muk mat · Suzanne Horton

Surfing her way to 7 figures with muk mat: A beach-loving entrepreneur's solution for outdoor enthusiasts, backed by 40K newsletter subs and 20K monthly website visitors.

July 15, 2023
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  • Suzanne Horton
  • Burleigh Heads, Gold Coast, Australia
  • Started in 2017
  • Bootstrapped
  • 6 employees
  • 7 Figures in annual revenue
  • 40K newsletter subscribers
  • 11K instagram followers
  • 20K monthly website visitors

So Suzanne, what's your backstory?

I grew up on the Gold Coast.  My parents owned their own business, and without knowing it at the time, I'm sure this has had quite an influence on me to start my own business too.  

They worked extremely hard and, as a result, retired early and travelled the world.  They were inspirational and taught me about hard work, sensible money management and how to build a community for your business.  

I always wanted to be a Marine Biologist. However, at the time, job opportunities were limited, so I followed my other passion, which is Health.  The ocean continues to be my passion and hobby.  

I have a Bachelor of Health Science, and the majority of my working career has been in the Health and Pharmaceutical Industry.  In my early years, I worked with many specialists in patient diagnostics across various fields, such as sleep disorders, vascular and lung function, as well as cardiac rehab.  It was in my Pharmaceutical role I learnt about sales, business and people management.  It was the perfect mix of science and business.

I was a sales rep for 3 years and then moved into management for 10 years.  After we had our second son, I decided to leave my corporate job as life was getting way too hectic juggling work, my boys and my husband's travel.  It was bliss to be able to be at home with the kids.  It was at this time their love for surfing, the beach and everything outdoors blossomed.

What's muk mat and how did you come up with the idea?

muk mat : to inspire everyone to enjoy the great “outdoors”, without the worry of bringing the muk “indoors”.

I grew up on the beach, in the surf every day – I was a water baby. Then when I had my first son in 2005, I took up surfing. Now nothing makes me happier than surfing with my family. 

By the time I had my second son, we were always outdoors – surfing, camping, mountain biking, doing triathlons. I also knew having two boys, life was going to get busy and messy. 

The problem was we were forever using all sorts of buckets/towels to change from the wetsuits and clean the sand or to keep the dirt from getting everywhere.

The muk mat concept started with a DIY prototype that we took with us when we went to the beach, camping and the kids’ footy games. Every time I rolled out the mat, I had people approaching me, saying what an amazing idea it is and asking where they could get one.

I soon realised that I wasn't the only one needing a solution to keep the sand and grit outside - it seemed half of Australia is.  Like all successful products - muk mat was the solution to an unmet need.

How did you attract your first handful of customers?

After extensive market research and field testing, I launched the business in Aug 2017 - just in time for Father's Day.  Initially, we started with 500 muk mats, and when these sold out almost immediately, I knew that the need for an effective mat was even bigger than I first thought.

Early in my business venture, I read The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell.  The concept really resonated with me, especially the power of word of mouth. I was very aware early on that I had to get my mats into the hands of the right communicators.  

Ambassadors continue to be so valuable for our business.  The caravan and camping community look to each other for tips, advice and problem-solving.  By providing authentic feedback, our potential customers can read 100 of reviews from fellow travellers to decide whether muk mat is for them.

Customer feedback has driven the expansion of our product range, and we continue to evolve based on our customers' needs.

I also approach media outlets, and not long after, the launch of muk mat appeared on the TODAY SHOW as one of the "hottest new camping essentials".  We are also featured in the Weekend Australian, SUNRISE and What's Up Downunder. 

The reviews and praise we received in those first few months was overwhelming.  There is no better way to let the community know about a product than word of mouth.  

When you find a product that effectively solves a problem, you want to tell your friends and family about it - and this is exactly what our muk mat owners were doing.

How did you validate muk mat?

Despite all the business advice I received to have them manufactured overseas, this didn't sit well with my values or mission.  I found a fantastic team here on the Gold Coast to make our muk mats.  Their attention to quality and detail is exceptional.  There are so many positives to keep manufacturing local, not to mention the prompt customer service we can provide because of it. Using turf made from recycled materials was also a non-negotiable when designing the product.

Like any start-up business, there is a degree of uncertainty and risk.  For me, there were a number of steps I took, which I credit to the business's success.

  1. Clearly defined our customer's problems/unmet needs, as well as identifying our customer segments.
  2. We field tested many prototypes with real customers in a real-world setting, using the feedback to decide on the final product - including specifications of turf, binding material and colours, size of mats and velcro etc.  In other words, we didn't rush getting our product to market until we knew we had it right.
  3. Keeping muk mat in Australia meant I had local control of quality, quantity and the ability to be flexible and provide exceptional customer service.  I am the face and customer contact point, and this really makes a big difference to our customers' experience.
  4. Sort help and outsourced the areas where I did not have the experience.  I outsource the entire production process of our muk mat to a Gold Coast company who have extensive experience in the field.  Additionally, I use a local digital marketing company to run my social media advertising and marketing. 

As the company grew, I had the highly specialised staff skilled to manage quality and the demand of increasing product production, as well as a team to maximise the return on investment of my marketing/advertising spend.  

How did you grow to get you first 100 customers?

Website, Instagram, Facebook and Caravan, camping and outdoor Expos.
As mentioned above, in the early stages - we used an incentive program to encourage our customers to share their muk mat experience with family, friends and in reviews and social media.  Word of mouth was everything to us !

Tell us about the distribution channels that didn't work

Shopping centre stalls - customers avoid you!
Some stockists haven't sold as well as others, so ensure you provide as much support as possible to help them sell

How did you make the transition from side hustle to full-time entrepreneurship?

I had quit my very successful corporate career to be at home with my boys, and I LOVED it.  Surfing and long beach days with my boys, time to see my family and friends.  I was so relaxed and so happy.  Then, WOW, my little business that was supposed to just be a side hustle took off, and so did my Zen !!

I now work every day. Some days are longer than others.  When you own your own business, it's hard to ever switch off.  However, it has allowed me the flexibility to be there for my family when needed, and I always leave time in my day to surf and be in nature.  

My advice for entrepreneurs is to prioritise your health.  It's easy to let that slide, but for me, it is my superpower.  An hour outside to exercise will give you the energy and the mental clarity to be so much more productive than trying to push through.

I don’t have your classic extroverted entrepreneur story. In fact, I’m the last person most of my friends would expect to be an entrepreneur. I’m a quiet, methodical and practical person. I simply stumbled across a way to really improve the quality of life for fellow surfers like me. The business took off because I answered a need and then worked incredibly hard to make it a success.  

Other tips:

Be memorable
Muk Mat is a memorable product, and being memorable is one of the key components to achieving Tipping Point success. Make sure your product or service stands out from the crowd.

Customer Focus
Understanding your customer is integral to success. You need to know what they need in their day-to-day and also exceed their expectations from the moment they hear about you and every purchase they make from then. It’s also critical that you listen to their feedback.

Don't outsource too much too soon
You need to feel the pain of running your own business for a while to learn all the ins and outs. Then eventually, outsourcing begins to look like bang for your buck. But don’t feel that pain for too long, or it will start to affect you and your relationships.

Live your brand
Muk Mat came from very humble beginnings because I lived and breathed a Muk Mat lifestyle. I was in the ocean every day and regularly camping. By living that lifestyle and retaining my local ties, we’ve stayed true to our brand story.

What specific tools have been most helpful in growing your business?

Klaviyo for email marketing.
Share and Save discount to thank customers for sharing their muk mat experience.
Brand partnerships and collaborations.

What drives you to do what you do?

The greatest reward I get from my business is customer feedback and reviews.  Every time I use my muk mat (which is daily), I still get a little ping of delight at what a difference it makes. Knowing these moments of delight are happening continuously in campgrounds all around the country is incredible. 

Australians love travel and the outdoors, and the fact that so many choose muk mat as one of the must-have caravanning items is more than I could have ever hoped for.

Who are some experts/entrepreneurs to follow to learn how to grow your business?

Malcolm Gladwell
Paul Jarvis

Any quotes you live by?

Look after your future self
Treat others how you want to be treated
Choose honest and kind

Embrace the outdoors
Stay active, stay healthy, and get outdoors.

Stay connected
with family, friends, community and the environment

Find balance
Between work and play

Do something that excites you, every day
Making the most of the positive experiences of everyday life

Be proud
Of what you do and how you do it

Your links + socials
Instagram: @muk.mat
Facebook:  @mukmatHQ

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