Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
Mosspiration Biotech engineer mosses to produce fragrances, either for home decorative products or for chemical used in the perfume industry. I, Henrik Toft Simonsen, is one of the two founders of the company.
During 2015, we, the two co-founders Henrik and Hansol acknowledged that forming a small biotech company would be a great solution for their many crazy ideas. Based on research performed first at University of Copenhagen and later at the Technical University of Denmark, we established Mosspiration Biotech, IVS in January 2016.
The Fragrant Moss was made as part of a research project between 2011 and 2014. It led a happy life in the petri-dishes until 2016, when the idea of the “Natural Air Freshener” was launched. We collaborated with creative people in San Francisco throughout 2017 to get this right. After several attempts, we now have more fragrant versions and with even stronger fragrances within several types of glass jars.
Fragrant Moss as Natural Air Freshener was launched in January 2019 and now sells via Etsy and our own homepage. We currently do about $1,000 USD per month from our Fragrant Moss products and have income from grants and other sources as well.
What’s your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
We are two founders of the company, Henrik Toft Simonsen and Hansol Bae.
Henrik, 45, CEO and Associate Prof., a passionate plant biochemist, had a desire to discover new chemistries in the small green moss plants. Henrik has many years of research experience from different universities with a main focus on his favourite plants, the mosses. His passion lead towards using these little plants to production of chemical, which started out with the fragrance Patchouli.
My best advice is… don’t listen to advice – because someone else’s advice is not designed for your situation.
Along the process came Hansol, 35, who joined the university group as a post doc from Yonsei University in South Korea. During 2015 it was evident that a product was in the pipeline, and we together founded Mosspiration to market our lovely fragrances.
The business concept and idea is linked to fragrance production. The idea has led to a prototype for production of the chemicals, where the fragrance is extracted from the moss. Here the idea is to later sell this to the perfume industry.
But most recently we have developed the Fragrant Moss as Natural Air Freshener idea. This product was tested be a sale or one could call it a pre-launch in San Francisco, and we got a lot of customer response on how to design and display our natural air freshener. Based on these customers and also professional designer responses the current final product was designed and marketed in early March 2019. Throughout the company has been financed by collaboration agreements, sales of IP and public grants.
Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.
The first concept, Orbella Moss, was built on a DIY platform, where the consumer was supposed to assemble the moss air freshener at home.
This never really hit home, and we went back to the design of the Air freshener. To finally land on the glass seen above in January 2019.
Several concepts have and are being tested, like square jam jars, vintage jars and different stones and layouts.
We even made a Valentine’s edition in red agar, white stones and with fragrant moss in heart. Possibly, if this was launched when our customer base was bigger it would have sold more.
But this was only for the designs.
Along the way, we have developed new growth conditions in our processing, and also engineered new moss with stronger fragrance and more varieties. Currently, we only sell two fragrances, but more are following soon. But the engineering of the moss is not done only in one day, and this is really where we spend most of our time.
The picture below illustrates how we currently grow our mosses for the Fragrant Moss line, but for the future production of chemicals, we will use larger production facilities, though these are still in the design phase.
Describe the process of launching the business.
We re-launched the new product line in January 2019.
Based on small financial support from the founders, a new website, an Etsy shop and several others were launched. We spent the first month on making and updating social media accounts.
Along the way, we have tested several social media posting robots for this, and here we can only say – go through them all and find the one you like. They all charge you a lot of money, and maybe you are better off hiring a social media assistant. That we have tried, but the person got a better-paid job, but is for sure a route we will try again soon, so currently we base our postings on the Outfy robot. It is hard in a small biotech startup to offer huge salaries when you are not in pharma or related industries.
But people are buying the product, it gets out there on many different social media platforms, and even though we have done this besides all the other stuff it is still fun to engage with customers, learn new stories about your product etc.
The biggest lesson, do not underestimate the time it takes to build a custom platform and be open to any help you can get. We are not even close to being finished with this, and from what we have read and learned this will take at least 6 months, and perhaps even 12 months.
First up, your products need to be sold, secondly you need to get reviews, replies back, and then re-build on that. This is not really that different than from any physical shop, and it is even harder to catch people online than in a real shop.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
Well, our analytics are quite clear, there is first a “novel product” hype from friends, colleagues and alike.
That generates the first sales, but from there is take months. You need to build a base of followers, likes, get in touch with influencers and so forth. Living on a shoestring does not make this job easier.
We worked a lot with our SEO, finding a list of # to include, get pictures taken and so forth. We have used professionals to write our product listings, as this is what catches the customers. Google also have a great analyticals tool, use that, it will give you the keywords people are searching for when they click on your shop. But getting the SEO rigth is crucial and we can only recommend to work hard on it, and use outsiders to check on your setup. There are 100’s of those on Fiverr and similar services. SEO’s are basically what people search for, and these have to be spot on.
The next thing in our PR strategy is to get other people to write about us, get more videos made and writing more blogs, again we will enroll people to do those specific jobs, so we get different wordings pictures etc about the same products.
And not to forget, send out coupons to people who like our shop on Etsy, engage with customers on comments, shares etc. So far it works, but it is a lot of work. The more you engage with customers, the more likely it is that they will buy your product. It is again just like in any physical shop, you are more likely to buy the new sneakers if the shop assistant is nice, talk to you and smile. So when ever you see a comment on facebook, Etsy, you shop, you blog etc engage, reply, by nice and provide suggestions. The customer is (almost) always right, never forget that.
So far our customers come from Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, direct on ETSY, and other social media platforms. A few come from direct google searches, but pictures sell.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
Honestly, we see our current state as the start where we are trying to reach for the stars, and we expect that we will grow exponentially in 2019 and 2020. The company is financed through government grants to run at least until February 2020 without any sales at all. Thus all sales will be used towards expanding this.
Should it all go well, then we would land some collaboration agreements in US and expand in that market, e.g. with a new facility to produce moss in the US. With the current figures it will be hard to get a loan for that, but hopefully sales figures in June/July will be different and allow us to use the banks to increase our capabilities in production.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
We have several times spent to much time talking with potential collaborators. Here we learned that we need to pull the plug or start running a lot faster. Talking for months usually do not take you anywhere.
Execute within 30 days or find other partners. There are a lot of people and business out there.
Likewise, starting with just one partner in US almost killed the business. Be very very careful with exclusive licenses unless you get billions up front.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
Else we use Instagram, Pinterest, Facebook, Tumblr, Twitter, Weheartit, and Houzz to promote the products. Every now and then we run an add but mainly use the free services. Outfy from Shopify is a brilliant tool to keep track of your social media posts.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?
My best advice is… don’t listen to advice. Because someone else’s advice is not designed for your situation.
Read a lot of information, make your own investigations and compile the information you need. You are the one who knows best, execute on that.
Learn from the mistakes that will happen, smile and be happy. If you go home sad, close the business and try something else. But don’t take my advice on it.
Where can we go to learn more?
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
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