the world but the end game is always in clear sight.
The key piece of business advice we can give is to be definitive and intransigent in the product/brand/service you want to deliver. You’ve got a vision, insights into the market and your audience with research to back up your idea so every decision made should hold up against your mission. Along the way we had people telling us it wouldn’t work but at the end of the day we were confident in our research and sure of the insights and the end result is a brand identity we’re extremely proud of.