Four female founders we're following closely…

  • Written by Emily Heazlewood
  • Published on

In support of International Women's Day we've put together a tell-all from some of the great female founders we've met that will leave you with goosebumps!

We went out of the box and asked questions not usually asked to help inspire, relate and encourage others. We can't thank Patsy Bass, Derelee Potroz-Smith, Monique Kaminski & Tara Tan enough for sharing their personal stories!

Patsy Bass - Reefton Distilling Co. Chief Executive & Founder

Describe the three most memorable moments/milestones in your company?

  • Seeing our first Little Biddy Gin - Classic flow during our first distillation. There were whoops of delight, tears and hugs all around. As our distiller said at the time, "to smell the aromas of the West Coast rainforest flowing into that small clinical room is a moment I'll never forget".
  • Opening Day, October 2018 - The support, humour, and tales from the many, many West Coasters who visited us on opening day. It was a busy day filled with laughter and pride.
  • The day we employed our 20th person. We were established to create jobs and contribute to the revitalisation of this rural town, and it is extremely rewarding to see the team grow.

What was the moment you decided to press go on your business?

Standing on Broadway (the main street of this town with its 'Movie Set' good looks) in late 2016, speaking with Nigel and Steffan MacKay, almost 70-year-old identical twins who have lived in Reefton all of their lives. As a non-drinker, I wasn't sure that a distillery was quite the business I was looking for, but when the twins told me about their large private whisky vessel collection it was the final piece of the puzzle falling into place.

What is the key driver that makes Reefton Distilling Co. something you care about so much?

The pride my parents and their generation had/still have in the town and not wanting to see it become a ghost town once they're all no longer here was what drove me to move back and establish a business.

Seeing the enormous pride of the locals and the whole West Coast in what we're doing, the many visitors who come to town specifically to visit the distillery, is enormously rewarding.

Many people backed us to get here. People who had never even been to Reefton supported us to set up and believed in this gutsy idea to make the West Coast rain sexy.

What was one moment you had to do something in your business but had no experience and learnt on the spot?

How to build a distillery. Seriously! The day our first still arrived, I opened the box, expecting to see an instruction manual, but there wasn't one! There was just a mountain of parts and no pipework, so that was certainly one of the bigger learning moments.

Derelee Potroz-Smith - Woochemy CEO & Founder

Describe the three most memorable moments/milestones in your company?

  • Achieving our first scientific breakthrough (neweZorb, a washable, absorbent wool technology). We proved that we could take a strong wool material from 30% absorbency to over 1500% absorbency using an eco-friendly process, which is difficult in the textile world.
  • Travelling over 30 hours to exhibit at a diaper conference in Indianapolis while suffering from sleep deprivation (having been up with a toddler the night prior). We had the biggest crowd of people representing some of the biggest international pharmaceutical brands hovering at our stand. Having a compelling live product demonstration helped, but I'm sure the Kiwi accent and the temptation of Whitaker chocolates made it all that much more alluring. That was the first international acknowledgement that we were on to something big.
  • Developing our second product innovation (neweFlex, a versatile stay-dry material for nappies and pads) in 6 weeks. A technical feat with potential for a shot at a much larger market, the hygiene nonwovens market valued at over USD$8 Billion. Despite a worldwide pandemic, we preserved through our planned testing and trials and our wool nonwovens have successfully passed the first stage of trials in late 2020. We are on track for consumers to buy the first wool-based hygiene products this year.

What was the moment you decided to press go on your business?

When you deeply research a problem, it's hard to erase it from memory and let it go. I was pondering two major problems; an environmental crisis caused by the overuse of petroleum-based materials in single-use nappies and a coarse wool industry on the brink of collapse. However, I knew that using wool was the solution to save the wool sector and replace plastic in disposable healthcare products. Even before we found the product solution, there was no going back and I figured, who else is better qualified to find a solution to these issues? I grew up in the wool industry, I had the first-hand experience being a mother that bought hygiene products for my family, plus I had the technical nous to persevere.

What is the key driver that makes Woolchemy something you care about so much?

The health of people, our planet and the legacy of what we leave for future generations is what gives me purpose everyday. It's like being given the gift of a superpower and you have the choice to do nothing with it or to take action and transform people's lives. I can't solve all of the world's problems, but knowing I can at least improve the livelihoods of people and the planet in some way brings me comfort that I've contributed to a better world.

What was one moment you had to do something in your business but had no experience and learnt on the spot?

I've never considered myself a salesperson, preferring to stay within my technical background. However when you are an entrepreneur, sales skills are vital or you face certain failure. I quickly learnt that I could sell by just being authentic and persistent and getting to the bottom of the barriers to 'no'.

Monique Kaminski - Jeuneora Founder

Describe the three most memorable moments/milestones in your company?

  • When Millie Elder-Holmes first posted about us on Instagram! We are on Shopify, so the notifications were very exciting. Millie had been trying our Renew+ for a month, but didn't post about it until she had seen and loved the results for herself. The response was overwhelming and kick-started everything for us. Today Millie is a shareholder and a great friend. We have been fortunate to travel all over the world together.
  • Our first million-dollar month. I'll probably never forget that moment!
  • There are other very memorable moments like when we launched Jeuneora Giving or our Plant-Based range straight after lockdown, but the biggest and best is yet to come when we launch Jeuneora Skincare on 5 May 2021. It's been an epic project and very challenging to develop such a large range during a pandemic (think patch testing on hundreds of people in Milan), but I cannot wait to share what we have created.

What was the moment you decided to press go on your business?

It was on my honeymoon in 2017. Twelve months after I started Jeuneora as a side project, I finally had a chance to pause and realise that I couldn't juggle all the things. I was working full time whilst organising the manufacturing, managing the websites, finance and marketing, as well as packing orders! So I quit my job and gave myself six months to get back to the same income I was on through the business. It was an all or nothing / Just Do It situation and I've never looked back.

What is the key driver that makes Jeuneora something you care about so much?

Community. Every decision is customer-centric, whether that be new product development or our customer service response time. We believe everybody is somebody and our customers deserve our time and attention - this customer service experience is something we never want to lose as we get bigger - we wouldn't be here today without them.

What was one moment you had to do something in your business but had no experience and learnt on the spot?

Integrating a warehouse management system with an ERP via a 30-hour non-stop zoom call. It's awesome (now!).

Tara Tan - Founder Grin Natural Products

Describe the three most memorable moments/milestones in your company?

  • The team and I had no idea what was going on globally during the Covid pandemic but decided we need to do something. We called for businesses to join and put packs together because we wanted to send something and show our appreciation for health care workers. We donated more than $250,000 worth of essentials during the Thinking of you campaign and our staff personally dropped these off, with masks of course, but you have no idea how much appreciation we had from them.
  • When we won the prize from Export NZ as one of the best-emerging businesses that year, which was incredible as a startup, it meant a lot! We see each other as comrades and support each other but that's the day we won and one of the best moments to be recognised as a team.
  • When I see the change of mindset from our staff members. I was struggling before with what my leadership skills looked like and how I could truly get people committed and connected. You have to be the mirror for people but when I saw our staff members start to think differently and become so much more brave, open-minded and than ever before, that was special!

What was the moment you decided to press go on your business?

I just thought it's what I need as a mum to be, so if I need it, many other people like myself will. There was also nothing to lose, so I just tried it. The more you think about it the more you will start to weigh the opportunity cost, but I just didn't give myself any choice.

What is the key driver that makes Grin something you care about so much?

Most of our staff members are parents and we love our children, we love the next generation and we want to do our best to create a better world for them. Other than the products we can trust, we're going to do anything to help them. We have done this also through initiatives like Share a Grin with Foodstuffs in 2018. We donated over 50,000 biodegradable toothbrushes to kiwi children, so any customer who bought one through New World would donate one to kiwi children in need.

What was one moment you had to do something in your business but had no experience and learnt on the spot?

Gosh, every day I'm experiencing this... everyday!

For example, I spent 3-4 months doing nothing but talking to people online to try to reach as many community leaders from dentists to nutritionists to ask how we can help. This is what encouraged our initiatives and managing and planning these were something I just learnt on the spot.