Table of contents
- Founder - JJ & Susanna Richardson
- Location - St. Petersburg, FL (USA), and Melbourne, VIC (AUS)
- Started in 2021
- 6 figures revenue
- 2 employees
So JJ & Susanna, what's your backstory?
JJ - I'm an academic through and through. I've spent my whole life studying and then working in research institutes and Universities, and I just love the process of scientific discovery.
I'm very much a product of the US liberal arts education as I first did a degree in Philosophy, then industrial and systems engineering, and finally a PhD in chemical and biomolecular engineering.
I also love breakdancing and extreme sports, but my passion is knowledge and learning. This love of knowledge was cultivated from a young age on the beaches in Florida by my mom. She was a freelance TV reporter and regularly told my sister and me interesting facts about the people she interviewed.
I never thought I would be an entrepreneur, but here I am. Some breakthroughs in the lab need to be in the hands of everyday people, and if you want something done, you better do it yourself. So that's pretty much what pushed me to spin out my scientific discovery.
Susanna -I have a degree in Media and Communications, and Masters, both from Monash University. I worked for over a decade in the not-for-profit sector solving communication challenges for both universities and public hospitals and community health, around Australia and the Asia-Pacific. Event management, leadership training programs, and membership/volunteer engagement are just some areas of expertise.
More recent years have seen me hone skills in the creative branding process, working with a Melbourne-based agency since 2021.I'm first and foremost a mum, juggling work-life balance with raising my 5 year old son, TJ. Our little family moved back to Melbourne end of last year after 3 years living abroad in Japan and US, to support JJ’s research.
What is Swiff ?
In its current form of odor protection, SWIFF exists because it saves users time and mental energy across the board. Backpackers can wash their clothes fewer times on a trip if they pre-treat them with SWIFF; athletes can go to the grocery store after a workout instead of hitting the showers directly; pet owners can prevent stinky smells around the house; and businesspeople can smell like nothing when sweating during a big presentation.
The peace of mind is big, but some people like the water-savings that SWIFF brings, or the fact that they can avoid deodorants/perfumes, are also positives. People with allergies and sensitivities have found lots of use for our product.
But as we grow and return to the roots of our technology, which came about because of the pandemic, we expect that SWIFF will be used more frequently in health settings.
How did you come up with Swiff?
This came about from antiviral mask coatings JJ was developing in Japan at the University of Tokyo. But interestingly, as we talked about how to get this into the hands of people, most Western countries moved away from mask-wearing.
So we explored the use of the underlying technology to stop odour (as bad odors are caused by microbes). And after the first sniff test, we were convinced we were onto something valuable.
We then sent samples to friends and family (and Reddit strangers) around the world to try and kept getting positive feedback, so we launched it as a product.
The name came about from the design studio Susanna was working at (Courtney Kim Studios) while they were doing the branding. JJ had given it a placeholder and interim techy sort of name that was unpronounceable. That got cleaned up to SWIFF, thankfully.
How did you build & launch the business?
After the first discovery in the lab, we started sourcing an off-the-shelf bottle so we could avoid designing injection moulds. We had some unique requirements (2 separate chambers in a spray bottle), but fortunately, we found some great bottles and iterated from there.
Because our science was new, but we didn't need new bottles made, we could move really fast and get a prototype ready for a few hundred dollars. From there, it was building out the brand and the website and all that. I'd say it was actually easier to get to the ready stage of the product then it was to have the website fully operational.
How have you grown the business?
There's no sugar-coating it. It's been hard to grow. We got some lucky features in print magazines in the US that gave us some traction (Both Thing testing and Real Simple), and we had some journalists take our "SWIFF Challenge" on air, which also gave strength to our odour-protection claims.
We've done a bit of marketing and launched a Kickstarter campaign to gain extra traction, but most of our sales have been through word-of-mouth.
We have some really cool opportunities in mid-2023, but aren't allowed to disclose what they are. But if all goes according to plan, that will give us a boost like nothing else can.
Any big failures and learnings?
Geeze, we've had lots of failures and mess-ups. Finding reliable people and agencies to work with is really challenging. Goal posts move, invoices are unclear, and some even have you sign NDA's so you can't even leave them an honest review on Google.
So it's been eye-opening and again reinforced that if you want something done, do it yourself. Or get a referral for someone that is a superstar. We've still got to work with great people, but it's costly wading through the not-so-great people.
We've also had logistics issues where our bottles or boxes get shipped to the wrong address, sometimes because we're given the wrong address or sometimes because the companies we contract services out to mess up.
JJ spent 2 weeks on the phone every day from 2 am to 6 am tracking down 5000 lost empty bottles that got delivered to the wrong address. Time differences make things tricky, but luckily it got sorted in the end.
What's next for Swiff?
Our fundraising round is a big inflection point for us as it will free up money to get our antimicrobial registration, expand our product offerings, and do better marketing and hiring.
We also have some surprises along the way, but one thing we've found time and time again is that tomorrow is uncertain. But our commitment to freshness and providing better products to our customers is unwavering.
Your go to digital tools?
Shopify and Klaviyo are the big ones. We use a host of video conferencing tools depending on what our collaborators or clients need, but old-fashioned email works well. We're also using a cool new web app called MarketPryce for communicating with athletes.
Any podcasts or websites you love?
This is kind of similar to the above answer. We've found it's really easy to sink hours into podcasts, social media, various tips and trick articles, etc. But at the end of the day, we're a family running a business, so we've had to focus on things that actually build the business and things that build family cohesion. A lot of stuff in the middle got cut.
JJ enjoys some subreddits on entrepreneurship, as they're dynamic and fairly democratic, but since it's all anonymous, you can never be sure if you're getting the full story. Still, it's often more helpful for us to hear struggles from people very early on than to hear success stories from 10-year-old companies.
What do you love & hate about being a founder?
Dislike - The amount of time we have to stay up late in a panic fixing problems that are costing us money every second they exist.
Like - building something beautiful together that makes people's lives better.
Any mental health tips?
Exercise is essential, eating well, sleeping 7-9 hours a day, etc. But having a young kid and a start-up can make all those things challenging. Communication is key to setting expectations; sometimes, we have to communicate, "I need a break", and that's okay.
Being a founder is a real challenge, so staying physically and mentally healthy is important, especially as they impact each other.
Any quotes you live by?
I have a whole list of quotes written down that I like, but many just have personal significance. You can look up great and witty quotes, but ones from friends and family hit harder for us.
Susanna's mom has excellent quotes that stick in our minds. One of them is:
"Pay peanuts, get monkeys. Pay bananas, and you get King Kong."
Just a reminder that people should be compensated fairly for their work. Another is
"There is money everywhere; all you have to do is reach out your hand."
This quote is more about being ready and willing and not letting pride get in the way of opportunity.
Another good one from a friend that contradicts start-up culture is:
"What do you think, they just started firing rockets at the moon and hoped one landed?"
That's a reminder for us not to get too frantic and take a breather occasionally to reassess what we want to do and what we are doing.
We are world experts in a few areas. Those are our strengths, so those should be a key focus always. Despite what people say about start-ups being like building a plane on your way down, if you don't know the basics of aerodynamics, you will crash no matter what you tape together. So a bit of planning doesn't hurt.
What does it mean to be a founder?
It's like having another baby. It's expensive, it takes time and energy, and it keeps you up at night, but you hope it grows into something beautiful. And you're proud of it every day no matter what.
Any advice for other founders?
Expect to fail, but don't accept failure as the end of the road. This is partially why we avoid reading feel-good success stories in the start-up space. The reality is brutal and harsh, and mentally preparing is key for survival. Envy or jealousy are negative distractions, so focus on yourself and do your best.
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