$2m business created in 24 hours
HUSBAND and wife team Chris Caley and Melanie McVean gave themselves an almighty challenge.
In May 2015 they staged a 24-hour "hackathon" and tasked themselves with developing a fully functional business in a single day.
For the uninitiated, a hackathon usually involves a group of geeks hepped up on cold pizza and energy drinks tackling a tech problem in one intense brainstorming session. But it turns out it's also a highly effective way for budding entrepreneurs to get a business off the ground.
"It's a well-documented fact that people can actually perform far more effectively on an extremely short deadline, than a long, relaxed deadline," Melanie says.
"A tight deadline like this forces you to work efficiently, find creative solutions quickly, in an environment where you need to prioritise the fundamental, big-ticket items.
"At the end of the day, we found ourselves with a business plan and strategy, an early version of our website, our name and logo (which are still the same today), and a simple version of our product.
"If it didn't work, then our only investment, up until that point, was a single day."
Their product was something that Melanie - who has a background in neuropsychology and midwifery - had developed for her own personal use a year earlier.
"My science background means I take a research and evidence-based approach towards most things," she says.
"I was aware that there were some questionable ingredients in some deodorants and we put these on sensitive areas of are body, like right near our breasts.
"At the same time, I could find no compelling, peer-reviewed evidence that the concentrations of these ingredients in deodorants were actually harmful. Science aside, common sense would say, "Why use questionable ingredients at all, if you don't have to?'
"So I started making a natural deodorant for myself. One day we were away on a surf trip in hot and tropical Java, Indonesia and Chris ran out of his deodorant, so he started using my deodorant. After a couple days, I noticed he was wearing the same T-shirt for three days in a row, but he didn't smell. That is when we realised how effective it was and No Pong was born."
Made from organic ingredients, the No Pong deodorant paste provides 12-hour protection against odours by creating an environment armpit bacteria can't survive in.
"Armpit smell comes from bacteria that feed on sweat," Melanie says.
"Sweat is actually odourless, but it is the bacteria that creates that smell. No Pong creates an environment where that smelly armpit bacteria can't survive. It is also water-resistant, so it won't wash off when you sweat, which is also key to its all-day efficacy."
Before they launched into product development, Chris (who has a background in marketing and advertising and had seen a bunch of start-ups try and fail), wanted to make sure it was viable before they invested too much.
"The reason most businesses don't work is because they don't actually solve a problem for real-world customers," Melanie says.
"Many of these failed businesses were built on ideas that only exist in the founders' minds and had never been tested in the market. So, how do you know what people want? You create the most basic working prototype of the business you possibly can, and test it with the market before investing more time and money.
"Lots of people think this "minimum working prototype" is a fully finished app, or product but it really should be much simpler than that. You can get a sense of whether there is a market for your idea for free by running a poll, or putting a free ad on a classifieds site. There are creative ways to validate your market."
It turned out that their plan to provide customers with a 'no frills' eco-friendly alternative to supermarket deodorants was indeed a good one.
Their business has grown, on average, 76 per cent per quarter since launch - resulting in a business valued at over $2 million.
Melanie believes part of their success comes from their relatively low $5.95 price point.
"In a market where natural and organic products tend to have a price premium, our business model from the outset, allows efficiencies that we're able to pass on to our customers," she says.
While they have over 200 online/offline retailers, they still don't actually employ any staff.
Instead they outsource to specialists in their respective fields (such as mail logistics and manufacturing).
"Doing it that way affords us scalability beyond anything we could do if we tried to do it all in-house," Melanie says.
While their 24-hour success story is indeed impressive, it's not the first time the couple has attempted to launch a business.
Their first attempt wasn't as successful, but taught them valuable lessons for the future.
"We had what we thought was a great idea to help breathe new life into unused tools and sports equipment that is sitting around all of our homes ... for example, did you know that a drill is only ever used for a total of nine minutes in its entire lifespan? Surely some of this idle time could be used more effectively," Melanie says.
"We built a platform to enable people to share and use these unused items and all of our friends and family thought it was a great idea. It turns out that friends and family are potentially not the best indicators of future success (at least not ours). The true determinant of success is how it's received in the market and we actually found it really difficult to get traction.
"The big learning from this was that we could have found this out much earlier and at a lower cost of time and money rather than investing all that resource into an idea that wasn't truly validated in the market.
"We took this learning forward when we were developing No Pong and we didn't consult any friends or family at all - we simply let the market tell us whether No Pong had legs."