Marissa Carter is the tour de force behind Cocoa Brown, the tanning product that arrived on the scene in late 2012 and rapidly became a bestselling fixture on shelves. This year Marissa successfully launched Cocoa Brown in the UK and now three bottles are sold every minute across the UK and Ireland. We caught up with her after her recent win for Start-Up of the Year at the IMAGE Businesswoman of the Year Awards 2013 to talk plans for next year and her whirlwind career.
What does your typical day look like?
I’m usually up early with my little man, Charlie, who is twenty one months old. We have breakfast together before his nana Dee takes him for the day and I then hit the office. Examples of projects I work on in a typical week might be PR and marketing tasks like completing interviews about Cocoa Brown and meeting with key stockists to create and implement collaborative PR efforts. New product development takes up a good chunk of my time. The steps for creating a new product aren’t always linear. I research the needs of my customers by gathering feedback from them. This feedback usually comes from talking to customers face to face or emails, Facebook messages or tweets that they send me! Ideas for new products usually come to me in the middle of the night and then I’ll stay awake for hours from the excitement. Once I know what I want from the product it’s then a case of working with my cosmetic chemists to see if it can be created. Getting the product formulation right is just the first of many long steps. On average it takes six months to get a new product to market once the formulation has been signed off. I work alone on the formulation and packaging design and am very protective of this creative process. I generally don’t allow anyone else to see what I’ve created until I’m 100% happy with it.
You developed Cocoa Brown while on maternity leave – are you at your best when multi-tasking?
Absolutely not! My mind can generally only focus on one thing at a time but what I am very good at is managing my time. I get things done by block booking my time. When I’m working on a task that needs my full attention – I put up a little sign on my desk that says ‘DO NOT DISTURB’. I’m joking, but everyone who knows me knows that I can’t do two things at once. On a Sunday evening, I make a list of the tasks or projects I need to give my attention to and then I allocate my mornings to getting these done and leave my afternoon diary free for work that arises last minute.
How important is the team behind the brand?
The team of people you choose to work with is extremely important. One of the biggest mistakes people in business make is always wanting to be the best person in the room or the most intelligent. Another business faux-pas is trying to do everything yourself and not trusting others to do as good a job as you think you’d do yourself. There are of course elements of the business that I will always want to look after myself but it is impossible to scale your business without giving away control because the reality is there will always only be one of you. Go with your gut when hiring staff. I have made the mistake where I have hired someone because on paper they were the most qualified for the job and went against my gut feeling that they weren’t right for the job and lived to regret it. This time around, I chose my team of three women based on my instincts about them and how much smarter and more skilled they were than me in certain areas. I once read that ‘Leaders create other leaders not followers’ and this has stuck with me. I have three very strong women working for me. I didn’t want a team that would just agree with everything I said.
Cocoa Brown has been a huge marketing success – any tips for budding marketeers?
Marketing is about reminding customers why they should choose your brand above the others on the market but marketing can only take your business so far. If the product that you are marketing isn’t good enough or disappoints people then customers will buy it once but never again and all your marketing efforts will be fruitless. So rule number one in business, before you even start to think about how you will market your product is: make sure there is a need for your product; that your product is superior to what’s already available to customers or that it gives them something new. You would be amazed at the amount of people that think if they copy an existing product or idea that they will reap the same rewards. My tip for budding marketeers is to find out where your customers are. What age are they? What are they reading? Where do they spend their time online? Who do they like or who are they influenced by? Once you know these answers, you can begin to create marketing campaigns aimed at your customers. It is a mistake to try to target everyone because this will require a marketing spend that no start-up can afford.
Your favourite moment of 2013 so far?
My favourite moment of 2013 for far was winning the Image Magazine Start-up of the Year Award in the RHK on the one year anniversary of Cocoa Brown hitting shelves in Ireland. What a way to celebrate our first birthday! The award meant a lot to me not just because of the long established prestige attached to it or the calibre of the other businesses I was up against, but because when I won, the achievements of the year suddenly sank in. There was never time to really reflect because there was always something new on the horizon that I needed to be working on. I invited my closest friends and the people I work with to share the table with me at the awards. It was the perfect way to reflect and celebrate everything that had happened for Cocoa Brown in 2013.
Where do you want to take the brand in the New Year?
2013 was such a spectacular year that we have a lot of pressure on us for 2014. We are launching three new products in the first quarter and have just signed a deal with another massive retailer in the UK. Superdrug plan to treble the amount of their stores stocking us by the end of March. We have some exciting celebrity collaborations in the pipeline and have also been invited by the organisers of the Pre–Oscars Gifting Suite to be the tanning partner in the Beverley Hills Hilton Hotel in Los Angeles at the end of February. We’re working with Enterprise Ireland with a view to expanding the business into the US very soon. My dream for the business is to have trebled our number of stockists by the end of 2014. I know that is an audacious ambition but I never thought that this time last year the business would be where it is. I may be crazy thinking that this will be possible but I believe in dreaming big!
And finally, what is the top of the Christmas Wish List for Marissa Carter?
The only wish I ever make, whether I’m throwing a coin in a fountain, blowing out candles on a birthday cake or sending a letter to Santa Claus, is for health for my little family and the people I love.
You can keep up with Marissa on Twitter here.
Jeanne Sutton @jeannedesutun