Interested in starting your own entrepreneurial journey in health and wellness but unsure what to expect? Then read up on our interview with Gemma Colao, Founder of OTO, located in London, United Kingdom.
What's your business, and who are your customers?
We are a British-born luxury wellness brand that launched in the United States early this year. Our mission is to help people feel better, sleep better, and live better through the highest quality products that work. We started as a pureplay CBD brand, but our product offering is evolving to include non-CBD products too. To date, we have 30 products across four categories (beauty, wellness, beverage, and spa). Guided by our three-pillar philosophy of Strength, Moments, and Promise, we aim to cut through the wellness noise so that people can find their space and re-balance their bodies and minds. OTO Strength is a commitment to creating the highest quality products using the right % of CBD and other potent active ingredients and botanicals to be effective. OTO Moments highlights our dedication to designing products that seamlessly integrate into key moments of the day, helping you find focus, amplify shared moments, and restore balance and calm. OTO Promise means everything created is thoroughly researched and designed with the utmost care and intention, using the purest ingredients, sustainably sourced, naturally derived, and vegan friendly.
Our customers are predominantly women, although we see men turn to us in increasing numbers. They are usually looking for powerful natural solutions for the imbalances in their lives, whether hormonal, sleep, or stress. While they are a luxury customer who frequent stores like Saks and Harrods and spas at leading hotels like Park Lane and Mandarin Oriental, they are guided by science. They want to be sure the products they are buying will work, and if a brand doesn't have the data to show that its ingredients and formulas are efficacious, they don't take that risk. They really value our transparency regarding our ingredients and the studies we base our formulations.
Tell us about yourself
I first discovered CBD when I was in the US working in the high-stress, fast-paced fashion industry. I had always suffered from anxiety, which, in turn, badly affected my sleep and well-being. One day, a friend recommended I try CBD, and quite honestly, I've never looked back. CBD changed my life! After having my first child, I moved back to the UK, and I was deeply disappointed with the options. Not only were the levels of CBD in products ineffective, but they were really unpleasant to use. The market was missing enjoyable CBD products that actually worked. I wanted to design products that people would love using and that would become part of their everyday lives in a meaningful way. And that's why I decided to launch OTO, to help people have this life-changing experience. I am passionate about making things, creating something from nothing that people love and can benefit from. There's nothing better than that!
I am motivated by our wonderful customers that email me, call me, send me cards, and tell me how much OTO products have changed their lives because they can sleep better, feel less anxious and go about their day with more confidence. I had one lovely lady tell me she wanted to move away from the prescribed creams she used to manage her angry, hormonal skin but was worried her skin would flare up, making her anxious to go out because she would feel so self-conscious about it. Since using OTO products, she can manage her skin naturally and live the life she wants. I even had one customer tell me I saved their marriage. Obviously, this wasn't entirely true, but everything is better when you sleep well!
What's your biggest accomplishment as a business owner?
That's a tough one because there have already been so many. Positive customer feedback is definitely up there, and I still have the first card from a customer telling me that our Sleep Drops changed her life. On the retail side, there have been quite a few. The first retail account we landed was Harrods which was mind-blowing, especially as they don't stock any other CBD products. In 2021, we had a huge, dedicated window in Selfridges on Oxford Street, which was a total pinch-me moment. It was full of macrame cannabis/hemp leaves morphing into birds to signify 'releasing the stigma of the cannabis/CBD.' It was unreal! Harvey Nichols then featured our CBD Glow Treatment in all 5 of their windows. As a fashion student at Central Saint Martins, I was obsessed with Harvey Nichols' displays and used to take my sketchbook and draw their windows, so this was quite a full-circle moment. Breaking into the spa industry is a dream come true. During COVID, all I wanted to do was go to the spa, and it got me thinking, "what better way to experience the OTO?"
Since then, we've developed a full-on sensory journey for spa customers, which includes custom OTO massage protocols, sound therapy, crystals, and ayurvedic mocktails. In addition to the birth of my second little boy, it was one of the best things to come out of COVID. In under two years, we have forged partnerships with 50 spa and hotel groups, including The Mondrian, The Langham, and Fairmont, and have trained more than 150 therapists across the UK and USA. It's now a massive part of our business. I'm also incredibly proud of the team we've built, which spans three continents. Any time I get to spend with them––especially our Away Days––brings about so much joy and a huge sense of accomplishment.
What's one of the hardest things that comes with being a business owner?
The buck stops with you––you have to accept that. If you want success and recognition, you must own the mistakes, which can be challenging initially. The other hard thing is being responsible for people and their livelihoods. I want everyone to thrive and be successful, and a startup's journey is unpredictable and never easy. It takes a lot of resilience.
What are the top tips you'd give to anyone looking to start, run and grow a business today?
- Understand your customer need. You must believe in the need and product you create 100% and don't compromise. Make the best product possible. There will be a demand if you create something magical that solves a problem or meets a need.
- Find your people and choose well. Business is all about the people, and like any relationship, it's about trust and respect, and support and challenge in equal measures. It's also a little bit like having a child with someone––you will be bonded to that person for life!
- Enjoy the journey! There will be many ups and downs ––and probably more downs than ups! Celebrate the wins as the next mountain is just beyond the horizon.
Where can people find you and your business?
If you like what you've read here and have your own story as a solo or small business entrepreneur that you'd like to share, then please answer these interview questions. We'd love to feature your journey on these pages.
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