Just Started – Lucy Rout: Tabuu

After a health scare in 2020, Lucy Rout founded Tabuu - selling stylish, sustainable and durable pill cases designed to dissolve the stigma around people who take medication.

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Written and reviewed by:
Helena Young

Name of founder: Lucy Rout
Age of the founder: 26
Location: London
Date launched: 22 September 2021
Number of employees: 1

What does your business do?

We make stylish, sustainable and durable pill cases with a donation of profits given to cancer research charities. The brand mission is to remove the stigma around medication by starting the conversations we’re too uncomfortable to have, so I’m hoping to brand out into events in the future.

Where did the idea for your business come from?

After a Whipple procedure to remove a rare pancreatic cancer back in 2020, I was told I’d need to take medication every time I ate, for life. I suddenly found myself feeling anxious in social settings and apologising for having to take my tablets. I searched everywhere for a durable, thoughtfully designed pill case to keep my medication in. I searched the media for open conversation around medication. I found neither, so Tabuu was born to try and be the solution.

How did you know there was a market for it?

I spoke to a range of different people taking tablets for contraception, HRT, mental health, digestive aid and everything in-between to understand if there would be interest. The response was overwhelmingly positive and that pill cases had been an outdated industry for far too long. They hated the feeling of having lumps of unsightly plastic in their bags.

What were you doing before launching your business?

Since graduating I’ve worked for Just Eat as a Digital Marketing Executive, then a Sustainability and Social Impact Brand Manager for Unilever, and now a startup development manager in Sustainability.

Have you always dreamed of starting a business?

Absolutely! I’ve always known I wanted to do something entrepreneurial but had never gotten further than dabbling in eBay reselling. After getting ill, it was clear there was a market need and I wanted to do my best to make lemonade from the experience I had been through.

How did you finance your business?

I’m running Tabuu completely bootstrapped from my personal finances. Everything I possibly could I’ve done for free including designing the packaging on a photoshop free trial and the product via YouTube. My marketing budget is £0 so I’m using pure hustle and social media to see how far I can get!

Explain your business model and how you make money.

My business model is to design pill cases, import them and sell them across a range of channels.

What are the main challenges you have faced? And how did you overcome them?

The main challenges were a) budget and b) time. I decided I wanted to run everything completely bootstrapped which has certainly meant I’ve had to get creative to get things done. Free trials, YouTube tutorials and elbow grease have been absolutely key to getting live. On the time challenge, I’ve definitely had to make some sacrifices in my personal social schedule, but I like to think that seeing everything going live has made it all worth it.

What has your experience been of starting a business during a pandemic?

The biggest challenge of the pandemic for me was certainly cost. Products are made from food grade stainless steel, the price of which almost tripled due to shortages. Similar challenges with freight, the costs are at all time high which has massively impacted my margins. I made the decision that I wanted to go live ahead of Christmas and my bottom line has definitely felt the impact.

Describe your first breakthrough.

My first breakthrough was having the product featured in Grazia magazine less than 48 hours of the brand being live. The whole reason for starting the brand was to open up the conversation around medication driven from the fundamental belief that people taking medication deserve a lot better than plastic, flimsy cases. To see that being endorsed so quickly by a media outlet of that size and reach meant absolutely everything.

How has Brexit impacted your business? Do you think it will in the future?

Brexit has massively impacted our ability to fulfil orders across Europe, so much so that I am contemplating keeping fulfilment to the UK for this year until I can get VAT sorted in an EU market. Horror stories of customs charges and delays for a product like mine with such a narrow margin have the potential to pose a huge impact on profitability.

What advice would you give to other aspiring business owners?

My main advice would be to try not to view everything all at once, as the size and scale of what you’re trying to do can seem incredibly overwhelming. If you had told me that I’d be getting a product from ideation to GTM in 3 months on a shoestring, 18 months out of major surgery – I would have laughed. Breaking things into chunks and putting one foot in front of the other really kept me going.

What is one resolution you have for your business this year?

To make at least one person feel more confident and less anxious with their medication.

How do you see your business developing in the next three years?

In the next three years I would love to have expanded the range and have my own social impact initiative. I also hope to have made a substantial donation to various charities to support the incredible work they do.

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Written by:
Helena Young
Helena is Lead Writer at Startups. As resident people and premises expert, she's an authority on topics such as business energy, office and coworking spaces, and project management software. With a background in PR and marketing, Helena also manages the Startups 100 Index and is passionate about giving early-stage startups a platform to boost their brands. From interviewing Wetherspoon's boss Tim Martin to spotting data-led working from home trends, her insight has been featured by major trade publications including the ICAEW, and news outlets like the BBC, ITV News, Daily Express, and HuffPost UK.

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