Season 3: Building business resilience

Paula Quazi Co-founder, smol

How we took on the giants and won

Picture this: you’ve spotted a gap in the market, a category with room for improvement, or have an idea and want to make a difference.  

But the market has huge competition. Not only that, but it’s been dominated by multinationals for 75 years.  

No one has really entered it in that time. It hasn’t changed much over the years, either.  

You are riddled with worry and fear. But you believe in your mission and want to make a difference. 

That’s the conversation we had with ourselves when ​​​​we launched smol, high-performance, eco-friendly household cleaning products delivered at the best price, in 2018. Our products disrupted the industry because the existing eco products didn’t work and were really expensive. Six months later, we were copied by one of our competitors.  

That was really scary. But we leaned into the fear and continued. Interestingly, the competitor had to withdraw from the market after nine months because they couldn’t get any traction.  

Why? Because big is not always best. 

Before you talk yourself out of it, consider this:  

What if being small makes you more agile? What if your passion helps you connect with your consumer? What if you know deep down that you are doing the right thing? What if you could compete with huge companies?  

What if you started today? 

I’ll tell you what happened when we decided to start today: the brand went off like a train. We could not stop the momentum. In fact, we sold out of our planned annual volume in 12 weeks and were running around like headless chickens trying to get more stock and people to help us. 

At that point, it was just my business partner Nick and me. We were packing, posting, answering consumer queries, writing advertising–we were doing everything. So we started building a team, of purpose-driven people who were on board with our mission and the difference we wanted to make.  

Five years later, where are we? 

We’ve gone from carrying big bags to the post office to filling articulated vehicles to the brim every day. We’re powering over 3 million washes a week across the country. We’ve also expanded our product range. We started in laundry capsules and now we have dishwasher tablets, surface sprays, and fabric conditioner.  

The most important thing always came back to our mission of making a difference.  

1. Harness the power of sustainability 

Whilst working for Unilever, I was involved in a big multinational study into sustainability, understanding how people felt about sustainable products, what they expected and what they wanted.  

This work was categoric in its findings. Consumers wanted to make better choices but the barriers to do so needed to be removed; product quality, price, convenience, etc.  

Take away the hurdles and people will do the right thing.  

The same goes for your team. Your strength comes from people. Empower them with your purpose and you will be unstoppable as a business.   

2. Trust your instinct 

Back yourself regardless of how big you are and what your competitors are doing.  

smol is a testimony to the story that you can succeed in big markets as a small business. Being a thorn in the big guy’s side is a good thing. You may encourage them to change their ways!  

3. Be resilient  

There will be bumps in the road but be strong and resilient. The margins might be small at first, but they will grow as your company grows.  

The bigger the challenge, the better the reward. You will get through it and be thankful for the moment you decided to start.