Why making mistakes was the making of our brand

Freddy Ward, co-founder at Wild Cosmetics, tells us how blind faith nearly threw the great-smelling startup off-course - and ultimately, led them to triumph.

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Written and reviewed by:
Wild Freddy Ward

When I started Wild back in 2019 with my co-founder, Charlie Bowes-Lyon, we began with a clear mission statement. We wanted to help make natural and sustainable personal care products enter the mainstream by making them convenient to use, as effective as standard brands, and all enhanced with beautiful design.

Since then we’ve sold over 15 million deodorants, and appeared in the Startups 100 Index twice in our first three years.

Our range of natural and refillable deodorants has allowed us to build a strong community of loyal customers. Soon, we’ll launch our new, sustainable shower gel, with refill bottles that are fully compostable and biodegradable, to help millions to make a positive change for the planet and their body.

It looks like the typical story of a fast-growth startup. But slow and steady wins the race. We’ve learnt that, to succeed, you need to do one thing well, rather than trying to launch multiple new products at once. Let me tell you our Wild tale…

Our first mistake

Charlie Bowes-Lyon, in Wild's early days

Charlie, in Wild’s early days

After our first year at Wild, Charlie and I started to think about how we can have a bigger impact on our customers‘ everyday routines, and use our deodorant as a trojan horse to get more eco-friendly products into bathrooms across the world.

That is when we started to work on pioneering plastic-free technology, capable of transporting and holding liquids for our new body wash range.

After a lot of discussion and feedback from our customers we set out some non-negotiables: the product had to be as easy to use and dispose of as our deodorant refills; it had to look beautiful; and, most importantly, the refills had to be 100% plastic free.

Naivety was both our greatest strength and our greatest weakness. We completely underestimated how hard this would be and how nascent the technology available was.

Our first mistake came with trusting our initial partner we developed the product with, who promised us the packaging they had was plastic-free.

After investing the majority of the budget we set aside for the project, our own internal testing revealed that they had lied. The packaging was paper in a plastic coating and therefore not especially innovative or sustainable. Time to move on..

Testing, testing, 123

Adamant we had to find a better solution, we found a very small partner in Scotland. At the time of our initial discussions, they could only make around one bottle a day.

But they had big ambitions and 100% confidence in their patented plastic-free liner technology. Scale was the only real challenge, and this appeared to have been solved when the technology was bought by a large, multinational corporation.

Swept up in the excitement, and feeding off the confidence of the founder and the new owners, we invested heavily in raw materials and the development of the body wash. We ordered all the outer casing ready for launch.

Charlie and I get an early look at our 100% plastic-free packaging

All we needed was a few successful test results to confirm all their internal data and we would be taking the market by storm. We were just 24 hours away from launching a pre-sale, but we decided to wait for a bit more data before we pulled the trigger.

Thank goodness we did. It turns out the technology was not capable of being scaled up to mass manufacture and would not be capable of holding a liquid for enough time for consumers to use.

Try and try again

So, one year of work, a project already massively over budget, and we were back to the very beginning. We were very close to abandoning the whole project. I think they say third time lucky?

We came across a small manufacturing partner who had worked with Morrama, our design agency and had been working with bamboo pulp to create a 100% plastic free bottle that would fully degrade at the end of use.

We still had a lot of challenges to solve, as the initial samples started to decompose in a few weeks and we needed at least six months shelf life to make our product viable.

Finally, after several months of trial and error, we managed to get the bottle to the required specifications and fit for our launch – 18 months later than initially planned.

Since announcing the launch to our community the response has been unrivalled from anything we have previously launched. It is clear the effort required to deliver the innovation has been worthwhile – even if not good for my sleep!

Why startups need to be Wild at heart

If you are a startup, you need a higher risk threshold. You have to move faster than larger corporations, who have many times more resources and capital than you will ever have.

You also have to be comfortable with risk and failure as these are side effects of landing innovative new product development.

For Wild it has been really important to take leadership by owning and vocalising mistakes made with the team. We have made sure we are transparent with all stakeholders in the business on our progress and this has helped manage any disappointment.

We have also learnt not to bet the house on new innovation, as there are plenty of things that can go wrong.

Next, we’ll spend time reflecting on what we should do differently next time and what we have learnt, whilst often laughing at our mistakes with the value of hindsight.

On this project, no one has messed up more than me and I believe it is critical for the team to see that I don’t have all the answers. But trying to do the best thing for our customers is better than not pushing the boundaries at all.

Written by:
Reviewed by:
Wild Freddy Ward
Freddy Ward is co-founder of Wild Cosmetics, which aims to help consumers cut down on plastic waste with its range of great-looking and great-smelling refillable deodorants. Starting out as an early employee at HelloFresh, Freddy decided to start his own company, Wild with lifelong friend, Charlie Bowes-Lyon in 2019. Wild now has a huge following of loyal customers, with over 321,000 followers on Instagram, and has twice appeared in the Startups 100 Index as one of the UK's fastest-growing startups.

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