‘Sourcing quality ingredients is really important to us’

Inside Track: John Murray, Modern Botany

Modern Botany was founded by partners John Murray and Simon Jackson in November 2016 when they launched its signature product, a multi-tasking oil. The business is based in Schull in west Cork and has seven staff members.

Plans are in place to launch a cleansing product suitable for all ages and skin types in June and to add seven new staff members, according to the CEO John Murray. It is also set to launch in Bergdorf Goodman in New York with its multi-tasking oil.

What sets your business apart from the competition?

Our formulation sets us apart. Simon [Jackson] is a doctor of pharmacognosy – the science of medicinal drugs obtained from plants or other natural sources – and knows what formulates a good concentration and therapeutic effect. There are lots of other natural companies out there that highlight some natural ingredients or fragrances but 50 per cent of the product is synthetic and borderline toxic. Sourcing quality ingredients, like a really good grade of lavender, is really important to us.


What is the best piece of business advice you’ve received?

One piece of advice I got is about how it’s very easy to get lost and carried away in business when you pop, like when our natural deodorant took off during the heatwave last summer. We try and keep it real and keep our feet firmly on the ground.

Who do you most admire in business and why?

Yvon Chouinard, the Patagonia founder, is a great source of inspiration to us. He's about building a product that comes from a customer need, which for him was climbing equipment and clothing. We're a sustainable company so we're really inspired by how they came up with ingenious ways of upcycling and recycling. He was one of the first to facilitate working mums by having creches at work. For our staff, we say here's a job to do and we're not really interested in how many hours you spend here as long as we get the work done.

What’s the biggest mistake you’ve made in business?

We’ve made big mistakes with budgeting. There was a lack of foresight in that we didn’t have enough funding for projects and then being caught on the back foot. What we’ve learned from that is making sure we fund well and making sure there is wriggle room.

And your major success to date?

We're just about to launch in the next week in Bergdorf Goodman in New York. We're also being stocked in the Detox Market in the US, in the New York and LA stores. If you think of Sephora it's similar to that but not stocked with conventional brands – everything is fully natural.

Based on your experience in the downturn, are the banks in Ireland open for business to SMEs?

As a new company, we were really strapped for cash and we did approach a number of banks. We were really fortunate with Bank of Ireland. In terms of initial funding, we got what we needed from them in the beginning, although they were cautious. They're looking for a strong business plan that is based on empirical evidence. We also got great support from the LEO in Clonakilty, then progressing up and working with Enterprise Ireland.

Now we're a client of HSBC. Enterprise Ireland has introduced us to so many other businesses. Coming from the UK, there really isn't anything like it there.

What one piece of advice would you give Government to help stimulate the economy?

We’re well set up with internet provision at the moment but, as we grow, we would need something more. We’d like more grant aid to take on more specialist staff to offer employment locally.

What’s been the biggest challenge you have had to face?

Banks are great for start-up funding but, after that, they’re hesitant when you’re looking for more. They’re looking for things that are very tangible. They say things like ‘we’ll give you funding if . . .” – it’s usually if you secure things like a distribution agreement. In order for us to get that, we have to have money for A, B and C. You could end up diluting your shares in the company at a stage you didn’t anticipate.

What’s your business worth and would you sell it?

We would be interested in an exit strategy but we’d like to enjoy the process of building the company. We’ve put so much of our physical, financial but also emotional energy into growing and it’s precious to us. We’d want to make sure that whoever bought it shared our ideals and wouldn’t turn it into a big corporate entity.