Business: Childs Farm

Sector: Children’s personal care products

Former Investment Banker Joanna Jensen is the founder of the UK’s number one baby and child personal care brand, Childs Farm, which she created in 2010 as a result of her own daughters’ sensitive and eczema prone skin. 

Joanna Jensen

When did you make the decision to start your own business and how did your journey begin?

I've been entrepreneurial since I was a child. My grandmother was an entrepreneur and ran a string of hotels along the South Coast. My grandfather had a ‘proper job’ as a sugar broker, so my grandmother looked after the hotels. When they retired, my grandparents wanted to focus on their real passion, which was buying and selling antiques. My grandmother became the most phenomenally successful antiques dealer, sending containers of brown and Regency furniture as far afield as Australia and San Francisco. During the 1970s, she was at the forefront of rescuing Regency furniture as due to the high taxation, big houses were being sold for next to nothing with their owners burning the furniture as there was no interest to purchase it.

I set up my first business when I was 20, creating an Interior Design business to decorate and furnish rental properties in London that were purchased by Singaporean and Hong Kong Chinese investors. This business led to me eventually relocating to Hong Kong where I changed career entirely and became an Investment Banker.

It was the birth of my second child, Bella, that led me to set up Childs Farm. She’d come wrapped up with lots of smiles and giggles, but also chronic eczema. I couldn't find anything that relieved her painful skin and was horrified that when I went to the doctor, they advised me to use hydrocortisone, a steroid cream, on her young immature skin. I’d had eczema as a child and continued to have sensitive skin as an adult, so I've always been obsessed with skin care solutions; spending time researching new offerings and visiting pharmacies around the world looking for sensitive skincare solutions. All those years of being curious and asking endless questions of skin specialists enabled me to make the transition from managing our farm to becoming a Chemist. Even though I had failed chemistry O’ level, I was convinced I could solve the problem through my natural approach, and by using sustainable and ethically sourced ingredients.

What was the big idea when starting out, how did it develop, and did it change?

My big idea was to create a range of skin and hair care products that would allow Bella to wash and bathe without pain. I wanted to be able to soothe her irritated skin and make her happy in it. When I created the initial range of products that not only did this, but smelt great, felt good and enabled her to enjoy bathtime, I quickly realised that if it worked for us, then it would work for others.

The formulas were a game changer. I knew from Bella’s reaction to the products, and the relief it gave her from her poorly skin, that it would also help so many other parents of little ones with sensitive skin. I knew I had passed the eczema gene onto my daughter. By creating the Childs Farm range, I’ve given parents a moment where the guilt has been removed as their children take comfort from bathing and washing with products that don’t cause pain or irritation and indeed soothe their irritated skin. I also believe that through the creation of an ethically made brand, which offers a natural origin solution from sustainably sourced providers, we have helped raise awareness that a fun, sustainable natural brand that really works, can also be affordable.

We now have products available in over 7,500 retail stores across the UK and are expanding our distribution across the world, supplying skin care solutions from moisturisers and haircare products to hand care and sun protection lotions. Our products enable children - and indeed adults – with sensitive and eczema prone skin, to be happy in their skin.

What did the team around you look like when you started out? Who did you want on the journey with you? What qualities did you look for and why?

When I started, I wanted people around me like me - I wanted grafters, quick thinkers. I wanted people that could be thrown in at the deep end and never sink. They had to be commercially bold and understand that ‘no’ was an answer that was just highly unacceptable.

As a business grows, you need to look for people who are not like you, that complement your skills, to enable the business to represent different qualities and outlooks to achieve the different objectives it has – no point having a Financial Controller who loves risk, or a Marketing Manager who hates it. But, when you're starting out, it's all about the graft, it's all about being at the coalface 24/7 to drive the business forward, to maintain momentum and to keep the dream alive. That has to be the mindset – it is never a nine to five job if you really want to win.

When it came to negotiating and pitching for capital investment, what skills did you have, what skills did you hone, and what skills did you need to learn?

I had total faith in the brand and in myself. I had an investment banking background, so I could understand a balance sheet and a P&L. However, I did have to learn how to do sales forecasts which I didn't really know how to do as my Excel skills are pretty low grade. Luckily, my brilliant sister has a PhD in Maths, so she helped me.

I had to learn to slow down a bit and not assume that everybody knew the problems my products could solve or understand how passionate I was about them. I was a bit of a whirlwind and could scare people with my enthusiasm! I had to temper that a bit, but really, I just needed to be more conscious of my audience and what they could accept. I hired a coach who helped me understand the ways in which other people like to work. This helped me hugely.

Do or did you have a female mentor, or are there any specific women who inspired you and why?

In terms of mentors, my advice is to be careful about how many people you surround yourself with. If you listen to too many people, you will never make a decision as you’re always listening to opinions. I was once asked to be on someone’s roster of mentors. A founder wanted me to be her seventh mentor! Mentors are great sounding boards, but don't insult their wisdom by treating them like a commodity.

Just because you've got a mentor doesn't mean you have to do everything they say. They should challenge you and you should be open to challenge, but ultimately you need to make that decision.

In terms of people who have inspired me, I would put my grandmother high up on the list. I also have a North Star of female founders in Anita Roddick. Her passion, drive, and push for positive change around cosmetic testing on animals and the use of natural ingredients have been an inspiration since I was a teen, and core in the foundation of Childs Farm. Following the announcement that The Body Shop was to be put into Administration, it was an honour to be invited to comment on Anita Roddick, her values and the importance of the business she created on national radio. At the same time, it is sad that such a pioneering business which has shaped so many of our lives has been lost now.

What do you believe led to your success? And would you do anything differently?

A brilliant product range led to my success!

Would I do anything differently? No, because it’s impossible. Always look forwards, never backwards. What’s in the past is in the past, you can’t change it, so don’t dwell on it.

Being a female founder is not for everyone. Coming up with a great idea, exploring its legitimacy, and then not doing it is absolutely fine. Once you decide to go ahead, you need to go into it with your eyes wide open. You’ve got to have an inner toughness; you’ve got to be robust and resilient.

I do believe that being an entrepreneur is not for everyone. I feel it takes a certain type of person who can do it, and it doesn't make you a bad person if you can't.

What three tips would you give to the next generation of female founders?

  1. Know your consumer.
  2. Know your consumer.
  3. Know your consumer.

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