Hands across the water
Aussie businessman Craig Schweighoffer has a soft-spot for New Zealand and its entrepreneurial DNA. His latest business venture BOOST LAB is whipping up excitement on both sides of the Tasman.
Aussie businessman Craig Schweighoffer has a soft-spot for New Zealand and its entrepreneurial DNA. And despite Covid’s ongoing disruption his latest business venture BOOST LAB is whipping up excitement on both sides of the Tasman, writes editor Glenn Baker.
Many Kiwis know how Australia likes to claim certain Kiwi icons as their own. I am, of course, referring to the likes of Phar Lap, the pavlova, Crowded House and Russell Crowe.
However, now we can legitimately claim one of theirs as our own, and that person won’t mind a bit.
I am, of course, referring to Australian business entrepreneur, business strategist, leader and product developer Craig Schweighoffer.
First, let’s first establish his credentials on this side of ‘the ditch’.
Craig has headed up two iconic Kiwi businesses with exceptional track records – namely 42 Below and Trilogy. Post his time with 42 BELOW, he launched Ecoya from Australia before subsequently moving its headquarters to New Zealand and hiring the likes of Geoff Ross and his investment vehicle The Business Bakery to grow the business. In 2010 Ecoya was listed on the NZX and it acquired Trilogy two years later.
Craig recalls his first real business success coming through 42 Below, the premium vodka brand, which he first became involved with in 2003. He was the managing director of the operation in Australia pretty much from the get-go and had a small investment in the company.
“We spent three years working hard on building the brand and awareness, one bar at a time,” he remembers. “There were some fun times, but also tough times given you were out at bars at night spending time with key influencers, and then during the day trying to strike distribution deals with large corporates such as Fosters.
“I was fortunate to spend a lot of time with Geoff, as well as Grant Baker, Stephen Sinclair and Shane McKillen – the original investors in 42 Below. They’re all amazing individuals in their own way.”
Craig’s business interests have continually straddled both countries, involving countless flights across the Tasman. Asked to name his standout milestones over that time, he says for him they have all revolved around third party endorsements.
“For Ecoya this was about getting products that you helped create onto the shelves of the world’s best retailers, like Harrods and Bloomingdales, and with BOOST LAB we are well on the way [to achieving that].”
A boost for business
BOOST LAB is Craig’s latest brainchild in the skincare industry, and follows in the footsteps of his BioPhysics venture, for which he acquired the Australian cosmeceutical brand Skin Physics and grew ten-fold before selling in early 2020.
The BOOST LAB brand is already being ranged with Farmers retail stores in New Zealand, which Craig admits is no easy task and a great milestone. The brand markets what’s described as ‘a revolutionary new range of single focus treatment serums made in New Zealand’.
So how exactly did the BOOST LAB venture come about?
Craig recalls how during his time with Trilogy and Skin Physics he had been exposed to all the major skincare brands and formulations – and what each did, and didn’t, do well.
“None of the brands I’ve come across provide simple answers to skin conditions and almost all good quality products were at price points which were not attainable. So this was the inspiration [for BOOST LAB]. Given my background I just knew there was a better way.
“The aim was to create a range of great quality products that solved skin concerns at a price point that made sense to most people and that was simple to understand. And so BOOST LAB was born.”
At the time of writing, locked down in New South Wales and with the trans-Tasman bubble suspended, Craig is 100 percent focused on BOOST LAB.
“We do have big plans for this brand,” he says. “Serums are becoming a must have for any skincare routine as they are the most efficient way to get active ingredients onto your skin. We are growing fast in both Australia and New Zealand, but also in China, Canada and other parts of Southeast Asia.”
Serums are said to offer the biggest opportunity within the skincare arena and are currently in their growth phase of the product lifecycle. The global serum skincare market stands at US$2,176 million and is expected to more than double in size to US$4,618 million by 2030.
“To support our growth we are planning on an IPO towards the end of 2022, and are on the lookout for young brands that complement BOOST LAB, says Craig. “Brands that want to grow and which, excuse the pun, need a boost in some way.”
Covid’s Tasman divide
During the pandemic Craig has spent the majority of his time at his home base of Sydney, and explains that Covid-19 has had a huge impact on how they do business.
“We are for the most part unable to travel. I am unable to get face time with our retailers, including our New Zealand launch partner, Farmers,” he says. “All discussions are done over Zoom or via email, which just isn’t the same. And, of course, all our products are made in New Zealand, so not being able to visit our manufacturer and have face-to-face new product discussions makes things difficult. In general it just slows everything down.
“On the plus side, for the Australian market, BOOST LAB online sales are flying,” he adds.
“I find Kiwis in general to be more creative. You see that in what we needed to do with 42 Below to create some noise and grow an international brand.”
Having spent time within the business communities of both New Zealand and Australia, Craig believes the biggest difference between the business cultures is around creativity.
“I find Kiwis in general to be more creative. You saw that in what we needed to do with
42 Below to create some noise and grow an international brand.
“Given the size of the country, Kiwis are forced to think outside the square to make the necessary noise to grow a brand. They just roll up their sleeves and say, “right, how can we do this differently? Let’s rip in and have a go!”
Advice for newcomers
Asked to share his best advice for new entrepreneurs launching their first business, Craig’s natural response is to approach the subject from a brand perspective – after all, consumer branding is what he knows best.
“You really need to create a brand that occupies a new space and over time own that space or segment,” he says, “and it should be a segment which people really see value in, where you are solving problems.
“And then ask yourself that if the brand vanished would there be a vacuum which customers would miss?
“So that is our goal with BOOST LAB. Create and then own that five-star serum at a three-star price segment or space.
“To be successful long term you must create a business built around the consumer and what problems you are solving for them, or what value you are adding to their lives.”
In terms of mistakes to avoid when in business, he says it is all around conservation of capital. During the start-up phase it is not easy to determine the exact investment amount required to get you to a sustainable level. So being extremely cautious with spend is crucial.
“The general rule I have is you will spend twice as much and take twice as long. However, you generally always find a way to make things work,” he says.
One of the best pieces of advice Craig has ever acted on has been around customer centricity.
“To be successful long term you must create a business built around the consumer and what problems you are solving for them, or what value you are adding to their lives. So put the consumer first in every situation.”
This advice comes from not just one person in particular, he explains, but just from being exposed to many consumer goods businesses.
On the same path
Craig has partnered with a number of people during his career and says successful partnerships are all about alignment.
“If you are not 100 percent aligned in your goals and thinking then it just won’t work or will be really hard day-to-day and create unnecessary stress for all parties.
“You need to sit down at the very start and go through all the hard questions. How much are you prepared to invest? What are your shareholding expectations? Do you want to draw a salary, and if so how much? How long do you want to stay in the business? What is your end goal? The list goes on.”
Life goes on too, and with [at the time of writing in early September] both sides of the Tasman locked down tight from the onslaught of Covid’s Delta variant, travelling between the countries is out of the question and Craig is having to steer the BOOST LAB ship from a distance.
But, one thing’s for sure, it will take more than a global pandemic to hold back his latest business venture, or dampen his enthusiasm for New Zealand and all the talent, inspiration and success it brings to the table.