A head for business

Enterprise: Folli

Why they stand out: The online hair loss remedy business made $100K in sales in the first week after it launched and revenue increased to $1 million within a few months.

Trung Vien’s parents came to Australia after the Vietnam War as refugees, and he initially found it tough, with the language barrier, a lack of education and the family’s scant financial resources. Determined to get on in life here in Australia, Trung embarked on the pursuit of a career as a financial planner. “I ended up landing a job at one of the big four banks,” Trung says. “I worked full time, studied uni, and completed my Master of Applied Finance at night. I was in this role from the end of high school in 2004 until 2009.”

Although glad of the income he had earned, Trung realised he could never become financially independent and have time to himself working a nine-to-five job. He took the knowledge the role gave him about investments and the contacts with high-net-worth individuals, and decided to go it alone.

“I bought into an existing Domino’s franchise by myself at the age of 24, leveraging some of the properties I had acquired early on, and then worked 80 weeks until I could pay off a large portion of that debt,” Trung explains. Embracing his entrepreneurial spirit, within two years Trung was attracted by the growing fitness trend and invested in gym business Plus Fitness. “There were lower labour costs in this sector and a recurring monthly revenue stream once the customer base was built,” Trung says. Pushing ever onwards, he put all his profits into other businesses, such as a restaurant and property-development deals, to give himself leverage and diversify cashflow streams.

“The onset of COVID meant it was just the right timing for an eCommerce venture.”

With everything seemingly on an upward curve, Trung hit a bump in the road. “During 2017, I was caught out over-leveraging myself by buying too many properties, so I slowed down and ended up selling all my businesses by 2019,” he explains. “I took the time off to travel.”

When Trung returned to Australia in 2020, he discovered that many of his female friends, who were by now starting families, were suffering with post-partum hair loss. This was the birth of the idea for Folli.

His mum had been a hairdresser for 20 years and had a busy salon in Sydney, so Trung knew the industry well. “I came up with a business model that was low cost to set up, involved little rent and low labour costs, and had recurring revenue from subscriptions,” Trung enthuses. “I knew I could build a community around Folli, and the onset of COVID meant it was just the right timing for an eCommerce venture.”

Offering remedies online for not just new mothers – Trung established that hair loss afflicts people of all genders and ages, due either to genetics or hormonal reasons – Folli enables people to have remedies sent directly to their homes, addressing the fact that hair loss is a taboo subject many people are uncomfortable discussing with a hairdresser or a GP.

On the back of social media and influencer marketing campaigns, Folli made $100K in sales the first week after it launched and revenue increased to $1 million within a few months. The business now offers products for hair, skin and lashes, and its reach has expanded to over 50 countries through wholesale deals with pharmacies and beauty salons.

Trung has plans in place to expand into China, Europe, and the US. “The USA hair care market is an $80 billion industry, and the beauty industry is $530 billion,” Trung enthuses. “We have a big market but also a lot of competition, so I’m taking this slowly and expanding carefully so that we don’t waste our cashflow. Some markets are more receptive to Australian-made products and have stronger buying power, so we’ll focus on those markets first.”

This article first appeared in issue 37 of the Inside Small Business quarterly magazine