First, she transitioned from employee to entrepreneur almost overnight. Then, she pioneered the organic baby skincare industry in Australia.
Next, she boldly thrust her products into the hands of Hollywood’s darlings. And most recently, she built an export business that has added to her 22-year-old business’ lifespan.
So when Catherine Cervasio, the founder of Aromababy, says she doesn’t like change, you wonder what exactly she’s talking about.
“I’ve identified that change is something I struggled with in the past,” she clarifies. “I’ve learnt that change means being present instead of filling your head with stories that make it mean something it’s not.
It’s about recognising the fear of change and letting it pass. And actually change is already present in the way I run my business from changing staff and premises, revamping and rebranding.”
What hasn’t changed in the past two decades is Catherine’s commitment to providing parents with an alternative skincare that isn’t just luxurious but affordable and trustworthy.
It’s these three cornerstones that have guided her on an entrepreneurial journey that has demanded every inch of her resilience before delivering the rewards. And it has been absolutely worth it.
Here are five lessons from one of Australia’s biggest success stories.
#1: When life kicks you down, don’t stay there
Catherine was three months pregnant when she was retrenched from a job she loved. Rather than wallow in her fate, she used it as the “kick I needed to go from one place to another.”
And that other place was entrepreneurship. Within two days she had registered a business without any inkling of what it would be.
“I thought it would be great to work my own hours. I had some connections and I figured that my product development skills would see me through.” She was right.
Catherine very quickly noticed that there weren’t any natural baby skincare options available for her firstborn and decided if she wanted such an option, she would have to create it herself.
“At the time it was a no-brainer. During my travels, I had observed that aromatherapy was becoming an emerging trend and so it made sense for me to be in this category. It was only after I started talking to cosmetic chemists and formulators that I learnt they had never worked with natural ingredients.”
So Catherine did the next best thing. She threw herself into her own research to create her own formulas. And that marked the birth of Aromababy.
#2: Bring two unlikely bedfellows together
Luxury and affordability don’t usually go hand in hand but no one told Catherine that she couldn’t marry them anyway. Especially when she found out that 80% of a product’s price sits in its packing cost rather than in its formulation.
“There are many products claiming to be natural and organic, and using that word predominantly on their labeling when there’s nothing organic in the product except the essential oils. These oils generally amount to less than half a percent as opposed to a quarter of the overall formula.”
“That’s ok if people know what they’re buying. And that’s why certain products cost what they do. You do get what you pay for. It’s a constant challenge to keep educating consumers because our market evolves. Every two years there are new sets of parents who are going to be our potential clients.”
#3: Put people at the heart of your product
Catherine is crystal clear that Aromababy would not be where it is today without her children and her commitment to other parents and their babies.
“It’s not how long you’ve been in business but why. My why has always been my children. My focus has been parenting my children for the last ten years. If I had run my business without an ethical base or a passion to make a difference for parents, then I don’t think the brand would be here.”
Putting people at the heart of her product also means prioritising the most valuable people in her life and spending time nurturing those relationships.
“Invest just as much time in those relationships as you do in your business. You don’t want to wake up one morning to find that your marriage has fallen apart or that your children are now teenagers and you don’t know how to communicate with them.”
#4: Cast your net further and wider
Catherine has a remarkable gift for networking and her Instagram and Twitter feed are testament to this. But she is quick to emphasise that her networking and marketing style has changed significantly since her start-up days.
Back then she would keep an ear out for any new celebrity parents visiting Australia and wrangle a way to get her products in their hands. Her gumption has led her to the heads of security for Sylvester Stallone and the late Michael Jackson, who have subsequently delivered her products to the superstars.
“These are things I wouldn’t do today but I think when you’re young, passionate and so driven you go all out! I’m older now and things have changed in that Aromababy is now well-known.”
Then there was the contact who asked if she could gift John Travolta and Kelly Preston her products. The next thing Catherine knew, she had received a gushing letter from the power couple.
“Then I went to an event in Los Angeles and they were there. I began introducing myself and before I had even finished, Kelly Preston was telling me how much she loved Aromababy. It was surreal!
#5: Don’t reinvent the wheel
Earlier this year, Catherine found herself the only one among three female entrepreneurs featured in a national magazine, who hadn’t a partner to provide financial support for her business. This is one of the reasons she makes it her mission to help women understand that there are no barriers to entrepreneurship.
“You can do it on your own or with the help of the bank, with or without a partner, and without a privileged upbringing. There are many ways to build a successful business.
It’s about doing your homework and having a true point of difference. You need to give people a reason to buy your products. Don’t reinvent the wheel and don’t make excuses.”