Competition can be healthy, as long as you can build a differentiation. What matters is understand what they provide and what they do not provide so you can find your place or even better find the blue ocean where you can shine.
From a family of entrepreneurs, Oni Leach founded Zen Garden (Boutique), based in Leicester UK, in 2017.
She did a Master Degree in Information System and Business Administration in Montpellier France. After a few years of experience as Project Manager, she decided to do an Executive Master in ESSEC Business School (France), specialised in Strategy and Manager of International Business.
Born in Madagascar, she loves traveling and have lived in multiple countries. With Zen Garden (Boutique), she aims to help Madagascar to economically grow and to empower women in need so they can be independant through work. She is also passionate about innovation and ethical entrepreneurship and believes a business can be ethical and successful at the same time.
Today she is a mum entrepreneur. She works in a Telecoms company as Product Strategy Manager and manages Zen Garden (Boutique) at the same time. She firmly believes that women can be successful in entrepreneurship and be dedicated mums at the same time.
She loves Green Beauty and the Zero Waste lifestyle. Outside of work, she loves spending time with her family and traveling.
Where did the idea for Zen Garden come from?
During my first pregnancy, I faced a challenge that a lot of pregnant women experience those days: stretch marks. I purchased products from different well-known brands. I chose them because they were known and I did not use to check the products ingredients. Unfortunately, I started to have really bad reactions (which is very unusual) and discovered that many of the products on the market contain many controversial chemical ingredients that could be potentially dangerous. This changed a lot the way I perceive cosmetics: I started to do my home-made cosmetics with 100% natural products and my skin and my body just felt so much better.
Green beauty is the new black. The trouble with home-made cosmetics is that you can end up buying a lot of different natural ingredients you don’t necessarily know and some of the cosmetics recipes are too complicated, unconvincing some women from moving to green cosmetics.
This is how Zen Garden was born. We decided to popularize efficient and very easy to make recipes – all based on 100% natural products that we sell in bulk so people can buy only the quantity they need.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
I am a mum entrepreneur, and work full-time in a company to help them build their product strategy. So I work almost 7 days a week. My days are a bit different in the week and in the weekend.
In the week, I always start my day with a list of tasks I want to achieve in the day. It is very important that I set myself objectives. I then spend a bit of time on social media to interact and talk with the community before cracking on with my full-time job. I usually check my Zen Garden business emails at lunchtime to make sure there are no urgent matters I need to take care of. Luckily, I am an evening person so that’s the moment I am the most efficient: I check and manage orders to send for the day after, and progress on the list of tasks I set on my bullet points (including admin tasks, marketing, team and stock management…). I also work on my new ideas for the business: I check their feasibility and action list to bring them to life. I do a lot of research and competitive analysis.
In the weekend, I am working on shootings, testing new recipes to propose, and do all the heavy tasks to make sure my weeks are not too overloaded.
How do you bring ideas to life?
I love using the “lean” method to bring ideas to like: I start with a minimal viable product to check if there is demand. I also love co-create with my potential customers to make sure I understand their needs and answer to real pain points.
What’s one trend that excites you?
In addition of being more careful with their cosmetics, we can see a really positive change in consumers behavior: they are more engaged to a more ethical consumption and more specifically to a Zero Waste lifestyle.
Selling products in bulk is not just about allowing people to buy the right quantity as per their need: it is also committing to generating as less waste as possible. This really helped us to shape our business model: the products we select are all natural, ideally organic and the less transformed as possible (we focus on cold pressed oils and butter for example and say no to any oil extracted from solvent) and select ingredients have multifunction usages. We have also spent a lot of time in choosing the right packaging: aluminum pouches, glass bottles and jars, brown paper krafts and only when we really have no option: recyclable plastic packaging.
In our Zero Waste corner, we only sell glass cosmetics bottles and jars, to help our consumers to reduce their waste and more specifically to reduce their plastic waste. We made that choice, inspired by our customers that expressed their preference to have only glass cosmetic containers.
What really motives us is that every time people purchase our products, they reduce their waste as well as using natural and pure products that won’t arm nor them nor the environment.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
As a mom entrepreneur and full-time worker, being organized and efficient is key for Zen Garden. I fix myself some measurable targets every week and a list of actions in a bullet point journal. This way I can see how our business progress and make sure we keep everything on track.
What advice would you give your younger self?
Do not believe it is easy to sell goods online. So many people think they just need to build a website and will then get a lot of revenue. In my beginnings, I spent a lot of time to build my website and then once it was online, I realized it was not easy to get to be known. I’ve learned that it is key to have a vision and a strategy, to talk to the community, to build human relationships work very hard to make it successful.
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.
Competition can be healthy. Some people believe that is someone else already built a business similar to their ideas; there is no place for them to. But actually competition can be healthy, as long as you can build a differentiation. What matters is understand what they provide and what they do not provide so you can find your place or even better find the blue ocean where you can shine.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
I constantly have new ideas in my head and always try to give each of them a chance by implementing them to see up to where it can go. It is always important to learn from each idea so I always re-evaluate them and take lessons from any issues I faced or from any idea failed to succeed.
I believe it is important to go through this process because you need many ideas to find the one that works.
If I can give a recommendation to other entrepreneurs: for every idea you have in mind: if you really believe in it: always try to implement it. And if it fails, don’t ever be scared admit a failure and move on something you believe more or to pivot your business model. Entrepreneurship is a bit like a non-stop race where you need to be tough because only very few ideas succeed but the more you try, the more chances you get to succeed.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
Co-creating our business with our potential consumers, and understanding their needs have helped us to provide the service they are looking for. We are using social media to interact with them and asking them their opinion to help us to take the right decisions.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
Before Zen Garden, I’ve built a marketplace specialized in Made In France products. Although the idea was very attracting and interested a lot of people, I realized that “a good idea is not enough” and it was not easy to build this type of business without an important investment in ads and to run faster than competitors.
Giving up something you worked on really hard and in a market that is growing very well is not easy. Accepting failure is not easy either. However, I learned that the fasted I move to another idea I believe in, the better it is to not lose motivation. So I very quickly started Zen Garden.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
Developing countries face a lot of challenges and with that comes a lot of opportunities. Goods logistics in those countries are still very difficult or too expensive. So I believe there is a huge space to build a good and affordable carrier company to compete the existing postal services.
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
I’ve recently purchased a lot of samples of products we currently do not sell to nurture my ideas and to test them. I never sell products I am not convinced it even if they could make a lot of profit. I need to love them and be myself a convinced consumer to be able to talk about them.
What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive? How do you use it?
Canva is my best friend. Today, visuals are key to sell products and you need to create a lot visuals for your website, for social media, and all your marketing supports. We used to use photoshop, but photoshop is very time-consuming and not always necessary. Canva is just so easy to use!
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
One of my favorite books is the Lean Startup by Eric Ries. I do not necessarily follow all the principles of the book, but it does definitely help to build a business from the ground with a minimal budget or a minimal risk, and using the available resources you have. Most of the business books usually provide a lot of theoretical and don’t necessarily put things in motion. Indeed, once you have written a business model and made some research about your market, you don’t really know how to start the next steps, and your model is based on a lot of assumptions.
This book helps to take actions, build the product and validate an idea – which is difficult to do just with numbers and market analysis.
What is your favorite quote?
“Be the change you want to see in the world.”
I believe startups need to be more and more ethically engaged.
• Believe in your ideas and bring them to life to see how they can succeed.
• Co-create, because at the end of the day, what matters is that your ideas answer to your community of consumers’ pain points.
• Do not be scared to fail and start again until you find what works the best.
• Do not believe you cannot start a business without a subsequent investment or a clear business mode. Lean methods can help to start with little and validate if your idea is good or not.
• Ethical Entrepreneurship is necessary to preserve the future of our planet.
Oni Leach on Linkedin: www.linkedin.com/in/onihiarantsoa-leach-raharison
Oni Leach on Twitter:
Zen Garden on Twitter:
Zen Garden on Instagram:
Carlyn runs the day-to-day publishing operation here at ideamensch and interacts with our awesome customers and entrepreneurs. She is likely editing this with a cat on her lap.