Our final Q&A of 2018 is with Natalie Moubarak, founder of +hemp. Natalie harnessed the tenacity learnt from a 10-year-career as a real estate agent to become an entrepreneur in her own right. Four years ago, she turned a rundown shop in Sydney’s Earlwood into an organic and vegan café – despite being told the suburb wasn’t the “right” market for such a venture, and that it was in the “wrong” street, Natalie turned a profit in the café’s third month before selling it two years later for a 45 per cent profit.
In 2016, Natalie began embarked on a journey to produce hemp-based foods. She wanted to be first-to-market with a high-quality natural hemp water, backing her belief that hemp would soon be legalised as a food.
ISB: What inspired you to come up with the hemp water concept for this venture??
NM: I’ve been aware of the health and nutritional benefits of hemp for a long time through personal experience – it helped me deal with my psoriasis which I’ve had for more than 15 years. After doing extensive research, I made up a concoction of hemp mixed with moisturising cream, which worked much better than anything else I’ve tried in the market.
From there, I thought of ways I could take this further and hemp water came to mind. Hemp in a beverage form is an easy way for people to enjoy the benefits while on the go, without having to go out of their way to get the nutrients. I banked on the fact that hemp would be legalised as a food and that it was only a matter of time before Aussies were consuming hemp-based foods.
ISB: Developing a product from scratch and getting it to market isn’t an inexpensive venture – how did you fund it in the early days?
NM: I had a strong business plan and budgeting strategy in the early stages, so I was careful in where I allocated my money and prioritised where it was needed to be spent. I started with $30,000 for the branding and the bottle design, which went through many material tests. This figure didn’t include my initial research or travel expense from going to multiple stockists. After investing in other areas and improving the product, I reached a $100,000 mark.
ISB: I understand that many distributors and outlets initially rejected your idea, where did you source the determination to get the product to market?
NM: I have a strong and supportive family who gave me the determination to keep going. They kept reminding me how much time, money and effort I had already put into developing Australia’s first true hemp water. I also wanted to share with Aussies the benefits of hemp, and I thought that the only way they could enjoy this and be educated about it was to get the product out there.
ISB: And what was the breakthrough that justified that determination?
NM: The breakthrough came when I brought samples into a petrol station in Sydney, and a rep from a major beverage distributor was there. We organised a meeting with his team a few days later, where they accepted +hemp on the spot! I’m so grateful and extremely lucky to have gone into that petrol station that day, as everything moved really quickly since then. We started out with 46 retailers in the first few weeks and now, about three months later after our launch, +hemp is stocked in more than 250 retailers around Australia.
ISB: Other than those early rejections, what was the biggest challenge you faced as you were starting on your business journey, and how did you overcome it?
NM: Being new to the beverage industry is a challenge in itself, especially when I have to compete and keep up with the more well-known beverage companies. When I started out, I had people suggesting that I alter my product by adding sugar and preservatives in order to be more appealing, but I got past the voices and remembered what I originally wanted to create – an all-natural, nutritional beverage. After working with a great food technologist, I was able to make our formula work. It took lots of hard work and persistence.
ISB: Finally, what is the #1 piece of advice you’d give to aspiring entrepreneurs, especially those who may have a hard time getting their business off the ground?
NM: It’s cliché but I would tell aspiring entrepreneurs not to give up, especially if they believe in their product/business idea. Most business ventures go through a difficult time in the beginning because it’s all new, but it will take off when you put in the work and have determination. The main advice I have is to have a solid business plan early on.
It’s also important to surround yourself with a supportive circle of friends and family because they will be the ones to push you to succeed when you feel you’re about to give up.