EY Entrepreneur of the Year international finalist: Alyson Hogg, Vita Liberata

‘The hardest thing I have ever done was to sell part of the business to survive’

Alyson Hogg of Vita Liberata speaks about the importance of strategic thinking when looking for a retail partner for your product. Video: EY


Alyson Hogg is the founder and chief executive of Vita Liberata, a company that specialises in the formulation, manufacture, sales and distribution of luxury cosmetics products for the skin and sun care sectors.

After leaving drama college early, Hogg worked as a fashion model in Dublin for two years and then as a presenter and producer for BBC and UTV.

She had three children while building and running a country guest house and doing a philosophy degree. At the age of 39 she remarried, had a blended family of five young children and “was completely broke”.

Supplementing her income by selling food supplements on Sky Shopping, Hogg saw a gap for multiactive skincare similar to multiactive supplements.

She founded Vita Liberata in Ballyclare, Northern Ireland in 2003. In 2007, her pale Irish friends, who knew how good her skincare “gloop” was, started asking her if she could make a great self-tan.

Initially reluctant, Hogg made it her mission to fix all the bad connotations associated with self-tan to create a viable alternative to sun exposure. Vita Liberata now sells into 26 countries with projected global retail sales of more than £50 million in the next three years.

What is your greatest business achievement to date? Our greatest sales achievement is selling $2.6 million in 24 hours on QVC. Our greatest technological achievement is developing pHeno2 and Trystal3 technologies, which disrupted the sunless sector twice in four years. Our greatest business achievement is to stay ahead of category since our launch in Boots in 2007.

What was your “back-to-the- wall” moment and how did you overcome it? The worst was when I had an order from a huge retailer that I knew would open doors to others. I had the order, I asked the bank for a meeting, and my 85- year-old father (whose business had been with the bank since the bank started) attended, along with my accountant and a business development expert.

The manager was breathtakingly rude, dismissing the plan for funding with a flick of his hand, declaring the business should have been closed long before. I was incandescent. Mostly because of the way he spoke to my father, who believed in the potential of Vita Liberata, and my ability to make it succeed. I sought financial expertise, pulled together my first investment plan, got three offers, found a partner in Broadlake Capital, and got the order made.

What is the hardest thing you have ever done in business? The hardest thing I have ever done was to sell part of the business to survive. I come from Northern Ireland, where the mantra would be to keep what you have made for the family. Taking investment is viewed as a form of failure. Failure to somehow manage your finances, manage your growth, to stay inside the lines.

The day I signed with the investors I wept for the feeling of failure that I could not shake. But when I looked at all the cars in the car park, and thought of all those mortgages and families that were depending on my decision, I realised that not signing would be to bring the shutters down on myself and that would be worse.

What is the red tape that hampers growth most? The global inconsistencies in formula and packaging regulations. It makes it difficult to achieve economies of scale, or even to enter markets. For example, to currently sell into China you have to agree to your products being tested on animals.

Since we don’t test on animals, we cannot enter the Chinese market until this regulation is amended.