Australian all-natural, affordable and eco-friendly cleaning product start-up Koala Eco has found international success in just over a year through a business model founded on ethics and transparency.
In 2016, as Jessica Bragdon watched the toxic spray of a glass cleaner douse her two young boy’s toothbrushes with chemicals, she knew something needed to change.
With a constrained market offering either eco-friendly products that are too expensive, ineffective or unpleasant to use, Jess and her husband, Paul Davidson, saw immense opportunity to trailblaze the market.
“I remember thinking that there needs to be a better option. I also wanted something affordable which we couldn’t find in the market place. For us having young kids we didn’t want to spend money on expensive products but wanted something premium,” she said.
“A lot of green cleaners that you see in market take out some of the toxic elements but still use synthetic dye and fragrances. Everything in our product is natural and what you smell is only essential oils,” she said.
As Jess saw a growing consumer demand for natural and healthy cleaning products that are eco-friendly, affordable and premium, the Bondi couple started to develop their unique concoction with a specialist chemist – an eco-friendly, all-natural cleaning products with powerful anti-microbial cleansers with the scent of pure Australian essential oils.
“We ended up working with a specialist chemist for 1.5 years developing the formulas. We launched 19 months ago and we’re now in over 350 retail stores in Australia and also in Korea, Hong Kong, mainland China. We’ve got a distributor, Daigou Sales, in China who wants us to send a container a month.”
It’s this business model based on transparency and philanthropy that has catapulted the Bondi couple’s business into the limelight – leveraging on a growing market of consumers that want sustainable and ethical products.
“I feel the zeitgeist is changing a bit with what people want in their bodies and homes,” she said. “We were quite lucky because people resonated with our products. The world is changing – people want companies that give back.”
For every bottle of the cleaning products sold, Koala Eco donates a small percentage to the charity One Percent for the Planet. But it’s not just the start-up’s ethical business model that has driven their success. Jess said that e-commerce has been a huge driver for the couple.
“For a small start-up we are boot strapping the business, our only way forward is the e-commerce route. We were a disruptor in that we started off with the e-commerce route even before we had a distributor.”
Being one of the first websites to be granted a .eco domain also catapulted the business into the limelight, Jess says.
“We were one of the first companies to have .eco domain so got a lot of publicity about that. Founded by two Canadians look at all element of a business to make sure they are committed to sustainability.”
Utilising social media as a marketing channel was a no-brainer for the start-up, Jess said, both for sustainability and exposure.
“With a small business, Facebook, Instagram, all those things are things we did because can do them without a big budget.”
Leveraging e-commerce tools such as subscriptions have also been instrumental to the business’ success, she says.
“Another important thing is all the things we did with e-commerce such as subscriptions, making it easy for consumers.”
The couple are now looking to not only expand in Australia, but to further branch out in China where they’re creating a Wevo site entirely in Mandarin to target the lucrative Chinese market where there business has already seen so much success.
“We’re now navigating Wevo and Wechat. It’s interesting because we’re now in China and our presence is getting bigger. We’re building a Chinese website with everything in Mandarin and also social media presence with Wevo.”
But as the start-up branches out worldwide, Jess says that there’s one thing that won’t change – and that’s the distinctively Australian, ethical and local roots of their product.
“We want to continue making amazing products that are distinctively Australian with natural local ingredients.”