Interested in starting your own entrepreneurial journey in personal care but unsure what to expect? Then read up on our interview with Anna Brightman, Co-Founder of UpCircle Beauty, located in London, United Kingdom.
What's your business, and who are your customers?
At UpCircle, we make sustainable skincare products from ingredients that would otherwise be discarded. When we discovered that more than 500,000 tonnes of coffee grounds consumed each year in the UK alone are sent to landfill (where they produce methane), we decided to start collecting coffee grounds from cafes and transforming them into skincare products. Since launching, UpCircle has saved over 450 tonnes of used coffee. Based on our current growth rates, it's estimated that this will rise to 5,000 tonnes in the next three years. We also repurpose more than 20 other by-product ingredients from various industries, including argan, tea, juice, date, olive, and wood. Even our packaging is circular, with over 20,000 products hand-refilled to date.
We're stocked in household retailers like Sainsbury's, Holland & Barrett, Ocado, and more. Our brand has seen staggering growth in the last six years, selling hundreds of thousands of products per year in over 40 different countries. We have over 20,000 5-star reviews and a cult following that we fondly call our "UpCirclers." We're certified cruelty-free by Leaping Bunny, and we're Soil Association, and COSMOS Organic certified, meaning our ingredients are grown responsibly and promote soil fertility. We're also certified plastic negative and will be certified vegan and B Corp in the next 6-8 weeks. We're proud to be the UK's #1 upcycled skincare brand.
Tell us about yourself
One-third of all food in the UK is wasted, yet nearly one-third of people have a skincare routine. That's one huge opportunity to save the planet through skincare.
What's your biggest accomplishment as a business owner?
I cherish the little things the most – they are my highlights. When customers take the time to email or even send letters, showing before and afters of their skin and letting us know how much they love UpCircle – those sorts of things that make me most proud. Knowing that I create products that make people feel good about themselves is the best and most inspiring feeling in the world.
Growing our team is also something that excites me greatly. We have a new wave of excitement, passion, and personality with each new member. We hired our first ever staff member in 2019, and in 2020, we grew to a team of eight; in 2021, we became 15, and now there are 22 of us on the team!
What's one of the hardest things that come with being a business owner?
As a founder, you set the tone for your whole team, so there can be a fair bit of putting on a brave face! My resilience is helped by my ability to find humour in any situation – when the world is crashing down, what else can you do but laugh?! Then, just roll your sleeves up and get it sorted!
What are the top tips you'd give to anyone looking to start, run and grow a business today?
My top tip is not to feel obliged to take on board everyone's advice! No one knows your business, personality, or life as you do, so trust your instinct. There's no harm in listening, but you don't have to take everyone's advice and run with it!
I have come to believe that absorbing as much advice as possible at the start of my brand journey was distracting and only served to water down my ideas through fear of offending or minimizing my audience. I now think you risk being pulled in too many different directions at once if you take on too many opinions. We underwent a rebrand two years into our brand journey to undo all the advice we received from people we thought knew better than us. It turns out they didn't! Instead, be bold, have conviction, and don't be afraid to be the first to do something.
The pioneering nature of what we do at UpCircle is illustrated by the extent of the opposition to our idea at the start; mentors and investors alike told us that the industry was not ready, that tackling issues of waste in the "shallow" beauty industry would not work. Our rapid growth has proven that not only it is possible, it is, in fact, extremely popular.
Is there anything else you'd like to share?
Another huge goal that we achieved last year was the launch of our packaging refill scheme, which Marie Claire described as "one of the best [they've] ever seen." We designed the packaging return scheme to be simple and streamlined. We want as many UpCirclers as possible to make use of the scheme, so we've ironed out any pain points! There's a separate "Refills Collection" on our website where all prices are subject to a 20% discount vs. the usual retail price. We also automatically email a Freepost return label, so it's as simple as it could be! Circular ingredients, circular use of packaging. It just makes sense!
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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