In 2011, Irene Falcone quit her corporate job in advertising and started selling natural beauty products on her Facebook page Nourished Life with an initial investment of $100.
“I took that $100 and I bought 100 lip balms, sold them and reinvested the money,” she says of Nourished Life’s humble beginnings. “Even though it wasn’t making much money back then, I felt so passionate about my business that I sold my home to put all of my energy into it. I was quite happy to live in a dumpy, little rented unit with my four kids sleeping in bunk beds.”
The biggest challenge for Falcone, now 42, wasn’t the fights between her kids over who would get the top bunk, but the logistics of running a business; getting an account with Australia Post, setting up Eftpos facilities and registering for GST.
Her lowest moment came after she decided to outsource her packing and shipping to a logistics company. “I lost complete control of my business. I didn’t know where any of the orders were going, customers were complaining and I wasn’t able to help them,” she says. “Just before Christmas in 2013, the busiest time of the year, the logistics company said ‘Get stuffed, we’re not going to do this for you anymore.’ Apparently I complained too much.”
How did Falcone recover from her "biggest mistake"? She enlisted an army of mums and together they did what mums do: they got it done. “I put up a notice at the kid’s school asking for help in the warehouse and quite a few mums replied. That’s how my business really started. I think it’s been successful because we’re a business run by mums for mums,” she says.
From her darkest moment, Falcone discovered that mums were fantastic employees - and customers.
Four years later, Nourished Life is expected to turn over $20 million this year. The money doesn’t mean much to Falcone, she’s much prouder of the community she’s built (180,000 on Facebook) and the 30 women she’s employed (still mostly mums).
“The money’s not my motivation for doing this,” she says. “The money only means one thing to me, that I can continue to hire more staff. The thing that drives me the most is hiring women who can finish at 3pm to pick up their kids from school. We have a policy here that no parent will miss a school carnival. I missed so many with my eldest child and it actually makes me want to cry that the people I've hired will never have to go through that.”
As well as supporting working parents, Falcone is proud of how quickly her business has grown - from stocking five products to 6,000. She realised she’d ‘made it’ in business when the local post office told her they couldn’t cope with her orders anymore and she had to go through the head office. “They said, ‘We don’t have a truck big enough',” she says, laughing.
Here Falcone shares her empire-building tips…
Secret to success: Authenticity. Just be who you are.
Breakfast of champions: I’m going to be honest; I have a double shot espresso and a glass of Elle MacPherson’s green powder. That keeps me going until 11am, when I crash and burn.
Best advice: Don’t spend more than you earn.
Hardest lesson: Take risks! They talk about entrepreneurs being risk takers, but I’m not good with that. It’s something I’ve had to learn.
Top interview tip: It’s important to go to an interview having some experience with the brand. Every single person that works at Nourished Life has been a customer first.
Wind down: An organic, preservative-free red wine and a babysitter.