Mama Mio

"The most selfish brand in the world" is how Sian Sutherland describes Mama Mio, the skincare company she dreamt up to soothe her when she was pregnant and which now brings in $5 million (£3.1 million) a year.

"It started when I was pregnant with my son Charlie," Sutherland, who is 49, explains. "I love my kids, but they ruined my body. So I thought about developing a range for new mothers to help them look great when pregnant."

She thought she might have discovered a niche in the "almost-saturated" skincare market, and found two friends who agreed: Kathy Miller, her business partner at a beauty brand developer at the time, and Tanya Mackay, a former buyer at Harrods.

With big ambitions from the start, they decided to launch in the US as well as the UK. They met Jill Dunk, who was running a beauty company in Los Angeles, through an industry contact and she became the fourth, US-based, partner. Then began a long research process, kicking off with finding the ideal skincare laboratory.

"One of our biggest requirements was top-quality ingredients with no nasties' - chemicals like parabens," Sutherland says. "And we wanted to ensure that our products really worked, so they would sell themselves. Product creation was a joint process with us and the lab chemists."

At the same time, Mama Mio started seeking funding. It was in the heady days of 2005. "We set up meetings with venture capitalists, private investors and banks to raise money," says Sutherland. "It wasn't too difficult, they were impressed with the idea and - well, it was in boom, boom Britain.

"In the end, we chose Investec because they were the few bankers who could sit round at the table with us and not giggle at a product called Boob Tube - which is now our bestseller. We were the first start-up Investec had ever invested in."

Investec and the four founders together put in $1 million.Then Mama Mio's first product, Tummy Rub, hit the shelves in 2005 and brought in revenues of $500,000 that year.

While the products are made in the US, Mama Mio works out of an open-plan office in Clerkenwell and a nearby warehouse stores, and ships the potions around the country.

Now, the company's range is stocked in 1800 stores and spas in eight countries, from Selfridges, Harrods and John Lewis to Browns Hotel and Ritz Carlton spas. Online sales were also significant from the start. "We thought there must be a better way than paying for a good stand in department-store beauty halls - it's hugely expensive.

"So we had a website from day one, with 30% of our sales around the world coming from the internet. You can't smell or try the products, but customer testimonials are a huge thing for us, we have them all over the site."

Expansion was rapid. The haul of Mama Mio products now includes Get Waisted, Shrink To Fit Cream and Bootcamp for Butts, a box full of creams plus a workout regime "to firm and smooth".

Celebrity fans include
Victoria Beckham, Christina Aguilera, and Jennifer Lopez. But the backing Sutherland is most proud of is that of Bob Nielsen, the former president of Estée Lauder, who launched brands including Mac and Crème de la Mer. He was introduced to the Mama Mio bosses through a contact at Harrods when they were considering raising more money to fuel growth, and agreed to invest a low seven-figure sum in the business, as well as becoming chairman of the company.

"When he put his hand into his own pocket and invested in us, it made us feel that we're the next big thing," says Sutherland. "It was a huge validation, He's involved in the business, he sends me emails challenging me on things we've done now and then. But he leaves most of it to us.

"We still design every new product selfishly, making only things we'd want to use ourselves. Now we're well into our forties, we're interested in high-performance products that will help us defy gravity."

Sutherland has no exit strategy. "We're just getting started," she says, talking of expansion in the US and Europe and Mama Mio's aim of doubling revenues next year to $10 million. "Sometimes I look at my son Charlie, the one whose pregnancy gave me the idea, and just think wow, you inspired all this'."
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