‘We were first-timers on QVC . . . and we sold out’

EY Entrepreneur of the Year finalist Sonia Deasy of Pestle & Mortar

With the aim of creating "skincare products with a purpose", Sonia Deasy launched Pestle & Mortar to the market in 2014. Her early successes have helped rapid expansion in the business, with products now stocked in leading retailers like Liberty London, Arnotts, Avoca, QVC and recent partnerships with Marks & Spencer and Myer.

For the coming year, the focus is on growth into international markets like China and a growth of the product range, which is inspired by Deasy's Indian heritage in natural healing. Her "less-is-more" approach means the company combines natural extracts with high-performance technology to create an effective range with as few ingredients as possible.

Based in Kildare with her husband and five children, Deasy employs 25 staff in the company that sells product across 21 countries and is now in the process of signing distributors in the United Arab Emirates, Australia and China.

With the size of the global skincare market expected to rise to $45 billion by 2023, Deasy is looking to position her business so that physical retail and online sales enable them to reach customers worldwide.


What vision/lightbulb moment prompted you to start-up in business?

When myself and my husband ran our Portrait Photography studio, I noticed that a lot of models suffered with dry, flaky skin. There didn’t seem to be an easy-to-understand, affordable, single-brand range of skincare on the market that would provide busy people with an effective daily solution. That’s when I thought: I’ll create one.

What is your greatest business achievement to date?

Well, being in the EY Entrepreneur of the Year final 24 is definitely up there! But apart from that, we've achieved a lot in four years. What stands out for me is appearing on QVC US. We were first-timers and we were amongst huge global brands. And we sold out.

What was your “back-to-the-wall” moment and how did you overcome it?

I can’t say that there was one single moment that stands out! Being in business has a ‘back-to-the-wall’ moment almost every day. That’s what I love about it – you’re always looking for a solution to something.

What moment/deal would you cite as the “game changer” or turning point for the company?

It was the New York moment. Basically, a New York Times journalist interviewed me on Skype for a piece she was writing on hyaluronic serums. After the interview in May 2015, we heard nothing else for months. We thought it was dead. Then suddenly, in December, the piece was published in the New York Times. Our sales skyrocketed instantly.

Describe your growth funding path:

We work off a model of revenue-based financing. So far, this model has proven extremely effective for us and enabled us to move fast. It also gives us huge peace of mind, as the business is debt-free.

What are the big disruptive forces in your industry?

Changes in consumer buying behaviour are unpredictable and can be disruptive. It’s going to take more than good formulation and great marketing for brands to be relevant in 10 years’ time. The companies that consistently recognise the changing needs of their customers will survive.

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

Pursue national policies that promote innovation to ensure that there will be enough prosperity to carry on into the next generation. Innovation and start-ups are the ultimate job-creators that take risks, come up with ideas and create value for the consumer.

What motivates you to keep performing at your best?

Other people count on me. That, and the fact that I have a fear of existing in a grey space that knows neither success nor failure.

Peter Hamilton

Peter Hamilton

Peter Hamilton is a contributor to The Irish Times specialising in business